Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Technology marks 2010

The past year has been focused on technology both in terms of innovation, its effect on society and how some governments see it as a threat and a weapon. The year had barely begun when Google released a statement saying that it had been subject to hacking attacks, and while it did not point the finger directly it was clear that it was accusing China of perpetrating the attacks.

The statement resulted in a war of words which went on for weeks. Xinhua put out almost daily propaganda pieces, dismissing the accusations and insisting that all companies operating in China should do so according to the law. Meanwhile the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton made high profile speeches addressing issues of freedom of speech. Ultimately Google moved its search engine out of China and directed mainland users to its less restricted Hong Kong server, though it has remained in China if only in a research and development role.

The spat between Google and the Chinese authorities highlighted what many security experts had been warning for years, that of a devastating cyberwar. China has a vast army of hackers, and it is believed many are employed in clandestine operations, targeting western companies and governments in the search for intellectual property and industrial secrets. But it is not only China that is engaged in cyberattacks and hacking. Security firms say many such attacks originate from Russia and Iran, but that China is the biggest threat [tvnewswatch - Jan 2010].

A report released in mid January pointed clearly at China being responsible for the attack which targeted Google's Gmail services and over 30 other companies. VeriSign's iDefense security lab published a report [arstechnica] with technical details concerning the attack which it says were initiated by the Chinese government [tvnewswatch - Jan 2010]. Their findings were reinforced later in the year after a cable leaked by the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks revealed that China's propaganda chief Li Changchun [李长春] may have ordered the attacks on Google personally [tvnewswatch - Dec 2010].

Cyberattacks were not the only thing that raised concerns. Following a failed airline attack in December 2009 airport authorities began to install full body scanners to thwart further attempts to smuggle explosives onto planes. But the move has not come without controversy. The new so-called naked body scanners were seen as an invasion of privacy by many [tvnewswatch - Jan 2010] and according to some reports would ultimately become ineffective as terrorists sought to circumvent the technology [tvnewswatch - Feb 2010].

Terrorists have not only targeted US interests. In March at least 40 people died after an attack on a Moscow subway [tvnewswatch - Mch 2010]. The attack highlighted how increased security at airports was pushing the terrorists towards softer targets. New York saw another failed attack in May, but this time it was an attempt to detonate a car bomb near Times Square [tvnewswatch - May 2010].

Technology has so far failed to stop such low tech attacks. It was instead an alert member of the public that thwarted what could have been a devastating blast in the heart of New York. Technology also failed to stop the chaos brought about by the eruption of a volcano in April. Thousands of flights were grounded after dust filled the air from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland [tvnewswatch - Apr 2010].

While the vast array of satellites, weather stations and sensors around the globe have helped predict the weather and natural phenomena, ultimately nature has had the last word. 2010 has seen sandstorms in China [tvnewswatch - Mch 2010] and volcanic eruptions halting flights. Extreme weather has also brought problems. Beijing and other parts of China saw the harshest winter in 60 years. And even in a country used to coping with extreme weather there were still problems. In early January the capital was experiencing temperatures of -20°C at night [tvnewswatch - Jan 2010] and motorists on some highways found themselves trapped for days [tvnewswatch - Jan 2010].

Britain also saw the year begin with massive disruption due to heavy snow. And by the end of the year few lessons had been learnt as December brought further snowfall. Roads were closed, rail services disrupted and many airports shut for days [tvnewswatch - Dec 2010]. London's Heathrow airport was particularly affected with hundreds of flights cancelled after airport authorities failed to clear snow in a timely manner [tvnewswatch - Dec 2010].

Around the globe extreme weather has brought destruction and chaos. Russia saw a devastating heatwave which destroyed wheat crops while the US and parts of Africa also saw record temperatures. Meanwhile floods killed hundreds in China in what has become a yearly event [tvnewswatch - July 2010]. The bad weather has raised the stakes in the debate about global warming, but despite meetings in Copenhagen, Tianjin and more recently in Mexico there has been no formalised or legally binding agreement [tvnewswatch - Dec 2010].

Technology as well as staffing levels failed the British electorate in the May elections with many unable to cast their votes. And when the result finally came Britain found themselves with a hung parliament [tvnewswatch - May 2010]. As a coalition was formed the electoral commission said they would look into the problems that effected people's ability to vote [tvnewswatch - May 2010]. Austerity measures dominated the headlines throughout the year. There were riots in Greece, strikes across many parts of Europe and mass protests on the streets of Britain some of which descended into violence. The US has continued to harass China over its currency, widely seen as being undervalued. But despite the fallout of a worldwide recession there some sectors that seem to be doing well.

Technology manufacturers in particular have seen growing sales and 2010 could be seen as a pivotal moment for smartphones, tablet computers and social networking. Google saw sales of phones using its Android operating system rise while Apple's iPhone sales stagnated, not helped by reception problems with the iPhone 4. But Apple did seize a key market with its iPad an area which many other manufacturers are attempting to enter. Internet TV and 3DTV are still in the early stages of development, but already there are some products available. The gaming market also saw innovations with Microsoft's Kinect which enables game players to interact without a controller.

Use of social networking sites also grew particularly Twitter and Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, also saw himself immortalised in film as the film The Social Network was released in cinemas. Facebook has survived despite being under a weight of criticism for its privacy policy. The film was also critical of Zuckerberg himself. But the entrepreneur is unperturbed and is widely believed to be trying to expand into other regions so far cut off from his social networking site. In mid-December he was spotted at the offices of Baidu [tvnewswatch - Twitpic], China's homegrown search engine, and later at another social network, that of Sina, China's version of Twitter. It is unclear what Zuckerberg's plans are for China, but many websites such as Twitter, Blogger, YouTube and Facebook are currently blocked by authorities. Homegrown initiatives are heavily self-censored and it there is growing speculation that Zuckerberg may be attempting to appease Chinese authorities in order to enter a lucrative marketplace [Independent / Forbes].

Zuckerberg also beamed out from the front cover of Time magazine as 2010's person of the year. But this was before his initially unpublicised visit to China. How far he'll compromise is an unknown factor, but many companies have burned their fingers by bending over too far to China's demands. Yahoo came under particular criticism after giving authorities information which led to the arrest and jailing of several dissidents [Wikipedia]. Microsoft have effectively given away much of its code in order to operate in China, and Google came under a barrage of criticism after it agreed to censor it Chinese based search engine when it arrived on the mainland in 2006. For Google it ended none too well and its share price fell significantly, though it has since recovered. Zuckerberg will not experience an easy ride. Even the Chinese based Global Times suggested Facebook would find the market a difficult one to enter. 

China is a land of opportunity. However there are issues that must be addressed by the government, least of all censorship, copyright and intellectual property rights. It is one of few countries that has a growing economy. But as western interests seek to do business in an exciting market, this must be tempered by a moral attitude too. As the year of the Tiger draws to an end [in February 2011] the year of the Rabbit may offer very different business opportunities. The Rabbit is seen as articulate, talented, and ambitious in Chinese astrology. Three traits that would do well for doing business in the coming year.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, December 25, 2010

7.3 quake triggers tsunami alert

A powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck off the western Pacific island of Vanuatu on Sunday, triggering a small tsunami. The event occurred exactly six years after giant waves killed 220,000 people around the Indian Ocean.

The earthquake struck at 12:16 am on Sunday (13:16 GMT Saturday) and was initially categorised a 7.6 magnitude but was later downgraded. The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the shallow quake generated a tsunami, but it cancelled the regional warning after the wave measured only 15 centimetres higher than normal in Vanuatu.

