Friday, April 30, 2010

Xinhua to launch English TV service

The Chinese state run news agency, Xinhua, is to launch a 24-hour global English TV service adding to the propaganda machine that is the biggest in the world. The news service will be broadcast via satellite, cable systems, the Internet and cell phones according to Xinhua themselves. Produced by the China Network Corporation [CNC], which is affiliated to Xinhua, it will be relayed by the Asia-Pacific Satellite-6 at 134 degrees east longitude, on a frequency of 6065MHz or 3840MHz. Xinhua's President Li Congjun, speaking at a ceremony marking its launch, claimed the news channel would provide "objective, comprehensive, in-depth and multi-dimensional news analysis". CNC would "offer an alternative source of information for a global audience and aims to promote peace and development by interpreting the world in a global perspective," Li said. The cost of the operation is said to be around 45 billion yuan [$9.24 billion] and is due to go to air in July.

Xinhua already provides news content in several languages via the Internet. In addition China's international media output is augmented by the English language newspapers China daily and the Global Times. Earlier this year CCTV-9 shifted its focal from a general entertainment and news broadcaster to provide greater news coverage [Media Network]. Launched on September 25, 2000, CCTV-9 says it pulls an audience of more than 100 million in 110 countries and regions.

It is difficult to verify whether these figures are accurate however. While China's news services are carried on a wide range of broadcast platforms, many people will dismiss their output as propaganda. Chinese media has also to compete with much trusted networks such as the BBC and CNN. CNN's domestic output stretches across 93 million US households with broadcast coverage extending to over 890,000 American hotel rooms. However their global reach is extensive. CNN International can be seen by viewers in over 212 countries and territories and also provides local coverage in Chile, Spain, Turkey and India. By 2005 CNNi had reached more than 98.2 million homes in Europe alone, even surpassing the BBC. According to all international media surveys, CNN has consistently remained at the world level, the leading international news channel. But, on the main European markets, Euronews is not far behind. BBC World, which is transmitted outside the UK, is currently available in more than 268 million households in 200 countries and territories through a variety of digital and analogue satellite, cable and terrestrial platforms. In 2005 the BBC estimated it had a weekly global audience of 59 million people, a figure that has undoubtedly grown.

While it is not easy to obtain exacting figures of audience levels of these two major broadcasters, China's news media will need to do more than provide easy access to obtain more viewers and place itself alongside the likes of CNN and the BBC. China's news bias goes further than omitting facts and failing to report certain issues. Very often news will be deleted or even fabricated. Disseminating incorrect information or untruths is also common. In addition it is also well know that great efforts are made to block the dissemination of other news organisation's output. CNN and the BBC are routinely blocked withing China whenever a contentious story is aired. And news websites also suffer from similar restrictions. In order to compete on a level playing field China's media needs to build a reputation of trust. Russia's news agencies and media outlets such as Russia Today are still tainted by their past. Iran's Press TV is also dismissed as propaganda. China may give the entire world access to its output but it will be a long time before anyone tunes in [Xinhua / Global Times / USA Today  / WSJ].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, April 29, 2010

UK: Brown in the brown stuff

Gordon Brown has apologised to Gillian Duffy, a voter he met while out campaigning and whom he referred to as "bigoted". But his apology has done little to calm the media storm that threatens to scupper any chance Labour might have of winning next week's general election. 

The prime minister's comments were caught on tape by his lapel microphone which he had seemingly forgotten about as he climbed into his car. After a forceful exchange of views, Brown left and believing he was no longer being recorded spoke candidly to his aide about the encounter. "That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?" Brown said. His aide responded saying he did not know. Brown quipped that it was another aide and referred to the arrangement as being, "just ridiculous." His aide tries to reassure him that it may not be broadcast. "Not sure if they'll go with that one," the aide said. "Oh they will," Brown exclaims. Asked what she had said, Brown then let down his guard. "Everything. She's just this sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be a Labour voter. Ridiculous," Brown retorted [Transcripts: Times / BBC].

Embarrassed

It was not long before the recording was aired and Brown was further embarrassed in a radio interview when the tape was played back to him. Meanwhile Gillian Duffy was said to be shocked by the remarks. "I don't think I'd like to speak to him. I can tell you that now. I don't think I'd like to speak to him at all," she told reporters. She said she wasn't after a personal apology but wanted an answer as to why Brown referred to her as bigoted. "I don't want to speak to him again really. Just give an apology. I want to know why them comments I said there why I was called a bigot. That's all."

Media frenzy

The press went into a frenzy with the story with most papers leading with Brown's comments. The Daily Express called Brown the "Hypocrite who shames Britain". The Independent looked at the amount of time spent by the Prime Minister on key events during his tenure at No 10. apparently spending 22 minutes talking to Barack Obama at the White House, but spent 39 minutes apologising to Gillian Duffy after calling her a "bigot". According to the Telegraph Mrs Duffy had only popped out to buy a loaf of bread, but after bumping into Brown she "became the woman who could seal the outcome of the General Election", the paper said under the headline a "Day of Disaster". Running with the headline "Trouble in Rochdale" The Time showed a picture of Brown, head in hands as he appeared on the radio. The paper also referred to "a calamitous chain of events" triggered by the prime minister's blunder. The Sun, often seen as a temperature gauge of public feeling, went with "Brown Toast" inferring that the election was all but lost for Labour following the leader's remarks. The Daily Star also pulled no punches with its headline, "Bigots, that's what Brown thinks of you!" [Sky: Paper review]

Apology

In an attempt to placate Mrs Duffy, and the media, Gordon Brown visited the pensioner to offer his heartfelt apology. Emerging after more than 40 minutes talking to Mrs Duffy, the prime minister said, "If you like, I'm a penitent sinner. Sometimes you say things you don't mean to say, sometimes you say things by mistake and sometimes when you say things you'll want to correct them very quickly. I wanted to come here and say to Gillian that I was sorry, I had made a mistake, but also to say I understood the concerns she was bringing to me and I had simply misunderstood some of the words she had used." As for Mrs Duffy, she has said she will not be making any comment following Gordon Brown's visit and face-to-face apology [BBC]. 

"Yesterday was yesterday"

The issue is unlikely to go way for the prime minister who tonight faces the third and final priministerial debate. Foreign news media have also widely reported on the gaffe. US television networks wasted no time in leaping on Gordon Brown's "bigot" blunder. "Gordon Brown's campaign-trail gaffe could cost him election," blared the caption on MSNBC while CNN carried the beleaguered prime minister's apology live [Times blog].

Gordon Brown meanwhile has being attempting to put the event behind him. "Yesterday was yesterday," Brown said earlier, "Today I want to talk about the future of the economy." Unfortunately for Gordon, it is not what everybody wants to talk about. However he is in good company when it comes to gaffes [Times / BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Fake software invites attacks

Using fake software is vastly different from a fake DVD or CD. Watching a fake, or counterfeit DVD, may not provide the same quality of entertainment. Sound may be poor, it may freeze, or sometimes may not even play at all. However, it does not cause your DVD player to malfunction or your TV to explode. Using fake software on the other hand can be more than a little expensive.

Risks of counterfeit software

A few years back one virus doing the rounds was the Conficker worm. It was spread by email and infected site, but also by fake copies of software. All users of Windows XP and Windows Vista were vulnerable though those properly running an up-to-date version of a Norton security solutions were unlikely to contract the virus. Users who do not have a genuine version of Windows from Microsoft are most at risk since pirated system usually cannot get Microsoft updates and patches [Symantec].

Many people feel there is nothing wrong with piracy, and while there are valid arguments suggesting prices of the legitimate product are too high, the same can be true of the 'cheap' fake. Microsoft recently carried out a study which suggested that one in three people thought that using software piracy was satisfactory and were largely ignorant of the dangers involved such as identity theft or virus attacks [Telegraph / Microsoft].

"People need to understand that there are inherent risks to their own security, including identity theft, from using pirated software products and that they can often be the victim of other's criminal actions, such as an employer using pirated software in the workplace," said Susie Winter from the Alliance Against IP Theft.

