Friday, July 31, 2009

You Tube protest costs airline dearly

In China, sites like You Tube and Twitter have been blocked for weeks. But in Canada, where Internet use is a little less hindered, one angry musician has cost an American airline thousands after he used the a social media website to air his grievances. 

In 2008, Canadian musician David Carroll travelled to Nebraska on a one week tour. But his flight with United Airlines proved a little more eventful than he anticipated. His $3500 Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago and Carroll later discovered that it was severely damaged.

Despite making countless phone calls and sending numerous faxes in his bid to obtain compensation, Carroll failed get even one dime. So, in a calm rage the country singer set about composing his song of protest entitled 'United Break Guitars'. After posting it on the popular video sharing website it drew in more than 3.9 million views. But the video also drew attention from United Airlines, perhaps due to a 10% plunge in its stock price costing shareholders some $180 million. Of course Carroll's song may have only added to the effects the global downturn is having on airlines. But UA were none too happy and responded to the You Tube video, by another social media site, Twitter.

Rather than respond with a more usual press release, UA's first comments came in a tweet. However, United's apology, which first went out to its 18,600 Twitter followers about 24 hours after the video appeared on July 7th, has failed to attract even a fraction of the attention than Carroll's protest. The airline has also not responded on its own corporate YouTube channel.

Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and You Tube are not only being used by protesters at demonstrations but also aggrieved customers. And companies ignore these protests at their peril. "Thanks to social computing, travellers' tales are no longer confined to what they tell to their coworkers and neighbors," says Henry H. Harteveldt, a vice president and airline and travel industry analyst at Forrester Research in San Francisco.

It is estimated that some 60% of travellers in Europe and North America engage in some form of social networking online. "And they are out there in public for the whole world to see," Harteveldt warns.

Airlines in the United States have been the quickest to embrace such technology as a low-cost public relations and marketing tool. Using it to disseminate low-fare sales and other promotions it has a far reaching impact in cyberspace.

Carriers like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are among the most active users, each with online "followings" in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people. Some airports, like Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta and Logan International in Boston, are even using dedicated channels on Facebook and YouTube to provide travellers with information like how to use the airport train system or to give updates on construction projects or changes to rental-car facilities.

But just as airlines can inform passengers, so can passengers give their feedback. In December 2008, Oliver Beale, a passenger travelling on Virgin Atlantic from Mumbai to London, was so disappointed by his in-flight meal that he wrote a blistering letter of complaint to the airline's owner, Richard Branson, complete with photos of the food. Copies of the missive, in which Mr. Beale described his "culinary journey from hell," spread rapidly via e-mail and the story was quickly picked up by bloggers and traditional media from Sydney to Southampton. The airline's public-relations team quickly got out the message on Facebook that Mr. Branson had personally phoned Mr. Beale and invited him to help select food and wine for future flights.

The phenomena of social media is more prevalent in the west however. Airline JetBlue, for example, which has more than 960,000 Twitter followers, has 35 staff members dedicated to updating its feed. But in Asia only a handful use such services. Notable exceptions are Malaysia Airlines and the low-cost Air Asia. For Chinese carriers there would be little point at all since Facebook, Twitter and other social website are being constantly interrupted by government censors.

As for Mr Carroll, a UA spokesman Robin Urbanski said they should have responded much sooner and that Dave Carroll's video would be used for corporate training purposes. "United's experience is the latest and best example of how social computing is affecting the business reputations of travel companies," said Mr. Harteveldt of Forrester. "Every mistake as well as every success is going to be Facebooked and Twittered."

Despite the criticism of countries and governments that come through the use social media, the forum is a healthy one. It helps by creating debate and bringing about change that can benefit both sides. Ignoring technology and social media, is a potential risk to both companies and governments. The problems still exist even if they are not acknowledged.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Road deaths drop due to recession except in China

A report published last week suggests that road accidents may be falling due the worldwide economic downturn. The Paris-based International Traffic Forum has cited not only road safety initiatives and enforcement as having an effect, but also the falling volumes of traffic brought about as people use their cars less.

