Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cash back for Foursquare users with AmEx deal

Social networking just got profitable for the consumer with credit card firm American Express teaming up with geo-location social networking site Foursquare.

While Foursquare has a sizeable user base, it trails behind Facebook which also allows users to check-in at cafes, restaurants and other locations. But the team up with AmEx could be a game changer for the fledgling social network.


Launched in 2009 Foursquare has grown slowly to around 20 million users who use the service to 'check-in' at locations anywhere in the world. These locations may be shared publicly or with a specific group of friends using the service. Users may also opt to share their location by linking their Foursquare account to Facebook or Twitter.

Such geo-location services have existed for some time. Google first launched such a service called Latitude, which can be set to share location data with a group of friends, and if desired on a constant updated basis. Facebook too also launched a check-in facility in 2010 for those accessing the site through a mobile app.

Kudos & rewards

Foursquare differs in that users get rewards for their check-ins. As well as collecting a series of 'badges' and obtaining kudos by becoming the 'mayor' of a venue after checking in several times, Foursquare users may also benefit from discounts.

In the past several coffee shops and pubs have offered the 'mayor' of certain venues anything from a free coffee to a discount on a meal. But since there can only be one mayor at any specific venue, such offers limit their attractiveness to consumers.

AmEx tie up

By teaming up with American Express more customers are likely to be drawn to a restaurant or bar hosting special deals. After linking their American Express card to their Foursquare account, users can take advantage by searching for specials nearby using the application on their mobile phone.

On arriving at a participating outlet, the user would 'check-in' as normal and tap the 'load to card' offer. After paying with the synced card any savings will be credited to the AmEx account within 3-5 working days, the credit card company says.

Business model

The partnership follows a similar tie-up in the US launched last June and is becoming an increasingly common business model. Yelp offers business owners the ability to add Check-in offers to their venues, Facebook promotes Places Deals while Android smartphone users in the US have begun receiving Google Offers on their handsets' maps since the start of the month.

Other apps such as Moneysupermarket, Vouchercloud and Myvouchercodes also help consumers identify close-by special offers based on GPS data gathered from a user's handset.

But the tie in with a major payment card puts Foursquare ahead in the game. "Most of our competition has launched apps that are single functionality - apps that are purely about discounts, or maps or recommendations," Evan Cohen told the BBC. "At Foursquare what we are trying to do is build a multi-faceted experience so that a user, who might be opening an app to see where their friends are or a recommendation of where to go next, might stumble upon a deal."

Benefits customer & business

American Express says it is uniquely positioned to offer the service thanks to its "closed-loop" business model in which it acts as card issuer, merchant acquirer and payment processing operator.

The firm's vice president of international social media strategy, Stacy Gratz, said this had helped attract outlets such as Tesco, House of Fraser, Primark and Nando's to the scheme.

"Merchants can host these types of special without needing to train their staff, which can be timely and cost prohibitive," Gratz says, "We can then go back to the merchant and give them information about the number of people that redeemed the offer and also the amounts that the card members were spending, so we can provide to them pretty rich data."

In the past promotions offered by venues have confused both staff and customers. tvnewswatch has experienced this first hand a at least one venue when trying to take advantage of a deal offered at a Wetherspoon's public house. A great deal of explanation was required to perplexed staff concerning a 20% reduction offered on meals to the 'mayor'. Despite having notices on display at the venue promoting the offer staff seemed unaware of the deal and confused as to how to deal with it.

Since American Express acts as the mediator through the mobile app, there are no complicated discussions with staff, and in fact they need not know the customer even took advantage of a deal at the time.

Of course some may see the tying details of one's credit card to a social network to a social network as being somewhat risky. However American Express stresses that it does not share data on its members' spending habits with Foursquare nor does it divulge card details to the geo-location service.

Quite a number of well-known franchises will be offering deals through the AmEx-Foursquare partnership at launch, including Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge, Eat, House of Fraser, Nando's, PizzaExpress, Primark, Strada and Tesco. These retailers are each offering £10 cash back on purchases of £10 or more, except Eat and Tesco, which are offering £5 cash back on purchases of £5 or more.

AmEx users may go here to sync their card to their Foursquare account [FT / Mashable].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Woman jailed for racist rant on subway train

A woman who made a racist rant while drunk on a London subway train has been jailed for 21 weeks.

Forty-two-year-old Jacqueline Woodhouse from Romford had launched an expletive-laden rant at passengers on the Central line, telling those seated near her, "I used to live in England and now I live in the United Nations."

In the seven-minute video which was uploaded to YouTube and viewed more than 200,000 times, the woman can be heard insulting fellow passengers and insinuated that 90% of the passengers were illegal immigrants.

"Sense of shame"

At a hearing in Westminster Magistrates' Court in central London, District Judge Michael Snow, condemned her behaviour. "Anyone viewing it would feel a deep sense of shame that our citizens could be subject to such behaviour who may, as a consequence, believe that it secretly represents the views of other white people," he said.

The judge told Woodhouse she would serve half her prison term behind bars and imposed an order banning her from London Underground stations and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), or using the Tube or DLR, while intoxicated, for a five-year period.

Woodhouse handed herself into police after authorities sought to find her following the upload to YouTube [Link / Link]. The woman claimed that she felt "deeply ashamed" of her behaviour, but the judge rejected her pleas for clemency saying he found them "very difficult to believe."

"Foul-mouthed and aggressive"

Judge Snow was damning in his summing up. He described how Woodhouse had boarded the train on the evening of the 23rd of January and launched into a tirade of abuse. "The train was packed with people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds," he said. "The people included children. She became loud, foul-mouthed and aggressive. She targeted her behaviour at those who weren't white. She directed it at those who were close to her, on occasions directly into their faces. She threatened violence against more than one person and it took place over a prolonged period."

After sentencing it emerged that Woodhouse had been fined following a similar offence on the DLR in December 2008 [Sky / Guardian / Daily Mail / Telegraph / Evening Standard / The Sun]

The case is by no means isolated and on many occasions people have filmed the abuse [YouTube / YouTube ].

Xenophobia elsewhere

Such views are not confined to Britain however. As highlighted recently foreigners are experiencing a mixed reception in other parts of the world, partly incited by the bad behaviour of a minority. A Russian Cellist caused outrage in China recently after insulting people on a train to Beijing while a British citizen also drew condemnation after allegedly sexually assaulting a Chinese woman in the street.

The incidents have created a backlash amongst many Chinese with calls for "foreign trash" to be expelled from the country and a tightening of visa restrictions [VCStar]. The cellist Oleg Vedernikov later found himself sacked [CNN] while the man who assaulted the girl is believed to have been charged and faces a hefty jail sentence.

Meanwhile there is a dark mood in Beijing as attitudes towards foreigners begins to sour [CNN / CNN - Video]. The vigilante justice seen being met out on the Britain has drawn applause by many Chinese, but they too may find themselves in court for assault. One blogger comments that the scenes were particularly sad to see, most disturbingly because they reminded him of Britain, a country whose reputation is being further sullied by such incidents.

While anger towards those breaking laws or exploiting the system might be understandable, such instances are becoming an excuse to target foreigners, immigrants and others. And such racist attitudes do no good for the image of any country whether it be Britain, China or elsewhere.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Facebook dubbed Fadebook as stocks tank

With Facebook facing criticism and its underwriter Morgan Stanley facing a lawsuit, the road ahead for both investors and the social network is looking somewhat uncertain.

