Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bank glitches, rate rigging & Internet blocks

This week has been dominated by several issues affecting banks and financial institutions which could have far reaching affects.

Computer glitches

Britain has been gripped by a banking crisis after a computer glitch resulted in failed payments for thousands [BBC / BBC]. Businesses found themselves unable to pay clients, shoppers were left short of cash and even left stranded at the checkout. Home movers also suffered extra stress after delayed transactions put back the handover of keys. Even a few prisoners were kept behind bars after bail payments could not be confirmed. While the banks apologized, delays continues more than a week on and the rights to consumers and whether they would receive adequate compensation [BBC].

Rigging interest rates

Banks also faced criticism after it was revealed Barclays had manipulated interlending interest rates known as Libor [BBC]. And soon after the FSA and other regulators said they were investigating similar behaviour in other financial institutions sending shares tumbling.

Before this week few people outside the financial sector had heard of Libor, which is short for the London Interbank Offered Rate [Q&A - BBC]. But after Barclays were fined £290 million [$450 million] for trying to manipulate this key bank lending rate, Libor became the buzz word in the news. And there were calls for the Chief executive Bob Diamond to go, though so far he has only announced he will not take a bonus, which last year amounted to  £2.7 million.

"Serious questions"

The issue fell at the government's feet with Prime Minister David Cameron saying that Barclays Bank management had "serious questions" to answer and called for an inquiry [BBC / BBC]. But those questions may also need to be answered by other institutions. The Financial Services Authority is now looking into the behaviour of other UK banks and regulators in Europe, the US and Asia have said that investigations into other banks are "ongoing" [BBC]. 

The UK's Financial Services Authority said the early signs were that Barclays had not been the only firm involved and it was confirmed that many high street names including HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland were being investigated. Further afield Citigroup, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank are also facing scrutiny..

Market effects

The investigations have upset markets sending shares in Britain's biggest bank down almost 16% wiping some £3 billion off the company's stock. London's wider FTSE 100 Index also tanked dropping 30.9 points to 5493.1, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wall Street dropped more than 1% in early trade Friday and indices across Europe also fell [This is Money]. 

Bloomberg blocked in China

On the other side of the world economic data was a little harder to find for some after China blocked access to Bloomberg and BusinessWeek apparently in retaliation of a story delving into Xi Jinping's financial affairs [BBC].  China also blocked web searches for the name of leader-in-waiting and micro-bloggers found they could no longer search terms such as 'Bloomberg', "Xi Jinping" and "crown prince". In addition, many of the names and companies mentioned in the Bloomberg story were blocked, including Xi Zhongxun (Xi Jinping's father), Deng Jiagui (Xi's brother-in-law) and New Postcom (one of many profitable companies owned by Xi's extended family).

There was a fairly mute response from Bloomberg who only acknowledged their websites were currently inaccessible. It was, said a company spokesman Ty Trippet, "in reaction, we believe, to a Bloomberg News story that was published on Friday." However, Bloomberg Terminals, which constitute the company's main platform for financial information and its main source of revenue, were not blocked, the spokesman added.

American officials only reiterated a long standing stance on Internet freedom and censorship. "The US strongly supports respect for freedom of expression and press freedom in China, including over the Internet," said a State Department spokesperson. "We have continually urged China to respect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet, including freedom of expression." [Washington Post]

While the blocking of websites is nothing new in China, the fact that an important financial hub has been singled out may be concerning to those trying to make important business decisions.


There is a seeming lack of transparency on both sides of the Great Firewall of China however. Despite an open and transparent system in the West, Barclays, and possibly other financial institutions, have managed to rig interest rates to boost their profits.

It is clear that as well as free access to information, there also needs to be proper regulation covering banks. And with the fallout from the glitches affecting other institutions, a review must also be ordered. The glitch shows how vulnerable the banking sector is to electronic failure. In some respects the electronic failure was minor, but the incident reveals the risks that can be posed by software or hardware failures which could come from many sources.

Crisis of confidence

There is a crisis of confidence in the banking sector, compounded by the PPI scandal, banking bonuses and now with computer glitches and rigging of interest rates. A tightening of regulations is needed to boost confidence and bring stability. But regulations and rules need to go beyond the borders of any one state or country. China in particular could be singled out for not playing by the rules. Until the RMB is openly traded, as is the dollar, pound and euro,  there will be a crisis of confidence when trading with this growing economy. This is a country which has been openly accused of currency manipulation, a situation which must be addressed sooner rather than later. China must also open up in terms of a free flow of information. While the government might be concerned over political fallout from a more open Internet, the blocking of news, and especially news connected to commerce and finance and commerce, could have far reaching effects. The blocking of Bloomberg's news portals is not the first example of China stemming the flow of financial information [tvnewswatch: China falsifies data, hides true scale of slowdown / tvnewswatch: Fake bank adds to long list of China's fake products / tvnewswatch: Risks ahead after China's credit bubble bursts] but it is perhaps the most high-profile example. The draconian approach of censorship may have a far more detrimental effect than the information would otherwise create.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Facebook angers users after ‘hijacking email addresses’

Facebook users have expressed outrage over what they see as a unilateral move by the company to replace the display email addresses of all users with a email address.

Sneaky & underhand

The company claims it had acted to make details "consistent" across its site. But many users have branded the move "annoying" and "lame". Instructions on how to display original addresses instead of the Facebook ones have been widely circulated since the social network rolled out the change, which is an attempt to drive more traffic to the firm's pages and help boost advertising sales.

Facebook first announced plans for the move in April, although the news attracted little attention at the time. Changes by other social networks such as Twitter and Google+ have often been publicised by way of an email sent to their respective users.

When Google rolled out its new privacy terms and conditions to cover all its services, everyone with a Google account received an email explaining the changes. Similarly Twitter emailed its users in May this year when it updated its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

However, the changes to Facebook and its switch to a new email address was not so readily publicised, a move that has been described by some as being underhand and indicative of the way the company fails to respect its users.

Previous criticism

It is not the first time Facebook has drawn the ire of users. Changes to privacy have drawn criticism in the past forcing the company to backtrack and apologise [tvnewswatch: Facebook faces criticism over privacy].

Zuckerberg later acknowledged that Facebook had "missed the mark" in its efforts to convey privacy settings to its almost 500 million users worldwide.

But the company was later hauled over hot coals by US authorities and been forced to agree to a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission barring Facebook from making any further deceptive privacy claims, requiring that the company obtain consumers' approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.

Security threat

While the latest faux pas by the social network does not directly break the agreement, in terms of privacy, the changes could be seen as a failure by the company to respect its users. And the change could also pose a security threat according to Sophos. With Facebook already rife with malicious links, apps and phishing attacks, this should be of particular concern to everyone using the site. Since the Facebook email address matches the public username in a user's profile URL, it would not be difficult for someone to work out addresses. "I find it worrying that the email address is created from my name - and seems to be visible to all. As a teacher I do not give out my personal email address but this could allow students (who do not have access to my Facebook) to work it out and contact / message me," one person wrote on the BBC website.


