Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paralympics opens to criticism & less coverage

The London Paralympic Games began Thursday following a rather low key opening ceremony, compared to the dazzling displays for the main Olympic Games. 

Commercial breaks

Broadcasting of the opening ceremony in the UK was also widely criticised after Channel 4, which won the bid for showing the games, constantly cut into the proceedings with commercial breaks.

But the criticism did not only target the broadcaster, whose output is significantly less than offered by the BBC throughout the Olympic games. There were angry voices raised concerning 'jokes' made on the social network Twitter which made light of people's disabilities.

No Google doodles

The Paralympic games have also received less prominence compared to the 2012 London Olympics. Throughout the Olympics the Internet search giant Google created a special doodle each day highlighting the dozens of sporting events. In addition the company also provided a schedule of events and a league table through a series of special pages.

However, no special doodles have yet appeared and there are no dedicated pages to help Internet users find what's on and who has so far achieved gold, silver or bronze.

Less games coverage

Coverage of the sporting events themselves is much reduced compared to the Olympics. While the BBC dedicated at least two channels to the games plus interactive services allowing the viewing of every sporting event Channel 4's effort is, by comparison, extremely poor.

Despite putting in a higher bid and winning the right to broadcast the Paralympic games, Channel 4 only has put aside one channel along with three interactive slots accessible via the red button for satellite viewers. Its dedicated homepage also fails in offering viewers full coverage.

The official Paralympic website does fill in some gaps, but still fails where the BBC excelled. The London 2012 site has a significant amount of information, but no live stream is available. There is an official YouTube channel, however it is blocked to viewers in some regions including the UK.

Channel 4 criticised

As for the opening ceremony Channel 4 drew strong criticism from many viewers after they continued to cut into programming with a stream of advertisements. While some understood that the channel had to make money through commercial sponsorship, there was disappointment as many expats and naturalised foreign nationals missed their Paralympic teams parade around the stadium.

The parade was already under way when the first commercial break followed the initial part of the opening ceremony. But within minutes and only seconds after China's athletes entered the arena Channel 4 cut away again. The intermittent breaks continued throughout the parade. Viewers missed a number of teams between Greece and Iceland, and a few that followed the ROK [South Korea] including Thailand which drew the ire of one Twitter user who exclaimed his wife had missed her home team.

Twitter was full of critical comments directed at the broadcaster. "Oh my God what the hell are Channel four doing?" one user, a TV producer and writer Guy Lambert who goes by the name @SohoGuy wrote.

" 'The Paralympics is here' Yes, I know Lloyds TSB, I was watching it til your c**ting advert came on," he lambasted minutes later, following an advertisement from the Paralympic sponsor.

Many felt the constant breaks came across as disrespectful both to the athletes and to disabled people in general. Marcus Agar, an International communications consultant, journalist & blogger , described the interruptions as "totally disrespectful" and questioned how, China, Greece and other countries felt at their being sidelined.

Channel 4's online services also failed many viewers with glitches and poor streaming. Video was constantly interrupted with messages claiming there was insufficient bandwidth, even for those with superfast broadband connections. When attempting to re-connect online viewers had to sit through several minutes of advertisements before they could continue watching the ceremony, only for the connection to fail yet again.

Sponsors criticised

The commercial interruptions could even backfire for those sponsoring the games. "I REALLY AM NOT going to buy blinking baked whatevers just because they've paid ££££££ to interrupt the #Paralympics #openingceremony," one angry Zoë Dawes posted on Twitter.

"Good Lord Channel Four your coverage is absolutely terrible. Shame on Sainsbury's for sponsoring you. I hate them even more now," another Twitter user exclaimed.

Record audiences

The ceremony attracted some 11 million viewers in the UK according to some reports [BBC] though one reports suggested it was as little as 8 million [Guardian].

And while many enjoyed the show in general, many of Britain's papers were scornful of Channel 4's coverage. The commercial broadcaster, which paid £9 million for the Games' rights, faced a deluge of criticism from angry viewers who complained about its poor prime-time telecast. In defence of its showing advertisements during the event, a spokesman said on its official Twitter feed, "If you're asking about ads, we're showing less [sic] than usual but as a commercially funded bcaster [sic] they allow us to show events like the Paras." 

Commentary slated

As well as criticism over Channel 4's decision not to drop advertising throughout the show, there were scornful remarks concerning the commentary, particularly from veteran news anchor Jon Snow, who came under fire for his use of "war" facts during introductions of countries during the ceremony, entitled Enlightenment, rather than information about the athletes or their disabilities [Telegraph / Daily Mail].

Not all papers were scathing of Channel 4 however. A blog in London's Metro newspaper suggested people needed to "get real" and understand the financial constraints of a commercial broadcaster.

"Inspirational" & "Dazzling"

As for the show itself, much of the media and general public offered praise and applause. Beginning with some words from Professor Stephen Hawking and followed by acrobatics, musical interludes and nods to Sir Isaac Newton, the ceremony was variously described as "inspirational", "dazzling", and a "truly memorable show" [Guardian / Telegraph / Independent / Mirror / Express / BBC].

Less TV coverage

Times columnist Caitlin Moran expressed puzzlement that some countries weren't showing the actual games themselves. "Apparently the US isn't showing the Paralympics. Literally can't think of a single reason why they're not. Totally baffled," she wrote on Twitter.

The broadcasting of the Paralympics will be much reduced in the US, however according to LOCOG the US Olympic Committee will be creating original video content for the US Paralympics You Tube channel as well as partnering with NBC Universal and the International Paralympic Committee.

Nonetheless the number of broadcasters showing the Paralympics around the world is significantly less than seen for the Olympics, and many are subscription television services.

While the profile of the Paralympics has been raised, there is still a long way to go before disabled athletes achieve the same recognition and level of respect as their able-bodied competitors.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, August 27, 2012

Police stop lion search which may have been tall tale

Witnesses were convinced they'd seen a lion, but less than 24 hours after police launched a hunt for the beast of St Osyth the search was called off.

Initially convinced there was some credence to the reports of a lion having been spotted in the Essex countryside, armed police aided by a helicopter with thermal imaging equipment combed through the area surrounding the coastal village. Residents near the village were also warned to stay inside. But having found no evidence of droppings or paw prints, the search was called off by late Monday afternoon.

"Massive" cat

Witnesses insisted they had seen a large cat and that they had watched it for up to twenty minutes. "It was pawing itself and rolling around," one man told Sky News. Gill and Steve Atkin who took pictures of the now elusive beast described it as "massive".

The animal was seen near Earl Hall Drive in St Osyth, near Clacton-on-Sea, by holidaymaker Bob Martin at about 19:00 BST [18:00 GMT] on Sunday. He said both he and his wife Denise saw a large cat and a lion "was the first thing that came to mind".

But despite a massive lion hunt, there was no sign of the creature, perhaps scared off by journalists who descended on the area or the media helicopters and planes which periodically buzzed the area where it was sighted.

Skepticism

Later in the day a picture of the 'lion' emerged, though there was some skepticism expressed concerning its authenticity. Meanwhile questions are still being asked concerning where the animal might have come from, if indeed the whole affair was not a hoax.