In 2008 the number of deaths on Britain's roads dropped some 13.5 % to 2,645, 414 less than in 2007. But it wasn't just Britain which has seen a decline. In the United States the number of deaths fell 9.7 % while Australia saw an 8.5 % drop in fatalities. In statistical terms Britain has one of the lowest death rates in the world with 4.3 persons per 100,000 dying on the road each year. In Japan that rises to 4.7 while in Germany and Ireland that figure rises to 5.5 and 6.3 respectively.

But in China, where the number of cars on the roads is soaring, road deaths are soaring. China is the world's most populous country with over 1.3 billion people, about a fifth of the earth's total population. And according to official studies there are about 450,000 car accidents on Chinese roads each year which cause about, 470,000 injuries and 100,000 deaths. The total cost of these crashes is put at more than 2.4 billion US dollars. More than 90 % of these accidents are considered to be caused by bad driving skills.

But the official figures are strongly disputed by a World Health Organization (WHO) study. A WHO study says the actual number of fatalities on China's roads is more than twice the official figure or about 250,000 killed each year. This study estimates that 45,000 are injured and 680 are killed on China's roads each day. It makes road crashes the leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 45 in China. Grim reading indeed, but there's also a financial cost. The direct and indirect costs of these accidents are estimated at between 12 to 21 billion US dollars, or about 1.5 % of China's GNP. This accident rate means that roughly 20 percent of the world's fatal car accidents take place in China.

The Chinese Government has formed a new ministry committee and introduced a major new Road Traffic Safety Law throughout the country in an effort to reduce the accident rate. But it is not enough for some. Earlier this month Xinhua News Agency reported [July 12] that a retired teacher had become an unlikely Internet hit in China for throwing bricks at cars whose drivers were ignoring red lights at a dangerous crossing. The furious 74 year old took up position on an intersection in Lanzhou, the capital of northwest Gansu province, and damaged more than 30 cars before he was stopped by police, the China Daily reported. "I just wanted to catch people's attention and tell the drivers to think of pedestrians," the man said.

The unnamed man's attacks drew wide support in Chinese cyberspace, with nearly 80 % of 400,000 respondents to an online poll backing him, the English-language paper said. The ex-teacher became a campaigner for road safety after a pedestrian was killed near where he lived. He successfully lobbied for traffic lights at the intersection, but drivers continued to ignore them. So he took up his protest in a more violent way by throwing bricks at transgressors. He was joined by two other elderly men, while other people around them found them more bricks and brought water.

He had planned to keep up his vigilante attack for a week but was stopped by police after one day. He was interviewed and released without charge according to reports. It was not said whether any cars were seriously damaged or crashed after being hit however. Official figures say that in 2008 nearly 73,500 people died in road accidents in China, more than 200 fatalities per day. This would equal 5.4 per 100,000 of the population. Though, if WHO figures are to be believed this rises to nearly 16 persons per 100,000 killed on the road.

Very few crashes are reported unless the death toll is particularly high. In Lingbao in Henan Province a minibus crashed on Monday [July 20] killing 9 and injuring 15. Pictures even made it to international news websites including the Wall Street Journal. But for the other 190 killed across China, there was scant coverage.

In one unusual attempt to curb road accidents Chinese police are supplying drivers with chilli peppers to prevent them from falling asleep at the wheel. "It's really good to have some hot peppers when you are tired from driving. They make you alert," driver Chen Jun told one newspaper. Police in the south-western Chongqing region began serving the chili peppers at highway service stations and have distributed more than 1.5 kg of peppers in just nine days. "It's an unbelievable quantity," a police officer is quoted as saying.

The move was inspired by two sleepy drivers from Hunan who asked for peppers to keep them awake. According to Chinese beliefs, people often feel more sleepy in spring. "After a long winter, people have gathered too much fire inside the body, because they tend to eat hot food and wear thick clothes to keep them warm," says doctor Wang Le, from the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. "It kills your vital energy which makes you feel tired in the spring."

Yuan Qinglai, the secretary of the number four team of Chongqing highway police, holds a similar belief. "Because of the change of weather recently, more and more drivers got tired and sleepy easily, especially in the afternoons, and accidents seemed to increase," he said. Yuan believes that the chilli peppers are working well with sleepy drivers. "When Chairman Mao Zedong got tired late at night while he was writing, he would take some peppers to keep his spirit up," the police office said.

It is unclear whether the move by Chongqing police is part of an effort by the government to encourage local police authorities to step up efforts to increase road safety ahead of the National Day later this year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China.
tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hu's been bribing who?