A Facebook spokeswoman said Tuesday that "in hindsight" the company probably should have better explained the email switchover. Asked if the move was made to bolster Facebook's own messaging and email presence, she said, "We want people to use whatever service is most effective for them," adding that the move was made to add consistency to the site once every user was assigned an address. The change also affected all Facebook employees, she said.

The move could be seen somewhat cynically as a deliberate attempt to usurp users' control, increase advertising revenue and to weed out the main competitors. According to the most recent available data from comScore, Microsoft's Hotmail was the most popular Internet-based email service globally as of May, with about 325 million unique visitors. Yahoo's service ranked second, with roughly 298 million users, while Google's Gmail garnered about 289 million users. With nearly a billion users on Facebook, the social network had much to gain by encouraging people to use its own email service.


The storm surrounding the move is not good news for Facebook who has seen a turbulent time after a rocky start to its IPO. Its stock now stands at $33.10 and has recovered after sinking to as low at $25.52. But it still remains well below its IPO launch price of $41.

While many people might be loathed to close their Facebook account the latest misstep by the company could force many to rethink their position. In the meantime users may change back to their originally displayed email address by navigating to the 'About' section of their profile, click 'Edit' where the email addresses are displayed and change the setting to the desired preferences before saving.

[BBC / CNN / Telegraph / D Mail / WSJ / PCAdviser / CNET / Technorati / Mashable]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, June 24, 2012

China falsifies data, hides true scale of slowdown

Local and provincial officials in China are falsifying economic statistics to disguise the true depth of the economic troubles in the country, according to some prominent corporate executives in China and Western economists.

Falsified statistics

A report in the New York Times cites several examples where information is either not reported, or deliberately altered. Huge mountains of excess coal have accumulated at the country's biggest storage areas because power plants are burning less coal in the face of tumbling electricity demand. Yet local and provincial government officials have forced plant managers not to report to Beijing the full extent of the slowdown, power sector executives are quoted as saying.

Electricity production and consumption is widely considered to be a yardstick by which to measure economic activity and strength. They are viewed by foreign investors and even some Chinese officials as the gold standard for measuring what is really happening in the country's economy. It is considered particularly useful as regards China since the gathering and reporting of data in China is not considered as reliable as it is in many countries.

Fresh concerns

But the unreliability of this data will raise fresh concerns for investors, who rely on such information to make important business decisions. Officials in some cities and provinces are also overstating economic output, corporate revenue, corporate profits and tax receipts, it is claimed. The officials do so by urging businesses to keep separate sets of books, showing improving business results and tax payments that do not exist.

Until now most were happy to accept official government reports and statistics. In fact before these recent reports concerning tampered electricity consumption, some market analysts were broadly positive about the state of China's economy.

Mark Mobius, the executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, even cited the reported electricity figures when he expressed skepticism that the Chinese economy had real difficulties. "I don't think the economic activity is that bad - just look at the electricity production," he said.

Accusations & denials

The National Bureau of Statistics, the government agency in Beijing that compiles most of the country's economic statistics, denied that economic data had been overstated. "This is not rooted in evidence," an agency spokeswoman said.

But in a country where information is centralised, and no free press to question anomalies, it is difficult to assess the veracity of either claim. Studies by Goldman Sachs and other institutions over the years have strongly suggested that Chinese statisticians smooth out the quarterly growth figures, under reporting growth during boom years and overstating growth during economic downturns.

Chinese officials have also raised questions in the past about the reliability of Chinese economic data and statistics. An American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks shows that Li Keqiang, widely expected to become premier of China this autumn, said in 2007 that he regarded China's broad measures of economic growth as " 'man-made' and therefore unreliable."

Questions of growth

The question is whether the actual slowdown is even worse than officially claimed. Skewed government data would help explain why prices for commodities like oil, coal and copper fell heavily this spring even though official Chinese statistics show a more modest deceleration in economic activity.

Questions about the quality and accuracy of Chinese economic data are longstanding, but the concerns now being raised are particularly pointed given that this year is the first time since 1989 that a sharp economic slowdown has coincided with the once-a-decade changeover in the country's top leadership.

Officials at all levels of government are under pressure to report good economic results to Beijing as they wait for promotions, demotions and transfers to cascade down from Beijing.

Lessons from the past

During the Great Leap Forward during Mao's rule false data was commonly sent to Beijing to gain favour with Mao and to avoid his wrath. While the situation is far less bleak than the dark days of the 1950s which saw mass starvation and economic collapse, it is clear that the culture of appeasing the master by only serving up good news persists. The cost to the economy by falsifying data could be grave indeed, not only for China but the rest of the world which is already at the brink.

[CNBC / Economic Times / Times of India]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Syria shoots down Turkish jet, raises tensions in NATO

There was the threat of a serious escalation of the developing civil war in Syria last night after the country admitted it downed a Turkish fighter that was said to be "flying in airspace over Syrian waters".

The F-4 Phantom disappeared over the Mediterranean, south-west of Turkey's Hatay province, near the Syrian coast. The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 at 11:58 local time [08:58 GMT] while it was flying over Hatay, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya, to the north-west [BBC / Sky]. 

Deteriorating relationship

Relations between Nato-member Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled the violence across the border into Turkey.

While such actions could be the last desperate attempts by Assad's regime to assert their power and authority, they could draw in other countries which could quickly escalate the fighting in the region.

Defectors & collaborators

This week has seen signs that the Assad regime is crumbling after a MiG-21 fighter pilot defected to Jordan [BBC]. Meanwhile pressure on countries that have been propping up the regime has increased.

This week saw a Russian cargo ship turned back in Scottish waters amid claims it was transporting military helicopters to Syria. The MV Alaed turned around in the North Sea, about 80 km from the Scottish coast, after its London-based insurer withdrew third-party liability cover. The British authorities forced the move, suspecting that the ship was taking arms to Syria.

The Russian foreign ministry later confirmed that the ship was carrying three MI-25 attack helicopters, newly reconditioned under a contract with Syria's armed forces, and an air defence system. But the forced retreat will only delay the delivery. The vessel is due to be re-flagged under Russian colours and then sent to Syria to complete the delivery. "[The helicopters] are the property of the Syrian side and must be returned to the Syrian Arab Republic after repairs," said a foreign ministry spokesman in Moscow [Telegraph].

Diplomatic minefield

It is Syria's close relationship with Russia that is a major stumbling block in trying to iron out a peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis in Syria. A Libya style assault would not be greeted well by Russia, who have opposed every call for intervention.

The geography also poses difficulties for the West. Syria borders Turkey, to the north, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, countries with diverse political, ethnic and religious differences.