Legal action

The social network, its founder Mark Zuckerberg and the banks leading its flotation are being sued by disgruntled shareholders. A writ, filed in a Manhattan court, alleges that Facebook's revised growth figures were not disclosed to all investors.

Sam Rudman of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP claims that his clients weren't given the full picture and lost money as a result. "Material information wasn't shared," Rudman insisted, "That's a violation of the securities laws." US financial regulators have already said Morgan Stanley may have questions to answer over the disclosure of information ahead of Friday's float.

Dark cloud

It is not the view of everyone however. The lead underwriter to Facebook said it had fully complied with the rules. Whether or not disgruntled investors have a case, the issue has cast a dark cloud over one of the most anticipated stock market listings of recent times.

Even before the threats of legal action problems had arisen. The flotation was disrupted on Friday by technical glitches on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The share price has since slumped amid worries that the company was over-valued by advisers marketing the float.

Stock tanks

With an IPO price of $38, the stock opened higher at $42 but quickly tanked dropping at one point by nearly 18%. There was some recovery by Thursday but was still way below its launch price standing at $32.59 after three hours trading.

CNN's Maggie Lake suggested that however the lawsuit turns out, the debacle was "another nail in the coffin for individual investors" which appeared to "favour big clients."

"There is not a guaranteed big win on an IPO," she said, though said that in the long run Facebook's stock would probably stabilize.

Her view was echoed by Henry Blodget of Business Insider who warned individual investors of the pitfalls. "Don't do it unless you're doing it for fun," Blodget said, "It is not  level playing field."


A dramatic fall after an IPO in itself is not uncommon. Amazon too tanked when it launched. But there is a clear difference between Facebook and the likes of Amazon. Facebook makes its money primarily through its users clicking advertisements, rather than the selling of a tangible product.

There are several other platforms which also rely on such a business model. Google too relies on its users clicking ads and a client base who use its Adwords advertisements. But Google's ads may appear on any number of websites, including its own search engine and other products that it offers.

This gives the likes of Google a clear advantage over the likes of Facebook. While Google makes money from ads appearing in millions of other locations, Facebook only gains revenue from clicks made on ads placed within its own website.


Google also takes advantage of statistics drawn from its users who sign-in to their Google accounts as well as data collected from searches coming from specific IP addresses. By analysing this data Google can target specific advertisements to specific users. Thus ads are more likely to be relevant to the user, and in turn drawing more clicks. This is good for the advertiser who is more likely to see increased traffic to their website and in turn more sales. And of course Google profits as people are more likely to click ads that are relevant to them.

Facebook also tries to target ads. But it relies on users constantly updating their stream and lots of clicks on the 'Like' button. However many people that use Facebook enter the site to catch up with friends latest activity or a quick chat with their online buddies. While some might visit the site daily, the time spent on Facebook may only extend to a few minutes.

The problem for Facebook is further compounded by the fact that many users are now accessing the site through mobile apps which have fewer if any advertisements.

It will not be easy for Facebook to turn things around. Adverts, especially intrusive ones, naturally turn people off, and should Facebook introduce ads to its mobile platform it may lose more users than it gains in advertising profit.

With growing competition with the likes of Google+ and even Twitter, Facebook may have a rocky road ahead.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Xenophobia may be growing in China

The man was undoubtedly inviting trouble as he assaulted a girl in Beijing recently. And many netizens in China believed he deserved the beating he received. But the incident has sparked not only a wild debate. It has opened up wounds and highlighted divisions that exist between foreigners and their Chinese hosts  

Online debate

The incident might has gone unnoticed but for the growing popularity of social networks. Despite strict censorship and controls on what is posted online there are vibrant debates over any number of issues, ranging from corruption to the banal. But after the video of a foreigner sexually assaulting a girl was posted on China's equivalent of YouTube the debate has risen to fever pitch with calls for stricter rules being applied to foreigners.

In the video a Chinese girl can be seen lying in flower bed while a tall foreigner pushes against her. In her distressed calls she can be heard to say, "No, no" before telling a Chinese man who intervenes that she doesn't know the man.

The foreigner can be heard saying, "Ok man," several times, in what sounds like a northern British accent, as he is ushered away from the girl. Within seconds punches are thrown and the foreigner finds himself unconscious and lying in the middle of the road.

Traffic continues to pass the man as some Chinese continue to kick and insult the foreigner who was later arrested [Shanghaiist].

Media reports

The news spread quickly after the video of the incident was posted on Youku, YouTube [with subtitles] and later reported in the Beijing News [Chinese], the Global Times, China Daily and other news outlets. The incident, which happened near Xuanwuman, to the west of Tiananmen Square and south of the popular shopping district of Xidan, has been reported in British media, though the man has yet to be identified and his face was pixeled out [Telegraph / Sky News].

If convicted he faces a long time behind bars. People convicted of rape in China can face the death penalty, although a prison sentence of 10-20 years is a more common punishment. Even attempted rape carries a sentence of between three and 10 years. According to CRIEnglish it remains unknown whether police have charged the man with sexual assault or intentional rape.

Rising nationalism

The assault has raised the temperatures of the nationalists in China. But if that wasn't enough a Russian cellist has further inflamed emotions after he had the audacity to put his feet on the back of some train seats. Such an act is common everywhere, but given this too was filmed and posted online, anger towards foreigners has intensified. In the video the cellist who was later identified as Oleg Vedernikov insults a woman calling her a "silly c***" and draws the attention of police [Shanghaiist].

Despite his later apology, the online debate has not ended. In fact the growing backlash has prompted well known broadcaster to chip in. A well known commentator and presenter of the flagship CCTV programme 'Dialogue' entered the storm referring to expelled Al Jazeera reporter Melissa Chan as a 'bitch' and foreigners as 'snake heads'. In a rant, seen by some as xenophobic, Yang Rui posted a comment on Sina Weibo suggesting that many visitors to China were nothing less than spies. "Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West," Yang said in a tweet which has since been deleted. Yang also disputed his referring to Melissa Chan as a 'bitch', saying it was mistranslation. He said, quoting from a Chinese dictionary, that he meant 'foreign shrew' [WSJ]. To some extent Yang is arguing over semantics. 泼妇 or pofu can be translated as bitch, vixen or shrew and according to one online Chinese dictionary 'refers to aggressive and unreasonable women'.

"Foreign trash"

"The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in [student district] Wudaokou and [drinking district] Sanlitun. Cut off the foreign snake heads," Yang said. "People who can't find jobs in the US and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West. We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera's Beijing bureau. We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing." [WSJ / CDT]

Unhappy at the exposure Yang received, and the accusations of xenophobia, the broadcaster is now reported to be considering legal action against blogger Charles Custer who first reported the story on the website ChinaGeeks [China Daily].

The wave of anti-foreigner sentiment has been growing in recent weeks. Business Week reports that a campaign has been launched on China's version of Twitter "calling on Internet users to expose bad behaviour by foreigners in China," according to a report on the People's Daily Online English website on May 18th. "Foreign scumbags should go back to their countries. China is not the place for them to do everything they want," the report quoted microblogger "yuxiaole" as writing.