The report highlighted the consequences people have faced by using pirated software. It found pirated software to have led to an introduction of a computer virus in 62% of cases, a loss of personal data in 31% of experiences and caused a user's computer to crash in 38% of all cases.

As well as the dangers from counterfeit software, computer users still need to be aware of the dangers of simply browsing the web. Cyber attacks, such as spam emails and computer hacking, cost businesses around the world during 2009 an average of £1.2 million, according to a recent Symantec report [Telegraph].

Microsoft fights back

Even if your fake copy of Windows doesn't contain a virus, it may present a problem on exiting China. In 2005 Microsoft introduced an anti-piracy strategy that turns the users screen black when it detects that an improper copy of Windows is running. Users can switch it back manually, only to have the process repeat itself every 60 minutes amid a stream of warnings: "You may be the victim of pirated software." [LA Times]

The Redmond, Wash.-based company's Windows Genuine Advantage initiative, started in 2005 to fight software piracy, goes further in China than in other countries. Microsoft says it wants to protect its intellectual property and help users avoid virus attacks. But the program has left many users disgruntled in a market where pirated software is widespread.

"No matter how severe the anti-piracy efforts are, Chinese users will figure out how to get around them," said Yang Fangzhou, a 25-year-old brokerage worker from Fujian province. "Most people here don't want to spend the money, and have no moral qualms about using pirated software."

Recent polls on Chinese Web portals, including QQ.com, Sohu.com and 21cn.com, found most respondents used pirated copies of Windows XP and Vista, and more than 70% strongly disliked Windows Genuine Advantage. In 2008, Beijing attorney Dong Zhengwei sent a complaint to China's Ministry of Public Security urging the police to go after Microsoft for economic damage and collective inconvenience. He termed the company's program a "hacker-style attack" that infringed on users' privacy.

Fake anti-virus software

An even more worrying report this week pointing to the rise in fake 'anti-virus' software being downloaded by computer users. In research conducted by Internet search giant Google it found an alarming rise in such activity. "The fake antivirus threat is rising in prevalence, both absolutely and relative to other forms of web-based malware," said Google in its findings. "Clearly, there is a definitive upward trend in the number of new fake antivirus domains that we encounter each week."

"Surprisingly, many users fall victim to these attacks and pay to register the fake antivirus software. To add insult to injury, fake antivirus programs are often bundled with other malware, which remains on a victim's computer, regardless of whether a payment is made." [Telegraph]

Fake software is becoming more widespread around the world, but it is in Asia, countries like Thailand and China, which are seeing the biggest breaches of copyright infringement. An estimated 82% of software in China is pirated, according to the Business Software Alliance industry group, compared with 93% for world leader Armenia and 20% for the U.S.In a country like China, where fake is the order of the day, many so-called netizens may find out the hard way what IP infringement can lead to. Even if their ID isn't stolen along with their bank balance, they well be staring at a blank screen.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Widespread fallout from Greece's deficit

The International Monetary Fund is looking at raising its share of Greece's financial rescue package by €10 billion [$13.2 billion] amid fears that a planned €45 billion bail-out will fail to prevent the country's debt crisis from spiralling out of control [FT / Reuters]. 

Stocks around the world took a dive Tuesday as Portugal showed signs it too was being affected by the crisis. Europe faces renewed economic turmoil after Greece's credit rating was slashed to "junk status" by Standard and Poor. Portugal was also downgraded by the agency. 

On Wednesday Greece's securities regulator banned short-selling in shares on the Athens bourse until June 28 after investors responding to the country's deepening debt crisis ditched Greek assets a day earlier. European shares dropped in early trading Wednesday, following falls on Wall Street and a slide in Asian markets overnight. There are mounting concerns that Greece's debt problems will spread and that public opposition in Germany against bailing out debt-stricken Greece could hamper efforts in pulling Greece from the quagmire of economic ruin.

In the US the Dow sank 213 points, or 1.9%, and the S&P plunged 2.3%. The Nasdaq also dived some 2%. Meanwhile Asian markets saw similar losses. Japan's benchmark Nikkei index lost 2.6% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed 1.4% lower. The Shanghai Composite declined 0.3%. Concerns about a euro zone debt crisis has helped strengthen the dollar which climbed 1.5% against the euro on Tuesday to $1.3176 [FT / CNN]

In Britain where an election campaign is in full swing, some newspapers were warning that the country needed to take action in order to avoid similar problems face by Greece. The Daily Mail said that Britain had a similar deficit ratio to Portugal and warned that if the national debt was not reduced immediately, Britain's credit rating also risked being downgraded with devastating results for interest rates and the pound. Conservative leader David Cameron also voiced his concern. "This is a warning of what can happen if you don't pay back your debts," he said. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said Britain would not go the same way as Greece.

In Greece the interest rate on two-year government borrowing ended Tuesday at 13.5%. Some commentators have said it is now considered safer to lend money to Iraq or Venezuela than to Greece [BBC]. When ratings agencies downgrade the country's credit rating it means they think it is a riskier place to invest. If it reaches junk status, a country loses its investment grade status. The dilemma is what to do about the situation. While Germany's Angela Merkel initially backed plans to bail out Greece, she has faced a public back-clash. 

"Germany will help if the appropriate conditions are met," Merkel said. "Germany feels an enormous obligation towards the stability of the euro. If Greece is ready to accept tough measures, not just in one year but over several years, then we have a good chance to secure the stability of the euro for us all." However she did not elaborate on what conditions would be put forward though Merkel rejected the idea of expelling Greece from the eurozone.

Greece's budget deficit last year was 13.6% of GDP, one of the highest in Europe and more than four times the limit under eurozone rules. The country's debt currently stands at about €300 billion. Because of the impact on the common European currency there are fears that Greece's troubles in the international financial markets will trigger a domino effect, toppling other weak members of the eurozone, such as the so-called "Piigs", Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain as well as Greece, all of whom face challenges to re-balance their books. Just as the global economic crisis appeared to be over, Greece has become a rather large fly in the ointment [BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring finally arrives in Beijing

Spring has finally arrived in Beijing, though one could almost say it's summer on some days as temperatures have recently hit 21°C. Saturday was particularly warm and many Beijingers flocked to parks to enjoy the cherry blossom. Many photographers were also brought out by the warmer weather. At Yuyuantan park several could be seen snapping pictures of a golden sunset with the backdrop of the CCTV tower. Meanwhile several took to swimming in the lake, though most were content just to enjoy the warm temperatures and the blooming flowers.

While the blossom is out, the weather is not completely stable. Monday brought cooler temperatures and a strong wind was blowing up dust as well as blossom from the trees. However it is expected to be a great deal warmer  by Friday with temperatures reaching 25°C. It has been a long time coming, and much appreciated, especially after a harsh winter which saw several bouts of snow. Unfortunately the pleasantness of spring will soon give way to the intolerable humidity that is a Beijing summer.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, April 26, 2010

St George almost ignored by the English

Friday 23rd April is was St George's Day, but one could easily pass the event by without noticing. While greater efforts have been made this year to promote the patron saint of England, many English could be forgiven to thinking it was a day like any other. A pageant took to the streets of London for the first time since the time of Queen Elizabeth I, but most spectators were tourists rather than patriots since most English citizens were busy working at their desks. This after all is not a national holiday. And the enthusiasm for St George and his mythical dispatching of a dragon is little more than a passing thought in many people's mind. A few flags fluttered across Britain and some pubs made the effort to draw in custom, but there is still the fear amongst many that the raising of the English flag might be interpreted as racist given its hijacking by right with groups. Calling people in England and mentioning St George's Day was met with indifference or surprise. Some English had not even been aware of the even while others had not celebrated their patriotism in anyway.