The West particularly fear being dragged into another Iraq, or worse. And despite the atrocities being committed on the ground, so far leaders have only resorted to harsh words, criticism, and the implementation of sanctions, all of which have seemed to have had very little effect.

Act of war

While the shooting down of a Turkish jet is undoubtedly serious, and could even be interpreted as an act of war, Turkey is unlikely to retaliate, least of all unilaterally. As a member of NATO the act of aggression against any one member could be seen as a breach of Chapter 5 of the alliance's treaty. An attack on one state might thus be seen as an attack on all states belonging to NATO. But while Syria has the continuing support of Russia, and to a lesser degree China, few countries will want to suffer the ire of either.

There will undoubtedly be harsh words coming from western officials, and anger from the Turkish population. But the likelihood of military retaliation is slim.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fake bank adds to long list of China's fake products

China has excelled itself with its level of fakery after it emerged that a bank supposedly acquired by businessman was a fanciful invention.

Lin Chunping shot to fame in January this year when it was reported by state media that he had bought Atlantic Bank in the US for $60 million. However, it has now emerged that Li's acquisition was a fiction. The businessman had not only lied about his acquisition of the bank, the financial institution did not even exist.

Highlighting a growing problem

The case not only highlights the fraudulent and illegal behaviour of some individuals that are increasingly exploiting vulnerable people, it also reveals a poor level of research by media organisations which failed to research the supposed deal.

Any journalist worth their salt would have soon found that the bank did not exist. Yet the People's Daily and China Daily both reported on Li's supposed business acumen without checking into the veracity of the claims [ / China Daily].

"Lin Chunping, a businessman based in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang province, acquired the Atlantic Bank of America for 60 million US dollars in June, 2011," the People's Daily reported in February, adding that it had been renamed USA New HSBC Federation Consortium Inc. and had been put into a trial operation as of November 2011.

The paper then went on to claim that Lin Chunping and his New HSBC might become a benchmark for private enterprises in Wenzhou, China, where the businessman resided.


It is unclear how many individual actually deposited any money in Li's fake financial institution, though Xinhua reported that Li created fake invoices worth hundreds of millions of yuan, or billions of dollars.

The man, who was even appointed as a municipal Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) member, has now been detained for alleged fraud, authorities confirmed last week. As well as the 42-year-old businessman six others have also been arrested in the city of Zhuhai in south China's Guangdong province in connection with the fraud.

Losses of state tax revenue could run into tens of millions of yuan, or hundreds of millions of dollars, according to police. [Telegraph / LA Times / Globe & MailRT]

Fake Apples and degrees

Lin, previously hailed by the local government and the media as a "financial hero" for Wenzhou, has now become another embarrassment where counterfeiting and corruption is rife.

Last year, officials forced the closure of five fake Apple stores in the southwestern city of Kunming, after the shops were widely publicized by an expat blogger. The stores were modeled after the US company's iconic stores complete with designer interiors, Apple logos and staff dressed in trademark T-shirts.

In June this year, local press in eastern Shandong province exposed a fake university. Students who did not score high enough on the national college entrance exam to make it into university received sham admission letters to the Shandong Institute of Light Industry, a real school. The students paid nearly 30,000 yuan [$4,800] over the course of four years to attend classes at the institute.

However, weeks before graduation, the students learned they would not get diplomas because they were not officially enrolled at the school but in a private training program that rents space from the institute, according to a report in the state-run Jinan Times. Meanwhile the program organizer disappeared leaving students with debts and no qualifications.

Lack of scruples

Faking among students is also said to becoming more common. Many graduates, trying to boost their careers, will pad out their resumes or exaggerate their experience.

Zinch China, the Chinese arm of US-based educational networking site, estimates that 90% of recommendation letters to US schools are fake, that 70% of essays are written by someone else and that half the transcripts are fabricated. Zinch drew the numbers from interviews with Chinese students, parents and agents.

Experts point to many reasons for the widespread of lack of scruples, from the need to be hyper-competitive to succeed in an overpopulated society to an ancient sage who countenanced lying to achieve a higher purpose.

He Huaihong, a Peking University philosophy professor who teaches ethics, takes aim at China's politics, specifically the disconnect between an avowedly communist leadership and the capitalist economy it oversees.

Business concerns

Such issues should be of great concern, not only for China's indigenous population, but also for those doing business in this growing economy.

Openness and transparency is all important for investors and businesses. But in a country where censorship even extends to the blocking of financial websites and portals whose reports are important to make proper investment decisions, there exists a minefield for those doing business in China.

In 2007 China blocked access to the Observatoire International des Crises website after it posted an article, entitled "Shanghai, mon amour," [Shangaï, my love] which warned companies about the risks of trading with China.

The censorship was of great concern to Reporters Without Borders who said the move was a dangerous one which could affect the way businesses and investors make appropriate decisions.

"Internet filtering is not just a problem for political activists, it also affects those who do business with China," RSF said at the time. "How do you assess an investment opportunity if no reliable information about social tension, corruption or local trade unions is available? This case of censorship, affecting a very specialised site with solely French-language content, shows the government attaches as much importance to the censorship of economic data as political content."

"The free flow of information online is not only a human rights issue, it is essential to lasting economic growth and the creation of solid trade relations with other countries."

The Observatoire International des Crises [OIC], a French organisation that produces a magazine on crisis management methods for businesses, drew the ire of authorities after publishing an article written by Didier Heiderich. In it Heidrich said, "The Middle Kingdom has managed to divert international investments for its benefit, obtain technologies without anything in return other than the promises arising from our own imagination, gag its dissidents - including those abroad - and ensnare the West in its golden clutches... Perhaps it is time to realise this before we are closed in the Chinese trap for good."

Flow of information, critical

Concerning the block, RSF said, "It seems to us to be more evident than ever that companies setting up, relocating or buying in China should be discerning and vigilant, acting with industrial rigour and social and environmental responsibility."

The free flow of information is critical. Bad news stories are often suppressed in China for fear of losing face. Yet for those wanting to invest in companies can make bad judgements if facts, or allegations of unscrupulous behaviour, are hidden.

In February this year a court in south China rejected the lawsuit of American Superconductor Corporation [AMSC] against Sinovel, China's largest wind turbine maker, over accusations of Intellectual Property infringements.

While Xinhua and other state media did report on the issue, the coverage was scant compared to the in depth coverage in the West. The case is still ongoing despite initially rejected by China's courts [Xinhua].

Judicial bias

The issue of bias in China's judicial system is something which many Western companies claim is rife. Douglas Clark of the European Union Chamber of Commerce says that such assertions are well founded. China's judicial system is not independent, he says. Today, a bigger problem than anti-foreigner bias is that some provincial courts may favour local firms over outsiders, Chinese or foreign. Even when judgements favour the complainant, fines are small and there is further opacity with judges failing to publish detailed rulings or, if they do, only after much delay.  [Economist / Green Tech Media]

The growing number of such cases should be a warning for those doing business in a country where bias in the legal system exists and where there are flagrant abuses of IP theft.