Media was initially slow to put out bulletins of the earthquake, partly due to the holiday celebrations ongoing around the globe. Breaking News [BNO] tweeted it's first report at 13:31. Its founder Michael van Poppel tweeting the news only 2 minutes before also made comment that the news wires were "sleeping" some ten minutes later. Only then did Sky News report the event and then 2 minutes later Reuters released its first wire report, some 27 minutes after the quake struck. Fortunately the quake did not bring serious damage.

Jackie Philip, a member of staff at the Melanesian Port Vila Hotel in the Vanuatu capital, said the hotel was busy with late-night Christmas revellers when the quake struck. "Some of us, we ran outside and stood and watched the sea for a few minutes but nothing happened. There is no damage and no injuries," he said, adding that no tsunami warning had been given on local radio.

Vanuatu lies between Australia and Fiji and is part of the "Pacific Ring of Fire". The island has a population of 220,000 scattered across several islands including Tanna, south of Port Vila, where the fiery Yasur volcano is a major tourist attraction. [AFP / USGS].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Twitter crashes on Christmas Day

Following the recent outage that affected the VOIP telephony service Skype only a few days back [BBC], Twitter, the micro-blogging service, has crashed. The outage began at around 18:00 GMT with APIs and the website itself being affected. Users to the Twitter website were confronted with the message "Twitter is over capacity" and requested to retry later. Twitter confirmed there were problems with the service and said they were looking into it. "We're currently experiencing some site availability issues; we're looking into it now and will update when we have more information," a statement on the status page read.

Some users were able to post updates, though they remained in the minority. Google's latest updates page revealed that some users were not entirely happy."Ugh! Twitter should start working, it's getting on my nerves," one frustrated user exclaimed. Many blamed Christmas, or rather the multitude of Twitter users tweeting about the festive break. "Twitter is not a happy camper right now... Christmas overload!!" one tweet read, while another suggested "Christmas has broken Twitter" [erictric / Center Networks]. After around one hour Twitter began to operate normally for most users.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Telegraph sting raises issue of ethics

The Daily Telegraph has been criticised for lowering itself to tabloid journalism following its sting operation in which it revealed that some Liberal Democrats within the coalition had reservations about the running of the government. The undercover journalists, posing as constituents, secretly recorded several MPs as they spoke candidly about the prime minister David Cameron and government policy. But the damage could go further than undermining the reputation of a few politicians.

As the coalition scrambles to carry out damage limitation a public debate over media ethics in Britain has erupted. In the latest instalment from the Daily Telegraph Lib Dem ministers are quoted as claiming that prime minister David Cameron was insincere and not to be trusted and that chancellor George Osborne had "no experience of how ordinary people live". Vince Cable has already paid a heavy price in position and reputation over the affair. The business secretary yesterday has been stripped of his media responsibilities after being secretly recorded boasting he had "declared war" on tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

There has always been grumbling amongst the ranks of any organisation. Whether a large company or a political party there will always be individuals that have reservations about the leadership. "There is a lot of bitching in politics," Sky's political commentator Jon Craig acknowledged, but said the reports could be damaging. And it could stretch far beyond the house itself. Political commentator Iain Dale, speaking on Sky News on Thursday, said that both constituents and MPs are "going to be far more careful about what they say in future". 

There has been particular criticism of the apparent motives of the Telegraph, especially as regards its selective reporting. Writing in the Guardian, Michael White puts the recordings in the context of a "wired-up world" where trust is under pressure from all directions, from social networking websites Facebook and Twitter to Wikileaks and TV reality shows. The apparent suppression of Vince Cable's comments on Murdoch seemed to have been "for its own commercial reasons" he says. Maggie Brown, also writing in the Guardian, also questioned the ethics behind the Telegraph. "The only justification for subterfuge, after the event, is that the person or practices under investigation require extreme measures to gather incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing that can stand up in a court of law," she said.

John Lloyd, in a Financial Times article, says the Telegraph sting broke into the assumptions of confidentiality and privacy that have been assumed to surround conversations between MP and constituent. He writes that both journalism and the public have a choice to make, "Between encouraging more such revelations by whatever means, or concluding that, beyond a certain point, journalism as invasive of confidentiality as it has shown itself in the past year is destructive of good governance."

On bulletin boards and in reader comments on media websites there have been mixed opinions. Many have criticised the comments made by Vince Cable and others, but there are fears amongst many that the reports could undermine British democracy. "This tiny link in our democratic process has now been destroyed," said one reader. "This isn't Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia." Another said the Telegraph "has shot itself in the foot with its despicable act" and that the real victim in the affair is openness and honesty.

Former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik told the BBC such reporting tactics threaten the trust between MPs and their constituents and called the Telegraph's sting operation "despicable". He also dismissed the idea that the coalition was anything but firm and stable, but acknowledged there would be members on both sides who are unhappy about having had to make compromises.

The sting may have undesired effects on other aspects of journalism, some have warned. Rupert Murdoch's bid for a full takeover of BSkyB may go unhindered following the decision to remove Vince Cable from any decision making process. While it might be argued that Cable should have remained impartial, Murdoch's growing media empire worries many in the industry. Murdoch's News Corporation has under its wing a huge list of titles stretching around the globe. It has been likened to the Carver Network in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. The writer of the film, Bruce Feirstein, has stated that Carver was actually a portrayal of Rupert Murdoch's arch rival, British press magnate Robert Maxwell. Nonetheless there are concerns that such a large media organisation can serious effect news reporting. One strong critic is Australian journalist John Pilger who made a documentary in 2007 called Breaking the Mirror in which he describes the downfall of his old paper and the all-pervasive influence of Rupert Murdoch.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas cancelled for thousands

A few centimetres of snow and low temperatures has brought Britain to a virtual standstill with thousands forced to cancel travel plans or put them on hold. The cold weather is also making the festive season miserable as they try to keep warm and worry about rising heating costs.

Flight delays

Four days after snow hit the south-east of England thousand of passengers remained stranded at Heathrow airport. Gatwick and London City airport has also seen problems, but the worst of the disruption was at London's busiest airport. On Monday only a handful of flights departed and airport authorities were only allowing those with confirmed flights to enter the building. 

The worst scenes were at terminal 3 where hundreds of passengers were spending their third day waiting for their flight to leave. Terminal 5 was less chaotic on Monday, but there was just as much confusion and as many scenes of disappointment. Staff were only allowing those into the building whose flights were expected, on-schedule or delayed. But even after entering into the fast space there was confusion with few announcements over the public-address system and only a skeleton staff answering passengers' questions.

Those under the impression their flight was leaving joined very long queues to drop off their checked-in baggage. Some queued for up to two hours before arriving at the desk only to find their flight had, in the mean time, been cancelled. Some found out their plans had been scuppered as they were still in the queue as announcements came over the Tannoy. Two young women looked extremely distressed after it was announced the New York flight had been dropped. Making a phone call, one wept uncontrollably, her mascara smeared as tears ran down her face. While tempers did not fray too much, there was nonetheless anger amongst many travellers sat around the terminal building. "This is f***ing ridiculous," one passenger told tvnewswatch, "I managed to make it all the way from Devon, but they can't even run a proper air service." Hoping to travel to Dubai, he was expecting his airline to arrange a different flight but he said he would probably lose several thousand pounds in lost business.

It was already midday when British Airways announced short haul flights had been cancelled. But by 14:00 the bad news came that most long haul flights would also be dropped. On the information board in terminal 5 only 9 flights showed as having taken off while everything after a US flight to Baltimore was cancelled.

Those arriving at the check-in desk to find their flight cancelled were offered only an apology and a standard letter explaining the situation and compensation on offer. "Due to severe weather disruption and air traffic control restrictions at London Heathrow and at airports overseas, we have had to cancel a large number of flights today," the letter said. The communique went on to offer apologies for not facilitating the rebooking of an alternate flight. Despite the freezing temperatures outside it then demanded passengers to leave the building. "Due to terminal restrictions and the current queue lengths we are experiencing, we are asking you to now leave the terminal building."