100-day clampdown

With all this the police have been pressured to clamp down on illegal foreigners and according to an item in the China Daily, a 100-day crackdown has been started which will target foreigners and issue fine, detain them or even expel them from the country should their paperwork not be in order [AP / Telegraph].

Employers and landlords who knowingly hire or house illegal foreigners will also face penalties, with employers liable to bear the cost of the foreigners' deportation, the newspaper said. Spot checks of expats' visas and permits are expected, while locals are being encouraged to report anyone they suspect of not having the correct documentation on a police hotline.

"We just want foreigners to know about Chinese rules governing the housing, employment and entry of foreigners with our enforcement. We hope foreigners can understand our work and abide by Chinese regulations," a spokesman was quoted as saying.


Nonetheless, many laowei - a word that some foreigners find disparaging - will find the new measures intimidating [Beijinger]. There may also be greater tension seen between foreigners and the indigenous population if calm is not restored. With the likes of Yang and band of netizens fanning the flames of racist, xenophobic nationalism, things could get out of hand very fast indeed. 

The sexual assault of a young Chinese woman cannot be condoned, whether by a local nor a foreigner. Nor should bad behaviour on trains be tolerated, whether a Russian cellist or a Chinese peasant. Using such incidents to label all foreigners as 'scumbags' is dangerous. It could mark a turning point in relations between China and a growing number of expats, tourists and those it does business with.

"Lumped together"

The Global Times, while condemning the assault, has tried to dampen the flames saying that two wrongs do not make a right. "There were no winners in last week's video. Two wrongs, no matter how satisfying the second may seem, don't make a right," the paper said. "The only person who can hold his head high from the assault is the middle-aged man who restrained an enraged youth from inflicting further harm on the prone Briton."

One problem that the incident, and the resulting online debate, highlighted was an apparent deep division existing in China, the paper suggested. "Foreigners, for better or worse, are lumped together as a collective bunch in China," the commentary read. It pointed to the comments of the security guard who initially intervened after hearing the girl's cries. The man, named Wu, told the newspaper, "After I grabbed his neck and saw he was a laowai [foreigner], I felt more obligated to save the girl."

The paper then questions how such an attitude might play in other countries, saying that there would likely be an outcry over apparently racist attitudes.

Foreigners win adulation and even evoke domestic shame in China when depicted helping others [Xinhua]. Two recent examples include a young American man, Jason Loose who was spotted in Nanjing sharing his McDonald's meal with a beggar [Sina / WhatsOnJinanGlobal Times / LATimes / CNN], and a Brazilian man in Dongguan who was beaten up after trying to stop a thief while passers-by looked on [Shanghaiist]. "The truth is that no nationality has sovereignty over good or evil deeds," the paper observes. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the comments were not written by a Chinese national, but instead American copy-editor Tom Feeron.

Hu Jintao often talks about a harmonious society. As he hands over the reins to Xi Jinping, it seems that the harmony is rapidly evaporating and an new hardline regime is coming into play.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chen Guangcheng greeted with applause as he arrives in New York

Chen Guangcheng has arrived safely in the United States after two weeks of uncertainty holed up at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing where he had been receiving treatment after leaving the sanctuary of the US Embassy.

Long journey

For the blind lawyer and activist it had been a long and, at times, dramatic journey. That journey started on 22nd April when Chen escaped his house arrest and fled his Shandong home, climbing walls and stumbling across fields to a waiting car. He was driven to Beijing where he sought sanctuary at the US Embassy after having posted a video to YouTube calling on Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate his harsh treatment and human rights in China.

His stay at the embassy was short and he left to seek treatment at the Chaoyang hospital for a broken foot, sustained during his escape. His arrival at the hospital increased the media interest and before long there was an army of journalists and photographers penned in across the street.

For days it seemed unclear what would happen next. As Chen sought permission to leave China to study in America, US diplomats and the press alike were kept away from the activist who was fast becoming an embarrassment to authorities. Despite being reunited with his wife and two children, disturbing reports continued to emerge that Chen's extended family were being victimized.

Deal struck

On Saturday it seemed a deal had been struck behind the scenes, and away from the glare of camera lenses, after Chen Guangcheng was driven away from the hospital and whisked to Beijing International Airport's terminal 3. There he and his family were handed their passports with US visas attached and were, after several hours delay boarded on United Airlines flight 88.

Details were sketchy, and there was no clear confirmation that Chen was even on board until the plane was in the air some two hours later than scheduled.

Media coverage

News of Chen's departure broke on satellite news channels, but details also filtered through on Twitter. CNN's coverage was by far the most extensive with reports coming from Senior International Correspondent Stan Grant, Beijing Correspondent Eunice Yoon and CNN Producer Steven Jiang who boarded Chen's flight.

Sky News broadcast a series of reports throughout the day which included a conversation their Beijing correspondent Holly Williams had secured with Chen. BBC's coverage was light, with Beijing correspondent Martin Patience stretched between providing reports for both the television news channel and BBC World Service radio.

When Chen finally touched down on US soil at 18:16 local time, many media's coverage of the story had dried up. Sky had anticipated his arrival at Newark International Airport outside New York and had periodic live reports.

But waiting media were forced to change their plans. Officials decided that any statement by Chen was best made at the New York university where he is due to study. Sky's broadcast team were forced to rush through traffic to the university.

Sky News, nor the BBC, broadcast his nearly 20 minute address to the waiting media. In fact it appeared only CNN were broadcasting live pictures, via Reuters, as Chen gave his first statement.

Warm welcome

There were cheers from members of the public who had gathered as the dissident stepped from the car, and he was also greeted with a barrage of camera flashes. Smiling broadly, he said - speaking through an interpreter - that he was happy to be in America, and thanked everyone who had helped and given him support.

"Where there is will, there is a way," Chen said. And he called on both his supporters and Chinese authorities to tackle human rights in his home country. "We should link our arms and continue to fight for the goodness in the world and continue to fight injustice … I hope everybody works for me to promote justice and fairness in China," Chen told reporters.

Chen also complimented Chinese authorities. "I am very gratified to see the Chinese government has been dealing with the situation with restraint and calm," the activist said.

However, his pragmatism would not have been seen in China where news of his departure has not been reported. The last report carried by state media was published on the 4th of May when Xinhua carried a statement from a government official which said that Chen would likely be allowed to study in the US. A more recent report that referred to Chen's departure had been deleted on Sunday, though Baidu did still display a cached version of the page. Another report which did remain online merely quoted state media saying that Chen Guangcheng was due to leave China.

How long Chen, dubbed as an 'enemy of the state' by some broadcasters, makes his home in the US is as yet unclear. But at least now he will not suffer the fear of further persecution [BBC / Sky / CNN / Guardian]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Overvalued" & "over-hyped" Facebook IPO begins today

The day has finally come, that of Facebook's IPO. But beyond all the hype there is some cautious advice being discussed amongst investors.

As Friday's IPO launch approached there has been a flurry of reports discussing the merits and pitfalls of the largest social media platform and whether Facebook stock would prove to be a safe investment.


Much of the discussion has hinged on personality as well as the product. There was criticism over Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg's decision to arrive at the New York Stock Exchange in a hoodie, bucking the usual dress-code of a suit and tie.

One pundit Michael Pachter, a Research Analyst at Wedbush Securities, publicly denounced Zuckerberg's hoodie choice in an interview with Bloomberg, calling it a "mark of immaturity."

