brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

May 31, 2007

Police: Nicaraguan girl killed American

Filed under: global islands,nicaragua — admin @ 6:02 am

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – A pregnant Nicaraguan teenager allegedly shot her 53-year-old American lover and enlisted her siblings to help dismember the body, police said Tuesday.

The girl said her 14-year-old sister and 19-year-old brother helped her cut up the body to put the pieces in plastic bags. They then drove outside the city and buried the bags in two different places in northern Nicaragua, Herrera said.

Ken Kinzel disappeared in Nicaragua two weeks ago. Details of what exactly happened to him are still coming into focus. But at this point here’s what is known for sure, according to his best friend, his wife and reports from the Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario:

Kinzel is dead.

He was 52.

And a 17-year-old pregnant Nicaraguan with whom he was having an affair has confessed to shooting him in the head and throat and then cutting him up with a chain saw.

The girl told her mother and then police she took his body parts to four different rural locations.

“I’m completely overwhelmed, ” Kinzel’s wife, Marty Jo Johnson, said Monday night when reached on her cell phone.

The girl met Kinzel in December and apparently introduced herself as a 21-year-old college student. She is eight months pregnant, according to El Nuevo Diario, which means the child couldn’t have been Kinzel’s, Johnson said Monday.

Kinzel, who grew up on 62nd Terrace S and lived in that house after his mother died in 2002, got involved with Nicaragua as the stateside coordinator of ProNica, a nonprofit Quaker organization with offices in St. Petersburg and Managua, Nicaragua.

He was no longer the coordinator, though, and last year he sold the house on 62nd Terrace S and bought land outside Esteli.

The Death of Media Freedom in Sri Lanka

Filed under: global islands,media,sri lanka — admin @ 5:49 am

Sri Lanka is a country at war. As a direct consequence of the increase in hostilities between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression and media freedom, have severely deteriorated over the past year. Despite international condemnation and repeated local protests, the GoSL and LTTE are unable, or unwilling, to put an end to a culture of impunity that has cost some journalists and human rights activists their lives and places other at severe risk. The violence directed against pro-democracy voices in civil society has resulted in a fear psychosis amongst the media community in particular. Hate speech and open threats to even senior journalists are now, perversely, routine by members of the government and highly placed public servants. Abductions, murders and severe erosion of safety for working journalists stunts the growth of investigative reportage and results in a de facto censorship of issues related to justice, the Rule of Law, human rights and democracy.
The situation is already impossible, and unbelievably, getting worse. The Free Media Movement (FMM) considers World Press Freedom Day in 2007 to be a day to mourn, not celebrate, media freedom in Sri Lanka. Facts, which speak for themselves, on the deterioration of media freedom and fundamental rights in Sri Lanka in general, deny us even a cautious optimism on securing and strengthening media freedom in the near future. Calls to clarify the government’s position on hate speech and intimidatory tactics adopted and promoted by members of parliament and senior officials have fallen on deaf ears. Investigations into the deaths of journalists are stalled, unable to continue sans the political will to bring perpetrators of heinous crimes to justice. Journalists have been forced to flee Sri Lanka. Those who remain are in fear of their lives, in a context in which the Rule of Law withers in suspended animation. The threat to media freedom is real and palpable for those working in Sri Lanka and, especially, journalists who advocate the inviolability of human rights and basic norms of democracy even at a time of war. Unfortunately, the timbre of living constantly in fear and repression, and the significant erosion of media freedom and fundamental rights, isn’t always easily communicated to the international community, or can be.
This is our foremost challenge. On the one hand, free media is a vital bulwark against a total erasure of fundamental rights. Media, acting in the interests of the public, have a responsibility to report critically on all actors involved in the on-going conflict, including the Government and the LTTE. To harm the media, to threaten the media or otherwise seek to control free media is inimical to the fundamental tenets of democracy. Regrettably, this is precisely what journalists in Sri Lanka face today. Accordingly, this brief statement by the FMM seeks to a) flag key issues facing the media today and b) propose recommendations to address the significant deterioration of media freedom.
The failure to stop the erosion of media freedom in Sri Lanka is quite simply that the manner in which the State seeks to combat terrorism will itself give birth to a new tyranny and despotism in Sri Lanka. The possibility of deeper cycles of violent conflict that will be the inevitable result thereof is a frightening yet compelling appeal to all democratic stakeholders, local and international, to urge those responsible for the continuation of the on-going violence to desist.
Fundamentally, it is Sri Lanka’s future as a vibrant and viable democracy that is at stake.