Nearby Colchester Zoo confirmed it had not lost any of its feline residents. Meanwhile a spokesman from a circus, which had recently visited the area, said they had not possessed lions for some years and they had not lost any of their other animals.

A police spokesman said, "We believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wildcat. Extensive searches have been carried out, areas examined and witnesses spoken to - yet nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area."

"The reporting of the animal is not being treated as a hoax, but should such information come to light we will have no hesitation in making arrests." [Telegraph / Guardian / Globe & Mail]

Media interest

Hoax or not, the story made entertaining television and news spread around the globe being picked up by media outlets in the US, Africa and as far away as New Zealand.

The story trended on Twitter for much of the day with many making light of the possible sighting. Some suggested that the Essex beast should eat the entire cast of TOWIE [The Only Way Is Essex] while many posted pictures showing what an Essex lion might look like [Daily Mail].

It is not the first time a large cat has allegedly been spotted in Essex. In 1998 a lion was supposedly seen in the south of the county and became known as the 'Beast of Brentwood'

[BBC / Sky / Telegraph / Guardian / IndependentDaily Mail / Sun / Mirror / CNNCBS / Hong Kong StandardSMH / Herald Sun / New Zealand Herald]   

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, August 26, 2012

China: Bus crash in Shaanxi province kills 36

At least 36 people died when a tanker carrying methanol collided with a passenger bus early Sunday morning in northwest China, state media reported. Those on board the bus were sleeping and burned to death according to local media reports. Three others were injured in the crash in Yan'an city in Shaanxi province. The bus is said to have rear-ended the tanker before both vehicles burst into flames. The crash occurred on the Baotou-Maoming expressway outside Yan'an city at around 02:00 local time [18:00 GMT Saturday] [CNN / BBCXinhua /  Sohu - Chinese / Nanyang - Chinese / Video report - Chinese].

Road deaths rising in China

The number of road deaths in China is very high compared to other countries. According to official studies there are about 450,000 car accidents on Chinese roads each year which cause about 470,000 injuries and 100,000 deaths. In 2011 around 62,000 died on China's roads according to official figures The total cost of these crashes is put at more than 2.4 billion US dollars. More than 90% of these accidents are considered to be caused by bad driving skills. 

Leading cause of death

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

While Latin America sees some of the highest numbers of road deaths when measured per capita, China still remains near the top of the list. According to a 2004 WHO report the death toll in China is around 19 per 100,000. In the Us the figure drops to 15 and in the European Union as a whole the number is a little over 11 per 100,000. The lowest recorded death rate is Britain which sees only 5.9 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants [see also tvnewswatch: Road deaths drop due to recession except in China].


tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, August 25, 2012

First man on the moon, Neil Armstrong dies at 82

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, has died at the age of 82. Armstrong had undergone surgery earlier this month to relieve blocked coronary arteries. A statement from Armstrong's family says he died following complications resulting from his heart surgery.

Armstrong walked on the Moon on 20th July 1969, famously describing the event as "one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind". Last November Armstrong, along with three other astronauts, received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US civilian award. He was the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft. He and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon.

BBC / Sky / CNN / France 24 / RT / Wikipedia

tvnewswatch, London, UK


Apple win US patent fight, but battle far from over

Samsung has lost a major battle in a lawsuit filed by Apple in which it was claimed the South Korean company had violated a number of patents. The US court has ordered Samsung to pay Apple $1.05 billion [£665 million] in damages for infringing intellectual property.

The decision reached by the jury could result in a devastating blow for consumers. Even Apple could lose out in what has been seen as a vindictive and spiteful reaction from the US iPhone maker to competition posed by Android devices.

The jury decided several Samsung devices had infringed iPhone-maker Apple's software and design patents, but rejected counter-claims by Samsung. Apple will now seek import bans on several of its rival's products. Samsung has said it will appeal.

Threat to Android

The jury's verdict Friday that Samsung stole Apple's technology to make and market smartphones using Google's Android software sends a warning to other companies manufacturing similar devices, the biggest marketplace threat to Apple.

"Some of these device makers might end up saying, 'We love Android, but we really don't want to fight with Apple anymore,'" said Christopher Marlett, CEO of MDB Capital Group, an investment bank specializing in intellectual property. "I think it may ultimately come down to Google having to indemnify these guys, if it wants them to continue using Android."

However, Samsung, the Seoul-based global leader among smartphone makers, vowed to fight. Its lawyers told the judge it intended to ask her to toss out the verdict. "This decision should not be allowed to stand because it would discourage innovation and limit the rights of consumers to make choices for themselves," Samsung lead lawyer John Quinn said. He argued that the judge or an appeals court should overturn the verdict.

Financial damages

Meanwhile, Apple lawyers plan to formally demand Samsung pull its most popular cellphones and computer tablets from the US market. They also can ask the judge to triple the damages from $1.05 billion to $3 billion. The damages are less than half the $2.5 billion compensation Apple sought, although that could yet be increased by the judge. It is also comparatively small given it accounts for just 1.5% of Samsung's annual.

There are two potential outcomes resulting from yesterday's court ruling. In one view, if Apple obtains the injunctions and the more than $2 billion in damages it seeks, competition in the handset market will likely grind to a halt.

Samsung sold about 50 million phones worldwide during the second quarter of 2012, amounting to about a third of the phone market during that quarter, while Apple sold about 26 million, or 17%. In the US, Apple and Samsung together have 55% of the smartphone market. If Samsung has to redesign its devices, no other company will be capable of challenging Apple for the foreseeable future. All the other competition - Motorola, Nokia, LG Electronics and HTC - are struggling.

Forcing innovation

There is of course the potential that this and any further Apple victory might drive other companies to come up with truly innovative and new designs, interfaces and functions. If this were to happen, Apple might not feel so comfortable since it would spark even stiffer stiffer competition.

Some analysts suggest that Apple could be the overall loser because the court case has helped boost Samsung's profile. In addition, the South Korean firm has already brought out a new generation of products that should avoid any patent issues.

No winners

So far, the ruling only affects the US, and smartphone buyers are yet to be affected. But that could change very quickly. In South Korea, Apple's lawsuit resulted in both companies being banned from selling some devices.

Apple and Samsung have been ordered to stop selling some smartphones and tablet computers in South Korea and pay damages after a court ruled they each infringed the other's patents. Under the ruling, Apple must stop selling the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 1 and iPad 2 in South Korea, while Samsung must stop selling 12 products including the Galaxy S, Galaxy SII and Galaxy Tab. The sales bans take effect immediately, though the companies can appeal. Fortunately, for both companies, the ban does not cover Apple's iPhone 4S, its newest iPad, or Samsung's latest products including the Galaxy SIII phone, all of which were released after the lawsuits were filed [Telegraph].