"He's actually showing investors he doesn't care that much," Pachter said. And this could prove disastrous in the long term if Zuckerberg is not seen as being more business like. Others suggested his wearing a hoodie was 'refreshing' and 'savvy' [CNN /].


It is not just popularity that attracts investors. They will be looking at Zuckerberg's business decisions and Facebook's profits. With a growing number of Facebook users accessing Facebook on a mobile device, the social network is losing advertising revenue. Users of mobile applications aren't bombarded with the advertising seen on the full version accessed via computers due to space limitations. And there was further worrying news after GM stopped advertising on Facebook saying the ads had little impact on consumers [Reuters].

The decision by GM, the third-largest advertiser in the United States, marked the first highly visible crack in Facebook's strategy and underscored doubts about whether advertising on Facebook works better than traditional media.

In fact, it is advertising that puts of many Facebook users. While Internet users searching for things on Google might appreciate advertising more subtly displayed on the right hand column of the browser, those visiting Facebook merely want to connect with friends and catch up with gossip - not buy products.


Companies such as Google, Facebook and others sift through user data and target relevant advertising. Google offer opt outs concerning some data mining, and of course one can always use Google while not signed in or in Chrome's "incognito mode". Nonetheless advertising will still be seen connected to a particular Google search.

While Google and Facebook have been singled out for such data mining, all the major search engines make use of user data in order to target advertising and increase revenues.

But issues concerning privacy on Facebook has raised concerns for many users. Facebook has been forced to readjust its privacy policies several times after a backlash from its growing user base.

With some 900 million users worldwide Facebook is attempting to soothe fears over privacy. Facebook is the subject of "numerous" class action lawsuits in the US, including some from users who claim that the company continued to track them around the web even though they had logged out of the main Facebook website. Analysts also expect the number of lawsuits to grow thanks to the publicity surrounding the flotation [Independent / Daily Mail].

Business decisions

Mark Zuckerberg currently holds a 55.8% voting power, but his recent acquisition of Instagram has raised many eyebrows after he paid $1 billion for the picture sharing app apparently without consulting anyone. And in another buyout, Zuckerberg has purchased London firm Lightbox, which makes a photo app for Android phones.

But while he has promised Instagram users he will keep the service going, Lightbox will no longer be allowing new sign-ups and current users will have until 15th June to download their pictures creating anger amongst some users [Daily Mail / LA Times].

New markets

One area which investors will be looking at is where Facebook will go next. One huge Internet market is China. But the social network faces huge challenges concerning its attempt to gain access to the Middle Kingdom's 500 million Internet users.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Richard Nunn of Charles Stanley Securities says that there is "no short term solution" concerning Facebook's entry into China. Facebook is widely seen as a platform encouraging freedom of speech and has been used extensively to promote causes from the Arab Spring to revolutionary ideas which would be unwelcome by China's leaders.

Even if Facebook could negotiate a way in, establishing itself in China might prove difficult with many already using home-grown sites such as Renren [BBC].


Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying "We don't build services to make money; we make money to build better services." [Forbes] But will such a philosophy, of the 29th richest person on the planet, attract investors? Bloomberg has already carried out a poll of some 1,250 investors and found that 80% thought the company was overvalued. "The next couple of weeks it's gonna rise," says Nunn, "But it may come down because of all the hype."

At $38 per share it makes Facebook worth some $100 billion. Facebook made some $3.7 billion in revenue last year and is set to make even more profit this year. The question is whether it's sustainable.

Another question might be whether anyone really need hundreds of friends. Facebook certainly has its fair share of 'friends'. Since its launch in 2004, Facebook's user base soared to 100 million in four years. By 2012 this had hit a massive 900 million.

But there is a feeling that interest has waned. The constant changes to the website has annoyed many users especially the recent introduction of 'Timeline' [BBC]

While Facebook has certainly been a success thus far, there is a feeling that hayday may be over. For some, Facebook is seen as passé, and with stiff competition from Google+ and other platforms such as Twitter it is unclear how long Facebook will remain the dominant force in social media.

[BBC / Sky / CNN / France24 / RT / Al Jazeera / Xinhua]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Greece, Europe, the Dalai Lama & the China crisis

There was an air of gloom hanging over European markets this morning as Greece seemed to be heading towards financial collapse. The mood was little better in Germany. Angela Merkel, who has fought to avert a financial catastrophe in Europe with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, faced a new challenge with her new team player, François Hollande. Meanwhile a frosty relationship was developing between Britain and China after the prime minister met the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Buddhist also aired his concern over the financial crisis, and offered some spiritual advice on the matter, saying that money and power had failed to bring "inner peace."

Greek instability

There was certainly no peace in Greece. Nine days after Greek elections a viable coalition government has still not been formed and new elections are likely to be held in June. There were indications that the instability is having far wider effects. There are signs that a run on the banks has begun and that the situation could worsen should Greece, as some have predicted, withdraw from the euro.

Karolos Papoulias, the Greek president, warned party leaders that their continued failure to agree was risking "fatal consequences". Citing a secret government document, he said Greeks were already pulling €100 million a day out of the country's banks, totalling some €1 billion (£795 million / $1.2 billion) since the last elections on 6th May.

Euro exit?

While some economists have suggested a euro exit could be accomplished in an orderly way by closing Greek banks while the country prepares to reissue the drachma. Costas Simitis, a former prime minister, said that would spark panic, warning that Greeks would rush to withdraw money from banks. "If they close more than three days there will be a bank run," he said.

A report in Germany's Wirtschaft Woche magazine forecast that a Greek bankruptcy and exit from the euro would cost the governments of the single currency's 17 members £240 billion, pushing the eurozone and European economy into a crisis not seen since the 1930s [Telegraph].

"Grave mistake"

Writing for Bloomberg Clive Crook says withdrawal would be a bad move. Exasperated European Union officials have begun openly discussing the country's exit from the euro currency system, Crook observes, but insists this would be a "grave mistake".

Greece's exit would be no less catastrophic than when the EU called it unthinkable, and not just for Greece, Crook argues. It is a feeling expressed in many circles. "Divorce is never smooth," Luc Coene, the governor of Belgium's central bank and a member of the European Central Bank's governing council, told the Financial Times on 13th May. "I guess an amicable divorce, if that was ever needed, would be possible but I would still regret it."

In such a divorce there would still be the alimony, and in the case of Greece the debts accrued would make a divorce from Europe very painful and costly. Economist Barry Eichengreen, seen as a leading authority on such matters, has argued it would provoke "the mother of all financial crises."

Stocks tank

The collapse of political talks intended to create consensus and agreement has already sent shockwaves through financial markets on Monday which rippled into Tuesday, with only a slight recovery seen as some traders attempted to make good on losses by buying up cheaper stocks.

The euro hit a fresh four-month low against the dollar on Tuesday dropping to $1.27 and slipping slightly against the pound which was worth only 79.6 pence [BBC]. On Wednesday the news was little better with markets around the globe reeling from the euro-crisis. All major indices were affected with the Hang Seng seeing a decline of some 3%. China's stocks fell for a fourth day on speculation the nation's economic slowdown may deepen and as Greece's failure to form a new government increased concern the country will leave the euro [Bloomberg].