More than 6000 km away one might think there would be a hint of English national pride amongst expats living away from home. St Patrick's Day was widely celebrated across Beijing. There were many bars selling Guinness cheap and Irish flags decorated many establishments. But St George was almost completely ignored. The Chamber of Commerce did organise an event on Saturday costing patrons in excess of £88 to partake in an evening of English tucker and gin & tonics. On the less expensive end was an event in Sanlitun's Luga's Villa. This was billed as a St George's Day party but apart from the two for one offer on English Bombadier beer, there was little here that could be regarded as English. There were no St George's flags to bee seen anywhere. The hundreds that gathered in this Mexican restaurant come bar [yes, that's right, Mexican] had come only for the free 'local beer' that was on offer between 8 and 10pm. Almost on the stroke of ten most people evaporated into the area around Sanlitun. There were a few Brits still hanging one, drinking their English beer and eating hotdogs at £1.50, but there was little celebration. There was no rejoicing in bellowing Jerusalem or Land of Hope and Glory. Only the sounds of Blur over the speakers gave any feel of Englishness.
 
So why the lack of enthusiasm for St George? Is it the fact he probably wasn't English and that there are no, nor have there ever been dragons? One Englishman in Luga's Villa said, "I guess we're stuck with it, but he doesn't really represent England." Well, maybe not, but is that a reason to forget one's Englishness or patriotism? Perhaps the English have never been as patriotic as other nations. Maybe that's how the reserved Englishman prefers it. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recriminations fly as flights resume

Flights began to resume at airports across Europe Wednesday though it may take much time to clear the backlog of thousands of passengers still stranded around the world. British Airways has said it may take weeks for flights to return to normal following five days of disruption brought about after airspace was closed over much of Europe due to a cloud of ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. As passengers began to resume their journeys there have been bitter accusation from airlines that the shutdown was unnecessary and amounted to over-cautiousness on the part of air authorities and government.

Recriminations

Some airlines are seeking compensation from governments over the disruption with some estimating cost running into billions of dollars. "For an industry that lost $9.4 bn last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8 bn in 2010, this crisis is devastating," the the International Air Transport Association [IATA] chief Giovanni Bisignani said. "Airspace was being closed based on theoretical models, not on facts." He said the situation had been exacerbated by "poor decision-making" from governments and called on them to offer compensation. "I am the first one to say that this industry does not want or need bailouts. But this crisis is not the result of running our business badly," Bisignani said.

Other airlines have also called for a review of EU passenger compensation rules, which require them to provide accommodation for those prevented from flying. In particular Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary said it was "absurd" that his firm had to spend thousands of euros on someone whose ticket might have cost only a few euros. 

However there have been more pragmatic responses. Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson told the BBC that he believed governments would be unlikely to impose a blanket ban again. "I think if they'd sent up planes immediately to see whether the ash was actually too dangerous to fly through or to look for corridors where it wasn't very thick, I think that we would have been back flying a lot sooner," he said.

Scientists defend ban

Scientists have said there were few options after the massive ash cloud began to spread over Britain and towards Europe. Henri Gaudru, the president of the European Volcanological Society, said, "This was not an over-reaction. We... do not know enough about these clouds and what can happen to planes flying into them," he told a news conference in Geneva. Safe particulate levels have yet to be established, though it is known that volcanic ash can pose a hazard.

As the recent cloud spread across northern Europe several NATO jets returned to base with serious problems and damage to their engines. And there are further historical references. In 1982 a British Airways 747 lost power to all four engines after flying through a volcanic cloud and dropped 24,000 feet [7 km] before regaining control. There was also an incident on the 15th December 1989 when KLM Flight 867, a B747-400 from Amsterdam to Anchorage, Alaska, flew into the plume of the erupting Mount Redoubt, causing all four engines to fail.

Volcanic ash is made up of fine particles of rock and glass. It is also very sharp and jagged. Flying into a cloud of volcanic ash can sandblast a cockpit window far more seriously than sand, which are more spherical in shape. But the danger comes from such particles which are often only 10 microns in size, entering jet engines. The very high temps generated by the engines can melt the glass which can in turn clog vents and cause engines to stall.

Tests prove difficult

But it it is the concentration levels at which this becomes a risk that has yet to be established. While some conducted tests of their own over the weekend none of them had scientific measuring equipment on board and could not have assessed whether they had flown thrown high levels of ash or not. On Sunday, the Met Office and two UK universities, Reading and Hertfordshire, set out to test the air with balloons using a newly developed sensor that can detect the fine dust that is the cause of the concern. It is more dangerous than the thick dust seen in photographs for the simple reason that to the naked eye it is indistinguishable from light cloud, or is totally invisible. It does not show up on ordinary radar but some laser systems have had some success. Commercial airliners do not have this fitted and it is not considered totally reliable.

But even these tests proved difficult to mount. The Met Office said, "The RAF helicopter scrambled at the weekend to transport the scientists and equipment to fly to Scotland at low level under the ash plume had to be grounded, forcing a long journey through the night by road for scientists from Reading University, the Met Office in Exeter and Lincolnshire."

The tests "clearly showed a 600 metre thick layer of dust at a height of 4 km [13,000 feet]. The layer was found to contain highly abrasive dust particles, at concentrations of a third of a milligram of dust in each cubic metre. While the amount sounds small, a typical jet engine would ingest some 60,000 million of these particles every second."

While some criticism was directed at the government, they themselves take advice from air traffic services such as NATS in Britain and Eurocontrol which covers European airspace. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was well within its rights to step in to sort out the ash cloud aviation crisis, air safety experts have said. The air traffic control company NATS had also "acted logically" in shutting down airspace, David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International magazine said. But he added that in hindsight it might be shown that NATS could have kept some services open.

Hindsight may help to provide a convenient scapegoat for the crisis, whether it is NATS, Eurocontrol, the CAA or government authorities. It may be the case as some have suggested that these bodies did not act quickly or decisively enough in launching their own test flights to assess the risks. The fact remains that the situation was unprecedented. Volcanic clouds of such a scale have not affected such a wide region of airspace before. While the costs of shutting European airspace may exceed several billion dollars, this is perhaps better than risking the hundreds of lives that may have been put in jeopardy should flights been allowed to continue. 

Meanwhile, the CAA have issued new guidelines which effectively increase tolerance levels, though in turn this may increase risks. "The major barrier to resuming flight has been understanding tolerance levels of aircraft to ash," the CAA said. "Manufacturers have now agreed increased tolerance levels in low ash density areas." The new volcanic ash tolerance level set by the CAA is a concentration of 0.002 grams per cubic metre at regular cruise altitudes. Any airspace with a greater ash concentration is a no-fly zone.

However, the European Union's aviation authorities, Eurocontrol and the European Aviation Safety Agency, will now need to establish whether the data from the handful of test flights is sufficient to establish the new tolerance level as a European standard. If it is, it will then go forward to the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization for consideration as a global standard [Chief Officers / Channel 4 / New Scientist].

Criticism of media coverage has also surfaced. Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the European Commission, wrote to the Financial Times on Thursday saying that some of its reporting was "grossly inaccurate." Describing the situation faced by airline in the last week as unprecedented, Kallas said member states were "absolutely right to react as they did in applying the model and procedures agreed for the European area in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation guidelines." 

It was also clear that a more differentiated approach was needed and that no member state acting independently could take the first step to introduce change, Kallas states. This was why the European Commission together with the Spanish presidency and Eurocontrol therefore came together to propose a co-ordinated European approach, the European Vice-President adds. "Without European Commission facilitation, large parts of Europe's airspace would still remain unnecessarily closed," Kallas argues, while emphasizing that the commission's primary concern was to uphold the rights of the passengers and to get industry back in the air while observing very difficult safety constraints.

Flights resume

The European air traffic agency Eurocontrol said it expected "almost 100%" of flights to operate in the continent on Thursday. However, a fresh volcanic ash alert has led Australian airline Qantas to cancel one flight out of London and delay another for 11 hours until early Thursday, infuriating passengers. At London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest, traffic ran at 90% normal service on Wednesday. Many night flights are being allowed temporarily to help clear the backlog of stranded passengers.