China now has become a crucial engine of global growth, far sooner than anyone had imagined. While developed countries remain in a quagmire, China's economy is roaring ahead. Consumers elsewhere worry about their jobs and financial futures, but many in China are getting rich, and about to get even more so.

IP theft

However, many are getting rich on copying not only the western model of capitalism, but by ripping off years of research, financial investment and development. While tourists and expats may be happy at obtaining a cheap DVD of the latest Hollywood blockbuster for little more than a dollar, this is only the thin end of the wedge which is affecting companies in the West.

Chinese companies can save millions of dollars in R&D by simply copying a western product, and with a cheap manufacturing base can significantly undercut foreign competitors.

When China's Shuanghuan company unveiled its Shuanghuan CEO 4x4 at the Frankfurt motor show German automaker BMW cried foul and said it would launch legal proceedings claiming the vehicle was a copy of their BMW X5 [CNN]

In June 2008 the Regional Court of Munich ruled that the Chinese SUV brand was a copy of the BMW X5 and prohibited the importing of the vehicles [Carscoop]. However, despite the ruling there are still moves to sell the copycat X5 in other European countries [Motortrend].

Undermining threat

Intellectual property rights [IPR] infringement in China reduces market opportunities and undermines the profitability of firms when sales of products and technologies are undercut by competition from illegal, lower-cost imitations. This is the assessment of the US International Trade Commission which published ia report on the problem in 2010 [ICCWBO - PDF].

Intellectual property is often the most valuable asset that a company holds, but many companies, particularly smaller ones, lack the resources and expertise necessary to protect their IP in China.

One is unlikely to see a fake iPad in a store outside of China anytime soon, but with fakery such big business, consumers and companies, both in China and elsewhere, need to remain alert.

China is fast becoming a superpower [Guardian]. But as its power grows, so do the risks of doing business with this commercial giant.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ban on schoolgirl food blogger lifted

A nine-year-old old blogger has created a storm on the Internet after she was banned by her local authority from photographing her school meals, only for the the ban to be lifted hours later after the story went viral.

Martha Payne, from Argyll, began her blog in April this year but ran foul of Argyll and Bute Council who said press coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

The council took action following the Daily Record's coverage of Martha's cookery lesson with the Scottish chef Nick Nairn, which appeared to criticise the council, and of other articles in the paper.

On Thursday the girl posted a Goodbye on her blog saying she had been taken from her class by her head teacher and told she could not take any more photographs of her school dinners because of the press coverage surrounding her reviews.

"I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I'll miss seeing the dinners you send me too," Martha said in her post. She also expressed her disappointment that her efforts to raise money for a kitchen for Mary's Meals might be thwarted.

But in what appeared to be a U-turn council leader Roddy McCuish later told the BBC he had instructed senior officials to lift the ban immediately.

Martha began publishing photographs of her Lochgilphead Primary School lunches on 30th April and although she gave some meals negative reviews, many were positive and balanced.

But she drew the ire of the council who said they "had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm [media coverage of the blog was] causing."

"In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen," a statement which seemed later to have been deleted, said.

Later in the day Kate Hughes, head of communications at Wolverhampton Homes, blogged her advice to the council on how to handle the situation.

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, also criticised the council. "Argyll and Bute council have made a dog's dinner of this. Rather than seriously deal with the pupil's concerns, they have chosen to silence her," he said.

The council had clearly never heard of the Streisand effect . By trying to silence her only attracted negative publicity, much worse than any lunch photos ever could.

In fact there was even a positive effect for Martha who received hundreds of messages of support. The council's attempt to silence her resulted in her blog getting more than 2 million hits. Furthermore the charity for which she was trying to raise money soared well above the £7,000 target set.

Martha had set up a website to help Mary's Meals, an international movement that sets up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education. Prior to all the publicity only £2,000 had been raised, but by late Friday afternoon more than £36,000 had been pledged.

A Mary's Meals spokesman said, "Martha's support for Mary's Meals has been amazing and we are extremely grateful for everything that she has done to help us reach some of the hungriest children in the world."

"We are overwhelmed by the huge response to her efforts today which has led to so many more people donating to her online donation page."

"Thanks to this fantastic support, Martha has now raised enough money to build a kitchen in Malawi for children receiving Mary's Meals as part of our Sponsor A School initiative and has broken the record for hitting a Sponsor A School online fundraising target in the quickest amount of time."

As for the blog, it remains unclear whether Martha will continue her food reviews, or if the storm of publicity and pressure from her council will crush her spirit. One hopes not.

Neverseconds blog / Sky / BBC / Mirror / Daily Record / Guardian / Telegraph / Channel 4 News / Montreal Star / Globe & Mail /

Update [Tuesday 19/06/2012]: Martha began posting pictures and food reviews again on Monday and her blog and charity efforts continue to be a success. As of late Tuesday she had raised more than £90,000 for her chosen charity. As well as the setting up of a new kitchen, to be named 'Friends of Neverseconds in honour of those who donated, the extra money will got to feeding thousands of school children in Malawi [Daily Record]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, June 14, 2012

War on child porn may see restricted Internet

Internet restrictions may be necessary to stop the dissemination of child pornography. Social networks are of particular concern to organisations such as The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) which has urged has urged Twitter and others to address the issue.

Ceop say that paedophiles use the site to discuss abuse and link to pornographic images. And while users can report accounts in breach of its child protection policy, Twitter has been criticised for being too slow in acting upon such complaints.

Exploitation of social media 

Twitter says safety was a high priority and it acted immediately on complaints of inappropriate behaviour. But former detective Mark Williams-Thomas, who works as a child protection expert, claims some users have still been active on the site days or even weeks after they have been reported to the firm [BBC].

But Twitter is just one of many ways through which child pornography is distributed. Photo sharing websites are being increasingly exploited to disseminate such images. And despite such sites having clear policies prohibiting the uploading of certain content, few are proactive enough in removing the offending material.

Many sites facilitate users uploading pictures anonymously, with only a valid email address required. However, it is all too easy to set up an email address without supplying legitimate information. And with the use of proxy servers, criminals can hide their location and identity completely.

Tumblr, a photo-blogging website, has gained a reputation for being a hub of pornographic images. While Tumblr does not explicitly ban pornography in its community guidlines but does ban "anything relating to minors that is sexually suggestive or violent" and those showing content related to abuse and self-harm. However, reporting such imagery, if stumbled upon, is fraught with problems, especially for those without a Tumblr account. Tumblr say they tag blogs with NSFW [Not Suitable For Work] if they contain adult content, but many blogs pass such scrutiny.