Stark warning

But it acted as a stark warning to Apple, that they too could lose out in the tit for tat patent war. It is also playing with fire in that Samsung supplies a significant amount of the technology that is built into its devices. Should Samsung pull out from supplying these chips and other components, Apple might find itself in a very uncomfortable corner. Several key components of the iPhone 4, and Apple's other devices, including the Flash Memory, DRAM memory and applications processor come from Samsung. Together, these account for $45.68 in parts which is 26% of the final component cost of the iPhone 4 [Gizmodo]. The question over what might happen should Samsung cut Apple off is somewhat hypothetical. However the constant court battles certainly raise the prospect of the symbiotic relationship breaking down. While Apple might be miffed at some blatant and less blatant infringements of its intellectual property, it seems to be be playing a dangerous game of biting the hand that feeds it [Economist].

Consumers most affected

It will be consumers that will be most affected. Many will find themselves unable to lay their hands on a device of choice, or that it will increase significantly in price. British consumers of both Samsung and Apple products seem safe for now. A British court threw out claims by the US company that Samsung had infringed its copyright. But the year-long US case has involved some of the biggest damages claims, and is likely to shape the way patent licences are handled in the future.

Apple accuses its competition of stealing its ideas, These 'ideas' are wrapped up in patents that are less about the actual technology, than the way one interacts with a mobile device. This has led many to question whether patent law needs to be seriously overhauled.

Perhaps the final word should be left to Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs, "It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done – and then try to bring those things in to what you're doing. Picasso had a saying: Good artists copy, Great artists steal – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."

[BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / Independent / Daily Mail / Economic Times / Vancouver Sun / CNET / CNETMashable / Wired / ZDNet

Pictured: The Samsung Galaxy SIII which has angered Apple over alleged patent infringements 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rumours persist following Gu Kailai conviction


Retraction & Apology

In the original posting of this article there were references made to Chinese netizens' assertions claiming that the body of a former mistress of Bo Xilai had been used in a Body Worlds exhibition. A statement from lawyers representing Body Worlds refute the accusations made by Chinese netizens and calls them "false and defamatory". 

In an email lawyers representing Gunther von Hagens and Plastination Company said that the implication that the exhibition of plastinated human bodies presented by Plastination Company and Dr. von Hagens and known as Body Worlds includes the plastinated body of Zhang Weijie, the former mistress of Chinese politician Bo Xilai is completely false. 

As such the reports "defames and causes serious injury to Dr. von Hagens and Plastination Company, Inc." the law firm says. tvnewswatch and WantChinaTimes have been asked retract the assertions and print a retraction. In order to avoid litigation certain portions of this article have been removed, however there was no intention to defame either Plastination Company Inc or Dr. von Hagens. The article merely reported what Chinese netizens had speculated, though it is acknowledged that these views had no basis in fact. WantChinaTimes has also edited their original article and given its response here. Other news sites and blogs have also been sent emails demanding retractions including Goldsea


Netizens in China have expressed skepticism surrounding the trial and sentencing of Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, who was this week given a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last November.

Gu Kailai was 'body double'

Many rumours have circulated suggesting that the woman who appeared in court to face the accusations of murder was a body double. Such speculation has prompted Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging service, and Baidu, China’s largest Internet search engine, to block the term tishen [替身, literally “body replacement”].

Some Internet users have circulated a picture showing Gu Kailai, taken some years back, aside that of the woman who appeared in court along with the suggestion that she was a body double from Hebei province. “Gu Kailai’s impostor is 46 year-old Langfang resident Zhao Tianyun,” the text reads above the two pictures. This has again resulted in further censorship of the name Zhao Tianyun.

Such discussion has of course not been aired in China’s media, which have long been the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], something which journalists in China are encouraged, if not obliged, to facilitate [NYT blog]. Meanwhile Hong Kong and Taiwan newspapers have freely debated the topic with at least one paper claiming to have spoken to Gu’s adopted sister who appeared to support the rumours.

According to Taiwan’s Want China Times Gu’s adopted sister Yu Shuqin declared the woman who appeared in court as an impostor. “It doesn’t matter how fat a woman becomes, the shape of her ears will never change,” the report quoted Yu as saying.

Bo's former mistress 'murdered'

It is not the only rumour aired by the paper. In another article the Want China Times points to speculation that an exhibit at a Body Worlds exhibition showed an uncanny likeness to that of a former mistress of Bo Xilai, an accusation Body Worlds refutes.

Zhang Weijie [张伟杰], a former news anchor for Dalian TV, disappeared soon after a confrontation with Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai after apparently becoming pregnant. 

Censorship fuelling rumours

Of course, all this little more than speculation and rumour. But in a country where media is so tightly controlled and where there is a growing distrust in the government, such rumours are common. In fact the censorship and control used to curtail the spread of wild and fanciful stories only gives fuel to the conspiracy theories and adds credibility.

Many netizens in China have expressed the belief that Gu Kailai is already free because of the ‘CCP doppelganger’ appearing in court. And even if it was the ‘real’ Gu, she will soon be free because ‘Death Sentences’ commuted to life imprisonment often facilitate early relaese for medical reasons.

Other rumours circulating are that the murdered British businessman was in fact a spy who worked for MI6 and was killed by Gu Kailai, perhaps with help from internal elements of the CCP.

As for Bo Xilai, many believe he will face a comfortable house arrest, a stay at a CCP private resort, or simply have his party membership revoked [Foreign Policy blog / WSJ blog].

Growing skepticism

It is unsurprising that many young Chinese become skeptical of official propaganda and media reports. Many young Chinese speak good English and are reading foreign news reports which contradict domestic coverage or provide detail censored at home. In addition many netizens are using software and VPNs [Virtual Private Networks] to circumvent China’s strict censorship.

The official report published by Xinhua and carried by other state media stated that “relatives and friends, British Embassy and Consulate officials, media reporters, NPC deputies and CPPCC members and people from all walks of life” attended the court to watch the proceedings [People's Daily forum - Chinese. It failed to point out, however, that the media were hand-picked and that all foreign media were excluded. Furthermore friends and relatives of Neil Heywood were not present, and have not been for the entire two days of proceedings.

Burying truth

The real truth surrounding the murder of Neil Heywood may never be known. The dark history of Gu Kailai, her business dealing and financial affairs will also likely remain hidden from public scrutiny.

Bo Xilai is unlikely to be seen in public again after this sordid affair, along with his right hand man Wang Lijun, the police chief who blew the lid off the murder plot. Wang, who may have had dirty hands in having helped Bo with his anti-corruption purge, has become a scapegoat for bringing the whole affair into the public eye. The truth concerning his involvement can only be guessed at.

What might be learned from the whole saga is that doing business in China can be dangerous - remember Hu Stern? [tvnewswatch: Hu's been bribing who?] It also highlights the dangerous cut throat world of Chinese politics that seems to have changed little in the last 60 years. Power grabs, political positioning, purges and plots were rife throughout Mao’s dictatorship. But the paranoia existing within the inner circle of China’s government is clearly still alive, purging both people and information likely to be a threat to the status quo. People are not the only victims in this continuing battle, so too is truth.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, August 20, 2012

Gu Kailai gets suspended death sentence for murder

Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, has been given a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Gu Kailai had not contest charges at her one-day trial that she poisoned Heywood in November 2011, something the court appears to have taken into account when passing sentence.