Transatlantic services have returned to their normal level, with 338 flights arriving in Europe on Wednesday, according to Eurocontrol. German airline Lufthansa said it would fly at full capacity by operating about 1,800 flights on Thursday, up from about 700 on Wednesday. Air France said its long-haul flights were now departing as normal. Denmark, Norway and Sweden have lifted their no-fly bans, but some airspace restrictions remain over Finland and some remote Scottish isles. Meanwhile in Iceland, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano continues to erupt, but it is no longer spewing out ash into the atmosphere. "There is much, much less ash production and the plume is low," Gudrun Nina Petersen of the Icelandic Met Office said [BBC].

Repercussions

The biggest repercussion from the airspace shut down has been the financial cost. Holiday makers and the tourist industry has been particularly affected, but business travel and exports have also been severely disrupted. Even just a few days into the chaos Kenya and Zambia reported problems as fresh vegetables and flowers rotted in warehouses as suppliers faced an uncertain future. The International Air Transport Association has estimated the loss to the airline industry alone at around $1.7 trillion in relation to the Icelandic ash cloud. The true cost to business may never be established. 

While some are adding up the cost some in parts of Europe will be sweeping up the ash, some of which has left a thin film on vehicles. Callers to BBC London's Vanessa show on Wednesday morning talked of a red dust settling on their cars which proved difficult to remove. Many also spoke of having suffered from dry throats and a cough since Thursday. Volcanic ash can cause such problems, though much of the advice so far issued suggests the health risks are small. Removing it from vehicles could pose a problem for some as it is abrasive [USGS]. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Google code stolen by Chinese

Google has been put in an awkward position after the New York Times revealed that its password system may have been compromised in Chinese cyberattacks last year. Those attacks resulted in Google making forceful public statements and eventually moving its censored Chinese search engine from mainland China routing all traffic to Hong Kong which is not subject to censorship. But the latest revelations may force the company to reveal more details about the attacks and announce what measures they have implement in order to reassure its vast user-base their information is secure.

The exact nature and extent of the theft has been kept secret but a person said to have direct knowledge of the investigation claims a password system that controls access by millions of users was breached. The program, code named Gaia, the Greek goddess of the earth, was attacked and while the intruders do not appear to have stolen passwords of Gmail users, it leaves open the possibility that the intruders may find weaknesses that Google might not even be aware of some independent computer experts say.

Google say they made significant changes to the security of its networks after the intrusions and even made GMail https by default. But the theft highlights a worrying concern not only for Google but also its customers. The revelations will doubtless increase the debate about the security and privacy of vast computing systems such as Google's that now centralize the personal information of millions of individuals and businesses. It may also fuel concerns, already raised by some, about doing business with China.

This cyberattack was not only an attack on Google, but also a threat to millions of individuals and companies around the world. And it appears to have been carried out under the auspices of the Chinese government. 

In his latest book Cyberwar: The Next Threat to National Security and What to do About it, Charles Clarke reveals China has already collected vast amounts of data which could allow it launch serious attacks on the West. And companies have too willingly shared data with the Chinese government, allowing it to make counterfeit products and design its own cyberweapons [Business Week].

Warning that a cyberwar is as dangerous as terrorism, the authors describe cyberweapons, list likely targets, and point out the vulnerability of power grids, aircraft, and security apparatus. Clarke, a former Special Advisor to the President for Cyberspace Security, and co-author Robert Knake, currently a principal at Good Harbor Consulting, argue that the US is already seriously behind in fighting this latest threat.

Clarke points a finger at Microsoft which refused to "share a copy of its secret operating code to its largest US commercial customers," but was compliant with demands from the Chinese government. "By threatening to ban Chinese government procurement from Microsoft, Beijing persuaded Bill Gates to provide China with a copy of its secret operating code," he says, and as part of the deal, "China modified the version sold in their country to introduce a secure component using their own encryption."

Clarke says China has also developed its own operating system, Kylin, modeled on open source Free BSD, which has been approved by the People's Liberation Army for use on their systems. Following the recent Google spat, Xinhua published an article headlined "Bill Gates bats for China" after the Microsoft head criticised Google's stance and announced his intention to continue doing business in the country. By effectively giving away Microsoft source code to the Chinese government, Gate's is not only batting for China, he risks becoming a lackey of the Chinese state.

Even where others have not been so compliant, by operating within China many companies have had their ideas and intellectual property stolen. Clarke cites the alarming situation that exists whereby Chinese companies sell counterfeit Cisco routers at cut-rate discounts around the world. One firm, Syren Technology, was even indicted by the FBI and Justice Department as having a customer list that included the Marines Corps, Air Force and multiple defence contractors.

"The cyberwar has already begun," Clarke argues. "In anticipation of hostilities, nations are already preparing the battlefield. They are hacking into each other's networks and infrastructures, laying in trapdoors and logic bombs -- now, in peacetime. This ongoing nature of cyberwar, the blurring of peace and war, adds a dangerous new dimension of instability."

Several technical experts have said that because Google had quickly learned of the theft of their software, it was unclear what the consequences had been. One of the most alarming possibilities is that the attackers might have intended to insert a Trojan horse, into the Gaia program and install it in dozens of Google's global data centers to establish clandestine entry points. But independent security specialists emphasise that such an undertaking would have been difficult, particularly because Google's security specialists had been alerted to the theft of the program.

While Google may have increased security it should still allay fears and make a public statement. The revelations should also serve as a wake-up call to not only tech-companies, but also individuals and businesses. Google's CEO recently announced many at the company were "paranoid" about security [Register]. The latest reports seem to indicate why.

The latest chapter to this Google saga has also stirred the imagination a little, if only because of some of the program names and a coincidental film release. Gaia is a primordial deity in the Ancient Greek pantheon and considered a Mother Goddess, as well as the name of Google's password system. A Trojan Horse program is derived from its namesake after a tale set at the time of the Trojan War, which again has links to Greek Mythology. Gaia's lineage brings forth Zeus who fathers Perseus the hero depicted in the recently released Clash of the Titans. Actually any analogy to Greek mythology may be stretching things a little far, though there have already been several stories likening Google's stance with China as being like a Clash of the Titans. Google's clash with Apple and Microsoft have also been described similarly. A cyberwar with China may need a little more help than Persus might provide.

Google may be paranoid but this new kind of war is not "a figment of our imaginations," Clarke says. "Far from being an alternative to conventional war, cyberwar may actually increase the likelihood of the more traditional combat with explosives, bullets and missiles. If we could put the genie back in the bottle, we should -- but we can't." Pandora's box, to use another mythological analogy, has already been opened.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, April 19, 2010

Volcanic ash affects flights for 5th day

Air traffic in Europe continues to be seriously affected by a cloud of ash emanating from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. Airspace remains closed, or partially closed, in more than 20 countries. However, the knock-on effect has been severe with flights heading to Europe from the U.S and across Asia also being cancelled. Hotels near major airports have been fully booked and rail companies have seen a surge in bookings as airline passengers seek alternative methods of travel.

EU transport ministers are to hold emergency talks by video conference to discuss the crisis which has affected more than 6.8 million passengers so far. EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said, "We cannot just wait until this ash cloud dissipates." Already many airlines and airports have questioned the restrictions which are costing them in excess of 200 million U.S. dollars per day. Some carriers have even warned European Commission officials in Brussels that there could be airline bankruptcies this week as a result of the flight restrictions.

Lufthansa, which says it is losing 34 million dollars every day from the crisis, said it was "scandalous" for authorities to have imposed the ban on what appeared to be limited information from computer images, rather than actual flights to test safety. Lufthansa, Europe's biggest airline group, KLM and other airlines have conducted more than a dozen flights over the weekend without incident. However the UK's Civil Aviation Authority said the airlines' test flights were of limited use because they carried no scientific probes or research equipment. "They can't collect data and they can't actually tell you whether they flew through ash or not," the CAA said.