Private sharing

Similar issues arise with other photo or content sharing websites. Picasa Web, while incorporated into Google+, allows users to upload explicit content which can be made 'private' and shared through a link with other individuals. Flickr, Yahoo's picture storage website, also facilitate private sharing, thus avoiding public scrutiny. And with the rise of file-sharing websites, an even bigger problem faces authorities attempting to stamp out child pornography.

Google states that it has a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography and will terminate and report to the appropriate authorities any user who publishes or distributes such material. Nonetheless, Google are also slow at deleting images and accounts showing inappropriate content.

Google also facilitates a framework to report content found through its image search. However due to the nature of the Internet, uploaders of content are often one step ahead of Google's own censorship machine.

Censorship proposals

In recent weeks there has been a concerted campaign by some papers to block pornography at ISP level and force Internet users in Britain to opt-in should they wish to view adult material.

It is not clear, should the plan be adopted by the British government, whether this would work from a 'white-list' or 'black-list' of websites. Neither system would be infallible. Black-listing Flickr, Picasa or Tumblr would no doubt anger legitimate users, yet a white-listing of the site would let dubious content flow freely. Even with image and word scanning technology there may be difficulty in differentiating clean, legal content from illegal or adult content.

This week controversial plans will be unveiled by the British government which would give police more surveillance powers. Home Secretary insisted the new plans will only provide police with information of a small amount of detail such as "who, when and where", rather than the actual content, for which authorities would need to seek a warrant.

However, there is a growing case for surveillance powers to be extended in order to stop the flow of child pornography and catch paedophiles. Today it was reported that police had raided a number of properties in the UK and arrested at least 3 individuals in a coordinated nationwide crackdown to trap child sex offenders. The operation was particularly focused on individuals who have access to children. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) centre says is a priority given that Internet images are becoming more extreme and sadistic, as well as becoming more easily available [Sky / BBC].

Reporting content

While the government debates the pros and cons of restricting Internet access and monitoring its use in an attempt to stop the dissemination of child pornography, there are organisations who are proactive in stamping out such content.

The IWF in Britain provides a facility for web users to report child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world as well as criminally obscene adult content and non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK. ASACP also provides a similar service in the US.

While most people are perhaps responsible in what they search for, and look at, on the Internet, there is a significant minority who use the web to disseminate obscene material. At home a parent may employ software such as CyberSentinal and PixAlert to restrict the access to certain websites or even locally stored images. But beyond this there are few controls.

War on porn

Many western nations are reluctant to follow the course of countries like China which put a blanket ban on sites such as Flickr, Picasa Web, Tumblr, Vimeo, DailyMotion and YouTube. While certainly aimed at preventing access to political content, China stated aim is to stop the flow of pornography. The censors also block many domestic sites. In 2009 alone more than 15,000 pornographic websites were shut down or blocked in China's war on porn [Xinhua]. The following year China shut down some 60,000 porn sites and arrested almost 5,000 suspects in the process. Possession of adult pornography is punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a fine of 20,000 yuan [£2,000 / $3,100].

With the increase in online crime, both related to pornography and other activities, it may only be a matter of time before western governments employ similar methods.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Apple Maps may be poor imitation of Google Maps

Apple have announced that they are to ditch Google Maps in favour of  "an entire new mapping solution", but many users may find they are getting an inferior product as Apple seeks to further wall in their garden.

Although Apple's mapping application will feature turn-by-turn directions, 'Flyover' and an improved Siri interface, the real question is how Apple's maps will compare to Google's maps.

Poor imitation

A side-by-side comparison of the two reveal that Apple's offering is a pale imitation of Google Maps. While the new mapping application has yet to be fully launched, and remains in beta, the showing on Apple's own website reveal a less informative and useful tool, compared to that provided by Google.

While Apple's maps look crisp and clean it appears almost completely devoid of useful information. Compare the side-by-side images, above, and it's clear that Google Maps gives the user more information in terms of street names, street directions, subway stops, emphasis on major streets and so on.

Apple Maps will give users turn-by-turn directions, whether walking or driving, however they have yet to announce transit directions, a feature that has been integrated in Google Maps for some time.

Reduced traffic data

For those hitting the streets in their cars, those using Apple Maps may well run into gridlock as data seems far less comprehensive than seen in Google Maps. Of course such issues may well be resolved, in time, but for Apple to launch a product that is only half-baked will likely disappoint and aggravate users who have become accustomed to the features in Google's product.

Other features such as satellite image overlays may not be used that much, but Apple's imaging is extremely poor compared to Google's. Furthermore, Apple has yet to announced any alternative to Streetview, which is a useful feature for many mobile.

Lacking features

Another feature which will also be lost to Apple Maps users will be the feature of adding favourites to their maps. Those with a Google account are able to 'star' an item found in Google Maps at their desktop. This is then synced with their mobile device, making the finding of a favourite restaurant or venue that much easier.

Google Maps is of course tied into other services provided by the search giant such as Latitude and the revamped Google Places, recently replaced by Google+ Local. Latitude is unlikely to be integrated into Apple Maps, and Apple have already announced that Yelp will provide data for restaurant reviews. That will be little use to those in many worldwide locations, since outside Canada and the US, Yelp only covers a few European countries.

Tailored for China

Even in China, where Google has certainly run into problems with the government concerning censorship, Google Maps works extremely well. It remains to be seen if navigation, reviews and search work as well on Apple's new mapping app in places like Beijing as it does on Google Maps. Apple claims that the new iOS has been tailored specifically for China. "You can now do local search even in China," says senior vice president of iOS Software at Apple Scott Forstall.

One area which may see an improvement is in terms of language input. Siri is set to be updated to incorporate voice-recognition for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. Apple is "really improving our Chinese input method" with a better dictionary and special fonts for characters, Apple executive Craig Federighi said. While both Android and iPhones have facilitated Chinese input for some time, Google have had voice input built-in to its Android devices for several years.

Forstall claims the new operating system for the iPhone and iPad will include "an entire new mapping solution from the ground up, and it is beautiful." But aesthetics aren't everything. Usability, practicality and informative are the watchwords here. It remains to be seen if Apple Maps compares favourably to Google Maps once iOS 6 officially launches. Google may make their Maps app available through iTunes, though there is no word on this as yet.

Should such a facility not be available, it may become another excuse for people to switch to Android which now has more than 50% of the worldwide market in smartphone ownership [BBC / BBC video / Gizmodo / ZDNet / Mashable / AFP].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

China resorts to bully-boy tactics after Dalai Lama visits

China has launched into what has been seen by some as "reprehensible and disgraceful bully-boy tactics" following a meeting between the Dalai Lama and the British Prime Minister last month.

Government snubs

At least two government ministers have been snubbed on their trips to Beijing recently and there are growing fears that Beijing may target British companies.

In the last month Lord Green, the Trade and Investment minister, and Jeremy Browne, the Foreign Office minister, saw planned meetings with Chinese ministers either cancelled or palmed off on junior officials.