Uncomfortable allies

With the radical left in the lead, according to the most recent polls, the Greek economic future is extremely uncertain. Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has already warned that Greece would have to stick to its hardline austerity programme in order to continue to receive the bailout cash needed to pay government salaries and support troubled banks. Yet the far-left anti-austerity party Syriza are looking to abandon the agreements fleshed out by Germany's Angela Merkel and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

And there lies another problem. What had once been a cozy and unified approach to the solving of Europe's economic crisis, is now complicated by an uncomfortable relationship between Germany and its neighbour and its new socialist leader.

Storm clouds

François Hollande was sworn in as the new French president on Tuesday, but soon after the ceremony the heavens opened dampening the mood in Paris and was seen by some as a bad omen for the the administration.

As Hollande flew to Germany to meet with Angela Merkel his plane was struck by lightning and forced to turn back to Paris [BBC]. French officials said no one was hurt, but that the plane had returned to Paris as a precaution.

Forced earlier to change his drenched suit after being caught in rain of biblical proportions, the newly-inaugurated French President boarded a second flight and arrived in Berlin some 90 minutes late.

Growth or austerity

But while smiles and a red carpet greeted the French president, the mood soured after Hollande questioned Angela Merkel's approach to solving the economic crisis.

Both leaders said they wanted to keep debt-stricken Greece in the euro, but there were differences of opinion over how the crisis might be resolved. "Everything must be put on the table by everyone" that could promote growth, Hollande said. And it was his emphasis on growth that may prove to be a stumbling block.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has continually promoted the principle of austerity, for governments not to spend beyond their means, and a need for public finances to be sorted out. Hollande meanwhile is seen as a politician who sides with the theory that countries can spend their way out of recession.

An informal summit has been arranged for 23rd May, but if a compromise cannot be met Europe may enter a perilous new phase of financial problems [BBC].

Britain's position

Across the English channel the Europe's financial issues are still a cause for concern despite the fact that Britain has not entered the euro. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned that uncertainty was "particularly damaging" to struggling economies across Europe including Britain, and he urged  leaders to negotiate a solution "as soon as possible".

Meanwhile Chancellor George Osborne flew into Brussels to discuss the crisis with other countries which have not adopted the European currency. Part of the discussions hinged around rules over banking, and the Chancellor was seen to have scored a victory over his European rivals by securing the right to impose stricter financial regulation on Britain's banks [Telegraph].

Rift with China

Such concessions might be only a small victory if Britain loses business deals which some feared might result from a diplomatic crisis that was brewing over a visit to Britain by the Dalai Lama.

David Cameron's efforts to court Chinese business appeared to have backfired yesterday, as Beijing accused the Prime Minister of "hurting its feelings" and "damaging relations" by meeting the spiritual leader.

Deputy Foreign Minister Song Tao summoned British Ambassador to China, Sebastian Wood, to give him a dressing down after Cameron and Clegg met the Dalai Lama at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

"Damaged relations"

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei said the meeting had "seriously damaged the relations between China and the UK" and called on Britain "to respond to China's solemn demand and stop conniving and supporting Tibetan separatists." [Xinhua]

In a stern response from China's Deputy Foreign Minister, Song Tao said the meeting had "impaired China's core interest" and put bilateral relations at risk. "It has impaired China's core interest and hurt the feeling of the Chinese people There must be concrete actions on the British side to create enabling conditions for the sound development of bilateral relations," Song said in a statement published by China Daily.

It is not clear if business deals would be affected following the meeting, though Downing Street attempted to downplay the affair. "The Dalai Lama is an important religious figure," spokesman Steve Field told reporters. "We do not want to see our relationship with China disrupted by the visit of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama travels all over the world and has visited the U.K. several times in the past," holding meetings with Cameron's predecessors, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair." [Bloomberg / Telegraph / Guardian / Daily Mail]

"Money, money, money"

The Tibetan spiritual leader had arrived in London to receive the annual Templeton Prize awarded for exceptional contributions to "affirming life's spiritual dimension". In accepting the award the Dalai Lama said he would donate £900,000 to Save the Children in India, with £125,000 set aside for The Minds and Life Institute, a body dedicated to creating a working collaboration and research partnership between modern science and Buddhism.

During his visit he expressed his dismay at the riots which swept across parts of Britain last year. It was vital to find the reasons for the "frustration and anger" behind the outburst of violence in English cities, the Dalai Lama said.

He accused governments and the media alike of "brainwashing" children with "money, money, money" ideas. In response to the economic hardship that many people are experiencing, the spiritual leader said people should put their faith in "optimism and hard work" rather than blaming others.

The economic crisis had been created by man, not God, and every effort was needed to tackle the crisis, he said. "We must make every effort to work on these things," the Dalai Lama said. "We need self confidence, please do not feel helpless or hopeless." [BBC]

Stormy weather

Speaking on Wednesday morning Bank of England's Mervyn King delivered his forecast concerning Britain's economy saying the Eurozone posed the greatest risk. "We don't know when the clouds will move away," King told reporters. However he was optimistic saying that "the stormy weather would move away" and there would be "a steady recovery" with Britain's economy eventually reaching "calmer waters".

While output had slowed, and become almost stagnant, there was no reason why it could not return to previous levels. However, King said it might take "ten, fifteen, even twenty years to get there".

In his quarterly inflation report King said that inflation would likely remain above the government's 2% target. Addressing the crisis in Europe King said that Britain should not be complacent because it had not adopted the single currency. "The fact that we're not in the euro does not mean we're not going to be affected," King told reporters. The crisis had created creditors and debtors and these groups needed to be dealt with. "These are not liquidity problems, they are solvency problems," King iterated, "and the credit losses will need to be recognised."

"Get a grip"

While mainly confining his assessment to Britain's economy, King observed that growth had slowed around the globe. And he pressed on his colleagues in Europe to "get a grip on it".

For Britain's part "we need to stave growth with low inflation," King said. But having put forward his proposals he added that it was now up to the government to do the right thing. "I will do no more shouting. Others will now have to respond."

China crisis

There was little if any mention to China, but the euro crisis is having a sharp effect, not only in the markets but also in manufacturing output. China's economy has cooled abruptly and there has been a wave of bankruptcies. 

"I can see about one-fifth to one-third of the factories are about to close, and owners are preparing to sell off their equipment," said Gao, general manager of Taiyuan Fanhe Engineering Co. [Economic Times]. China's economic growth has decelerated as export demand and consumer spending at home weaken, raising the threat of job losses and possible unrest. Just as leaders in democratic countries have been under pressure in the wake of the economic turmoil seen across Europe and the the Americas, China's new leadership, which is set to take the reins later this year, will face difficulties in calming dissent if unemployment grows significantly.

The rhetoric issued by Beijing with suggestions that business might suffer because of meetings with the Dalai Lama are unlikely to manifest themselves with action. "We're all in this together," George Osborne said earlier this year, as he put forward proposals to cut Britain's deficit. However the ongoing economic crisis is solved, and however long it takes to turn the ship around, it is clear that the whole world is in the same boat.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, May 12, 2012

War talk as tensions between China & Philippines grow

China's Defence ministry has refuted reports that its military was increasing combat readiness in the wake of an increasingly tense situation that has developed between China and the Philippines over a disputed territory some 200 km off the coast of the South-East Asian country.

Disputed territory

The dispute concerns the waters surround a small group of rocks known as the Scarborough Shoal and which provides rich pickings for fishermen. It is also believed that oil and gas reserves may be in abundance in the area.