Who's who - Stern Hu, Hu Jintao and Hu Heifeng

In the past few weeks Western media in particular has been focused on the arrest of an Australian national accused by China of industrial espionage and bribery. Stern Hu, a former Chinese citizen, and three Chinese colleagues were arrested earlier this month after China lost its bid in lucrative iron ore mining rights.

Detained by authorities on 5th July, the issue made front page headlines in Australia and around the world as speculation grew over how business relationships in China might be affected in the future. Information found stored on Hu's personal laptop, seized by investigators, allegedly contained confidential business information of several dozen major business partners of Rio Tinto, including storage levels and sales plans, deemed much too specific and precise to have been acquired through legal means.

This information, in the opinion of Chinese investigators, demonstrated that Rio Tinto, an exporter of iron ore and Stern Hu's employer, had an unfairly sophisticated and questionably thorough level of understanding of the Chinese market.

As such authorities suggest that such information could only have been obtained through bribery and other illegal means. "Competent authorities have sufficient evidence to prove that they have stolen state secrets and have caused huge loss to China's economic interest and security," the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said shortly after Hu's arrest.

Political representations

Expressions of concern came swiftly fro Hu's former boss John Dougall and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and a former diplomat to China, came under increased pressure from other politicians to make representations to the Chinese government. Rudd has failed to intervene on a personal level and been widely criticised in Australian media.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull openly criticised Ruddd for failing to intervene. On Friday 17th July he told reporters in Brisbane that Australians should be disappointed their own prime minister and foreign minister had failed to become involved. As the US commerce secretary headed to Beijing to discuss the situation, Australia had remained distinctly quiet, Turnbull asserted.

"What we've seen over the last day or so is the prime minister engaging in what he said he didn't want to do, which is megaphone diplomacy, issuing one press statement after another," he said. "It's better doing what we encouraged him to do right at the outset, to very quietly and very deliberately pick up the telephone, talk to his counterpart in Beijing and express the very deep concern that Australians have about the way in which Stern Hu has been detained. "There is no doubt that the Americans have stepped in where Kevin Rudd is afraid to go."

When Gary Locke, the new US commerce secretary, touched down in Beijing to lobby on behalf of American trade interests, he also carried with him a brief representing the interests of a third country. Locke had promised to raise with Beijing's leaders the case of Stern Hu, the China-based Australian executive of Rio Tinto. "All we can say right now to the Chinese government . . . [is] simply urge greater transparency and following of due process," Locke said in a Bloomberg Television interview. "Until people have the full set of facts, how can we make any judgments?"

Following his meetings, the US Commerce Secretary said he had raised the case with Chinese officials, but not with Premier Wen Jiabao at a meeting in Beijing. Speaking at a news briefing, Locke said the United States had urged China to follow "due process" and communicate with the Australian government in the Rio Tinto case. He failed to elaborate, however, on the nature ofthe allegations or the veracity of the claims.


But speculation was already circulating as to the real reasons why Stern Hu had been detained. And Rio Tinto, concerned for its other employees, advised many to leave the country. While sources told the Wall Street Journal that a number of staff had been told to leave or not return to China, Rio Tinto's London office declined to elaborate. "We still have a number of staff in China," said Nick Cobban, a spokesman for Rio Tinto. Meanwhile the head of the company's iron-ore operations, Sam Walsh, has insisted allegations that Rio staff had bribed officials at Chinese steel mills were "wholly without foundation."

The sharpest criticism has been reserved in the press. "What makes it so sensational is the combination of a highly publicized major commercial negotiation that has failed with the immediate arrest of a principal figure, raising the possible inference of retaliation," Jerome Cohen, a leading expert on the Chinese legal system, told

Many analysts support the retaliation theory. The four arrests came just days after the iron-ore price negotiations between China's steel industry and Rio Tinto and other producers ended without agreement. Rio Tinto also rejected Beijing's recent attempt to take a big ownership stake in the mining giant. On the face of it, the arrest of the four employees appears like an attempt to teach a foreign company a "brutal" lesson.

Hu's involvement

There is much speculation that Hu Jintao, China's president, ordered the arrests personally, though the Chinese Foreign Ministry has denied any such involvement. Such rumours persist however, and there is also a growing belief that internal political posturing may also have some bearing on the case.