Lord Green, who was visiting China as the head of a trade mission, was said to have been unable to meet with the Ministry of Commerce or with the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, which sets a course for the country's economy.

"What has happened is that things that are normally handled at ministerial level being downgraded or cancelled," one diplomatic source told the Daily Telegraph.

"In some cases the Chinese have said it was because of the [Prime Minister's] meeting with the Dalai Lama, at other times they said they were sorry but something had come up," the source added.

Cancelled meetings

The recent actions follow on the heels of the cancellation by a senior Chinese leader to Britain in protest of a meeting between David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.

Chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress, Wu Bangguo had been set to visit Britain at the conclusion of a European tour. However, the visit was cancelled at the last minute in retaliation to the PM's meeting with the spiritual leader.

China reacted angrily to the meeting and called on Britain to "stop conniving" with the Dalai Lama, who China sees as disruptive influence and separatist. "We call on the British side to earnestly respond to China's solemn demand, stop conniving at and supporting separatist attempts to achieve Tibetan independence, take practical measures to eliminate the terrible impact and take actions to preserve Chinese-British relations," Beijing said in a statement.

The latest salvo has worried some official who fear that the diplomatic skirmish could escalate. "The message has definitely been sent out through the Communist party channels," on source is quoted as saying. "But it is difficult to link any particular negative action directly to the meeting, of course".

Business concerns

Meetings between British and Chinese officials are believed to be continuing at a lower level, however, and some significant deals are still being discussed. London is poised to become a major trading hub for the Chinese yuan and a state-owned Chinese power company is bidding to build new nuclear power stations in the UK.

But with the Dalai Lama due to return to Britain on Thursday [14th June] for a 10-day, pre-Olympic tour of various British cities tempers amongst Chinese leaders could fray and in turn have a significant effect on Sino-British relations.

As China's economy strengthens, there are growing signs that the country is willing to assert itself aggressively. The state-run Global Times newspaper has called for China to suspend all diplomatic relations "for a while" saying that China is now strong enough to bear the economic consequences of freezing relations.

"During the Olympics, China should cool down a little bit and we should also slow some cooperative projects between the two countries. This will have a cost to China, but it will have a negative effect on Cameron's government," the paper said. "Chinese is against foreign leaders meeting the Dalai Lama and it has become routine to have a strong response both in trade and politics".

'Bully-boy tactics'

Labour MP Fabian Hamilton has expressed his distaste for what he calls China's "bully-boy" tactics, and criticised the Chinese for their threats of economic sanctions and of threatening to pull its athletes out of their Leeds Olympic training camp due to a visit by the Dalai Lama.

"To be honest I find it distasteful to say the least that two representatives of a country whose human rights' record is appalling, where freedom of speech is not allowed, where there is no real democracy, come to the city of Leeds and tell our elected officials, people like Keith Wakefield, who is directly elected as a councillor and is leader of the largest group on the council, a very open and democratic system that we have, tells them that they can't do what they think is best for the city, under pain of economic sanction and the withdrawal of tens of, if not hundreds of thousands of [pounds of] investment," Hamilton told the BBC. "I think that is reprehensible and disgraceful."

Dalai Lama visit

The Dalai Lama is set to share a stage with comedian Russell Brand during a visit to Manchester [Guardian], and tickets to an event in Scotland have already sold out with some being auctioned on eBay for as much as £500 [Scottish Sun].

The spiritual leader is a thorn in the side of the Chinese government, but his popularity outside the country is immense. The Dalai Lama has a significant web presence and has more than 3.6 million followers on his Facebook page and over 4.5 million keep track of his Twitter feed. Even his Google+ account has scored highly with more than 1.8 million having added him to their circles, though his YouTube channel has only a little over 10,000 subscribers. His website is also likely to see a record number of visitors this week as live webcasts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talks and teachings from Manchester are broadcast.

Those inside China will be excluded from the show since, along with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, the official Dalai Lama website is blocked by China's government censors.


Even after the spiritual leader has left, the showdown between Britain and China will likely continue for some time to come. With the London 2012 games only 43 days away there have been questions raised as to whether the Dalai Lama visit, coming so close to the prestigious event, might draw further protests from Beijing.

Asked whether the Dalai Lama's visit to Leeds and other parts of Britain would affect China's participation in the Olympics, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, Liu Weimin, referred to Prime Minister David Cameron's meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader in May. "We hope the British side stop making mistakes again and again, which undermine China's interests," Liu said. "China-UK relations have been affected by the recent meeting between the British leader and the Dalai Lama. The responsibility lies with the British side."

"The Chinese delegation is making preparations for the 2012 Olympics, I think politics and sport should be separated." However, the fact that China had threatened to pull its athletes out of their Leeds Olympic training camp, seems to indicate that politics and sport remain firmly entwined [BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Economic outlook volatile and uncertain, says World Bank

Developing countries should prepare for a long period of volatility in the global economy by re-emphasizing medium-term development strategies, while preparing for tougher times, the World Bank has said in a newly-released report.

Recessions & slowdowns

With the effects of recession hitting hard in Europe, other countries, particularly developing countries, are feeling the effects of a slowing of markets.

The Global Economic Prospects (GEP) report says that a resurgence of tensions in high-income Europe has eroded the gains made during the first four months of this year, which saw a rebound in economic activity in both developing and advanced countries, and an easing of risk aversion among investors.

Market jitters

Since 1st May this year, increased market jitters have spread, the World Bank observes. Developing and high-income country stock markets have lost some 7% of their value, giving up two-thirds of the gains generated over the preceding four months. Most industrial commodity prices are down, with crude and copper prices down by 19% and 14%, respectively, while developing country currencies have lost value against the US dollar, as international capital fled to safe-haven assets, such as German and US government bonds.

However, conditions in most developing countries have not deteriorated as much as in the fourth quarter of 2011, the World Bank said. Outside of Europe and Central Asia and the Middle-East and North Africa, developing country credit default swap (CDS) rates, a key indicator of market sentiment, remain well below their maximums from the fall of 2011.

China & Asia slowing

One area that is beginning to see a sharp change in economic circumstance is China and other parts of Asia. Growth in the East Asia and Pacific region is slowing, partly reflecting an easing of stimulus in China and a shift toward domestic sources of demand. Growth for the region eased to 8.3% in 2011 from 9.7% in 2010.

Slower activity in China, natural disasters - including an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and flooding in Thailand - and the intensification of the crisis in Europe have each served to temper the pace of growth in the region.