The wrangle, over who the island and its surrounding waters belong to, has persisted for some time. But over recent weeks the rhetoric has increased significantly. China has accused the Philippines of escalating the already tense territorial dispute following a noisy but peaceful anti-Beijing protest in Manila on Friday yet China's media has only fueled anger amongst Filipinos [BBC].


On Thursday this week China warned its citizens in the Philippines to "stay indoors" as its state media warned of war over the month-long dispute in the South China Sea. With hostility growing some advice was sensible. Beijing issued a travel advisory warning its citizens to keep a low profile given potential feelings of animosity that might be shown towards Chinese citizens. "Avoid going out at all if possible, and if not, to avoid going out alone," the advisory said. "If you come across any demonstrations, leave the area, do not stay to watch."


Meanwhile there were reports coming via Japan which claimed that five Chinese warships, including two guided missile destroyers, two frigates and an amphibious landing ship, had passed through waters close to Okinawa moving towards the Philippine reefs.

But the first sign of any Chinese presence near the rock outcrop was not a warship, but a lone reporter Zhang Fan of Shanghai's Dragon TV symbolically raising the Chinese flag on the deserted rock.


Hong Lei the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman has insisted the recent escalation is entirely down to the Philippine government. "The current situation concerning the Huangyan island is unilaterally caused by the Philippines," Hong said at a recent press briefing, "Over the recent days the Philippine side escalated the situation."

But the Chinese media has not helped calm the situation with signs of growing nationalism and talk of war. The Communist mouthpiece the Global Times suggested that "Peace will be a miracle if provocation lasts".  "Chinese authorities should make a stand and show their principles to the public, not torment their tolerance," the paper said.


Meanwhile presenters on some television programmes were making remarks that boosted the nationalistic claims even further. "We all know that the Philippines has always been a part of Chinese territory," a TV anchor on China's state run CCTV 13 said [YouTube - Chinese], "The Philippines is under Chinese sovereignty. This is an indisputable fact". She later claimed that the inference that the whole of the Philippines were part of China was a "slip of the tongue", but such language will do nothing to calm the mood in the region.

"Are we going to war?" the presenter of CCTV's English language programme Dialogue asked. He answered the question by quoting US president Barack Obama, suggesting that "All options were on the table." [BBC / CNN / Telegraph]

Taiwan's NMA news channel made light of the story with one of its well known animated reports [YouTube]. However, the situation could not be more serious, not only for the Philippines around which this current dispute hinges, but also for the many other nations in the region with which China has territorial disputes, including Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia [YouTube - Economist].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Doubletalk & memory holes as Melissa Chan expelled

In the bleak dystopia described in George Orwell's book 1984 the author describes how the state would control truth, deleting individuals and events from history. A person deemed irrelevant might become an 'Unperson' and 'vaporized'.


Vaporization would not only include their physical destruction. Such people would also be erased from history with any mentions in books, newspapers along with photographs and film being consigned to the bin. Any trace of such individuals would no longer exist. To further manipulate the general public the state would engage in a process of twisting words and language. Referred to by Orwell as Newspeak, it has also become known as Doublespeak. The state would employ such methods to deliberately disguise, distort, or reverse the meaning of words.

Orwell's book was written as a  warning and fictional account of how a totalitarian state might engage in control its people and scrubbing consigning contentious events from the history books.

But today, some 64 years after Orwell wrote his novel, one could be forgiven in thinking it was written as a proposal or blueprint for leaders and dictators. Even in western democratic societies there are examples of the dystopian vision imagined by Orwell. There may not be cameras trained on the public through their 'telescreens' or televisions, though there is virtually constant surveillance through CCTV and ANPR systems, while Internet monitoring and cellphone tracking is becoming all too real.


Doublespeak can also be seen, taking the form of euphemisms, such as "downsizing" for layoffs, "servicing the target" for bombing, or "collateral damage" for civilian deaths. Such terms are usually employed to make the truth less unpleasant, rather than covering up the actual truth. Intentional ambiguity is rare but there are occasions where government or official statements could be described as deliberately evasive or even untruthful.

There are some states that have refined doublespeak and vaporization to a fine art. China in particular has developed techniques that are not only insidious but almost 100% effective.


Vaporized individuals may not be put to death, but if required they can be quietly disappeared and any mentions be eradicated from all forms of media. Even where their existence cannot be deleted, the facts surrounding them is manipulated, distorted and controlled. Such is the case of Melissa Chan, the Al-Jazeera correspondent who this week became an 'unperson' and of dissident Chen Guangcheng whose names and any reference to it are being wiped from microblogs and online forums [CBS].

China refused to renew Melissa Chan's visa and press credentials, nor would it allow the news channel to send another journalist to replace her. It effectively forced Al-Jazeera to shut its Beijing bureau leaving the organisation unable to report directly from China.

Stifled news

But the news was not widely reported in China. Few Chinese-language newspapers reported on the expulsion. Two exceptions were the Hong Kong-affiliated Ta Kung Pao paper from Henan province and the Global Times. The article in the English language version of the Global Times was defensive of China's position and scathing of Chan's "aggressive political stance" claiming she had "a tense relationship with the management authorities of foreign correspondents" while insinuating she would "turn facts upside down" in her reporting.

"Some media are only keen to show the wickedness of China to the world," the OpEd piece proclaimed, and insisted that "foreign journalists in China must abide by journalistic ethics."

Evasive responses

The state news agency Xinhua gave only scant mention of Chan's expulsion and the Foreign Ministry expunged any reference to the episode from the daily press conference transcript on its website despite dozens of questions having been asked of its spokesman Hong Lei.

"I just want to know whether the expulsion of Melissa Chan should be seen as a warning to other journalists operating in China?" one reporter had asked. Hong's answer evaded the question with a claim that he had already addressed the issue. "I have just answered relevant questions. On the issue of foreign journalists our policies and moves are easy to see. We will continue to provide convenience for foreign journalists reporting in China and we welcome foreign journalists to report in China. At the same time we need to stress that foreign journalists should abide by Chinese laws and regulations, as well as professional ethics of journalists while reporting in China."

Asked if and under what circumstances Al-Jazeera might be given press credentials and visas for a new reporter, Hong insisted the Beijing branch of Al Jazeera was "still functioning normally." Strange given that the news channel themselves had announced they had shut the bureau.

Despite being pressed several times concerning why Chan had been expelled and what other journalists might expect, Hong continued in repeating himself. [Transcript - VoA / Censored Chinese transcript]

Madeline Earp, an associate of the Committee to Protect Journalists, described Hong's explanations as "a mixture of denial and obfuscation... It was a convenient way to avoid being relevant himself."

Memory holes

In 1984, George Orwell wrote about the 'memory holes' down which inconvenient documents were dropped to be erased from history. Melissa Chan's expulsion seemed to have become just such an inconvenient truth and has been dropped into a 'memory hole'.

Outside of China Melissa Chan has not been censored, though she was initially rather quiet on her Twitter feed until her arrival back in the US . Her reports are preserved online however and can be viewed on YouTube [Link / Link] and via the Al-Jazeera website.

The FCCC and the US State Department have both been a little more forthcoming on the matter. The FCCC said they were "appalled" by the move to expel the reporter while the US State Dept spokesman Mark C. Toner said  the US was "disappointed in the Chinese government". "To our knowledge she operated and reported in accordance with Chinese law," Toner added.