The court ruled that Gu Kailai, 52, had prepared a solution of cyanide hydrochloride and used it to poison Neil Heywood, 42, in a hotel room in Chongqing. “Her crime was enormous and its outcome was severe. She played the major role, and should be sentenced to death,” said Tang Yigan, the vice chief of the Intermediate People’s Court in the central city of Hefei, where the trial took place.

However, the court explained it had suspended the sentence in light of Gu’s mental state, her admissions of guilt and remorse, and her cooperation with the investigation.

Gu, a former lawyer, will now serve a minimum of 14 years in prison. She has also been stripped of her “political rights”, including her freedom of speech. An aide in her household, 33-year-old Zhang Xiaojun, was sentenced to nine years in prison for helping Gu carry out the crime.

The court found that, in the latter half of 2011, Gu Kailai and her son surnamed Bo had conflicts with Heywood over economic interests. Heywood is said to have threatened Bo in e-mails, which made Gu Kailai fear for her son's personal safety and decide to murder Heywood [BBC / SkyCNN / France24 / Al Jazeera / CCTVTelegraph / Guardian / Washington Post / Xinhua].

"Rigged spectacle"

The whole affair has been described in western media as ‘a rigged spectacle’ [CNN].  “The post-Mao leadership has established a solid tradition of not killing losers in political fights, and it's in the interest of everyone to extend that protection at least as far as spouses,” Donald Clarke, a professor at George Washington University Law School and founder of Chinalaw, observed even before the end of the trial.

Gu Kailai has been sentenced to death with a two-year suspension. Under Article 50 of the Criminal Law, if she commits no new intentional crimes while in prison, that sentence will be commuted after two years to life imprisonment. It can even be commuted to 25 years’ imprisonment if she “genuinely demonstrates major merit” (确有重大立功表现). And further reductions are possible after the initial commutation.

Under Article 78 of the Criminal Law and a 2011 Supreme People’s Court directive, those sentenced to life imprisonment or a term of years (including as a result of a commuted death sentence) may have their sentences reduced for ‘good behaviour’.

There are limits concerning how much can be shaved off a sentence, though there could be provisions for cutting the prison term to as little as 9 years for ‘medical reasons’ [Lawprofessors blog]

Police cover-up

Meanwhile four police officers from Chongqing were also found guilty of helping Gu to cover her tracks. Guo Weiguo, the former deputy chief of the police bureau, was sentenced to eleven years for ordering his officers to “fake, hide and destroy” the evidence. The three others, Li Yang, Wang Pengfei and Wang Zhi received lesser sentences, partly because they had disobeyed Guo.

As for the police chief who blew the lid off the whole can of worms, he has been tried and sentenced ‘in secret’ according to recent reports. Wang Lijun, 52, was tried behind closed doors in the central city of Chengdu on Monday 13th August, according to Cable TV, a Hong Kong television channel. The channel did not reveal any sources for its information and a spokesman at the Chengdu People's Intermediate Court said he had "not heard" of any trial taking place, or if there would be a trial in the future [BBC / Telegraph].

"Much bigger plot"

There have been accusations from Gu Kailai that Wang knew of the murder plot and had assisted in the cover-up. If true Wang might be facing prosecution for being an accessory to the crime, as well as charges of treason for handing over information to the United States.

It was only after Wang fled to the US consulate, dressed in a lady's wig and in apparent fear for his life, that the UK asked for an investigation into Heywood's death to be reopened, sparking China's biggest political crisis for decades [Wang Lijun incident].

Steve Tsang, from the University of Nottingham, said Wang's treatment might offer an indication as to whether there was "a much bigger plot" behind Bo's fall. "When something is decided on how Wang Lijun is to be treated we will have a better sense of if he was being 'required' to do what he did, ordered to do it," Tsang says.

"Betrayal of the Party is actually more serious than treason. The Communist Party has a record of being extremely harsh on traitors, much harsher than on its enemies. If he comes out lightly it means he is not being treated as a traitor. That could only be the case if he was ordered to do what he did and was successful in doing it."

Crisis far from over

The crisis is far from over. While Gu has been dealt with, there is still the matter of the purged politician Bo Xilai. It remains unclear whether or not he had knowledge of his wife’s involvement in murder. Even if not directly involved, the affair has shone a light on the apparent widespread corruption, money laundering and other criminal activity being acted out in what should be the ordered seats of local government.

The state media have tried to separate the Bo Xilai scandal from the murder of Neil Heywood by his wife. “This is a criminal case, and society should see it as one," wrote the Communist Party tabloid, The Global Times. But the paper, like many other state run news outlets, ignored the close connection of Wang Lijun, now said to be involved in the cover-up, and Bo Xilai. This was a political scandal that went to the heart of China’s administration, and the truth and details were being conveniently ignored or brushed under the rug [BBC].

It  is widely believed that Bo Xilai’s cleaning up of corruption was as much to do with sweeping away his political enemies. And this could come back and haunt the communist party at a politically sensitive time.

The Communist Party finishes a once-in-a-decade power handover later this year, and while they may wish to put the Bo Xilai scandal behind them, this may be difficult.

As the new administration heads into 2013, they are likely to face an outcry from lawyers and prisoners' families who allege that Bo and his long-time police chief, Wang Lijun, presided over rampant injustice in the name of fighting criminal gangs and corruption in Chongqing, the southwest municipality that was their fiefdom.

"We'll certainly appeal,” says Zou Zhiyong, a Chongqing businessman who said his father-in-law Li Xiaofeng is among the once rich or powerful prisoners planning to seek release and redress from convictions made under Bo.

But he like many others are waiting for the right time. “We have to wait and take into account China's special political environment," said Zou. "We'll wait until after the 18th Party Congress. Many cases will come forward then." [Chicago Tribune]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, August 17, 2012

Twitter tightens rules on third party apps

Twitter has been criticised by app developers after it unveiled changes to the way it allows third party apps access and display tweets.

The stringent set of rules could see some apps disappear altogether. It concerns the way tweets are displayed, the number of so-called API [Application Programming Interface] endpoints accessed and even limits the number of users any one Twitter client may hold.

At present Twitter limits the number of authenticated requests applications can make to 350 calls per hour, regardless of the type of information the application is requesting.

But now Twitter is to limit this to only 60 per hour. The company claims that it is applying these restrictions because the "one size fits all approach has limited our ability to provide developers more access to endpoints that are frequently requested by applications, while continuing to prevent abuse of Twitter's resources." User lookup, profile displays and search also will be limited to 720 calls per hour per endpoint.

The changes in Twitter API V 1.1 are, according to the company, designed to foster "a consistent Twitter experience" and include universal endpoint authentication, per-endpoint rate-limiting and a number of crucial changes to the "Developer Rules of the Road." It may be the latter changes that prove most troubling to the remaining collection of third-party, consumer-focused Twitter clients.

The new rules have dispensed with "Display Guidelines" and changed them into "Display Requirements." And clients that do not adhere to the new rules could have their application key revoked.

Such measures could seriously affect users as well as those that provide Twitter interfaces. It could mean the functionality of certain APIs may not work as well as they once did, or even be forced to close operations altogether.

Twitterfall, which enables a user to stream searches, could be affected given the endpoint requests facilitated by the application. And even popular Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Twitpic could be affected.