Senior Chinese leaders are going after all parties, not just the foreign ones, in the iron-ore negotiations,'s Gordon Chang writes. The Party's fight to reassert control comes at the same time fresh rumors of unhappiness with Premier Wen Jiabao's management of the economy are beginning to emerge. Chang suggests that President Hu may even be attempting to undermine Wen, in what may be the initial stages of a blame game for the country's recent economic difficulties.

Such infighting may grow as senior officials ready themselves for the next leadership transition, scheduled to to take place at the Communist Party Congress in the fall of 2012. In the past, members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the top organ of power in China, have used charges of high-level corruption to sideline adversaries, Chang says. With Premier Wen in charge of the economy, he would be the obvious target of allegations of corruption at important commercial enterprises. But of course much of this is conjecture, but political infighting may make doing business in China all the more difficult.

Blurred lines

To conduct business in China, it's all about relationships. There may be rules and regulations, but long-time China hands will tell you it can be a complicated and often frustrating experience. So one needs to find the right person, either in government or the private sector, and that person must like you.

A little wining and dining may not seem unreasonable in order to build on that relationship. Entertaining a senior member of the Chinese team which negotiates the price of iron at a luxury box during the Olympics, as BHP did last year may seem appropriate. It's not illegal, but it is a legal grey area, says Xianfang Ren, a senior analyst with Global Insight. Talking to CNN, he says, "The line between entertainment, public relations, and government relations and bribery, commercial bribery it's kind of blurred here in China...Especially in a country where good government relationships are important in getting deals and contracts."

So is it just sour grapes and a form of retaliation by the Chinese? Derek Scissors from Heritage says the situation can suddenly change, especially during high-level iron ore negotiations where billions of dollars are at stake. "The international message they're sending is, if things get ugly enough and important enough we're going to break the rules. We'll follow our rules not international rules; we're not going to respect the rights of multinational executives'," Scissors tells CNN.

The line of acceptable behaviour may have been redrawn. Guanxi, or "developing good long-term relationships", is now a more difficult and more dangerous minefield. Xianfang Ren suggests that foreign companies stick to their own high standards. In short don't do in China what you wouldn't do back home, even if it seems as though everyone else is doing it.

No level playing field

But the difficulties of doing business in China have existed for a long time, and there is no level playing field. "This case illustrates some of the uncertainty of getting involved in business in China," says John Frankenstein, assistant professor of economics at the City University of New York. "A Chinese lawyer once told me 'basically, the state can legitimately intervene in any deal at any time under any pretext'."

"There are a lot of multinationals who came to China and have a fact-finding, commercial information arm. For those people it's certainly worrying," says Tom Miller, of the Beijing-based economic consultancy Dragonomics. "If you are in the kind of business where you think there might be an overlap between commercial information and state secrets, you would be concerned. The problem is that Chinese law on this is very, very oblique and frankly no one knows what a state secret is."

The worst fears of foreign investors appear to have been mitigated by the emerging details of the Rio case. "I don't think it's as alarming as it looked on day one," said one business adviser who asked not to be identified. In fact many people are reluctant to speak on the record, or have been instructed not to do so by their companies, in a sign of the case's sensitivity.

It's a case that may be long running. Under Chinese law, Stern Hu may be held for up to 7 months before being charges. And some recent reports suggest he may face life imprisonment if convicted. This doesn't bode well for those involved in a little 'guanxi'.

Hu Jintao's son

But for China the issue of bribery came knocking a little closer to home this week after a company linked to Hu Jintao's son became involved in controversy. Two Namibians and a Chinese national were arrested last week in Namibia as part of a probe into bribery allegations involving Nuctech, a company which until last year was headed by Hu's 38-year-old son, Hu Haifeng.

Nuctech representative Yang Fan and two Namibians, Teckla Lameck and Jerobeam Mokaxwa, were arrested after Namibia's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) discovered that a 12.8 million US dollar down payment on 13 scanners had been diverted to a firm called Teko Trading owned by the two Namibians. Nuctech, which provides security scanning equipment, has a Namibian government contract to supply equipment in a 55.3 million US dollar deal, paid for with a Chinese loan granted when the Chinese president visited the country in 2007. Investigators say the down payment was diverted to Teko Trading between March and April. All three of the accused later drew large sums from the Teko account, with Yang taking 16.8 million Namibia dollars (2.1 million US dollars), most of which he is said to have paid into an investment fund, investigators say.