Eurozone turmoil may ease

Nonetheless the World Bank remains positive, saying that the financial turmoil currently gripping the Eurozone may ease, allowing prospects for advanced economies to improve in 2013 to 2014. However, uncertainty regarding oil prices, and still relatively weak demand from the high-income world, coupled with slow growth in China are projected to ease GDP gains in East Asia and the Pacific region to 7.6% in 2012, before rebounding to 8.1% in 2013, and to 7.9% in

Risks ahead

Risks still lie ahead, the World Bank maintains. While China's GDP is expected to accelerate on balance from 8.2% growth in 2012 to 8.4% by 2014, a slowdown may continue for sometime. Production, trade and domestic demand has already slowed over 2011 to 2012, a response, in part, to earlier policy targeted at slowing certain segments of the economy.

But financial conditions in high-income Europe, higher oil prices, and a slowdown in China would pose the largest risks to the overall outlook. The Eurozone remains particularly volatile, and although financial developments in region calmed in the first four months of 2012, tensions have revived in May. While a gradual improvement of conditions remains the most likely outcome, the World Bank suggests, a serious deterioration of conditions in Europe is a possibility.


In such a scenario, growth in East Asia and the Pacific could slow by as much as 2% to 4% due to reduced import demand, tighter international capital conditions and increased precautionary savings abroad and within the region.

Such a scenario would affect many countries which are heavily reliant on remittances, such as Fiji, the Philippines and Vietnam, those dependent on tourism including Cambodia, Fiji, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, and economies reliant on commodities such as Indonesia, Malaysia
and Thailand.

A more rapid than expected slowdown in China poses an external risk for the rest of the region. A slowdown in China would spill-over into the rest of the region in the form of reduced demand for exports, and commodity dependent countries would be especially at risk of a slowdown in China's investment.

Financial medicine

Hans Timmer, Director of Development Prospects at the World Bank, says that countries, particularly developing economies, should concentrate on "productivity-enhancing reforms" rather than focusing on "day-to-day" developments.

"Global capital market and investor sentiment are likely to remain volatile over the medium term – making economic policy setting difficult. In this environment, developing countries should focus on productivity-enhancing reforms and infrastructure investment instead of reacting to day-to-day changes in the international environment," Timmer says.

But with bad news reported almost daily concerning the Euro-crisis, China's slowdown, and concerns over global economic stability, it may be difficult for more vulnerable economies to make long term plans. Making panic decisions and rushing to judgement may not be the best course of action.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun

It wasn't perhaps as exciting as the Jubilee extravaganza, nor did it draw the massive television audiences, but the transit of Venus across the Sun did excite astronomers. The transit on Wednesday was an almost once in a lifetime event. Sky watchers flocked to universities and observatories which scheduled viewings and astronomy talks for the public, some with sun-safe telescopes and others with large screens for viewing the transit.

But not all went well. A scheduled NASA live webcast of the event from Hawaii malfunctioned briefly soon after it began, possibly due to heavy Internet traffic. The transit was visible in East Asia and the Western Pacific. Europe, the Middle East and South Asia were able to see the end stages of the eclipse with the approach of dawn this morning. Many astronomers in Britain also struggled to witness the even due to cloud and rain.

The last time the transit occurred was on Tuesday 8th June 2004, and prior to that in 1882. The next time the phenomena will occur will be in another 100 years.  Only six transits have ever been observed, in 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and 2004, because the transit is invisible without magnification, though the event has happened 53 times between 2000 BC and 2004. The next event will not take place until 2117.

More reports: BBC / Sky / CNN / Telegraph / Guardian /  NASA

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Thousands hold vigil in memory of Tiananmen massacre

As millions lined the streets of London to watch the Royal pageant and thousands turned out for a Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace, in the former colony of Hong Kong tens of thousands filled a park to protest the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred 23 years ago in Beijing.

Candlelit vigil

An estimated 180,000 turned out for the protest and candlelit vigil to mark the anniversary. Standing at the centre was a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue that was built in Tiananmen Square before tanks and troops crushed the protests.

"Long live democracy. Never forget June 4," the protesters shouted. Beijing will not forget, but refuse to publicly acknowledge the event nor reveal the true number of those killed, estimated by some to be as high as 3,000. The central government continue to block any attempts to search for information by banning books and blocking the access to websites containing such information.

Banning books

Attempts by Beijing authorities to prevent the publication of a new book which looked at the Tiananmen massacre through the eyes of a former mayor failed, and was this week on sale in Hong Kong bookshops.

"Conversations With Chen Xitong," which is not available in mainland China, is based on interviews with Chen, who was mayor of Beijing during the 1989 crackdown. Chen has long been portrayed as having supported the military assault, but in the book he says the crackdown was an avoidable tragedy and that he regrets the loss of life, though he denies being directly responsible [Washington Post].

Within the mainland the authorities have a far easier time blocking the flow of information. Terms related to the anniversary, such as "six four" for June 4, 'tankman', 'tiananmen massacre' or the '4th June incident' are either blocked or restricted.

Coincidental figures

However this can create its own problems. On Monday China's censors blocked access to the term "Shanghai stock market" on popular microblogs after the index fell a bizarre 64.89 points, matching the date of the crackdown. In a further twist, the Shanghai Composite Index opened at 2346.98 points on the 23rd anniversary of the killings. The numbers 46.98 are 4 June, 1989, backwards [FT / WSJ].

"Whoa, these figures are too freaky! Very cool!" said one microblogger. "The opening figure and the drop are both too creepy," said another. The Shanghai Stock Exchange said it was investigating.


At the Hong Kong protests, many decried the censorship and the continuing repression. "Even though the Chinese government has pledged to reform the political system in China, not much has been done," Fang Zheng, who was run over by a tank during the crackdown and lost both legs, said. "They should stop the repression of mainland dissidents and activists and reassess June 4."

Some on the mainland have attempted to speak out, but they have been swiftly rounded up and silenced. One 73-year-old and a few of his friends staged a tiny protest a week ago in the small town of Guiyang in Guizhou province, then posted footage of it on the Internet. It may have even gone unnoticed but for the fact Mei Chongbiao along with members of his family were taken away by police, thus stirring interest by foreign media [BBC / Times of India / Epoch Times].

Impromptu calls for demonstrations in Beijing went unheeded. Few would have likely turned up, fearing retribution. But heavy rain may also have been a factor [BBC]. Should any have attempted to make their way, they would have run into tight security that at least one paper described as being on a war footing [SingTao - Chinese]

Long march

From the biggest democracy in the world came calls for China to free those still in prison 23 years after the Tiananmen massacre. The US state department message also called on China to "provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing" [BBC]. China rejected the calls, saying that other countries should not interfere with China's internal affairs.

Back in the Hong Kong park the huge crowd listened to a recording from Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 protests, who said he believed democracy will come to China if all can learn from the spirit of Burma's democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyi. Some 23 years after the Tiananmen protests, democracy looks a long way off. On the road to democracy, China is still on a long march [BBC / / Channel News Asia].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, June 04, 2012

Britain celebrates Queen’s reign in the rain

It was far from the bright and sunny day that many had wished for, but the cool temperatures and, at times, torrential rain failed to dampen the spirits of more than a million Londoners who lined the banks of the River Thames to watch the Jubilee pageant.