"If you are building a Twitter client application that is accessing the home timeline, account settings or direct messages API endpoints (typically used by traditional client applications) or are using our User Streams product, you will need our permission if your application will require more than 100,000 individual user tokens," Twitter says in a blog post. By 'tokens' it means individual users, and for Twitter clients like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, this could seriously affect they way they provide a service. Existing software clients with more than 100,000 users will be allowed to double their user base before hitting Twitter's cap, but the new rules could prove damaging.

For applications with an even larger user base that require more than one million user tokens, the developers responsible must work directly with Twitter. This policy has been in place previously, but the previous figure was five million, as reflected in Twitter's yet to be updated Rules of the Road.

Clients such as these have always been restricted, and created problems where endpoint requests have exceeded what Twitter will allow. It would result in what has in the past been referred to "Twitter jail", where the client cannot access any more tweets or other information from Twitter. The new tighter restrictions are likely to increase such problems.

Even through the Twitter website users could be thrown into Twitter Jail if they reached the limit of 100 tweets per hour or 1000 per day.

The reaction from those who build Twitter clients has been forthright. "Twitter has proven to be unstable and unpredictable, and any assurances they give about whether something will be permitted in the future has zero credibility," said Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper.

The displaying of tweets is a particular bone of contention for some. Twitter is insisting that there must be a standard set of information displayed by any Twitter client, and by failing to do so will result in Twitter revoking access [Twitter guidlines]

Despite widespread criticism, the changes have not come as a surprise to some. Twitter signalled its intentions to clamp down on its platform when it ended a syndication deal to show tweets within LinkedIn's website [LinkedIn blog].

Ultimately, it is Twitter's decision. It is their social network and it's up to them whom they licence access to. The latest move is seen as Twitter's aim to turn its hundreds of millions of members into a profitable advertising business. Whether it just alienates them, along with the third part app developers which has helped build Twitter to the global monolith it now is remains to be seen. The irony is that it was Twitter which help spread today's bad news.

[BBC / Telegraph / ZDNet / CNET / New StatesmaneConsultancyPCWorld / Mashable / FT / Guardian]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Anger as Adobe kills off Flash on Android

As from tomorrow Adobe's Flash Player plug-in will no longer be available from Android's Google Play store, a signal that the end is nigh for the application widely used to display graphics, animation and video.

Updates & compatibility

Users who have already installed the software on their mobile devices will continue getting security updates and bug fixes until 2013. The company is no longer actively developing the player for Android, Blackberry or Symbian devices. Since Adobe Flash Player was never released for Apple iOS or Windows Phone handsets, the decision will effectively mean only PCs will use the player which is gradually becoming redundant in favour of the HTML5 standard.

Adobe say it was removing the option to install the plug-in from Google Play because it was likely to exhibit "unpredictable behaviour" when used with the latest version of Android, known as Jelly Bean.

"Beginning August 15th we will use the configuration settings in the Google Play Store to limit continued access to Flash Player updates to only those devices that have Flash Player already installed," Adobe says in a blog post.

"Devices that do not have Flash Player already installed are increasingly likely to be incompatible with Flash Player and will no longer be able to install it from the Google Play Store after August 15th."

Criticism of Flash

The abandonment of Flash for mobile follows conflict between Adobe and Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs, who was famously dismissive of the plug-in and refused to allow the technology on the iOS platform. Instead, Jobs fought for the alternative HTML5 standard, which is beginning to replace Flash around the web.

In 2007, Adobe said that, with Flash it had "passed a major milestone in bringing a desktop experience to mobile and transforming the wireless industry," and once claimed that Flash would enable "the full web experience" on mobile devices.

But, in 2010, Jobs wrote a public letter outlining his thoughts on Flash and its problems with "reliability, security, and performance".

In late 2011, Adobe announced that it would stop developing Flash Player for new mobile device configurations, and said that HTML5 was the "best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms," signalling the demise of Flash for mobile. "We are excited about this, and will continue our work with key players in the HTML community, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and RIM, to drive HTML5 innovation they can use to advance their mobile browsers."

In June this year 2012, Adobe released a statement saying, "We have not continued developing and testing Flash Player for this new version of Android and its available browser options. There will be no certified implementations of Flash Player for Android 4.1."

Forcing change

While there are still websites that require Flash to display content properly, the increasing number of devices not having Flash installed will likely force companies and webmaster to change.

CNN, BBC, Sky News and many other broadcaster still show webcasts using Flash and will need to adopt new methods to stream video content.

The BBC has said it is working on new versions of its Android apps, including its popular iPlayer app, after Adobe announced it was to pull its Flash player from the Google Play store.

"The BBC is working with Adobe on an alternative video player for Android, ensuring audiences with Android devices continue to enjoy BBC iPlayer," said Daniel Danker, general manager of On-Demand at the BBC. "We do have concerns about fragmentation of Android devices and new updates to the Android platform, which have created an inconsistent video playback experience for our audience, and we are working with Google to find ways to address this."

Angry Android users

While the writing has been on the wall for some time, the final nails in the Flash coffin have angered many Android users.

"We all understand the world is transitioning to HTML 5 but cutting Flash support this early is commercial suicide," one user commented on the Google Play store. Another posted, "Flash was the reason I bought a Galaxy Tab instead of iPad! I can't believe Adobe and Google would do this."

Another user also commented on the untimely exit. "This is the single biggest difference between the Android and iOS web experience. Seemingly half the web is still based on Flash, and my device is now powerless to view any of that content."

Several complained that their devices had become all but useless. "My motorola RAZR went from being the best phone to the worst phone since updating to the ICS system. Can no longer watch videos using flash player. Wish I had known this before installing update. Angry!!!"

Several users complain that flash won't display on ICS Android 4.0.x, however this seems to be only a partial problem. Chrome for Android does not support Flash, though native web browsers should display Flash content correctly. Users might also try using the Dolphin browser, available from the Google Play store, which has Flash built in. The other alternative is to wait for websites to upgrade to HTML 5...

[BBC / Guardian / IBT]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

China: Eagle seeks revenge on men who ate its chick

Two men from north-east China got more than they bargained for after they stole an eagle chick with the belief that eating it would cure their haemorrhoids.

Wu Yongtian and Yang Hai had heard that eating the bird would cure their piles and set off to climb a mountain near their home village Zhansheng part of the town of Maqiaohe in the north east province of Heilongjiang.

Spotting a nest Yang took the golden eagle chick and the pair headed down the mountain with their prize. But the men were spotted by the mother who swooped after the thieves, chasing them until they were finally picked up by a farmer and driven to safety.

After keeping the chick for a few days, the men fried and ate the bird, though it failed to cure them of their affliction.

That was in July 2010, and some two years on the men had all but forgotten their mischievous deed. But, it seems, eagles do not forget and earlier this year the vengeful mother eagle once again spotted the pair and launched a ferocious attack according to local media.

The Heilongjiang Morning Post reported that Wu Yongtian needed some 40 stitches to wounds inflicted by the eagle, and has moved away from the town, fearful of further reprisals. His friend Yang was also injured recently and had 12 stitches to wounds on his head, neck and arms.