For many the only option was to rebook their flight for a later date. But due to the back log the first available flights were several days later. The first available date on some British Airways' flights was not until 29th December. There was of course the option of cancelling altogether and attempting to fly with a different airline on an earlier date, but that too could leave be affected by further delays or more snow. 

With plans and flights cancelled, passengers now had to find their way home. For some it meant a phone call to ask their friends or family to return to the airport. But for others the only option was a lengthy journey on public transport itself affected severely by the snow.

Trains disrupted

London's underground saw major problems affecting the Central, District and the Piccadilly line which serves Heathrow. South-West trains, South-East trains, the Chiltern line and First Capital Direct were also disrupted. And those attempting to make a getaway to Europe by train found themselves in massive queues of up to 8 hours after Eurostar began to run a restricted service. Passengers who managed to board a train were not always home and dry as some found themselves stranded for hours stuck on trains going nowhere.

Amid all the chaos, there has been widespread criticism of a lack of information. Airport authorities have been particularly lambasted about the lack of information. In addition media have been banned from all five terminals at Heathrow. Those taking photographs, even on camera-phones, have been confronted by BAA staff and in many cases asked to leave the building or wipe the images.

Nonetheless, the sheer number of people with smart-phones has resulted in a constant flow of video and stills images of the ongoing chaos. For BAA it is fast becoming a public relations' disaster. But the coalition government is also being criticised for not doing enough. Some have asked why British prime minister David Cameron or London's Mayor have failed to say or do more to tackle the transport problems faced by travellers. Last night the two politicians attended a ceremony where the flood lights at the Olympic stadium were switched on for the first time. Even that was delayed and failed to attract the enthusiasm that had been anticipated. When the lights were switched on they took some time to warm up, but Cameron still spoke with enthusiasm about the 2012 games and described the lighting as "fantastic". The construction of the Olympic stadium is an achievement, but as most of Britain grinds to a halt there is little excitement as many people's Christmas plans have been ruined [Papers / BBC / Sky / CNN]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Snow stops trains, planes & automobiles

Britain once again came to a halt after a little snow disrupted trains, planes and automobiles. Most rail services experiences problems and nearly every airport in Britain was shut at some point on Saturday. Meanwhile those who took to the roads found themselves in traffic jams of slow moving traffic. Many areas were not gritted with local authorities seemingly caught out by the wintry conditions. And in the last weekend before Christmas many shoppers found themselves trapped in car parks as motorists experienced problems exiting some multi-stories after encountering ice on ramps.

Airport closures hit thousands of passengers across the UK. Heathrow was shut for most of the day and will stay shut until Sunday. Gatwick was also affected but reopened by early evening though many flights were cancelled. The disruption was not confined to Britain however. Airports in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands also saw cancellations and delays.

In the north there was more than 25cm of snow while parts of London and the south-east of England was under a blanket of snow around 10cm deep. Northern Ireland experienced some of the heaviest snowfall for 25 years, with more forecast. But both Northern Ireland and Scotland faired better than the south. Belfast International Airport and Belfast City airports have reopened, although there are knock-on effects from other closures. Meanwhile Scottish airports are open but are being affected by closures elsewhere.

Motorists ignored advice to stay off the roads and many routes became gridlocked. Drivers spoke of journey times of more than 2 hours to travel just a few kilometres. Problems were further compounded as gritting lorries became trapped in the queues of stationary traffic.

Most motorway networks were free-flowing but in parts of Wales and on the M25 in Surrey jackknifed lorries created problems for thousand of motorists. Jon Caudwell, from the Highways Agency, said they were doing their best to keep major roads in England clear but needed help from motorists who he said should "really seriously consider" whether they needed to go out. Caudwell said he was surprised at the level of traffic on the roads, given the advice not to travel.

Many drivers broke down and the Automobile Association said they had attended more than 11,000 breakdowns by 17:30 GMT on Saturday, with calls peaking at 1,200 every hour, twice the normal rate.

Many rail operators were running reduced services, including Southeastern, South West Trains, Southern Railway and First Capital Connect. London's Underground also saw delays adding to problems for shoppers as they hunted for last minute bargains. Brent Cross shopping centre in London was forced to close, angering Christmas shoppers, many of whom had to leave their cars behind. And motorists found themselves facing long queues and delays as they attempted to leave Lakeside shopping centre in Essex.

The cold spell is expected to to continue for several days and many Britons may see the first white Christmas in years. But there is little enthusiasm amongst many who have only experienced traffic jams, cancelled engagements, flights and travel plans [BBC / Sky / CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, December 17, 2010

Larry King bows out after 25 years

Larry King has presented the final edition of his long-running CNN talk show after 25 years. The veteran anchor fought back tears as he bid farewell to a world wide audience. "Thank you, and instead of Goodbye, how about So Long?"

His last show saw several high profile guests. President Barack Obama paid tribute to Larry King in a taped message, in which he said his show had "opened our eyes to the world beyond our living rooms". Former president Bill Clinton also made an appearance, his 29th on the show, via satellite from Arkansas. 

On the famous set King was joined by US television stars Ryan Seacrest and Bill Maher. "This is not Larry's funeral. He's hopefully going to be in our living rooms for a lot of years to come," said comedian Maher. "This is the end of a show, not the end of a man."

"You're not going to see me go away, but you're not going to see me on this set any more," King said. He promised to "still be a part of the CNN family", saying he planned to host special one-off programmes. His own family also joined him on the set. His seventh wife, 51 year old Shawn sat by his side along with King's two sons Chance, 11, and Cannon, 10. Chance provided some levity, impersonating his father with both mannerisms and Larry King's Brooklyn accent. 

He was not the only impersonator. Fred Armisen of "Saturday Night Live" delivered a King impersonation creating a surreal moment as Larry King found himself interviewing himself. The image was all the more striking as Armisen appeared dressed in exactly the same bright red suspenders over a black shirt topped off with a polka dot tie. Armisen's "Larry" asked what question King had asked more than any other. "The best question of all is `why?' because it can't be answered in one word and it forces people to think," King said.

King began as a local Florida journalist and radio interviewer in the 1950s and '60s. He became prominent as an all-night national radio broadcaster starting in 1978, and then, in 1985, began hosting the nightly interview TV program Larry King Live on CNN. But after 25 years, King has decided to hang up his infamous suspenders to spend more time with his family [BBC / CNN].

It brings to and end an institution in America. The show has paid host to countless world leaders, celebrities and religious icons. Some have been controversial, but King has always managed to give an insight that few others have done or been willing to do. He has sat face to face with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as comfortably as US president George W Bush. Others have included Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez and Libyan leader Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi.

His choice of interviewee has brought criticism from many quarters and in some cases CNN has been blacked out by governments unhappy at the appearing guests. When spiritual leader the Dalai Lama appeared on Larry King Live earlier this year China blacked out the broadcast and the CNN website was disrupted for several days.

But LKL has also covered the less controversial issues of the day. Celebrity guests have taken up a large proportion of airtime. From Lady Gaga to Frank Zappa, from Willie Nelson to Paul McCartney, there are few artists that have not appeared on Larry King Live.

As an institution, the show has often been used in Hollywood films, adding an air of authenticity. Only time will tell if Piers Morgan will be able to take the reigns and produce a show as iconic as Larry King Live. Although Morgan has described the chance to present CNN's flagship chat show as a "dream job", it will be a difficult role to fill after 25 years of Larry King [BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cancún, a deal or just hot air?