Hu Haifeng was president of Nuctech, which provides scanning technology, until last year, when he was promoted to Communist Party secretary of Tsinghua Holdings, which controls Nuctech and more than 20 other companies.

Hiding the news

While Hu Haifeng's link to the company, and the alleged bribery, is tenuous, the media have pounced on the story, especially in the light of recent allegations surround Stern Hu. But while in China, there is much discussion about the Stern Hu case, attempts to read developments over Hu Haifeng's connection with Nuctech and the alleged briberay allegations are much harder to come by. Searches for information on the case turn up error messages such as, "The search results may contain content not in line with relevant laws, regulations and policies." More sites were added to China's hit list on Thursday as it attempts to stifle the information flow of anything it deems counter-productive to its interests.

In the last two months sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Blogger and Twitter have been blocked as censors seek to limit information flowing out of China concerning the Xinjiang riots and the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square 'incident'. China's mainstream media which is tightly controlled by the government, and newspapers as well as television news have made no mention of the Nuctech case in recent days.

Last week Gary Locke, the US Commerce Secretary, also raised issues over control of the Internet in China, including problems that Google Inc. faces as well as the proposed Internet-filtering software called Green Dam-Youth Escort which Beijing recently tried to introduce. He said he brought up the issue with officials from China's industry ministry and with Commerce Minister Chen Deming. Google's YouTube and blogging service Blogger, including its own official page, have been blocked in China for some months.

What with uncertainties over 'guanxi', the difficulties of understanding Chinese law and continued disruption of the Internet, business in China is not getting any easier. Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has already warned Beijing the world is watching, and that China too had big economic interests at stake in its relationship with Australia. Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith have both said China may harm its international reputation through the Stern Hu issue. But it seems China is not in the mood to ease its approach, insisting that they have "sufficient evidence" to show Stern Hu had obtained state secrets by illegal means. Maybe the world isn't being stern enough with China.

Hu Jintao's involvement in Stern Hu's arrest remains unclear. Stern Hu's fate is meanwhile extremely uncertain. And there is little talk of Hu Haifeng and his father, China's president Hu Jintao, who may or may not have anything to do with bribery allegations in Namibia. The speculation and mud slinging is likely to continue for some time to come.

Update: Hu stern was convicted in March 2010 and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. [Wikipedia: Hu Stern / Rio Tinto espionage case]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Zealand moves closer to Australia

Last week's 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck the south island of New Zealand has shifted the country closer to Australia, by 30 centimetres. "New Zealand just got a little bigger, is one way to think of it," seismologist Ken Gledhill said. The biggest earthquake measured so far this year, and the largest to strike New Zealand in 78 years, caused alarm but no major damage in the south of the country on July 15th. A tsunami alert was issued though waves of only 20 cm were reported. Despite the slight shift towards the Australian continent, the countries still remain some distance apart at more than 2,259 km. Many have already joked that air fares are unlikely to be affected.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Correction - No deaths in tanker crash

Corrected: Three people were injured after a gas tanker carrying some 9000 gallons [34,000 litres] of fuel overturned and exploded on an I-75 overpass in Hazel Park, Michigan in the United Sates. Reports say that a bridge has collapsed following a massive fire and a series of blasts.
A Michigan state police spokesman told reporters that two tankers were involved in the incident which occurred at 20:30 local time. Fire crews attending the scene were confronted with huge clouds of black smoke and roads in the area have been closed. Earlier reports that two had died appear to be incorrect. BNO put a post on its Twitter feed earlier in the day that 2 individuals had been killed, but authorities have not confirmed this.