The attack came when Yang was with other villagers harvesting some wheat. "I was working when I saw a black shadow approaching me," Yang said whilst lying in a hospital bed with his head and arms wrapped in bandages. "I used my elbow to fend off the attack, but the black shadow scratched my elbow, then it started to scratch and peck my head."

Head of the Village Committee Jia Shuzhong said "Yang Hai was so scared and had no place to hide." He attempted to take cover in a haystack but the attacks continued despite efforts of other villagers trying to frighten off the bird.

As the eagle continued to dive bomb Yang other villagers called the police for help. "We came to try and rescue him but the eagle continued to fly around squawking," Jin Yongping, a local policeman said.

Even when the man was bundled into a police car and driven away, the eagle continued to give chase. It even left scratches on the car according to the driver Kong Lingzhi. "This eagle kept chasing us and only stopped when I put the siren on."

As for Yang, the whole episode has left him deeply marked. "My experience has prompted me to persuade everyone to cherish our wild animals and not hurt them," he said after his ordeal. [Heilongjiang TV - Chinese includes video report]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, August 13, 2012

London waves goodbye to "greatest games ever"

China may have excelled in terms of fireworks, but the show put on by London for the 2012 Olympics outshone most people's expectations. The Games themselves also lived beyond expectations and was even labelled the best ever Olympics by many.

'Best ever games'

"We lit a flame and we lit up the world," Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Games Organising Committee, said at Sunday night's closing ceremony. And although IOC president Jacques Rogge stopped short of describing London 2012 as the greatest Olympics, he said the past fortnight had "refreshed the Games in many aspects".

This view was reflected by many within government. "This has been two weeks when Britain didn't just surprise the world but surprised itself," Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

But it was not only officials who praised the Games. Praise also came from the public and the millions who came from all around to see what has been dubbed the greatest show on Earth.

Records & achievements

Records were set, and while China still topped the league table in gold medal wins, they fell short of their achievement seen in Beijing four years ago. The top prize went to the US who 104 medals home with them, 46 of which were gold.

But it was Britain that shone, and shattered all expectations by winning 29 gold medals. In all Team GB grabbed 88 medals 9 of which were achieved in track cycling.

But some athletes stole the show more than others. American swimmer Michael Phelps set new Olympic records becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. Meanwhile Team GB's Jessica Ennis became the nation's 'golden girl' which was as much to do with her good looks as her astounding feats at the 2012 Games. Mo Farah also won praise and adoration for winning two gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races.

Criticism for some

China's athletes drew much praise back home, but they also drew criticism. The amazing performance of 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen prompted some to suggest she had used performance enhancing drugs, despite there being no actual evidence to prove any wrongdoing.

And while that controversy soon died down China drew the ire of fans and sporting bodies alike after badminton players Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang deliberately tried to throw a game. They were not the only ones. South Korean players Kim Ha Na, Jung Kyung Eun Jung Eun Ha and Min Jung Kim, and Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari were also embroiled in the farce resulting in all 8 being disqualified and sent home.

At the start of the Games there been criticism of the way tickets had been made available after huge blocks of seats remained empty throughout whole events. However the problem was soon resolved.

Arrests, but little trouble

There was little trouble throughout the games. The unprecedented security operation for the Olympic Games resulted in just one anti-terror arrest among a total of 276 during the 22-day policing operation. According to Channel 4 News a 17-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of collecting or recording information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. however he was later released without charge [BBC].

Most offences recorded were connected with the illegal sales of tickets, while one man was charged with a public order offence after throwing a bottle onto the track prior to the men's Olympic 100 metres final which was won by Usain Bolt [Daily Mail]. Another display of anti-social behaviour was also reported with one of the many post-boxes, painted gold in honour of Team GB's achievements, was vandalised [BBC].

Transport held up, despite a few hitches early on, including a fire alert [Newham Recorder / Evening Standard] and some problems with overcrowding [BBC]. And even the British weather held off with warm temperatures and sun lasting for most of the two weeks.

End of the show

For the most part the whole event went well, and for some it all came to an end too quickly. "I wish it would go on longer," one young fan told the BBC.

But all good things must come to an end and so came the final closing ceremony which drew a mixed response from critics and the public alike. A BBC commentator described the event as like "one giant disco", and indeed there was less of the theatrics seen during the opening ceremony.

Disconnected themes

Danny Boyle's opening ceremony had been praised for its patchwork performance of the best of British. But the final closing goodbye was criticised for being disjointed and a mishmash of disconnected themes. It was a show that appealed more to younger audiences. And it was more a party than a theatrical show.

Amongst those appearing were Madness, who sounded rather flat, a reformed Spice Girls who sounded as good as they ever did and a blast from aging rockers The Who. Former Monty Python member Eric Idle brought comedy and song to the show singing "Always look on the bright side of life". His inclusion of a mild expletive may have surprised some and left some broadcasters around the world with a dilemma too. "Life's a piece of shit, When you look at it," Idle sang, a line familiar to anyone having seen The Life of Brian, a film which was itself controversial in its time for offending the church.

And there might have been further raised eyebrows for those holding religious beliefs as there then followed John Lennon's classic. "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky..."

Irony

The hope in the song is certainly laudable. "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.."

Of course without countries there would be no one with whom to complete, let alone fight. And while UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon had called on people to lay down arms for the duration of the Olympics, the idea that peace might break out was certainly a little optimistic [UN].

Some nations with less than liberated government might have squirmed at broadcasting George Michael's best-known hits, "Freedom '90".

The ironies would likely have fallen on deaf ears in the 80,000 strong audience sitting in the Olympic stadium and the media. The western press seemed more concerned that George Michael appeared to be promoting his new single "White Light", which details his near-death battle with pneumonia last year, after he followed up with the recently released recording [Sun].

The audience meanwhile were more interested in partying than reading too much into any political overtones. Many sang along as Jessie J joined Queen's Brian May with a rendition of "We Will Rock You" or raved to the sounds of Fat Boy Slim [aka Norman Cook] as he pumped out "Right Here, Right Now"  from a giant inflatable octopus.

The octopus could have been seen as a multitude of Beatles references that seemed to pepper the show. There were newspaper taxis, a possible reference to a line of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", and there were a series of clips from songs including a full rendition of I Am the Walrus performed by comedian Russell Brand.

Director Kim Gavin had attempted to bring together the best of British rock legends and icons of British pop on one stage. In many ways he achieved that. And the games themselves brough together a nation, and the world, in celebration.

"Proud to be British"

London Mayor Boris Johnson has called the called London 2012 the "greatest games ever" and talked of creating a "true sporting legacy". That might be easier said than done perhaps, but the London Olympics has certainly been a party to remember. It may feel like anti-climax now it's all over, and there will be some who'll be suffering from a large hangover. Beyond British borders, the closing ceremony was not appreciated by everyone. According to the Daily Telegraph writer Neil McCormick, Italians in one bar jeered and mocked the "jolly romp" in the Olympic stadium. 