More than sixty thousand flights have been cancelled in the last four days and Britain and France have begun to look into the possibility of using naval ships to rescue stranded passengers. The flight ban is not only affecting tourist and business travel. Cargo and freight has also been held up and in some countries there are fears that the flight bans may affect them economically. In Kenya, for example, refrigerated stores at Nairobi airport and on farms are now completely full and fresh flowers and vegetables destined for the European market in danger of perishing.

In Iceland the Meteorological Office said tremors from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano had grown more intense but the column of ash rising from it had eased to around 5 km. Weather patterns are unlikely to dissipate the cloud until later in the week and travel restrictions will probably remain in place for some time. Britain has extended a ban on most flights in its airspace until at least 19:00 local time on Monday [1800 GMT]. British Airways is unlikely to resume a normal service until Thursday at the earliest. Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands are keeping their airspace closed until 12:00 GMT on Monday. Meanwhile, Spain has re-opened its airspace after a brief closure. Officials there have also suggested its airports could be used as an entry platform into Europe. The EU may consider a proposal that passengers from countries like Britain, who are stranded in the US or Asia, would fly into Spain and then continue their journey by train, boat or coach.

It is not only regular passenger travel that has been affected over the last few days. The funeral of Polish president Lech Kaczyński in Kraków on Sunday was to have been attended by 69 presidents, prime ministers, and other heads of states. However, almost half of these, including Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Stephen Harper and Nicolas Sarkozy were unable to travel to Poland because of the disrupted air traffic. 

While some airlines have suggested the risks have been exaggerated, there has been some evidence to show the dust poses a hazard. On 15 April, five Finnish Air Force F-18 fighter jets on exercise flew into the ash cloud in northern Finland. Volcanic dust was found on the engines of three of the aircraft and a further inspection revealed extensive damage by melted glass deposits inside the combustion chamber of one of the engines. The engines were sent for disassembly and overhaul. As a result all unnecessary military flights were cancelled except for identification flights to enforce sovereign airspace. Meanwhile a BAE Hawk trainer with special equipment to sample the volcanic dust was being flown from the 41st squadron in Kauhava. Royal Air Force flights to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham were grounded, and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence considered flying British casualties of the Afghan War to coalition countries.

Stranded passengers have also found themselves in further difficulties due to visa problems. Inside Brussels airport, 200 travellers from Bangladesh were trapped, unable to leave the building without a visa. Passengers from Kolkata headed for London on an Air India flight were diverted to Frankfurt, where they were unable to leave the airport, to be taken to hotels, because they did not have visas for Germany. Meanwhile a group of passengers from the United Kingdom were facing arrest in Delhi over a breach of immigration laws, because they left the airport without visas. However some countries eased visa formalities for affected passengers including Belarus, Serbia, Finland and Russia. The UK Border Agency announced on 17 April that it "would like to reassure travellers who have been unable to leave the UK and whose visas have now expired. We appreciate that this is due to exceptional circumstances beyond your control." Travellers in this situation were advised to retain evidence of travel arrangements that should have taken them from the United Kingdom before their visas expired [Wikipedia].

Despite some airlines calling for a resumption of flights, particularly those based in Europe, others have extended bans on flying to the region. Qantas, the Australian airline, has cancelled all flights to Frankfurt and London until at least midday Wednesday as it continues to wait for confirmation that it is safe to fly over Europe. The airline, which has booked hundreds of passengers into hotels in Australia, Europe and Asia, also warned that even when flights resume, access to Europe and UK airports will be difficult due to the backlog of flights from around the world.

The enormous shroud of fine mineral dust particles thrown up by the volcano now stretches from the Arctic Circle in the north to the French Mediterranean coast in the south, and from Spain into Russia. But some experts have warned the situation could get even worse. Eyjafjallajökull volcano has erupted only twice in the past 1,100 years, once for more than a year. Each time it was followed by the eruption of the neighbouring Katla volcano, which is much larger and could cause even more serious disruption [BBC / Sky / CNNWikipedia].
tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, April 15, 2010

China censors earthquake news

Concern is mounting and questions are being asked about restrictions imposed on the reporting of the Qinghai earthquake which has so far resulted in over 600 deaths. On Thursday Xinhua carried a story in which it described how teachers used their bare hands to dig students from the rubble of a collapsed school building. The article stated that at least 34 students had perished and many others, possibly up to 200, were still buried after the Yushu Nima River Elementary School was destroyed by the 7.1 magnitude quake. But within hours of publishing the article it was deleted. Several schools are said to have collapsed and at least 66 pupils and 10 teachers were among the dead, Xinhua reported. 

The deletion of the article was too late to completely eradicate the news from the web. The People's Daily picked it up briefly, though that too was soon deleted, and several other websites also republished the article [Wenweipo - Chinese]. Advisories quickly circulated inside Chinese media outlets saying reporters must check sources. But the deletion raises the suspicion that news may be being censored deliberately to avoid accusations that poor construction was to blame. Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake the government was highly criticised after many schools collapsed while other nearby government buildings remained intact. 

In Yushu, the epicentre of Wednesday's quake, may residents spent an uncomfortable night in the open as temperatures plummeted. The freezing weather, high altitude and thin air have also made rescue efforts difficult. Tibetan Buddhist monks have turned out in force to help rescue efforts, although the town's main Buddhist monastery lays in ruins on a nearby hillside. "We were the first to help when the earthquake came. We monks are here to help the people just as much as the government," said one monk. They joined soldiers and firefighters many of them using their bare hands to dig through the rubble. But even the aid provided by monks has seemingly been omitted from official Chinese media [Xinhua] though the China Daily did mention that 500 monks had travelled to the area to "provide locals bottled water, instant noodles and dried food".

Foreign media has also spoken of the difficulties in reporting from the region. Several tweets published to Twitter by reporters spoke of restrictions imposed by authorities. Telegraph reporter Malcolm Moore posted a message saying that he had been told "all foreign journalists [had been] banned from [the] quake zone" and that Chinese blogs were reporting road blocks 80 km outside Yushu. Nonetheless several journalists did make it close to the scene. CNN's John Vause arrived late Wednesday night and on Thursday described the tragic scene of bodies being pulled from collapsed homes.

The tragic scenes have been stifled in Chinese media, many focusing on the rescue efforts mounted by soldiers and armed police. However, pictures taken by local photographers have been posted to the web, though many such sites are likely to be deleted by authorities. Pictures on one blog showed residents tending to the injured, Buddhist monks and soldiers digging through the rubble and several images of dead school children, a tragic reminder of the 2008 earthquake.

The earthquake has already prompted many aid organisations to offer help including the Red Cross, UNICEF and Direct Relief International. Even Google has set up a special Crisis Response page with links to aid agencies and a person finder tool, though for a country that so readily block social networking sites it is unlikely it will prove useful in Yushu. The censored news is of little surprise to many Chinese people. One Beijing man told tvnewswatch he was unsurprised at reports about the schools being deleted. "Sometimes, we just know what they let us know," the man named Sun said [Yahoo News / BBC / Sky News / CNN / Wikipedia].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Volcanic ash shuts UK airports

Ash spewing from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland has disrupted flights across Britain and forced airports to shut. Airline passengers are facing massive disruption after Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports were shut. Five easyJet flights due to depart from Stansted Airport were also cancelled as a result of the huge plume of ash. Further disruption has also been reported at other airports including Manchester, Liverpool, Stansted, Newcastle and Birmingham. Heathrow Airport's Twitter feed informed travellers at 05:00 GMT of possible disruption. "Due to volcanic ash drifting across the UK disruption is expected at Heathrow," the informative read. Airports across Britain have urged travellers to contact their airlines to check whether flights were affected.

Weather forecasters had warned on Wednesday that the ash plume could drift over British airspace during the night, causing significant disruption to services. The movement of the plume, which had been drifting eastwards, was being monitored by both the Met Office and NATS, the air traffic control service. Air traffic in Norway has also been halted due to poor visibility.