2 dead in tanker blast on US freeway

At least two people have died after a gas tanker carrying 9000 gallons [34,000 litres] of fuel overturned and exploded on an I-75 overpass in Hazel Park, Michigan in the United Sates. Reports say that a bridge has collapsed following a massive fire and a series of blasts. A Michigan state police spokesman told the media that two tankers were involved in the incident which occurred at 20:30 local time. Fire crews attending the scene were confronted with huge clouds of black smoke and roads in the area have been closed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Huge quake strikes New Zealand

A massive earthquake has struck New Zealand triggering a tsunami alert. Local news reports say that people ran from restaurants in Queenstown as buildings shook, and lights and phone lines went down. The GNS recorded it as a 6.6 magnitude quake off the west coast of the South Island some 170km from Invercargill. Overseas monitors have put the magnitude as high as 7.8. Wanaka resident Simon Darby told the New Zealand Herald a rumbling feeling in the ground forced him to run outside of his house.

"It must have lasted about two and half minutes. I lived in Tokyo for three years so I know what large quakes are like. Even though we are maybe 400km from the epicentre this was easily the longest and biggest I have ever felt," he said. "It wasn't very violent, more of a rolling feel. But it had a power about it - I ran straight outside into the carpark."

There are between 10,000 and 15,000 earthquakes in and around New Zealand each year. Most are small, but between 100 and 150 are big enough to be felt, according to GNS Science.
tvnewswatch reporting from Beijing, China

Iranian plane crashes-150 feared dead

An Iranian passenger plane carrying 150 people has crashed in the north of the country, the Irna state news agency has said. Reports from the agency say that all those on board the aircraft which went down in northwest Iran near the city of Qazvin may have perished. It is believed the Tupelov belonging to Caspian Airlines crashed while flying from Tehran to the Armenian capital of Yerevan. "The 7908 Caspian flight crashed 16 minutes after its takeoff from the International Imam Khomeini Airport (IKIA)," Iran's Aviation Organization spokesman, Reza Jafarzadeh said.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Expats angry at Internet blocks

Expats living across China have expressed anger as authorities continue their blocking of popular websites. Last month saw several websites blocked as the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests neared. Blogger and Wordpress, both popular blogging sites have been unavailable in China for sometime but authorities have increased the list of sites deemed to be a threat to China's security. Twitter, the popular micro-blogging site also found itself targeted as did the social networking site Facebook. And it didn't stop there. Google and Gmail were both disrupted by the so-called Great Firewall of China and Microsoft's Bing search engine was also blocked as was their Hotmail and Messenger services.

By the end of June most services had returned and access was once again restored, though Blogger, Wordpress and other blogging sites remained unobtainable. But as riots spread across the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in north-west China, authorities once again launched a war on a number of websites.

One of the first to be blocked was Twitter and even Tweetdeck, which had previously managed to circumvent the outage, failed to get past the Great Firewall. But it was the blocking of the popular social networking site that brought cries of foul.

For expats living across the vast continent complained that they had once again lost a valuable way of keeping in touch with friends and family back home. The Examiner carried several comments by unhappy internet users, some stating they may quit their business in China. "This censorship is actually getting worse and not just affecting a particular website, but the Internet connection as a whole," said one Internet user. "I am seriously considering leaving this country because doing online business here is too difficult," he said.

Even as early as last month some were complaining that many legitimate people and businesses were suffering from the blanket bans on services such as Blogger. One businessman complained that his enterprise had suffered as he used his blog to advertise his services in China and the blocking of blogspot effectively meant his clients couldn't access his website.

While it may be true to say some groups use these open access and free to use websites to express dissenting views, many have become a part of everyday life and business for millions. Twitter has become an invaluable tool for journalists and businesses alike. Many blogs provide technical information for businesses as well as important press releases.

The irony is that even China's own news gathering organisations are suffering from the blocks. Not being able to access the Google official blog for press releases and read live information pouring in on Twitter slows down the whole process of gathering and disseminating reports.

The blocking of sites appears at times to have no sense of logic. Even Amazon, the online retailer has been struck by the continued blockages. Today [Monday] the NASA home page was inaccessible for a time and earlier this month the Cancer Research UK website appeared to have been targeted.

This week Google CEO Schmidt said that countries like China and Iran blocked the use of the Internet at "their peril" and some groups have called on Barack Obama to punish US companies who aid such regimes. The Global Online Freedom Act (Gofa) could see US companies fined if they profit from involvement in online censorship. Up to $2m (£1.2m) might be levied on US companies that provide information or technology that aids the restriction of Internet services. The bill has failed to make it on to the statute books in the past, but leading campaigners are now pleading with legislators to act. Already CEOs of companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco Systems have found themselves grilled by US politicians over their apparent sanctioning such use of their services. They are effectively accused by some of providing weapons to the enemy, albeit one with which America is tied to economically.