It is of course easy to criticise. There was much not represented from the best of British rock and pop. But this was less the fault of the artistic director than the willingness of artists to perform. Some Germans saw the event as over patriotic while others described it as 'Euro-trash' and were happy the whole thing was finally over. Commentators on Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV seemed rather enthralled with the musical extravaganza, praising the "individualism" of British artists. 

Across the pond, there was not so much enthusiasm than general disinterest, perhaps not helped by NBC's much criticised policy of not showing the 2012 Olympics live [Guardian]. The closing ceremony was no exception and was even cut with NBC editing out parts of the event, including performances by Muse and Ray Davies of the Kinks [Daily Mail / CNN]. It was still a ratings winner for the US network pulling an audience of around 31 million, though tiny in terms of the whole population [CNN]. Meanwhile the event pulled in a record 26 million in the UK [Telegraph].

The Olympics have made many Britons proud to wave the national flag with pride once again. "It made me proud to be British," one spectator proclaimed after the closing ceremony came to an end. It had made many people realise that we were a better nation than we thought we were.

[BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / Daily Mail / Daily Mail / Daily Mail

tvnewswatch, London, UK


Thursday, August 09, 2012

Truth behind Heywood murder brushed under the rug

When Gu Kailai finally appeared in a Chinese court accused of murdering British businessman, there was a strong expectation amongst some that the whole truth and circumstances surrounding his death would emerge.

However, few details were revealed other than the wife of former top-communist party official Bo Xilai admitting poisoning the Englishman with the help of her 33-year-old family servant Zhang Xiaojun, who was also on trial.

Prosecutors claim Gu Kailai masterminded the murder of 41-year-old Neil Heywood after he threatened the "physical safety" of her 24-year-old son, Bo Guagua. According to the account offered to the court, Gu had "used brutal means" to murder the British businessman, luring him to a hotel room before dispatching him with poison. The three are said to have drank tea and alcohol in room 1605 of Chongqing's Lucky Holiday Hotel before Gu and her servant "poured [poison] into Heywood's mouth".

"When Heywood was drunk and vomited and wanted to drink water, she then took pre-prepared poison that she had asked Zhang Xiaojun to carry and poured it into Heywood's mouth, killing him," the court statement said.

Few members of the public were allowed to attend the proceedings, and media was restricted to Chinese reporters. After the seven hour hearing a few of those that had attended spoke to the foreign media outside and confirmed many people's fears that details about Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai's flamboyant lifestyle and corruption would be glossed over. "It was just about murder, no economic or corruption issues were raised," a student who refused to give her name told the Daily Telegraph.

Speaking before the trial Steve Tsang, the director of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, said the true story about Neil Heywood's murder and Bo Xilai's dramatic downfall was never likely to emerge. "There is no way we are going to find out what actually happened," he said.

As for Gu, she seems resigned to whatever the court metes out as punishment. "I committed a crime that brought negative consequences to the party and the country," Gu said, according to one witness who attended the proceedings. "I am willing to receive any punishment." [Washington Post] Possible sentences range from 10 years in prison to the death penalty.

The trial was not so much China's "trial of the century" than a damp squib, with weather to match [Washington Post].

The Financial Times had billed the trial most anticipated in China since the Gang of Four took the stand three decades ago. That was very much a show trial of confessions. Gu's appearance was less of a show trial. In fact many people in China will know little if any of the facts surrounding the case [Financial Times].

State media have only given a partial summary of the case [Guardian] and users of China's main Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo, reported difficulties posting messages during the controversial murder trial [BBC / Channel 4 News]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Gu Kailai trial ends, but suspicion remains

The trial of Gu Kailai for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood has ended in the Chinese city of Hefei, after only one day [BBC / BBC / Sky News].

High security

High security surrounded Hefei's Criminal Courtroom No.1 with foreign journalists being kept well back. Information coming from the court was minimal with a court official telling reporters that Gu had not contested the charge that she killed Neil Heywood by poisoning in November 2011. As regards the actual verdict and sentencing, details would be announced later, the official said.

Gu Kailai, the wife of former Chinese lawmaker Bo Xilai, who lost his post in the scandal surrounding Neil Heywood's death, is accused of murdering the British businessman with help from her aide, Zhang Xiaojun.

The official, Tang Yigan said Gu was "in good shape and mentally stable," throughout the trial. Gu Kailai was detained in mid-April but the date for a trial was only announced last week after months of speculation surrounding her involvement [BBC / CNNTelegraph / Guardian].

Lack of openness 

The announcement of the trial triggered speculation as to how open the proceedings would be, and how much if any information would be revealed about the murky details of the case.

Britain said that two diplomats would be allowed to watch the trial, an unprecedented move in itself. "We can confirm that British diplomats will attend the trial," the Foreign Office said last week. "The details of the on-going investigation are a matter for the Chinese authorities. However, we are glad to see that the Chinese authorities are continuing with the investigation into the death of Neil Heywood. We are dedicated to seeking justice for him and his family and we will be following developments closely." [Sky / FT]

But allowing foreign diplomats to sit on on the much awaited criminal trial did not hail any great move to openness. CNN's Steven Jiang attempted to gain access to the Gu Kailai trial but found himself unable to obtain any information let alone permission to attend the trial itself.

Verdict already decided

According to many observers the outcome of the trial had already been determined and Thursday's proceedings were a mere formality. "She has already been found guilty," Prof Steve Tsang, the director of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, said. "They can't possibly allow and schedule a trial without already agreeing at the top level of the political leadership what she is accused of, what she will be found guilty of and what sentence she will be given."

"Gu Kailai, for all the money she may or may not have, is unlikely to be able to have a totally independent lawyer representing her who would be able to challenge the judge's decision. It works backwards. The trial will have to deliver the verdict that has already been decided."

Echoing Tsang's thoughts on the matter Prof Willy Lam, a China expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said "The judgment has already been passed. I think that, according to Chinese tradition, it is almost impossible for the defence to try and overturn this."

While many people, even outside of China might feel that Gu Kailai was likely responsible for Neil Heywood's death, the nature of the way she is being judged has raised concerns.

Her two appointed lawyers were not allowed access to their client until the day and a family appointed lawyer was refused permission to represent Gu [Reuters / Guardian].

Restricted media coverage

Any discussion about the trial has also been severely restricted. China's most popular version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, has actively being censoring search results and posts mentioning the wife of Bo Xilai. State media has also been heavily controlled and only government approved articles have surfaced.

But such censorship and control is perhaps to be expected in China, especially as the country prepares a major leadership transition.

This was a trial that said much about China. "The decision to hold the trial in Anhui province, rather than in Chongqing, where Mr Bo ruled and Mr Heywood died, betray apprehension that the Bo family's influence may linger," The Independent observed. "A small, redeeming feature is that two British diplomats have been permitted to attend; given that Mr Heywood was a British citizen and that his death was initially described as accidental, however, this is but a modest observance of diplomatic protocol. Nothing suggests a fair trial."

Trial reflects a corrupt society

"Forecasts of the outcome have veered from the death penalty to a relatively short prison term in return for a guilty plea, mitigated by self-defence. The suspicion must be, however, that the verdict will reflect more the political balance of power than actual evidence. "

While the West often lauds China's economic prowess, its pace of industrialisation and its rising wealth even if recognising the costs such as ultra-cheap urban labour, environmental catastrophes and rural dispossession. What is more than often ignored is the "corruption that lies behind much of China's rapid development," The Independent said.