Cop16 came to an end last weekend after near two weeks of talks aimed at reaching a deal concerning global emissions. Media coverage has been scant with only a few broadcasters dipping into events on the ground. There were also far fewer delegates present in Cancún, Mexico than had been seen the the Cop15 in Copenhagen. So what, if anything, did the climate change talks achieve?

As the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference wrapped up, many reports talked about a deal having been reached. Politicians were upbeat and there were cheers as the conference came to an end. But the outcome of the summit was an agreement, rather than a binding treaty. The agreement calls on rich countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as pledged in the Copenhagen Accord, and for developing countries to plan to reduce their emissions, to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. It includes a proposed $100 billion a year fund to assist poorer countries finance emission reductions and adaptation.

But there is little in the deal that could be considered legally binding. The New York Times described the agreement as being both a "major step forward" given that international negotiations had stumbled in recent years, and as being "fairly modest" as it did not require the changes that scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

Delegates representing the major emitters have been particularly boastful of an achievement. However the deal falls far below the comprehensive agreement that many countries wanted at last year's Copenhagen summit. And it calls into question whether any of the measures laid out, including emission cuts, will be legally binding.

"What we have now is a text that, while not perfect, is certainly a good basis for moving forward," chief US negotiator Todd Stern, said at the end of the conference. China, who have been resilient to accepting proposals made in the past, this year brought some compromise to the table.

"This is the first time we've seen the US together with China and all other major emitters anchoring their national pollution targets in a formal UN agreement – the significance of this should not be underestimated," said Erwin Jackson, Climate Institute Deputy CEO. "While some aspects are disappointing … the Cancún talks produced a formal UN decision anchoring pollution limitation and reduction targets covering over 80 percent of global emissions." But even China's negotiator foresaw further difficulties. "The negotiations in the future will continue to be difficult," Xie Zhenhua said.

But there have bee some outspoken critics. Bolivia found faults both with elements of the deal and with the way the texts were constructed through private conversations between small groups of countries. Delegation chief Pablo Solon said that what concerned him most was that commitments would not be made under the Kyoto Protocol. "We're talking about a [combined] reduction in emissions of 13-16%, and what this means is an increase of more than 4°C," he said. "Responsibly, we cannot go along with this - this would mean we went along with a situation that my president has termed 'ecocide and genocide'," Solon said.

Some environmental groups were encouraged by the agreements made. Claire Parker, senior climate policy adviser for the global conservation group IUCN, said. "We have moved away from the post-Copenhagen paralysis. Developing countries can now see new money on the table which they can draw on to adapt to the impacts they're already facing and reduce emissions." And Tara Rao, senior policy adviser with environmental group WWF commented, "There's enough in it that we can work towards next year's meeting in South Africa to get a legally binding agreement there."

The signing of the agreement was cheered by representatives of the 194 countries gathered in the luxury Mexican resort. One success, in part, was that all the participants agreed the size of cuts were not enough. But there was no agreement as to how this might be achieved, nor a total commitment by any country to reduce emissions to a specific level.

There were proposals of of a 25% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. But there was no legally binding document. There was an agreement and a pledge to fund poorer nations help cut their emissions and to encourage nations to slow deforestation through financial incentives. But it is unclear how this might be funded. And so after days of talks, a massive carbon footprint and a large bill there is only the vain hope that the vague promises agreed this year might be built upon in 2011 when the party will start all over again. The location for that soirée is Durban, South Africa.

The nature of the talks has come under particular criticism from some environmentalists, especially in an age of high technology where such negotiations could be conducted through video conferencing and electronic communication. The fact that two countries, Qatar and South Korea, are currently bidding to host the 2012 Cop18, does appear to make a mockery of the serious issues at stake.

To date the United Nations Climate Change Conference has been held in Berlin [Germany], Geneva [Switzerland], Buenos Aires [Argentina], Bonn [Germany], Hague [Netherlands], Marrakech [Morocco], New Delhi [India], Milan [Italy], Montreal [Canada], Nairobi [Kenya], Bali [Indonesia], Poznań [Poland], Copenhagen [Denmark] and Cancún [Mexico]. In addition there have been many smaller conferences in other locations such as the recent talks in Tianjin, China and in Incheon in South Korea. While the carboon footprint may be relatively samll when compared to industry, tourism and business, the apparent hypocrisy has not escaped some critics. 

In a cartoon published in the French newspaper Le Post there was more than a little cynicism. "Tous les gens arrivent à Cancún et tout le monde est très content car il fait beau et on va revoir ses copains...Là, les gens se réunissent par petits groups de travail et brassent beaucoup d'air, energie renouvelable s'il en est...Puis tout le monde repart de Cancún tout content, c'était vraiment chouette cette année!!!" [All the people arrive in Cancún, and everyone is very happy because it is nice and we will see their friends again...There, people gather in small groups to work and talk a lot of hot air, renewable energy if any...Then everyone departs from Cancún happily, it was really nice this year !!!] [BBC / BBC / CNN / FT / GuardianEnvironmental Leader / Wikipedia - UNFCCC / UNFCCC / Cop16].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, December 11, 2010

An abuse of freedom and human rights

It cannot have escaped any one's attention that the past few weeks have seen large scale student demonstrations in London, many of them descending into chaos and violence. The right to protest is well established in the British politique, and it is not unusual to see disturbances following such demonstrations. But the widespread disorder and wanton destruction has shocked many people across the political spectrum.

Some of the anger voiced by demonstrators has not just concerned itself with a rise in tuition fees, but also an underlying perception of a growing rich-poor divide. There is some evidence of this as a government report published in January showed. There were "deep-seated and systemic differences" in society, the report said. Set up in 2008 the study also found apparent discrimination against people from ethnic minorities, with those from nearly every minority group less likely to be in paid work than white British men and women. And there was also inequality between the sexes with men more likely to be paid greater sums than women [BBC].

The findings shown in the report have long been true, but the effects on the poorer members of society have deepened with the advent of the global downturn and the recession. A record number of businesses have closed, unemployment has soared and home repossessions has increased dramatically. The banking sector was widely blamed for taking much of the world into a financial spin, but government policy cannot be ignored either.

The Labour party in Britain lost the May election partly due to its failure to reign in the banks and for pouring in millions of pounds of tax-payers money to prop-up financial institutions. It was not a landslide victory to one party however. A coalition government was formed from the ranks of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats and they have made it their stated aim to pull Britain out of massive debt, which they say was caused by Labour's massive overspending.

The cuts, or austerity measures as they have come to be known, have not pleased many sectors of society. The banks which were heavily subsidised at the height of the recession are seen as remaining unpunished and allowed to continue as before, and there is widespread criticism as massive bonuses are once again being handed out by the same financial institutions which were saved from collapse with help from the public purse.

There is an an unfortunate reality that governments can do little when it comes to regulating the large financial institutions. Applying rules and regulations deemed too stringent by these organisations with only send them scurrying away to different shores. This in turn would lose the treasury millions in tax. And so once again it is the man on the street that feel the pinch as necessary cuts are made to help reduce Britain's debt and growing deficit.

Further education is just one area which government is seeking to reduce spending. New legislation intends to raise tuition fees for university and to charge this to students in the form of loans. The loans which might amount to as much as £30,000 over the course of a 3 year degree, would be paid back over many years, but only if the graduate attains a certain salary. Even then the repayments would be relatively small and would be cancelled out at retirement [BBC].

Yet, there is a culture and strong belief amongst many people in Britain that education should be free, paid for by the tax-payer. This is something, the government argues, that can no longer be afforded. The reaction to the proposals have been condemned by the National Union of Students [NUS], who say graduates will be left with a lifetime of debt. And so began a series of demonstrations in a campaign aimed at persuading MPs to drop the scheme.