It is unclear whether such threats will change the policy of companies like Yahoo or Cisco, or that predictions of falling business may dissuade China and others from blocking Internet access. In the short term at least access to vast proportions of the Internet are becoming more difficult to access as China has widened its net to take out proxy websites that facilitate a way around the Great Firewall of China.

tvnewswatch is already finding access to the net difficult and frustrating. Proxies have been blocked. Tweetdeck no longer works, and research is becoming very difficult. For the time being tvnewswatch is able to post to blogger, though sadly it is impossible to post pictures. The tvnewswatch Twitter feed is also still active, but for how long is anybody's guess.

tvnewswatch reporting from Beijing, China

Friday, July 10, 2009

North Korea believed behind DoS attacks

South Korean officials are investigating an apparent cyber attack that has paralyzed websites of major government agencies, banks and Internet service providers.

The websites belonging to the presidential Blue House, South Korea's defence ministry and Shinhan Bank are among several sites that have been hit in suspected attacks that began at around 6 p.m. local time on Tuesday this week. Access to Naver, a leading Internet portal, has also been disrupted.

In a statement released by South Korea's Communications Commission, they said the attacks consisted of "massive harmful traffic to specific sites causing access slowdown or disablement." The commission said that national institutions, banks and media sites were among the apparent targets.

The attack was also reported to have targeted, The South Korean site of online auctioneer Ebay, also appeared to have been disrupted by the cyber-attacks.

Ahn Jeong-eun, a spokeswoman for the government's Korea Information Security Agency, said the attacks appeared to be linked to an ongoing and unusually resilient attack against government websites in the United States, including sites for the US treasury and the Secret Service.

Attacks against US sites began on July 4, the US Independence Day holiday, and continued to affect access to several sites well into Tuesday.

Ahn said that preliminary investigations seemed to show the attacks were aimed only at paralyzing access to the sites, rather than hacking into secure networks or stealing information.

Access to some websites appeared normal by Wednesday this week, though the South Korean president and defence ministry remained unobtainable.

The attack involves so-called Denial of Service or DoS attacks in which a large number of computers all attempt access to a single website at the same time. The increased traffic overwhelms servers and effectively shuts down the website concerned.

There has been no indication as to who may be behind the South Korean attack, but it comes just weeks after the country's military announced it was setting up a special cyber warfare command to fend off attacks from North Korea and other countries.

According to a report released in May, South Korea's military networks experience an average of tens of thousands of hacking and virus attacks every day. While some fingers have pointed at North Korea, there has been no substantive proof they were behind the attacks. Denial of Service attacks are often undertaken by placing net-bots onto other unsuspecting users' computers before triggering them to launch in simultaneous attacks. So far authorities have said attacks came from at least 16 different countries.

Recent years have seen governments around the world ramp up investment in cyber warfare and cyber defence as part of their security and military programmes. Last year, in the weeks leading up to the war between Russia and Georgia, Georgian government and corporate websites began to experience a sudden string of "denial of service" attacks. Russian government officials denied involvement, but after investigating domain names and website registration data, a group of independent Western computer experts concluded that the Russian security and military intelligence agencies were involved.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

6.0 magnitude quake hits Yunnan, China

An earthquake measuring up to 6.0 on the Richter scale has struck central Yunnan province in China destroying more than 10,000 homes. The quake hit some 150 km north-east of the Yunnan capital Kunming, close to the popular destination of Dali.
The tremor occurred at 19:19 local time [11:19 GMT] Thursday injuring more than 300 people. Xinhua News Agency reported the quake as having a 6.0-magnitude, while the U.S. Geological Survey gave a figure of 5.7.
Thirty people are said to have suffered severe injuries, and another 305 were slightly injured.
Tents, medicine and food are being distributed by relief authorities.
Thursday's earthquake comes more than a year after a massive quake struck Sichuan province in China. The 8.0 magnitude quake on 12th May 2008 killed more than 68,000 people and left nearly 18,000 more missing as well as displacing 15 million others.
tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Coffee is good for you, a study says

Coffee drinkers may be rejoicing after new research suggested that coffee may reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Dr Gary Arendash of the University of Florida showed that coffee not only helped reverse symptoms in mice but also staved off production in the brain of abnormal protein plaques, which are the hallmark of Alzheimer's.