While the truth, reasons and details behind Chan's expulsion may never be known, there is much speculation. Chan's reporting on China would certainly have ruffled feathers. But her dispatches for Al-Jazeera were in many ways little different from those produced by Sky News, the BBC or CNN. In some ways Al-Jazeera was less high profile that these other broadcasters which have all aired highly critical reports on China's flaws.

There are few foreign journalists who have completely avoided harassment in China. Even during the period during the Olympics when China agreed to relax rules on reporting in China, journalists found themselves impeded. Sky's correspondent Holly Williams has had several brushes with China's law enforcement. In 2008 officials interrupted filming of a corn farmer in Mancheng, Hebei province as the Sky TV crew were working on a story about the drought in northern China. Holly Williams said the officials very aggressively told the woman farmer to halt what she was doing and then demanded to see the IDs of the film crew even though they were wearing Olympic IDs. The officials refused to show their own identification, but blocked filming by putting their hands over the camera and on the microphone. They then followed the film crew in a car all the way back to the Beijing city limits. "It certainly had an impact on our story," Williams said at the time. "We needed the shot of corn farming, but we couldn't do it." [FCCC]

The BBC reporter Dammian Grammaticas and his cameraman were manhandled and arrested after attempting to film the so-called Jasmine protests in Beijing in 2011 [BBC]. Other reporters, photographers and cameramen were treated far more aggressively with at least one being hospitalised. CNN has also pushed the boundaries set by China. Stan Grant has on several occasions attempted to visit the blind dissident Chen Guangcheng and been met with violence or thuggery.

Over the last two weeks authorities have stepped up their harassment of foreign correspondents. Over the weekend, police called in about a dozen foreign reporters, threatening to revoke their visas for allegedly breaking rules in reporting the case of the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng by entering the car park of the hospital where he is receiving medical care [Independent]. Foreign press near to the hospital have undergone almost constant checks by police. However, as one  Isaac Stone Fish suggests, those who appear to be Chinese often avoid such scrutiny.

"Executives and reporters with Chinese backgrounds have many advantages operating in China," Fish writes. "Besides language skills and local networks, they can blend in a country where different color skin clearly identifies one as an outsider." Of course it does not always offer an advantage, Fish observes. "They seem to be given less leniency when they don't follow China's laws; like they're supposed to know better."

While western looking reporters might enter the news bureaus hosted in two diplomatic compounds in the Jianguomen neighborhood unimpeded, Fish says he often saw foreign reporters who looked Chinese being continually checked for their ID. Such apparent prejudice can occasionally be seen elsewhere. At gated communities foreigners often enter unchallenged while those that appear to be Chinese are questioned and checked.

Having the appearance of being Chinese would have given Chan an advantage of getting into places that a person looking clearly western would find difficulty accessing. Language skills may have also been an advantage. But her expulsion is more likely to be a warning. There appears to be a thinking that the throwing out a reporter from Al-Jazeera would attract little attention, while sending a stark warning to its larger rivals.

News channels 'quiet'

If the BBC had been expelled, or CNN's Stan Grant been sent on his way, the ripples and critical voices might have been much louder. As it is, much of the criticism has been confined to a few sentences from those who matter plus a lot of commentary on the web. Al-Jazeera has given little coverage to the story, expressing its "disappointment" in a rather weak response on its website.

On the day itself the news channel did not even mention the expulsion or closure of its Beijing bureau. In fact in terms of television broadcasts only CNN mentioned the expulsion.

In 2010 China's Xinhua news agency opened a state-of-the-art newsroom at the top of a skyscraper in Times Square [WSJ]. CNC World, the agency's twenty-four-hour news channel, claims to "present an international vision with a Chinese perspective."

Predictably, there was no word of Chen Guangcheng's plight as he languishes in Chaoyang hospital in Beijing uncertain of his future and whether he'll ever be allowed to fly to the US. The news channel also omitted to mention Melissa Chan. Also omitted by nearly every news organisation was the fact that other staff at the Beijing bureau of Al-Jazeera are left in limbo as their jobs remain at risk.

The final word should perhaps go to George Orwell who himself said, "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations."

[See also: Sky / BBC / Al-Jazeera / Guardian / New Yorker / Rectified]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Virgin Media hacked, condemned by Pirate Bay

Virgin Media has suffered hacking attacks targeting its website following its compliance with a court order to block the illegal file sharing website The Pirate Bay [TPB]. However The Pirate Bay condemned that DDoS attacks saying they constituted a form of censorship in themselves.

Virgin first to comply

The ISP was the first to block access to the website and others are expected to follow suit with Sky, Everything Everywhere, TalkTalk and O2 all ordered to prevent their users being able to visit TPB by Friday 11th May.

Twitter feeds associated with the Anonymous collective announced, "Virgin Media - Tango Down #OpTPB". While Virgin Media was forced to take its website down, there was no lasting damage and the site was up after little more than an hour [BBC].

Proxies & copycats

The DDoS attacks are an indication that users of the file sharing website will not take the injunctions and web-blocks lying down. Within hours of Virgin Media's block on The Pirate Bay alternative links were being disseminated through Twitter and other social networks.

However, there are signs the situation is also being exploited by individuals wanting to make money. "Unauthorised copies" of The Pirate Bay were drawing in some users exposing them to potential charges. Several of the copycats are said to have inserted requests for payments into the unlicensed material indexed by The Pirate Bay.


The Pirate Bay are enraged, and have launched a vitriolic attack on those emulating their website. "Charging money for free downloads is against the whole philosophy of the internets [sic]. We do not condone anything like that. This site [] is a bad copy of other sites, like TPB, and it's totally meaningless. Go for another site," the Swedish Pirates said in a statement.

In its war with the ISPs and the copycats The Pirate Bay has renamed itself The Hydra Bay complete with a new logo and a list of more than 40 proxy addresses. The new name is in reference to an ancient nameless serpent-like beast with reptilian traits that possessed many heads, referred to in Greek mythology [Lernaean Hydra]. According to legend the severing of one head resulted in two more growing back, though one head was said to be immortal.

Court order

The court order makes provision for ISPs to add other proxies to the list, though to date only the main domain has been blocked. For its part Virgin Media insists that it is only blocking access to The Pirate Bay because it was forced to do so. Users of Virgin Media trying to access The Pirate Bay are redirected to another page and a statement from the ISP which reads, "Sorry, the web page you have requested is not available through Virgin Media. Virgin Media has received an order from the Courts requiring us to prevent access to this site in order to help protect against copyright infringement." In a reaction to the court order, Virgin Media said there needed to be "compelling legal alternatives" in order to change consumer behaviour.

Copyright defenders, including the British recorded music industry body BPI, have argued that illegal copies of films, books and music made available on file-sharing sites destroy creative industry jobs and discourage investment in new talent.


The perceived losses have prompted companies and organisations representing copyright holders to lobby governments to introduce stronger legislation and methods to stop file sharing. While those downloading music, movies and computer programs for free are reducing profits of the record companies, film makers and the like, many file sharers argue that banning free file-sharing would not translate into extra sales for the copyright owners.

For those who have a disposable income, spending a few dollars, pounds or euros on a legitimate DVD, CD or computer program is simply easier than searching, downloading, unzipping and saving files on the Internet. Those that download such material are more likely to be unemployed, have smaller incomes and less money to spend on the legal product.