May 30, 2007

The rise and fall of Pate Island

Filed under: global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:56 am

Pate Island gained prominence in the 14th Century under Arab rule.

In 1597 the Portuguese destroyed Faza town in Pate when the Sheikh supported their enemy, Mirale Bey.

A notorious privateer, Bey had played a key role in ousting the Portuguese from Muscat in Oman.

The Portuguese raided Faza from Goa with 650 men and killed everybody — including the Sheikh, whose head they preserved in a barrel of salt for display in India.

After the four-day massacre, the Portuguese invited Faza’s archrivals in Pate town to loot.

Town excelled in fine arts

Neglected cannons at the historic Siu Fort on Pate Island. The cannons were used during wars between locals, Portuguese and Omani Arab invaders.Although it rose from the ruins in the 18th century, Faza had been overtaken by Pate town. To date Pate town is more developed than Faza and has guesthouses and shops.

Despite being a tourist attraction, Faza has no lodging or hotel.

Pate town, which was founded by refugees from Oman in the 8th century, is situated on the Southwest of Pate Island. According to Wikipedia, members of the Nabahani family from Oman founded the town in 1204.

Pate town became so powerful that it overshadowed most of the towns along the East African coast. Recent archaeological findings by Mr Neville Chittick, an archaeologist, suggest that the town could be younger.

Pate’s “Golden Age” was in the 18th century when the town underwent a renaissance. The town excelled in fine arts. Builders constructed some of the finest houses on the East African coast. They had extensive and elaborate plaster works.

Pate fell due to continuous wars with its neighbours

Weavers made fine silk cloths, goldsmiths created intricate jewellery and carpenters carved fine wooden furniture.

The town produced the famous Siwa drum, two of which are on display at Lamu Museum.

Poets excelled in writing poetry in Kiamu, a Kiswahili dialect.

The 19th century renowned poet, Mwana Kupona, lived in Pate town — where one of the earliest known Kiswahili document: Utendi wa Tambuka, was written in the royal Yunga Palace.

Pate fell due to continuous wars with its neighbours. The famous Battle of Shela, which was between Pate and Lamu, ended in a costly defeat.

Many people were killed and only a handful soldiers returned to Pate. By 1892 the town’s population had dwindled to only 300 people from 7,000.

Village is known for its leather craft

Despite its rich history, Pate has no jetty or footbridge. After alighting at Mtangawanda, village visitors walk for about 45 minutes.

Siyu village on the north coast of Pate Island dates back to the 13th century. A visitor to the town in 1606, Gaspar de Santo Bernadino, described it as the largest town on the island.

The village is known for its leather craft, including sandals, belts and stools.

Siyu defied the Sultan of Zanzibar through several battles. They led to the building of Fort Siu under the direction of their leader, Bwana Mataka.

The fort played a critical role in 1843 when Bwana Mataka and the Sheikh of Pate repudiated the sovereignty of the Sultan of Oman and Zanzibar, Seyyid Said.

Said assembled an army of 2,000 people from Muscat, Baluchistan and Lamu to attack Siyu and Pate.

Fort walls have gaping cracks

A relative of the Sultan — General Seyyid Hamad bin Ahmed Al-Busaidy — led the army that landed in Faza in January 1844.

On its way to Siyu the army was ambushed and forced back to Faza. The general was killed near Siyu in 1844 and the army sailed away after six weeks of losses.