Such murkiness behind the scenes in China is also allured to by Perry Link in a recent article for New York Review who talks of a "mafia-like world" of Chinese politics.

Gu's son keeps faith

Breaking the rather deafening silence coming from either the government or the Bo Xilai camp was a brief statement from Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai's son Bo Guagua.

"As I was cited as a motivating factor for the crimes accused of my mother, I have already submitted my witness statement," Bo said in an email sent to CNN. "I hope that my mother will have the opportunity to review them." He also expressed some faith, even if a little naive, in China's judicial system. "I have faith that facts will speak for themselves." [BBC / Daily Mail]

Future ramifications

The trial of Gu Kailai would be a sensational case at any time. But coming months ahead of a party congress that will chart China's future leadership, the ramifications could echo far beyond the verdict of the trial, expected to begin this week.

"This is definitely more than a criminal trial," says Wenran Jiang, who went to Peking University with Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, the one-time Communist Party chief of Chongqing and member of the policy-making party politburo from which he was dismissed in April 2012 following allegations Gu was behind the murder of British businessman, Neil Heywood [CNN].

Opened wounds

The trial has opened up many wounds within the Chinese Communist Party. It has highlighted the corruption that still exists, exemplified by the fact that four police officers are also to stand trial after helping to cover up the murder of Neil Heywood.

The incident has shone an unwelcome spotlight on China's justice system and the lack of transparency, both in the press and on the Internet. It has also revealed the problems of a growing number of millionaires who are increasingly sending money abroad.

Laundered millions

There have been suggestions that Gu Kailai had transferred at least $1 billion abroad as well as investing enormous sums in expensive property [FT].

Her case is not unique. Reports last year revealed that corrupt officials and their family members have transferred billions of dollars into foreign accounts. A report by China's central bank found that thousands of Chinese government officials have smuggled billions out of the country and fled, mainly to the US, highlighting "the corruption within a corrupt system".

The details emerged when China's central bank inadvertently published an internal document highlighting the problem on its website. Corrupt officials had, according to the bank, transferred more than 800 billion RMB overseas WSJ / Time / World Crunch]. 

Suspicious public perception

The ousted Bo Xilai built his reputation on cleaning up corruption, though he may have been as much guilty of feathering his own nest and protecting his own position of power. His purge from power was as much to do with sweeping away scandal as it was to do with Bo's ambitions in the party. And with China's opaque political system it remains unclear whether China's new administration will seek to cleanse the system further, or if corruption will continue.

Jerome Cohen, a professor of law at New York University School of Law and an expert in Chinese law, told CNN that many people in China would likely remain "very suspicious" of the general cover-up of the Bo Xilai saga and the Gu Kailai trial in particular. With a large number of people "reliant on rumours rather than fact", the communist party "should come clean with the people and be as open as possible," Cohen said.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Standard Chartered stocks tank on laundering allegations

Shares of Standard Chartered tanked Tuesday in early trading despite the bank denying allegations that it illegally "schemed" with Iran to launder money.

Shares fell 16% in early London trade, after falling 16% in Hong Kong. After 2 hours trading some 18% had been wiped from its share value as uncertainty over the future of the financial institution mounted [Google Finance].

Standard Chartered are accused by New York regulators of hiding 60,000 transactions with Iran, totaling at least $250 billion [£161 billion], an offense which puts them in danger of losing their New York license and the ability to clear funds through the US.

The New York State Department of Financial Services released a document [PDF] Monday in which it said the UK-based bank had laundered billions of dollars over nearly a decade.

The DFS claims the bank hid transactions for "Iranian financial institutions" that were subject to US economic sanctions .

In part of its statement the DFS cited the "obvious contempt for US banking regulations" displayed by Standard Chartered by quoting an SCB Group Executive Director as saying "You fucking Americans.  Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we're not
going to deal with Iranians."

It was a point picked up by many financial websites and publications. "As if we needed more proof, Standard Chartered has demonstrated again the folly of investing in our largest banks," Reuters' James Saft wrote.

He went on to suggest that investing in the biggest banks was "like burying landmines in your own front yard while blindfolded".

The bank has firmly denied the allegations, saying that it "strongly rejects the position or portrayal of facts as set out in the order" issued by the regulator, but that it was "conducting a review" and "discussing" matters with US authorities. Furthermore the banks insists that only $14 million of transactions were non-compliant with US banking regulations [Standard Chartered].

The allegations will do nothing to improve confidence in the banking sector. After the PPI scandal, criticism of bank charges and high bonuses paid to bank bosses, the libor fixing scandal, as well as computer glitches that have left thousands either out of pocket or unable to access their money, the reputation of banks is at an all time low.

No bank has escaped the criticism. Most high street banks in the UK were lambasted for their selling of PPI, and payouts continue as those who took out the often unnecessary insurance make claims.

The libor fixing scandal has seen massive fines imposed on Barclays with others drawn into to the melee.

In July HSBC was heavily criticised for failing to prevent money laundering by Mexican drug gangs . And only a month earlier ING agreed to pay $619 million to settle US government allegations that it violated US sanctions against Cuba and Iran [BBC].

[BBC / BBC / CNN / Telegraph / Bloomberg / FT]

Wider implications

Standard Chartered Bank is a British bank headquartered in London with operations in more than seventy countries. It operates a network of over 1,700 branches and outlets (including subsidiaries, associates and joint ventures) and employs 73,000 people.

Despite its British base, Standard Chartered has few customers in the UK, and 90% of its profits come from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It has operations in some seventy countries and a network of over 1,700 branches and outlets, including subsidiaries, associates and joint ventures.

With a particular hold in Asia there are concerns of fallout across the region. A spokesman for the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Chinese territory's banking regulator, said it was "reviewing the order concerning the Standard Chartered Bank issued by the New York State Department of Financial Services, to see if there are issues that have relevant implications for Hong Kong".

Since Standard Chartered specialises in financing in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, it does not operate in domestic US banking as such. However it does make a profit in the region as a result of it facilitating cross border trade for customers that have operations in both the US and emerging markets. In fact, the New York bank regulator calculates that Standard Chartered processes $190bn every day for global clients.

The key hit to the bank would be the damage to its reputation and status, which is likely to affect its business with Asian clients.

With concerns expressed this week that a slowdown in the Chinese economy could prove more more damaging than the EU financial crisis, instability in the banking sector which helps fund businesses in the region will not help [CNN / CNN comment]

It is not the first scandal to hit Standard Chartered in recent months. A banker working for the financial institution was detained by police in China in March this year as part of an investigation into a wealthy client who allegedly stole money from a state-owned bank [FT].

Standard Chartered confirmed the arrest but said the bank itself was not under investigation. Nonetheless such incidents only raise concerns not only for Standard Chartered but also for other banks trying to do business in Asia, and China in particular where foreign banks are already struggling to gain a foothold in China [FT]

tvnewswatch, London, UK.