But many of the protests have descended into what can only be described as a riot. Students demonstrating in London on 10th November gathered outside outside Millbank, home to the Conservative Party HQ, and significant damage was seen. Police were outnumbered, leading to criticism they badly policed the protest, and a fire extinguisher was thrown from the top of the building. The extinguisher missed riot police by less than one metre and sixth form student Edward Woollard, 18, was later charged with violent disorder under the Public Order Act. He awaits sentencing after pleading guilty [BBC].

Only days later another demonstration in London saw further trouble with a police van being trashed and further clashes with police [BBC]. But the worst disorder came when tens of thousands descended on the capital as parliament was set to vote on the tuition fee proposals last Thursday.

Violent clashes had already broken out in the streets near parliament as the tuition fees bill was passed. But the acts of violence went beyond the usual battles with police. Parliament Square saw the worst of the damage with the plinth on which a statue of Churchill stands being sprayed with graffiti and on at least one occasion being used as a lavatory as one man was photographed urinating upon it. Benches and security hut were burned and several bonfires were also started around the area. One BBC journalist asked one of the protesters, "Can I just ask what is the point in making huge fires?" The protester responded with "Well, it's a bit cold." In fact many of the acts of vandalism could be explained only by the fact people were becoming swept away in the hysteria.

While some of the violence seen was spontaneous, there was some evidence to show that some planning and coordination was being employed. Google Maps was being used to convey information as to police movements and other forms of social media such as Twitter were used to disseminate pictures and video [twitpic / twitpic / twitpic / audioboo].

There was widespread condemnation of the Lib Dems in messages posted on Twitter. One message read; Police: "Protesters have failed to stick to the agreed route." To be fair, neither have the Lib Dems.

But coordination amongst the rioters tended to be organised either by text messages or phone calls which can less easily be monitored by authorities. It became a cat and mouse game though late afternoon and into the evening as a hard core of rioters attacked the Treasury building and the Supreme Court, smashing windows and attempting to gain entry. Further down Whitehall one young man was photographed swinging from the Union Flag hanging on the Cenotaph [Daily Mail / BBC].

It was later revealed to be the adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. There surely must have been a few, that on hearing this would have remembered the words "We don't need no education" from Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." The irony was just as resonant.

Charlie Gilmour apologised "sincerely" for his behaviour and said he felt "nothing but shame". In a statement he said, "I would like to express my deepest apologies for the terrible insult to the thousands of people who died bravely for our country that my actions represented. Running along with a crowd of people who. had just been violently repelled by the police, I got caught up in the spirit of the moment. I did not realise that it was the Cenotaph and if I had, I certainly would not have done what I did."

It must be hard for anyone to believe that a person in Britain, and especially a university undergraduate, would not know what and where the Cenotaph is located. But ignorance flared again as a mob began to set fire to the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. The tree has been a gift from Norway as a symbol of peace and goodwill for the brave men who helped liberate the country from the Nazis during WWII. But those who set the tree alight seemed either oblivious or uncaring. The base of the tree was well ablaze as two fire engines and around ten firefighters drew up shortly after 19:00. The fire was out within 20 minutes. "Working with the police during yesterday's protests, we managed to get through the crowds and bring the fire under control quickly. Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is an iconic symbol of Christmas for Londoners, so it's a real shame it has been damaged," Westminster Fire Station Manager Sam Kazmanli said later [YouTube / YouTube].

Rioters later turned their attention to another iconic symbol, that of the heir to the thrown, HRH Prince Charles. The car in which he and his wife were travelling was surrounded by a hostile and jeering crowd as it attempted to travel along Regent Street in heavy traffic. Paint was thrown at the car and a window smashed which royal protection teams seemed unable to prevent. The attack did not perhaps constitute High Treason which before 1998 could have resulted in a death sentence, but it was nonetheless serious [The Sun].

Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the violence and has called for the full force of the law to be used in finding and convicting those responsible [Sky News]. Yet there appears to be a growing disrespect for law and order in Britain. While there maybe many unjust laws, and inequalities too, Britain is one of the most tolerant nations in the world. There is perhaps nowhere in the world that such rioting would have occurred without far harsher retaliation by police. Even across many European countries water cannon or CS gas may well have been deployed. And there are a significant number in other corners of the globe that would not hesitate in using lethal force, especially if someone as important as an heir to the thrown were attacked.

As people on Thursday abused their freedom to protest in a democratic country, this was particularly poignant as the Nobel committee in Norway held its ceremony for this years Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese dissident has over the course of twenty years fought to persuade Chinese leaders to adopt a democratic system and better human rights in China. Liu has not rioted, nor encouraged others so to do. He has merely called for change and an end to one party rule. But for this he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Twenty one years ago he, along with many others, took part in a peaceful protest in Tiananmen Square. They called for democratic changes and greater human rights. But they did not riot, nor did they desecrate the Monument to the People's Heroes, the equivalent to the Cenotaph in London. There was no graffiti or buildings smashed. And no leader was attacked. Yet after a month long protest the People's Army was deployed and up to 3,000 people were killed [Tiananmen Square protests].

Many students taking part in recent protests have claimed that without violence, people do not listen, and that nothing will change without resorting to extremes. The danger is in fact the opposite. The power of the state is likely to use such displays of violence to employ far more draconian laws and heavy handed policing. Violence can also alienate many supporters. And the cause can also be lost completely in the flames of destruction. This was clearly seen across many of Friday's and Saturday's papers where the reportage was not whether student loans was good or bad, but instead a debate about the senseless violence and how so many people abused their democratic right to peaceful protest.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, December 10, 2010

Liu Xiaobo: "I have no enemies"

Today China's most well known dissident was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and would have received it had he not been languishing in a Chinese prison. But the ceremony went ahead without him, an empty chair placed symbolically where Liu Xiaobo would have sat.

As Thorbjørn Jagland, the Chairman of the Nobel Ctte, began to address hundreds of assembled guests many news stations around the world began live coverage of the events in Oslo, Norway. Norway's NRK relayed the ceremony in a video stream. Meanwhile broadcasters began coverage of the event which last just over an hour. 

CNN, Euronews, France 24 and Al Jazeera began relaying pictures as the ceremony began, however both the BBC and Sky News dropped in some 15 minutes into the proceedings. The two British broadcasters switched away from events in Oslo after only 15 minutes. However CNN, Euronews, France 24 and Al Jazeera continued providing coverage almost until the end. Euronews gave the least interrupted coverage, while others continued to talk over the events and give analysis. By the end only France 24 and Euronews had lasted the entire ceremony.

There was a standing ovation given by the hundreds of guests from more than 53 countries as Thorbjørn Jagland paid tribute to Liu. Amongst them were representatives from China's Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Nancy Pelosi, a longtime supporter of human rights in China, was one of several US representatives in attendance. 

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives, at which she is the speaker, passed a resolution congratulating Liu on winning the peace prize and called for his release. "In passing the House resolution...the American government sent a clear message of support for individuals who stand for non-violence, justice, democratic freedoms and defence of fundamental human rights," Pelosi said in a statement.

China had claimed the "majority of international community members do not accept the Nobel Committee's wrong decision". Earlier, 19 countries had said they were not going for various reasons. China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco all announced they would not attend. However, at the last minute the Ukraine and the Philippines reversed their decision. Serbia had also announced a late withdrawal, a decision believed to be based on its claim over the breakaway state of Kosovo, which was likened to China's claim on Tibet. However at the last minute it too made a U-turn [BBC].

Opening remarks

"The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for human rights in China," Thorbjørn Jagland said in his opening address. "The Norwegian Nobel committee has long believed there is a close connection with human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the fraternity between nations."