More than a thousand boats took part in the pageant which set sail at around 2pm travelling from Putney bridge towards the city. Along the banks of the river thousands of patriotic Britons, and tourists from many commonwealth countries, cheered as the flotilla of boats passed by.

Street party

The festivities weren't entirely confined to the banks of the river. In central London's Piccadilly Circus there was a huge gathering of people celebrating at what was arguably the largest street party in Britain. All the way from Piccadilly Circus to the top of St James's Street, the road was closed to traffic. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall made a surprise visit to the street party to kick-start the official Jubilee celebrations. Charles and Camilla even sat down and chatted to some of the several hundred revellers who had braved the weather before making their way to the Royal Barge [The Sun / Telegraph].

Cheers greet Queen

There were cheers of excitement as the Queen, dressed in white, stepped from her Bentley and made her way to the Royal launch which would take her to the Royal Barge, The Spirit of Chartwell which was decked out with nearly 10,000 flowers and 600 plants. Joining her were her husband Prince Philip, Prince Charles, his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry, Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton who wowed the crowds with her striking red dress.

It may have been the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, but Kate Middleton stole the style show as she attended the monarch's celebratory River Thames pageant in the stunning scarlet Alexander McQueen dress. Standing aside her husband William and brother in law Harry she delighted in being a part of the spectacle, waving enthusiastically to the huge crowds.

Topped off with a matching and securely attached Lock and Co. hat, Kate Middleton may have wished she'd brought a pair of suitable gloves. Throughout the day she could be occasionally seen rubbing her hands to keep them warm and seemed to be discussing the effects of the weather as she gestured to her husband Prince William.

Cold and wet

The cold also seemed to take its toll on the Queen who at around 3pm went below decks, emerging some 30 minutes later draped with a white cashmere scarf.

No-one could criticise her stamina as she stood throughout the next two hours, braving not only the cold but also the heavy rain which threatened to wash out the entire day's proceedings.

However spirits were not dampened, and in true British style the crowds of sightseers merely erected a sea of umbrellas. As the weather conditions worsened visibility dropped to such an extent that even the 330 metre tall Shard was obscured by low cloud and the expected flypast, of nine Royal Navy helicopters which were to have flown by in a diamond formation, was cancelled.

BBC coverage criticised

For anyone that could remember the Queen's coronation the weather was little different. The television coverage was of course more extensive than seen sixty years ago when only the BBC broadcast pictures which were only in black and white.

But while the BBC once again broadcast extensive coverage, the organisation faced a barrage of  criticism. Its on-air commentary was described as "lamentable" and one MP accused the BBC of indulging in "low grade, celebrity driven drivel".

Camera angles and sound quality were described as poor while a mistaken description of the Queen as "HRH", rather than "Her Majesty", also drew flak. Comedian Stephen Fry, host of the BBC panel show QI, led a chorus of disgruntlement on Twitter, branding the coverage as "mind-numbingly tedious".

Sky News and CNN International also aired extensive coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee river pageant and drew general praise from viewers. CNN did cut away to commercials on occasion, and their coverage was punctuated with slots from Piccadilly Circus where presenter Becky Anderson mixed with revellers partaking in jelly and icecream.

While CNN might cut away from the action on the Thames, the news channel did at least show a split screen. Meanwhile many BBC viewers were left wondering what was going on as cameras constantly turned to studio presenters or to interviews with revellers on the bridges crossing the river.

"Am I being over-critical or is the BBC commentary lamentable?" Kevin Marsh, a former editor of the Today programme and The World at One, tweeted. "Why cut away from Queenie's River Pageant to watch that mindless Tess Daly nonsense... scarcely credible." [Telegraph]

Presenters Jonathan Mann, himself a Canadian national, Richard Quest and Piers Morgan provided commentary on CNN, though their flow seemed stunted and their knowledge rather poor at times. Sky News won the day with its coverage, bringing viewers some of the best pictures of the Royal pageant and followed the event until the end while other broadcasters dropped away.

The papers went to town with many headlines focusing on the rain. The Guardian focused on the "Royal washout", while the i observed that "rain fails to dampen Jubilee celebrations". The Sun came up with the quip, "Drip, Drip, Hooray" as the Daily Mail insisted the Queen still ruled the waves.

For some the coverage may have seemed overkill, especially those not exactly enthused by the Jubilee celebrations. There was but a small anti-monarchy protest near to Tower Bridge, but their protestations were drowned out by the throng of patriotic royalists in attendance.

Patriotism in a time of austerity

There has not been the same sense of anti-Jubilee protests seen in 1977 when the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen. Their anthem which was re-released this year, amid criticism even by the group's original line-up [Channel 4 News], was certainly drowned out by Land of Hope and Glory. The irony is that in a time of austerity, the echoes of "no future" are more true than the vision of "hope" and "glory" that were sung as fireworks launched from Tower Bridge.

An unscientific poll conducted by the Guardian seemed to indicate that Johnny Rotten's screams of a "fascist regime" and a proclamation that Britain faced a bleak future was more likely to bring out patriotic feelings amongst its readers with some 76.1% voting for the Sex Pistols over the Queen.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, June 01, 2012

Google+ local launches but drops anonymity

In a revamp of its Google places and reviews facility the search giant has launched Google+ Local. The portal aims to bring a clean a simple presentation of information relating to restaurants and other venues along with user reviews.

The display of information is certainly much better than before with a similar layout to the familiar Google+ page. However many regular reviewers will undoubtedly feel somewhat aggrieved that they now have to use their real name to submit future reviews or pictures.

End to anonymity

There is no clear explanation why Google has forced users to accept a real name policy, though it may put an end to online abuse of the review system. Previously anyone with a Google account could submit a review and upload pictures, but retain their anonymity. They would merely be referred to as a Google user.

But there have been instances where people have used the system to direct abuse at a business or individual. Sarah Duncan, who famously abused a man who had filmed her illegally parked car which was blocking traffic in Bath, quickly found herself being victimised.

Abuse of system

After video of the incident was uploaded to YouTube and widely reported in the British press hundreds of individuals posted reviews on Google Maps defaming her and criticising her overzealous behaviour.

Even a picture of the offending car was uploaded to the site instead of her fashion shop, which is believed to have since closed. The description and photo still remain online though it is possible that this and other defamatory reviews will be deleted as Google takes a more serious approach to its information service.

The inability to remain anonymous may however put some people off for fear of retribution should they make negative comments about a particular business. For now, those who have previously uploaded photographs or reviews can feel safe that their identity is secure unless they agree to migrate the provided information to their new real name account. [Blumenthals blog / Matthew blogGoogle]

tvnewswatch, London, UK