In a statement the air traffic control service said, "NATS has restricted the number of aircraft flying into UK airspace because of an ash cloud caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Volcanic ash represents a significant safety threat to aircraft. We are monitoring the situation with the Met Office, Eurocontrol and neighbouring countries, and working closely with the airlines to help inform their decisions about their operations. Anyone planning to fly today should check with their airline before going to the airport."

Volcanic ash, which consists of the pulverised rock and glass created by the eruptions, can jam aircraft machinery if a plane flies through the plume, shutting down the engines. Ash can also be can be sucked into the cabin itself, contaminating the passengers' environment as well as damaging the plane's electronic systems.

Forecasters say the cloud could take a number of days to disperse. Matt Dobson, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said there could be a threat in areas from Scotland to Denmark and Norway until Friday. 

Aircraft have been affected by volcanic ash in the past. In June 1982 a British Airways Boeing 747 ran into difficulties after the eruption of a volcano at Galunggung, Indonesia. Ash jammed all four engines briefly, and the aircraft plummeted 24,000 feet before they could be restarted.

Because of the threat to aviation, a global early warning system, known as the International Airways Volcano Watch, has been established. Iceland is considered as particularly vulnerable to volcanic disruption [PA / BBC / Telegraph]. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

China: Death toll hits 300 after quake

The death toll in China's Qinghai province has risen to at least 300 people following a massive earthquake Wednesday morning. A further 8,000 others were injured according to Huang Limin, deputy secretary-general of the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu. The USGS measured the quake at 6.9 on the Richter scale while China's own earthquake monitoring bureau cited the size at 7.1.

More than 85% of the houses in the Jiegu Township near the epicenter had collapsed, Zhuo Huaxia, a publicity official with the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu, told the official state media. Chinese TV showed wrecked buildings and people scrabbling through debris, as the government began a rescue mission. Yushu is hundreds of miles from an airport, and it is thought rescue crews may take time to reach the quake zone.

"Soldiers have been dispatched to save the people buried in the collapsed houses," local official Huang Limin was quoted as saying by China's state news agency Xinhua. Around 3,700 armed police of Qinghai had been dispatched to start rescue operations, the Voice of China reported. According to Xie Caishu, captain of Qinghai's armed police, more than 600 armed rescuers had already arrived in Yushu. A further 2,000 people made up of soldiers and residents of Xining, capital of Qinghai, were on their way [Xinhua / BBC / China Daily]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

China: Scores killed in 6.9 quake

At least 67 people have died and dozens are feared trapped following a 6.9 magnitude earthquake in west China. The quake struck at 07:49 local time [13/04/2010 23:49 UTC] and was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks. The epicentre was located in a remote, mountainous area about 240 kilometres northwest of Qamdo, Tibet [33.263N,  96.665E]. Qinghai borders the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xingjiang and the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan.

A Chinese military official told Xinhua news agency that the death toll was expected to rise given the damage to homes. Soldiers are said to have been dispatched to set up up tents and transport oxygen for the injured. However given the remote location rescue efforts may be hampered. Xinhua said the quake hit the county of Yushu, a Tibetan region of Qinghai, home to about 80,000 people.

Karsum Nyima, deputy director of news at local Yushu TV, told Xinhua that most of the houses in the area were made of wood with earthen walls. He said some had collapsed, including a Buddhist pagoda in a park.

In 2008, 70,000 people died when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked neighbouring Sichuan province, northwest of its capital, Chengdu [CNN / AJE / BBC / Xinhua].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pilot error blamed for Polish plane tragedy

Investigators appear to have ruled out a technical fault following a plane crash on Saturday which resulted in the death of Polish Polish President Lech Kaczynski, pointing possible blame at pilot error. All  96 passengers and crew aboard died when the Polish Air Force Tu-154 crashed just north of Smolensk, Russia [Wikipedia].

Along with Poland's President Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria Kaczyńska and other officials were on board. The Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army and senior military officers, the central bank governor, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and dignitaries in the government, vice-speakers and members of the upper and lower houses of the parliament and senior members of clergy of various denominations were also killed in the crash. They were on their way to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre; the site of which is about 19 kilometres west of Smolensk.

According to reports the pilot attempted to land at Smolensk-North air base in heavy fog, ignoring the advice of the ground control to divert to a safer airport in Minsk or Moscow. On the final approach the plane struck an NDB antenna it was homing on through the fog, failed to regain control and fell in the trees 1.5 kilometres from the airfield, breaking into pieces across the wooded area.

On Monday the Russian Health Ministry said forensic tests on the victims of the crash had been completed. "The head of the ministry Tatiana Golikova met [Polish] Health Minister Ewa Kopacz and pronounced all forensic tests to be complete," a statement said. Most of the bodies of the victims of the crash have already been removed from the wreckage and sent to Moscow but Russian and Polish investigators will continue to search for remains on Monday. Meanwhile the President's body has been identified and flown to Warsaw where it will lie in state for several days until the burial.

Investigators are now studying black box recordings in an attempt to find out why the pilot did not divert to another airport. Speaking at a meeting with the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who is in charge of the investigation, Russia's chief investigator Alexander Bastrykin, said, "The recordings that we have confirm that there were no technical problems with the plane. The pilot was informed about complex weather conditions but nevertheless made a decision to land."

The news of the tragedy has shocked Poland bringing hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Warsaw to pay their respects. At midday on Sunday air-raid sirens wailed in Warsaw and across the country church bells tolled as Poles observed two minutes of silence, a precursor to a week of official mourning. But even while Poland mourns, conspiracy theories and accusations are beginning to emerge. Fyodor Lukyanov, a political analyst and editor of the journal Russia in World Affairs, said, "Kaczynski was, to put it lightly, not a friend of Russia. Nonetheless, he is being treated with the utmost respect by the Russian leadership. This crash, however, is symbolically very gloomy ... and may reinforce in Poland the notion that everything associated with Russia is awful and bad...Even if it is confirmed that pilot error caused the crash, there will inevitably be those who say it was the KGB that killed Kaczynski."

However, Witold Waszczykowski, deputy head of Poland's National Security Bureau, said, "We did not expect this gentle, kind approach, this personal involvement from Putin, naturally it will have a positive impact on the relationship between our countries. I can imagine a high-ranking Russian delegation from Moscow coming to Kaczynski's funeral." 

There have also been questions asked as to why the President and his entourage were travelling on such an old plane. Russia has withdrawn its Tu-154 fleet, the workhorse of Eastern Bloc civil aviation in the 1970s and 80s. The planes are expensive on fuel and do not meet international noise restrictions. Its flight safety record is also poor with at least 66 crashes involving the planes in the last four decades.

In Poland, people were still struggling to come to terms with an accident described by Donald Tusk, the nation's prime minister, as the worst tragedy to befall the nation since the end of the Second World War. The fact the President was to attend a memorial to those who died in World War II at the Katyn massacre, adds yet another twisted irony to the tragedy [BBC / Sky News / CNN].
tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Sunday, April 11, 2010

tvnewswatch celebrates 5th birthday

tvnewswatch has been blogging for exactly five years. Initially started as a platform through which to make commentary on broadcast news, tvnewswatch has also provided independent comment and sometimes exclusive news content on a wide range of subjects. During those early days there were no pictures, nor links to news sources, but now every post has a photograph to illustrate the story. tvnewswatch has posted blogs from several countries, most notably China, where despite Internet restrictions a regular service has been maintained. While tvnewswatch has tried to remain impartial, regular readers will be aware that there have been 'comment and opinion' based posts. But in reporting, tvnewswatch has always tried to be factual and present the facts as known.

Started on the 10th April 2005, tvnewswatch has covered the 2005 general election in Britain as well as several local elections. The terrorist attacks in London the same year were extensively covered, as was the ongoing security threats that followed. In October 2006 tvnewswatch posted from China for the first time reporting on China's anger at North Korea's first atomic test. Following terror blasts in southern Thailand's tourist centre of Hat Yai in September 2006, tvnewswatch had exclusive eyewitness reports. In August 2007 tvnewswatch reported on the return of foot & mouth disease to Britain and the beginnings of China's problems with product safety.