After a rapturous applause lasting nearly a minute, he went on to mention other peace prize winners who had been unable to attend, amongst them Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Wałęsa and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Of China's reaction to the award, Jagland said, "The point is never to offend ... but to say something about human rights and peace." While he congratulated China for lifting millions out of poverty he said China will grow stronger if its people are given human rights. In addition, its leaders should be more open to criticism. "China must be prepared for criticism and regard it as positive," Jagland said.

And in his strongest statement directed at China's rulers he called for Liu Xiaobo's freedom. "Liu has not done anything wrong, he must be released," the Nobel Committee chairman exclaimed.

After a 40 minute address, Thorbjørn Jagland placed the award on the empty chair that would have been occupied by Liu Xiaobo. It was powerful as it was symbolic and a moment that drew immediate applause. 

Jasmine flowers & un salut d'amour

During the second part of the ceremony Lynn Chang, a Chinese American violinist, played a number of pieces to the assembled audience. He opened with two Chinese folk songs. The first was Jasmine Flowers [Mòlìhuā 茉莉花], a lilting, meditative 18th-century composition familiar throughout China and sung during closing ceremonies at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The second piece was Colourful Clouds Chasing the Moon [Cǎiyún zhuī yuè 彩云追月], an upbeat, jazzy composition whose lyrics refer to missing loved ones. It was written by Ren Guang [任光] and Nie Er [聂耳] in 1935. The final piece was Salut d'amour Op12 (Love's Greeting), written by Edward Elgar in 1888.

"I have no enemies"

After the musical interlude Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read from Liu Xiaobo's "I have no enemies: my final statement" [Full text].

In the text Liu spoke his education and teaching before becoming embroiled in the events surrounding the pro-democracy movement in 1989. For his part in the protests, Liu saw his first clash with the authoriarian state. "I was imprisoned for "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement to crime" ," Liu wrote. 

"Twenty years on, the innocent souls of June Fourth do not yet rest in peace, and I, who had been drawn into the path of dissidence by the passions of June Fourth, after leaving the Qincheng Prison in 1991, lost in the right to speak openly in my own country, and could only do so through overseas media, and hence was monitored for many years; placed under surveillance (May 1995- January 1996); educated through labour (October 1996 – October 1999s), and now once again am thrust into the dock by enemies in the regime."

Despite his imprisonment and harassment, Liu said he bore no malice. "I have no enemies, and no hatred," Liu wrote, adding that "Hatred is corrosive of a person's wisdom and conscience." In words, more akin to those of Jesus Christ, Liu said, "None of the police who have monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies. While I'm unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities."

In word's that might echo Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, Liu talked of his hope that he would one day see a free China. "I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where all citizens' speeches are treated the same; here, different values, ideas, beliefs, political views… both compete with each other and coexist peacefully; here, majority and minority opinions will be given equal guarantees, in particular, political views different from those in power will be fully respected and protected."


While Euronews and France 24 continued with live uninterrupted coverage of Liu's last statement, CNN cut coverage and Al Jazeera gave way to political analysis. CNN returned to Oslo briefly but as the proceedings came to an end only Euronews and France 24 continued until the finale. 

The ceremony ended with a performance by the Norwegian National Opera children's choir, a request apparently made by Liu Xiaobo himself. Committee secretary Geir Lundestad, speaking at a news conference on Thursday had said Liu had wanted a children's choir to sing at the ceremony "and this will be done."

"He likes children and this would be the kind of music he would appreciate," said Lundestad. It was appreciated too by the audience, who sat attentively gazing in thought. There were also a few moist eyes amongst the attendees as the cameras cast a glance around the hall. This was an emotive moment in history, and one that brought with it a vision of hope, freedom, democracy and peace. [Nobel Prize / BBC / Sky News / CNN / Euronews / France 24 / Al Jazeera / NHK / Russia Today / Press TV / CCTV / CCTV]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, December 09, 2010

China's Confucius prize backfires

China has attempted to downplay the Nobel Peace Prize and its award to Liu Xiaobo , by creating its own, the Confucius Peace Prize which was due to be awarded on Thursday. But the ceremony has backfired after the winner failed to turn up, and only one of the eight nominees attended. The choice of Confucius in the naming of China's peace prize has also drawn criticism. Critics have said the name to trivialises the teachings of the Chinese thinker and philosopher who emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. In this regard there are several instances where his quotes are in direct contrast to that of the current rulers of China. "A ruler should learn self-discipline, govern his subjects by his own example, and treat his subjects with love and concern" Confucius stated. In today's Times, the philosopher was quoted in connection with China's decision to announce a Confucius prize. "An oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger."*

Subversion of the state

If Confucius had lived in modern China, such comments might well have landed him in the same position as Liu Xiaobo who in his manifesto Charter 08 spoke of the "the intensification of antagonism between the government and the people".

"Having experienced a prolonged period of human rights disasters and challenging and tortuous struggles, the awakening Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, republicanism, and constitutional government make up the basic institutional framework of modern politics," Liu's 3,000 word document observed.

Charter 08 was seen as a direct threat to the power of the state and Liu Xiaobo was charged under Article 105 of China's criminal law. The article reads as follows, "Whoever organizes, plots, or acts to subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system, the ringleaders or those whose crimes are grave are to be sentenced to life imprisonment, or not less than 10 years of fixed-term imprisonment."

In one respect, Liu received a light sentence under this charge, since he could have easily been handed a life sentence. His supporters and signatories, which under Chinese law would be termed "active participants" might have been handed jail sentences stretching from three to ten years. Most have only been hounded, victimised or placed under house arrest.

While Liu did call for change in China's political system, he did not call for violent revolution, and was merely engaged in making representations to the government. But the state interpreted his actions as an attempt to "subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system."

China is adamant that justice was properly enforced. In a propaganda piece published on the state run news website Xinhua, China insists "Everyone knows that Liu Xiaobo ... is an imprisoned criminal and what he has done has nothing to do with peace."

"Liu has done everything he could to subvert the Chinese government" the article maintains. In addition to its defence of Liu's conviction, the article makes the accusation that the Nobel Peace Prize represents a "mission to peddle the Western political system and values to the entire world".

"The West has pursued this approach in its strategy against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War era," the article states. "In typical examples, someone from the former Soviet Union were awarded the Peace Prize. After the fall of the former Soviet Union, however, the Nobel Committee has shifted its focus onto other parts of the world, and this year it has targeted China." The article fails to mention that Andrei Sakharov was the 'someone' from the Soviet Union, nor of his work in nuclear non-proliferation, the peaceful use of nuclear technology and human rights.

The Confucius Peace Prize

In an article published in the Global Times and the Peoples' Daily, China announced the Confucius Peace Prize. The newly formed Confucius Peace Prize Committee has as its chairman one Tan Liuchang who told the Global Times Wednesday that Lien Chan (連戰), the honorary chairman of the Taiwan-based Kuomintang (KMT) had been handed the award.

"Lien contributes immensely to the development of cross- Straits relations and to world peace," Tan said. "We'll show the rest of the world how the Chinese understand peace. China itself is a symbol of peace and a force in upholding peace, especially in a world that is full of conflict."

He claimed that Lien had been contacted through non-governmental channels, and that while an award ceremony was planned for Thursday at a Beijing hotel, Tan said he could not confirm the attendance of Lien.

In fact Lien Chan was unlikely to attend according to the office of the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman. "We've never heard of such an award and of course Mr Lien has no plans to accept it," said Ting Yuan-chao (丁遠超), director and spokesman of Lien's office [Taipei Times].

The twisted irony is that while China organised the Confucius Peace Prize as an apparent snub to the Nobel Peace Prize, it did not see the attendance of the guest of honour [Time].

Instead of Lien Chan a tearful six-year-old girl accepted the prize, a trophy and a certificate. The organisers said she had been chosen to accept the award on behalf of Lien Chan, the real winner and Taiwan's former vice president, because "children symbolize peace and future." As to why Lien had not attended, the organisers said this was because of "reasons known to everyone" [CNN].