A person working 8 hours a day and arriving home at 6pm is more likely to buy a DVD from the local supermarket, make a purchase from an online store or simply flick on the television after a hard day at the office.


Such arguments do not wash with corporate business however. Anti piracy groups are chasing file sharers and looking to judges to impose harsh penalties. In one case due to be heard in the Czech republic later this month an individual who allegedly uploaded thousands of movies and TV shows to file sharing services will face trial and a possible 5 year prison sentence.

The 29-year-old committed the alleged infringements over a period of more than 4 years and is accused by the movie industry of costing them nearly $4.2m. But the charges have been labelled as ridiculous by those who defend the right to share files on the Internet. "The way they estimated the damages is simply ridiculous," said Mikulas Ferjencik, vice-president of the Czech Pirate Party. "The Czech Pirate Party believes that it should be up to the copyright monopoly owners to prove that they were actually damaged by downloads. We think that the current setup, where copyright monopoly owners receive the 'average market price' multiplied by three, is unconstitutional."


The growing restrictions and perceived censorship has prompted an interest in VPNs, or virtual private networks, in order to circumvent such blocks. Use of such software has mostly been seen by those in countries like China and Iran where governments seek to block access to sites considered subversive.

Proposals to monitor Internet activity which will be announced in the Queen's Speech today [Wednesday 9th May 2012] will raise the stakes further. Privacy advocates, as well as file sharers, will be looking closely at how such measures will affect online activity.

The director of Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, said web blocking was "a crude tool" and would not stop "determined users". Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said the moves seen recently were "pointless and dangerous" and would turn "criminals into heroes".

Pirate Bay condemns hacks

Concerning the attacks on Virgin Media, The Pirate Bay condemned the hacks. "DDoS and blocks are both forms of censorship," The Pirate Bay said in a statement posted to its Facebook page. "We'd like to be clear about our view on this: We do NOT encourage these actions. We believe in the open and free internets [sic], where anyone can express their views. Even if we strongly disagree with them and even if they hate us. So don't fight them using their ugly methods."

"If you want to help; start a tracker, arrange a manifestation, join or start a pirate party, teach your friends the art of bittorrent [sic], set up a proxy, write your political representatives, develop a new p2p protocol, print some pro piracy posters and decorate your town with, support our promo bay artists or just be a nice person and give your mom a call to tell her you love her." [ZDNet]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

US foil new underwear bomb plot, reports

The US has foiled a plot by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to detonate an updated version of the failed 2009 "underwear bomb". A device has been seized following a CIA operation in Yemen and is now being studied by the FBI in the United States.

"No immediate threat"

The plot was discovered before it threatened any Americans, and no airliners were at risk, one US counterterrorism official said. A nonmetallic explosive device like the one used in the failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound jet in 2009 was recovered.

However, officials stressed that there was no immediate threat. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said authorities have "no specific, credible information regarding an active terrorist plot against the US at this time." Reports say no target had been chosen and no plane tickets purchased by the time the alleged plot was foiled.

President Barack Obama was told about the plot in April, and the attempt "underscores the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism here and abroad," the White House said.

Similar to failed 2009 device

The device is said to be similar to a bomb sewn into the underwear of would-be suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who tried and failed to set off the device over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 [See tvnewswatch: Security increased after failed plane attack / tvnewswatch: Body scanner debate grows after attack].

"As a result of close co-operation with our security and intelligence partners overseas, an improvised explosive device (IED) designed to carry out a terrorist attack has been seized abroad," the FBI said in a statement. "Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to IEDs that have been used previously by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks, including against aircraft and for targeted assassinations," it added.

Updated & improved

According to reports the device is an improved model of that used by Abdulmutallab. It is said to have a more effective detonation system, has no metal parts and probably would not have been detected by most airport security systems.

If the terror groups have perfected such an explosive system, the news will unnerve those implementing airline security. Attempting to screen the millions of passengers travelling every day with current methods might prove ineffective with such a device. While body scanners are in place at many airports around the world in many cases their use is random. It is not clear if the device would be revealed by such scanners.

[Further reports: BBC / Sky / CNN / Fox News / Telegraph / D Mail]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Al-Jazeera shuts Beijing office as reporter Melissa Chan is expelled

Al-Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan has been expelled from China forcing the news channel to shut down its Beijing bureau. Authorities refused to renew her press accreditation and visa, forcing the correspondent out of the country. China also refused to allow the broadcaster to send a replacement journalist.

No reason given

No reason was given for the refusal to renew Chan's papers, but there are suggestions it may be in retaliation to a documentary aired in November 2011 which highlighted forced labour in Chinese prisons.

Chan was not involved in the making of the film though as a correspondent for Al-Jazeera since 2007 she has filed some 400 stories covering sensitive issues concerning domestic politics, foreign policy, the environment, social justice, labour rights and human rights.


Her expulsion is seen as a warning to other journalists not step over the line and to generally intimidate foreign media operating in the country. In recent days China has been on edge with the reporting of the plight of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who fled to the US Embassy and has recently been holed up at the Chaoyang Hospital. While several news crews were allowed to set up opposite the entrance to the hospital, there have been strict warnings given by police that any media stepping beyond the cordons would have their visa revoked. In a report aired by CNN's Stan Grant over the weekend, he explained that the authorities were being very officious in their handling of reporters near the hospital. It is not known if Chan fell foul of authorities concerning her reporting of the Chen Guangcheng story or if China had been looking to expel her for sometime.


The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said it was "appalled" by the decision which was likely motivated by a general feeling of distrust concerning the news channel. "Chinese officials had expressed anger at a documentary the channel aired last November. Melissa Chan did not even play a part in making that documentary," the FCCC said in a statement. "They have also expressed unhappiness with the general editorial content on Al-Jazeera English and accused Ms Chan of violating rules and regulations that they have not specified."

Chan tweets

Chan had not been seen on the news channel for several days prior to today's news release and had apparently been taking time off for study. She was recently accepted as a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford for the 2012-13 academic year, though it was not immediately clear how this would have impacted her work at Al-Jazeera. Her 5 day silence on Twitter was broken after she confirmed the news of her expulsion. "Yes my press credentials have been revoked and I will no longer report f/ China," she tweeted.


The Qatar-based news broadcaster said it would continue to cover China and hoped to work with Beijing in an attempt to reopen the bureau. "We are committed to our coverage of China. Just as China news services cover the world freely, we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al Jazeera journalist," the channel said.

Previous cases

Chan's expulsion is the first such case of a foreign journalist being barred for some 14 years. In 1998 Der Spiegel's correspondent Juergen Kremb was expelled for allegedly being in possession of state secrets [BBC]. Kremb denied the allegations. That same year Yukihisa Nakatsu, a reporter for Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, was also denied the right to report from within China after being accused of obtaining state secrets, allegedly stemming from his contacts with a Chinese economic journalist arrested earlier by police.

The news of Al-Jazeera being forced to close its Beijing bureau was not reported in China itself. Searches on Baidu and Panguso, two of China's major search engines, also failed to return any relevant results.

[Further reports: BBC / CNN / Al-Jazeera / France24 / Guardian / Reuters / NYT / Globe & Mail / Washington Post]

tvnewswatch, London, UK