The general’s inscribed tombstone near the shores of Faza — which was built by his great, great granddaughter, the Sultana of Zanzibar, in 1959 — stands as a reminder of the battle. The cracked tomb is neglected.

The Fort, which is owned by the National Museums of Kenya, is dilapidated. The walls have gaping cracks. The cannons that were used during the wars are rusting away in front of the fort.

Officials at the National Museums of Kenya say they are not aware that the fort is crumbling. When first contacted, they seemed unaware that it existed.

Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh

Filed under: bangladesh,global islands — admin @ 5:51 am

Syed Kamal—President, Stateless People of Bangladesh, an organization that assists stateless Biharis in Pakistan trying to get citizenship in Pakistan or Bangladesh

When Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan, the Bihari minority group wanted Pakistani citizenship. There are as many as 500,000 stateless Biharis. More than thirty years later, neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh will recognize them as citizens. This often means they can’t get jobs, travel, or access education. Syed Kamal is working to get citizenship and legal recognition for this community.

May 29, 2007

Nepal’s tallest man on world peace tour visits Bangladesh

Filed under: bangladesh,General,global islands,media — admin @ 4:54 am

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Rajan Adhikari is using the reach his fame as Nepal’s tallest man has given him to travel the world spreading goodwill.

Adhikari, along with his traveling companion Chitra Poudel, a disabled cyclist, arrived in Bangladesh last week as part of a projected world tour that will cover some 125 countries.

“Our objective is to spread the message of peace and universal brotherhood in a world suffering from violence, intolerance and hatred,” Adhikari, with Poudel translating for him, told reporters over the weekend at the Nepalese Embassy in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

“In Nepal, people know Rajan well. We want to use that popularity,” Poudel added.

Adhikari and Poudel began their journey on May 2, traveling by bus and train through Pakistan and India before reaching Bangladesh last week.

They will use local transport on the trip, supported by groups such as Nepal Airlines, Nepal’s tourism board and a local distillery, which employs Adhikari as a brand ambassador.

After a two month break, they will continue their journey, which they say will take six to 10 years.

Adhikari, who measures 7 feet 3 inches (2.21 meters), said it feels good to be so tall, but his height has its downside, too.

He needs to get his clothes, shoes and home furniture made to order. He has no unusual medical problems, but gets backaches from walking too long.

He sometimes feels hurt when people make fun of his height, said Adhikari with a quick smile.

Adhikari grew normally until age 10. At 25, he reached his current height and underwent a pituitary gland operation to control his growth hormones.

Adhikari’s wife is five feet two inches (1.57 meters) tall, and their two small children — aged 5 and 6 months — are growing normally for now.

Poudel, 24, whose right leg was affected by childhood polio, says he traveled across Nepal by bicycle, doing 18,000 kilometers (11,185 miles) in 19 days. He now heads a foundation that looks after the interests of “unusual people.”

The pair will take their first international flight next week to Thailand, and travel to Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore before flying home in September, in the first phase of their tour.

During his travels, Adhikari hopes to meet Bao Xishun, a 56-year-old herdsman from China’s Inner Mongolia who at 7 feet 9 inches (2.36 meters) tall is listed by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest man.

After the world tour, Adhikari and Poudel say they plan to climb Mount Everest in Nepal, the world’s tallest peak.

Hope dries up for Nicaragua’s Miskito

Filed under: global islands,kenya,nicaragua — admin @ 4:47 am

Central American indigenous people are among first to suffer from climate change but least equipped to adapt.
When the first white cranes started appearing on the banks of the Rio Coco, deep in the Nicaraguan rainforest, Marciano Washington told his sons to start preparing the family’s three hectares of land for planting.

A month later, the weather-beaten Miskito elder from the town of San Carlos shades his eyes from the baking sun and surveys his cracked and barren land. His seed is rotting or has been eaten by rats. The few rice seeds that have sprouted are only inches high, yellow and discoloured.

All my life the earth has told me when the rains are coming,” he says. “I don’t understand what is happening to our land.”