In July 2008 tvnewswatch provided first hand accounts when bomb blasts ripped through two buses in Kunming in China's southern Yunnan province. Pre-Olympic coverage was also reported after arriving in Beijing in early August. Late 2008 saw the historic electing of America's first black president and tvnewswatch provided in depth commentary and analysis throughout the campaign and right through election night itself. The deepening global recession was also covered extensively from the beginning of 2008 as the first signs of a crisis began to appear.

In 2009 as the recession deepened, tvnewswatch travelled once again to China. In the past 9 months reports on a wide range of topics have been posted, including China's National Day, widening curbs on the Internet, the Hu Stern arrest and subsequent trial and conviction, and of course Google's closure of its China based search engine.

Being based in China makes the reporting of other issues less easy. CNN is generally only available in top hotels, as is BBC World. The slow nature of the Internet, as well as blocks, often prevent access to streaming services. As such tvnewswatch has been unable to give in-depth coverage on such events as the new year celebrations, the UK budget and of course the upcoming general election in Britain.

tvnewswatch will be returning to Britain in early June, but the blogging will continue. Thank you to all the loyal readers for your comments and input. Also a big thank you to the photographers, bloggers and journalists who have helped make tvnewswatch interesting and informative.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, April 09, 2010

Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren dies

Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, has died aged 64. McLaren died in a Swiss hospital on Thursday, after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer last October. Former lead singer with the Sex Pistols, John Lydon, paid tribute to McLaren saying, "I will miss him, and so should you." Meanwhile McLaren's ex-partner and designer Vivienne Westwood described him as a "very charismatic, special and talented person".

McLaren was born in London and left home as a teenager. Following a series of jobs, including one as a wine taster, he went on to attend several art colleges through the 1960s, being expelled from several before leaving education entirely in 1971. It was during this time that he began to design clothing, a talent he would later utilise when he became a boutique owner.

He was attracted to the Situationist movement, which promoted absurdist and provocative actions as a way of enacting social change. In 1968 McLaren had tried unsuccessfully to travel to Paris to take part in the demonstrations there. McLaren would later adopt many of the movement's ideas into his promotion for the various pop and rock groups with whom he was soon to involve himself.

In 1971, McLaren and his then girlfriend, the designer Vivienne Westwood, opened a London clothing shop called Let It Rock on the Kings Road in west London. McLaren's son by Westwood, Joseph Ferdinand Corré, co-founded the lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. After a stay in New York where he managed a group called the New York Dolls he returned to his store in London renaming it SEX. It was here that he met Johnny Rotten [John Lydon], Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook who were to become the Sex Pistols. 

The band courted much controversy during its short history. After their debut single Anarchy in the UK was released in December 1976, the band gained notoriety when they swore on Bill Grundy's TV show. Their concerts faced difficulties with promoters and authorities and they were fired by both EMI and A&M record companies before eventually signing with Virgin Records. In 1977, their single God Save the Queen was banned by the BBC. The band broke up at the end of a U.S. tour in January 1978 and McLaren then created his disputed film version of the Sex Pistols' story, the Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

Music journalist Jon Savage said, "Without Malcolm McLaren there would not have been any British punk. He's one of the rare individuals who had a huge impact on the cultural and social life of this nation." Savage, who wrote a definitive history of the Sex Pistols and punk, England's Dreaming, said McLaren was a "complex" and "contradictory" character who had influenced British culture in many ways.
After the Sex Pistols, McLaren went on to manage Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow before pursuing a solo career and venturing into writing and film production. However he will be most remembered for the Sex Pistols and being the self styled 'inventor' of Punk rock.

McLaren spent his later years living with his Korean American girlfriend Young Kim between Paris and New York. Kim, 38, McLaren's partner of 12 years, said the family were "devastated" by his death and he would be "sorely missed". McLaren "was a great artist who changed the world," she said.

McLaren and Dame Vivienne's son, Joseph Corré, said his father was "the original punk rocker" who "revolutionised the world". Corré said funeral arrangements were not yet made but his father had wanted to be buried in Highgate Cemetery, north London. [Pictured: L-R Malcolm McLaren, Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten [John Lydon], Glen Matlock and Paul Cook]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, April 08, 2010

UK: Anger as MPs pass digital bill

In a grandiose display of apathy only a handful of British MPs debated the controversial digital economy bill last night before others joined the session to pass it with 189 votes to 47. The government forced through the controversial digital economy bill with the aid of the Conservative party, attaining a crucial third reading, which means it will obtain royal assent and become law, after just two hours of debate in the Commons [Parliament].

The government was forced to drop clause 43 of the bill, a proposal on orphan works which had been opposed by photographers. They welcomed the news. "The UK government wanted to introduce a law to allow anyone to use your photographs commercially, or in ways you might not like, without asking you first. They have failed," said the site set up to oppose the proposals.

But not everyone is happy with the new bill. Many are concerned that the government will force sites to shutdown or even block access to certain websites in a similar way to that seen in China. In clause 8 of the bill it states, "The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright."

The definition of "a location on the Internet" where copyright violation might have occurred, or might occur in the future, is not clear. However, it could easily be applied to such sites as YouTube, BitTorrent, DailyMotion, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter and Google, all sites severely impeded in China.

It is perhaps unlikely that such restrictions will be implemented, but the fact that provisions have been put in place has cause some alarm amongst civil rights activists. The Labour MP John Hemming protested that the clause could mean the blocking of the whistleblower site Wikileaks, which carries only copyrighted work. Stephen Timms for the government said that it would not want to see the clause used to restrict freedom of speech. However, he gave no assurance that sites like Wikileaks would not be blocked.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman for culture, media and sport, protested that the clause was too wide-ranging. "It could apply to Google," he complained, adding that its inclusion of the phrase about "likely to be used" meant that a site could be blocked on its assumed intentions rather than its actions. The Lib Dem opposition to that amendment prompted the first vote, known as a division, on the bill. But the Labour and Conservative whips pushed it through, winning it by 197 votes to 40. The next 42 clauses of the bill were then considered in only five minutes.

Numerous MPs complained that the bill was too important and its ramifications too great for it to be pushed through in this "wash-up" period in which bills are not given the usual detailed examination. However the government declined to yield. 

But some Twitter users are not yielding. Many say they they will ignore the Digital Economy Bill. A petition, orchestrated from WhatDEBill.org, has already collected over 1,600 'signatures', in the form of automatically collected Twitter usernames. Rebellious Internet users can register their 'vote' by tweeting: "I choose not to recognise the UK's Digital Economy Bill" along with the hash-tag #whatdebill.

There have also been raised voices from at least one Internet service provider. TalkTalk's director of strategy, Andrew Heaney has been the bill's most vehement critic, vowing to fight it in the courts if his firm is told to throw its users off the Internet. He had vowed to fight the legislation until significant amendments were made and urged customers in the UK to "continue to make their voices heard" despite the apparent setback yesterday. "We restate our pledges to our customers. Unless we are served with a court order we will not surrender your details to rightsholders – we are the only major ISP to have taken this stance and we will maintain it. We will continue to fight this draconian legislation as it makes its way through Parliament. And if we are instructed to disconnect your account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rightsholders we'll see them in court."

Heaney welcomed a number of concessions on the wording of the bill which means that before disconnection could come into force there will be a 12-month gap, and that there will be more scrutiny from MPs in the next Parliament before web blocking is allowed to happen.

The microblogging site has also been buzzing with commentary centred on the fact that so few MPs bothered to show up to the Commons to debate it. A website called didmympshowupornot.com attempts to let users find out if their own MP actually attended the session. The registrant of didmympshowupornot.com is said to have hidden behind a privacy proxy, interesting in itself. If the new bill asserts widespread blocks as some fear, a proxy or Virtual Private Network based outside the UK may be required as is often the case in China.