Support for Liu Xiaobo

There maybe further embarrassment for China after a number of Hong Kong pro-democracy left for Oslo on Wednesday. In a show of support for imprisoned activist and writer Liu Xiaobo, four Legislative Council members are to attend the ceremony which takes place on Friday. "We are not going to succumb to political pressure," said Albert Ho, chairman of the Democratic Party. "It's not going to work with Hong Kong."

The other Legislative Council members who will join Ho are Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Leung Kwok-hung [better known as "Long Hair"] of April Fifth Action and the League of Social Democrats, and Emily Lau, of the Democratic Party. They will be accompanied by Patrick Kar-wai Poon, vice president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, an organization dedicated to free speech. Liu Xiaobo had been president of the centre from 2003 to 2007 and currently serves as its honorary president.

"Because people from mainland China can't make it, we can be representatives of China," Poon said. An executive secretary of China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group said that their presence was particularly poignant. "There's symbolic meaning because we're coming from the Chinese territories," Poon said.

China has called for a boycott of the Nobel peace prize ceremony, something Poon calls disrespectful. "It only shows to the world how arrogant China is now and also how irrational they are for [protesting] on the international stage." [WSJ]

Past controversies

Liu Xiaobo will not be the first Nobel Laureate unable to attend the ceremony after being barred by the state. He joins a growing list of individuals who have been incarcerated by governments sensitive to criticism.

In 1935 Carl von Ossietzky was awarded the prize but remained in a Nazi prison camp. A radical German pacifist. He was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 after publishing details of Germany's alleged violation of the Treaty of Versailles by rebuilding an Air force, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe and training pilots in the Soviet Union. This award was extremely controversial, prompting two members of the prize committee to resign. King Haakon VII of Norway, who had been present at other award ceremonies, also stayed away from the ceremony.

Ossietzky was not the first to create controversy however. But it was nearly half a century before the Nobel Peace Prize Committee took a bold move to pick a controversial individual. That came with the award to Andrei Sakharov in 1975. He too was prevented from attending the ceremony. He was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union to collect it and instead his wife attended and read his speech at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Meanwhile the Nobel Peace Committee called him a spokesman for the conscience of mankind.

During the Cold War the Polish labour leader Lech Wałęsa was not allowed out to collect the honour, but his wife was permitted to travel to Oslo to accept it on behalf of her husband in 1983. Aung San Suu Kyi was also prevented from leaving her country to collect the prize in 1991, remaining instead under house arrest in Burma. Her son Alexander Aris gave the acceptance speech on her behalf.

China retaliates

China has continued in its vitriol aimed at those supporting the ceremony calling them "clowns". Foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said Liu's supporters were fundamentally opposed to China's development and wanted to interfere in the country's politics and legal system. "We will not be pressured by clowns," she exclaimed.

China claims more than 100 countries or organisations are refusing to attend and Jiang Yu said "This shows that the majority of international community members do not accept the Nobel Committee's wrong decision" [China Daily]. However only 19 have officially declined the invitation "for various reasons" according to the Nobel Prize Committee. As well as China, others not attending are listed as Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco [Guardian / BBC].

The ceremony takes place in Oslo, Norway on Friday. CNN has already confirmed coverage which will start at 12:00 GMT [13:00 CET]. The ceremony will not be relayed in China however. CNN and BBC World are likely to be blacked out and websites have already been blocked by authorities. The Telegraph and Guardian reported that the BBC website and that of Norway's NRK were both unavailable on Thursday [BBC].

The heavy hand of authorities that continues in China has raised questions amongst some who ask if anything has really changed since 1989 when up to 3,000 pro-democracy protesters died at the hands of the People's Liberation Army [Telegraph blog]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

* reference: Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)
For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese people have been guided by the ideals of Confucianism. Its founder and greatest teacher was Confucius, whose humane philosophy also influenced the civilizations of all of eastern Asia, by way of many legends spread to illustrate Confucius' beliefs. According to one story, he and his disciples passed a cemetery where a woman was weeping beside a grave. "My husband's father was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also, and now my son has met the same fate. That's why I'm crying," she explained to them. When they asked her why she did not leave such an unlucky place, she answered that, in this place, there was no oppressive government. "Remember this, my children," said Confucius, oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger." In such teaching and with such wise sayings, Confucius tried to bring people to a virtuous way of life and a respect for the teachings of the wise men of older generations. He always said of himself that he was a "transmitter, not a maker". He collected and edited the poetry, the music and the historical writings of what he considered the golden age. Confucius laid no claim to being more than a man. Yet when he died, he was revered almost as a god. Temples were erected in his honour in every city of China. His grave at Kufow, in what is now Shandong Province, became a place of pilgrimage. Though Confucianism is commonly called a religion, it is rather a system of moral conduct. Confucius did not talk of God but of goodness. He did not teach about any god, saying simply, "Respect the gods, but have as little to do with them as possible." His attention was centred on making people better in their lifetime.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Mastercard and others hit by cyberattacks

In what may be just the beginning of a full scale cyberwar between activists and corporations an anonymous group of hackers have brought down the Mastercard website and struck at sites belonging to PayPal and that of the Swedish prosecutors office which is pursuing Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange.

Mastercard said there was "no impact" on people's ability to use their cards for transactions. But it does not bode well for companies that have tried to distance themselves from the whistle-blowing website. PayPal, which stopped processing donations to Wikileaks last week, has also been targeted. The online payment firm has admitted that it stopped payments following a request from the US government. "State Department told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward," PayPal's Osama Bedier told the Le Web conference in France.

But the reasons behind the companies' decisions have not deterred the activists. Yesterday the Swiss bank that closed Wikileaks' head Julian Assange's account, was hit by cyberattacks. "In response to the arrest of Julian Assange, Anonymous has taken down PostFinance.ch, who terminated Wikileaks bank account, using a distributed denial-of-service attack," a web post read. "Subsequently, Anonymous attacked http://www.aklagare.se, the Swedish Prosecutors office, also using a DDoS attack, and took the site down in under 10 seconds of beginning the attack."

The hackers have said that any site attacking Wikileaks or denying services would not immune from potential attacks. Noa Bar Yosef, a senior analyst at security firm Imperva said the attacks were "very focused". "It is recruiting people from within their own network. They are actually asking supporters to download a piece of code, the DDoSing malware, and upon a wake-up call the computer engages in the denial of service," he said.

The credit card company did not directly confirm they were under cyberattack but did acknowledge problems accessing the website. "Mastercard is experiencing heavy traffic on its external corporate website - Mastercard.com - but this remains accessible," Doyel Maitra from Mastercard said earlier today. However the site was stll inaccessible several hours later in London. The company said the attacks would not affect transactions. "We are working to restore normal speed of service. There is no impact whatsoever on Mastercard or Maestro cardholders' ability to use their cards for secure transactions," Maitra said. 

While the attacks have so far only been a minor inconvenience, if they increase they could pose a significant financial threat to some of these corporations. Mastercard is just one of several companies who have stopped providing services to Wikileaks. Others include PayPal, Visa, Post Finance, Amazon web services and domain name provider EveryDNS. Concerted attack on these companies could cause considerable economic damage. Amazon would be particularly affected, should it be targeted, especially in the run-up to Christmas. 

So far, the attacks have been cited, more as a protest. But they well grow along with the anger that has been voiced at those attacking both Assange and Wikileaks. One of those said to be behind the attacks, and going by the name Coldblood, told the BBC, "As an organisation we have always taken a strong stance on censorship and freedom of expression on the Internet and come out against those who seek to destroy it by any means. We feel that Wikileaks has become more than just about leaking of documents, it has become a war ground, the people vs. the government."