In the UK the Alzheimer's Society is anxious not to suggest that everyone develop a caffeine habit but says that if further research confirms its benefits, coffee could become part of a lifestyle prevention plan for the disease.

It is not the first time that research has shown coffee to be a health benefit. Last year a study showed that consumption of the caffeinated drink, even lin large amounts, may even help one live longer.

Coffee drinkers in that study had slightly lower death rates than non-coffee drinkers over time, whether their drink of choice had caffeine or not. However, while the findings did not prove that coffee is protective, they strongly suggested that drinking coffee in large amounts was not harmful if you are healthy. Researcher Esther Lopez-Garcia, Ph.D., of the University of Madrid, told WebMD that among women, drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was associated with an 18 percent reduction in death from all causes, while drinking four to five cups was associated with a 26 percent reduction in risk. The risk reduction in men was smaller and could have been due to chance.

"We can't say from this one study that coffee extends your life, but it does appear that it doesn't increase the risk for death for people who are healthy," she said.There have been several studies on the health benefits for coffee with some linking regular consumption to a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even health conditions like Parkinson's disease and colon cancer.

But there are others who suggest drinking caffeinated coffee increased the risk of a heart attack and stroke in people who already have heart disease. The American Heart Association says much of the evidence is conflicting. Coffee appears to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, cirrhosis of the liver and gout, but increases the risk of acid reflux and associated diseases.

Other studies have linked the drinking of coffee with higher cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, though these risks are more associated with the caffeine content.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

tvnewswatch quarantined in H1N1 scare

Last weekend writers for tvnewswatch found themselves in quarantine and being tested for swine flu after showing flu like symptoms. Besides being outside the 7 day quarantine period, imposed on new arrivals from abroad, Chinese authorities deemed it necessary to carry out tests.

But the arrival of two ambulances with medical staff wearing staff masks and a driver wearing a full NBC suit concerned many local residents. It is not clear why the taking of blood samples could not be done in situ, but further concern was raised as the doctors took away mask wearing foreigners who had been living in their midst. With National Day approaching some were worried the entire block might be quarantined.

Tests were carried out at one of Beijing's hospitals, including blood and saliva. However after several hours waiting for the results we were told we may have to stay overnight.

Food was supplied, but at a small cost to the patient. But attempting to choose from a menu written entirely Chinese proved a little daunting, though one of the tvnewswatch team does read the language. For many westerners finding themselves caught up in quarantine with such a menu, there would be some difficulties. The quality of the food was adequate; not haute cuisine, but neither was it inedible. One dish consisted of bamboo shoots cooked with shiitake mushrooms while others consisted of Chinese cabbage and black fungi.

What was more uncomfortable was the long wait for the results as time ticked slowly away towards Monday. The long wait increased the nervousness amongst the community amongst whom we had been living this past week. There were already fears the whole residential block may have to be quarantined. This was despite reassurances that the tests were precautionary.

It's not unusual to contract a cold or flu when being in a new climate. But with heightened fears over the threat of A/H1N1, the authorities in China are taking no chances. What cannot be criticised is there general efficiency. After what felt like eternity, but in fact was less than 6 hours the tests were returned. The result was negative as regards swine flu and pointed to a bacterial infection in the throat according to doctors.

Forms and certificates were stamped and issued before everyone was discharged. Then came the phone calls necessary to inform the community leaders and others that the situation was OK. "That'll be something you will never forget," said a member of staff at where one of tvnewswatch's team was to begin work on Monday. It sure wasn't, but one was also not looking forward to less then 6 hours sleep before heading to work in central Beijing. The positive note is that everyone here is H1N1 free and except for being very hot due to the weather, we're all quite comfortable.

Authorities however continue to take the threat of swine flu very seriously. Back in the UK over 7,000 people have contracted the virus and as far as tvnewswatch understands, 3 people have died. In China the numbers have barely topped 800 with one death reported so far. The woman from Zhejiang province, who was suffering from the effects of the A/H1N1 virus, is not thought to have died from the disease. It is believed she was killed after sustaining injuries in a fall whilst visiting the toilet.