The bill does have its supporters however, particularly in the music and film industry who say they are losing millions through copyright infringement.Universal Music's Lucian Grainge is one hardened advocate of the bill. Grainge, who passionately believes that piracy costs Britain's creative industries more than £1bn a year and could decimate the music industry, personally convinced Lord Mandelson that tougher measures were necessary. The lifelong music executive, who moves to New York shortly to take the top job at Universal, was part of a committee that included Sky's Jeremy Darroch, Channel 4's Andy Duncan, the Premier League's Richard Scudamore and Virgin Media's Neil Berkett. Grainge is adamant that illegal filesharing needs to be dealt with unless the UK wants to end up like Sweden where Universal and others have stopped investing in new talent [Guardian / CityAM / Telegraph blog / Telegraph / BBC]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Man arrested after 'shoe bomb' incident

A man has been detained after allegedly trying to set fire to his shoes on a US flight. The man was subdued on United Airlines flight 663 from Washington Reagan airport to Denver. While the presence of explosives was not immediately confirmed, reports refer to the incident as a "shoe bomb attempt". An ABC report identified the suspect as a Qatari diplomat stationed at the country's Washington embassy. Meanwhile a source confirmed to Fox News that the suspect is Mohammed al Modadi, a diplomat in the Qatar embassy in Washington. Fox also suggests the man may have tried to light his shoes or something else in an attempt to cover up another smell. A US security official said, "it may have been a massive misunderstanding" and the diplomat's statement may have been a "sarcastic" comment when he was confronted by two air marshals who had been told by flight attendants that smoke was coming from the lavatory. The BBC later conveyed unconfirmed reports that the man may have tried to have a cigarette.

North American Aerospace Defense Command [NORAD] scrambled two F-16s to intercept the United Flight at approximately 20:45 ET as the jet was en route to Denver, Colorado, according to a NORAD statement. Federal authorities say a disturbance aboard a United Airlines flight from Washington, D.C., to Denver, Colorado, Wednesday night occurred when a passenger apparently tried to set a shoe on fire. Law enforcement officials met the plane on the ground in Denver and there were no reports of injuries. "The situation is under control. The flight is on the ground," a federal law enforcement official said. The Boeing 757, with 157 passengers and 6 crew members on board, had been secured authorities said [BBC / CNN].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Will Murdoch's paywall idea flounder?

The other day an email landed in the inbox with "Important information about Times Online". As of early May media mogul Rupert Murdoch plans to relaunch his online portals with a pay-per-view approach. From that date access to the Times will be by subscription only. But is this doomed to fail before it has already begun? While it could be argued he has nothing to lose given significant loses throughout 2009, are people prepared to pay for online news content?

Some people might. tvnewswatch has been a subscriber to Time magazine for over 10 years which gives 50 issues of the magazine per year along with access to the website. But as costs of daily newspapers soared regular purchases of The Daily Telegraph and the Independent soon fell by the wayside. Even at around $30 per month access to newspaper portals such as pressdisplay are cost prohibitive for most people, despite offering hundreds of newspapers online. Journalists and newsjunkies may pay for some news content, but it is unlikely the vast majority of news consumers will pay.

While charging for access to television programming has become the norm for a great many people, access to news is somewhat different. People often do not mind paying to be entertained, whether it's a cinema ticket or a subscription for Sky's movie and entertainment channels. News however is rarely entertaining. Informative, thought-provoking, but rarely entertaining.

Even before the advent of the Internet most people obtained news via their televisions. While it could be argued that they were in fact paying for this service by licence fees or indirectly through advertising, the BBC and ITN news gave most people their daily news fix for 'free'. Newspapers provided a small minority reading content for their journey to work. Even with online access, and with it podcasts, videos and multimedia content, many still pick up a physical paper. In this regard, the paid item has also given way to free give-aways. London Lite, the Londoner and more recently the Standard, have all given papers to commuters without charge.

Although there are differences in the way broadcasters and media outlets report the news, the news is often the same. Why would one pay to read Bob Dylan's being banned from China on the Times website when one can read about it for free on the Guardian's website? Commentary and editorial may be different. The Independent's Robert Fisk provided in-depth and pointed analysis of the war in Iraq during the conflict there, and some of the paper's content was paid. But again such examples are only offerings to a minority audience.

Murdoch's argument about copyright might be commendable in respect to his stance over protecting the copyright of writers, journalists and photographers. However News International has often itself breached those very copyright laws, syndicating pictures without permission and not informing photographers of their actions. In nearly ten years, like many other publications, fees offered to journalists and photographers have barely increased, while charges to consumers for the end product has more than doubled.

Journalism and photo-journalism may not be dead, there is still passion amongst many writers and photographers. But organisations cannot pay staff as they once did. Gone are the 'glory days' of Fleet Street when there would be scores of photographers on the pay-roll. No longer can papers afford to pay journalists to conduct long running investigations that culminated in the likes of Watergate. Foreign bureaus in several corners of the world are often little more than lone journalists working on a retainer at best or providing material on a freelance basis. Even the big broadcast networks cannot maintain a continued presence in places around the globe. Sky News will often dispatch reporters as and when a major story breaks. Their Beijing correspondent Peter Sharp is more an exception to that rule. CNN and the BBC maintain a stronger global base with journalists in many key locations, but even these monoliths have cut back in recent years. 

When all said and done there comes a point of saturation. There are after all, only so many hours in the day. Even newsjunkies need to take time out. After 5 hours a day writing for a news agency, posting a blog or two and skimming through a few pages of the latest edition of Time while listening to the BBC world service, there are few hours left in the day to relax. How much content can a person absorb whether via the web, through the medium of television, radio or by the reading of a newspaper? Murdoch may just price himself out of an over saturated market.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bob Dylan banned from China

Bob Dylan has been banned from China, forcing him to cancel part of his Asian tour. Ever since Bjork called out "Tibet! Tibet!" after playing her song Declare Independence at a concert in China two years ago in Shanghai, China's Ministry of Culture has been wary of foreign artists. Guns n' Roses album Chinese Democracy has already been banned in the country and even the Wikipedia page referring to the album, as well as the title track, is blocked by the Great Firewall. 

Now the counter culture icon has been forced to cancel his concerts in Shanghai and Beijing after Chinese officials refused permission for him to play. The ban has also caused Dylan to call off his a second leg of his Asian tour, including stops in Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. According to The Guardian, the decision does not seem to be tied to the singers specific stance on Tibet, but rather because officials "appeared wary of Dylan's past as an icon of the counterculture movement".

Last year, Oasis was also denied permission to play in Shanghai and Beijing, after officials discovered Liam Gallagher played at a Free Tibet concert in New York with Blur and U2 in 1997. Dozens of bands have supported this cause and as such may never play in China. Songs For Tibet, organized in part by Sting, was released in 2008 in timing with the Beijing Olympics with the goal to "support peace initiatives and Tibetan cultural preservation projects important to the Dalai Lama". That featured acts from Damien Rice, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Moby, Alanis Morissette, Ben Harper and Rush. 

Others who may not find themselves in Beijing any time soon are the likes of Tom Waits, Foday Musa Suso, R. Carlos Nakai, Kronos Quartet and Anoushka Shankar who all appeared at the 2003 concert Healing The Divide in New York.

In June 1996 Tibetan Freedom Concerts saw The Beastie Boys joined by A Tribe Called Quest, the Foo Fighters, the Smashing Pumpkins, Pavement and Biz Markie. And the following year a repeat festival featured Blur, Michael Stipe, Bjork, Rancid and Taj Mahal. A third concert in 1998 held in Washington saw appearances from Wyclef Jean, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Verve, Kraftwerk, Pearl Jam and Pulp. 

While many of these artists' CDs are readily available in China, Beijing's paranoia about the influence of western culture seems to be extending beyond the blocking of websites [Telegraph / Chosun / Guardian]. In January this year the Killers cancelled their Beijing concert and other dates in Asia, though they said this was due to the death of a family member.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China