While many of the DDoS attacks failed to take sites offline, that was not the point of the attacks, Coldblood said. "The idea is not to wipe them off but to give the companies a wake-up call," he said. "Companies will notice the increase in traffic and an increase in traffic means increase in costs associated with running a website."

Wikileaks still has a presence on Twitter and on Facebook, though some have questioned whether they too will be pressured to cut their links with the website. "We haven't received any official requests to disable the Wikileaks page, or any notification that the articles posted on the page contain unlawful content," Facebook's Andrew Noyes said today. "If we did, of course, we would review the material according to our rules and standards, and take it down if appropriate. The mere existence of a Wikileaks fan page on Facebook doesn't violate any law and we would not take it down just like we don't take down other pages about controversial topics. We're continuing to monitor the situation."

Meanwhile Twitter spokesperson Matt Graves issued a statement to reporters in which he said, "Twitter is not censoring #wikileaks, #cablegate or other related terms from the Trends list of trending topics. There's a number of factors that may come into play when seemingly popular terms don't make the Trends list. Sometimes topics that are popular don't break into the Trends list because the current velocity of conversation (volume of Tweets at a given moment) isn't greater than in previous hours and days. Sometimes topics that are genuinely popular simply aren't widespread enough to make the list of top Trends. And, on occasion, topics just aren't as popular as people believe." [Forbes / ibtimes / BBC / Sky News]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Is Assange arrest "politically motivated"?

When Julian Assange's lawyer appeared on the steps of a London court yesterday he called the charges filed as being "politically motivated". But he is not alone to air such views.

Dozens of journalists, photographers and cameramen gathered as Assange was driven into the court on Tuesday. And shortly after the Wikileaks' founder was refused bail a number of supporters came out and spoke of their concerns. Among them were veteran journalist and writer John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan.

Pilger, speaking after the brief court appearance said, "Sweden should be ashamed. This is not justice – this is outrageous." Kahn, who said she did not know Assange personally, said she had offered her support because she believed in "the human right to freedom of information and our right to be told the truth". Loach also spoke in Assange's defence. "I think the work he has done has been a public service. I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those that govern us."

The charges

Assange had earlier been named on a Red Notice by Interpol. The issue of such a notice for 'sex crimes' on Interpol is highly unusual. The International Criminal Police Organization primarily focuses on public safety, terrorism, organized crime, crimes against humanity,environmental crime, genocide, war crimes, piracy, illicit drug production, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, child pornography, white-collar crime, computer crime,intellectual property crime and corruption.

In the notice, issued by the International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg, Sweden, Julian Paul Assange was named as being wanted for unspecified 'sex crimes'. A Red Notice is defined as a notice "To seek the provisional arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition based on an arrest warrant or court decision."

Unlike the UK, Swedish rape law is not based on consent but on the concept of sexual integrity. There are a number of possible offences against this integrity. Those that involve both penetration and either physical force or a threat of some illegal act, such as violence, are classified as rape. So are assaults on people who are helpless at the time, either as a result of intoxication or severe mental disturbance. The degree of physical force involved need only be very small. It can be enough merely to move the victim's legs apart, according to Gunilla Berglund, at the Swedish ministry of justice. Rape carries a sentence of between two and six years; aggravated rape a sentence of four to 10 years.


James Denselow , a security analyst from Kings College speaking to Russia Today, said the charges and the timing of the arrest, "seems to be an incredible coincidence." But ex-CIA officer Ray McGovern said the actions taken against the Wikileaks' founder was meant to intimidate. "This is clearly a set up to make sure every time a newspaper mentions Julian Assange it will also mention rape," McGovern said. He also spoke of his fears for the safety of the Australian. "Julian Assange is in danger, in personal danger," and intimated that he could be assassinated. "It wouldn't have to be the CIA, ... it could be Mosad"

Speaking on France 24 Pierre Conesa, a former French defence ministry official, and currently the Managing Director of the European Company of Strategic Intelligence criticised the arrest of Assange and the widespread attacks of Wikileaks. "I think its a persecution," Conesa insisted. He likened the attacks on Wikileaks as being like the French government trying to ban Le Canard enchaîné, a French satirical magazine which features investigative journalism and leaks from sources inside the French government [website].

In another development, Australian Rudd blamed the US for not keeping their secrets safe. Speaking to Reuters he said, "Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network. The Americans are responsible for that." [BBC / ABC]. But while he also condemned the leaking of the information by Wikileaks, Rudd said he was unconcerned about what the cables said about him. "I'm sure much worse has been written about me in the past and probably much worse will be written about me in the future but frankly, mate, I don't care," Rudd said. "My job's just to act in Australia's national interest as Australia's foreign minister. I don't, frankly, give a damn about this sort of thing."

As 39-year-old Assange sits inside Wandsworth Prison, Australia has offered consular assistance and are expected to issue papers later today [Australian]. "I'm the Foreign Minister of Australia and I'm responsible for the consular wellbeing of all Australians and, therefore, I just want to make it absolutely clear that, first of all, Mr Assange has contacted the Australian Consul-General in London and asked for consular support," Rudd said, "We have confirmed that we'll provide that, as we'd do for all Australian citizens."

"We'll be providing him with a letter soon which indicates we'll be prepared to provide consular visits and any other level of consular support concerning his well being and his legal rights. That is the proper thing to do for any Australian citizen. What we do with Australians in strife anywhere in the world is that we take the view that our responsibility is to ensure the consular rights and legal rights of all Australians abroad are protected. And that includes Mr Assange." Meanwhile top human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson is to represent Assange [SMH]. He is expected to question why the Assange has been refused access by his lawyers under the apparent pretext of staff shortages.

Last night Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, confirmed it would continue publishing US diplomatic cables. In a statement he said: "This will not stifle WikiLeaks. The release of the US embassy cables – the biggest leak in history – will still continue. We will not be gagged, either by judicial action or corporate censorship."

Cyberattacks and boycotts

However, Wikileaks is under an increased number of attacks. The site has been virtually inaccessible due to continuing DDoS attacks. Last week Amazon stopped hosting of the website and PayPal cut its ties, refusing to allow funds being transferred through its online payment service. And this week both MasterCard and Visa pulled the plug while Swiss bank Postfinance [the financial arm of Swiss Post] closed Wikileaks account.

In what has now become a digital war, some supporters of Wikileaks have begun their own cyberattacks against those they see as the enemy. On Tuesday Paypal, Mastercard and several other websites were coming under DDoS attacks making them virtually inaccessible. The attack is being orchestrated by Operation Payback and forms part of an ongoing campaign by Anonymous. It was posting updates via its Twitter feed and website. At the time of going to press the Mastercard website was inaccessible, though PayPal, Visa, Switzerland Post Finance and Amazon were still operating.

Media coverage

The story has been widely covered on most news channels, though each has a slightly different agenda. Sky News, the BBC and CNN have provided what could be considered balanced coverage and given a great amount of detail concerning the content of the leaked cables themselves. Other broadcasters have been selective on what the have reported. France 24 today discussed issues of censorship, though French President Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the leaks. Russia Today has focused on the threat to Julian Assange himself pulling in experts from organisations willing to point the finger at western and allied security services. Press TV which broadcasts out of Iran often airs programming which discusses the free flow of information and the censorship of western media, ironic given the strictly controlled nature of media in Iran. Today on Rattansi and Ridley, Gavin McFadyean, Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, was invited to discuss the Wikileaks story to give his insight on the attacks on the whistle-blowing site. Japanese news station NHK today covered the story dropping in at third on its headlines after a report about Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and the tensions in the Korean peninsula. One media organisation that has stayed studiously quiet is CCTV, China's state news broadcaster.

tvnewswatch, London, UK