The natural signs that Washington’s father taught him to observe, such as the white cranes, flowering avocado plants, silver fish and rapid flashes of lightning, no longer herald the rains that his community so desperately need.

Climate change is having a devastating effect on the Miskito Indians who live in wooden huts in Nicaragua’s western territories. They subsist on crops planted on a few hectares of land and food hunted from the jungle and rivers.

Ten years ago Washington said he could harvest 60 bags of rice a hectare. Last year he managed seven. “Every year it is getting worse,” he says. “We have floods in the summer and droughts in the winter. We can’t depend on nature anymore and we don’t know when to plant our crops. I don’t know how I am going to feed my family.”

Environmental researchers are warning that the effect of climate change is likely to hit indigenous communities like the Miskito the hardest. Many of the world’s indigenous people live in isolated communities and their livelihoods depend on nature and on predicting the weather, making them vulnerable to increasingly unstable weather patterns.

In a report out today Oxfam International says that at least $50bn (£25bn) a year in addition to existing aid budgets is needed to help communities like the Miskito adapt to climate change.

In the report Oxfam says that those governments with a legacy of high carbon emissions and the means to support the indigenous communities suffering the impact of climate change should foot the majority of the bill, with the US, Europeans and Japanese contributing 75% of the total.

“Western governments need to understand the scale of the threat and take preventive action,” says Kate Raworth, author of Adapting to Climate Change. “Otherwise we will all face huge costs in cleaning up after the increasingly large-scale disasters that will be the inevitable consequence of the inability of developing communities to adapt to climate change.”

Scientists are painting a bleak picture for the future of Nicaragua’s indigenous communities. Temperatures across Central America are expected to rise by 1°C-3°C and rainfall will decrease by 25% by 2070. Droughts, hurricanes and unseasonal flooding are just a few of the expected consequences of such a rapidly changing climate.

Isolated from modern farming techniques and crippled by poverty after years of economic neglect and discrimination, the Miskito are on the frontline. They make up the majority of Nicaragua’s 85,000-strong indigenous population. By now they should have had almost three weeks of heavy rain, but the Miskito villages perched on the banks of the Rio Coco, the 470-mile river that snakes through Nicaragua’s indigenous territories, are baking under temperatures higher than 40°C.

After centuries defending their rainforest territories from Spanish settlers, Sandinista guerrillas and US-backed Contra forces, they lack the knowledge or resources to deal with the greatest threat to their survival yet.

“We are a proud people, do you think we want to have to ask for help or depend on handouts from outside agencies?” says Nicanor Rizo, a community leader in Riati, the oldest Miskito community on the Rio Coco. “This is our land and we are unable to fulfil the responsibility passed down to us by our elders to protect and look after the river and the forest.”

Almost a month into the rainy season, the river should be a swirling torrent. But at many points the water is ankle-deep and dugout boats struggle to negotiate their way upstream.

In the village of Siksayari, home to 1,400 Miskito, Martine Valle, a technician from the ministry of agriculture who is volunteering in the village, explains that the people there have been without basic supplies such as salt and drinking water for more than a month. “The situation is getting desperate,” he says. “There are no roads here. Nobody expected the river to dry up and now supply boats can’t get down here. At the moment the water is too polluted and diseases like cholera and TB are rising.”

Many Miskito communities believe the massive deforestation of their territories – an estimated 50% of its rainforest has been felled in the last 50 years – is also having a detrimental effect. Last year the new government of President Daniel Ortega pushed through a speedy logging ban to halt deforestation. But with no effective policing of the ban, local non-governmental organisations say that it has pushed commercial logging operations deeper into the forest.

Around 80% of Nicaragua’s natural resources are to be found within the Miskito territories. Although the Unesco-designated Bosawas Biosphere Reserve protects 1.8 million acres of forest, the exploitation of their land continues.

Last year Nicaraguan media reported that contracts had been signed between the previous government and two multinational companies for the exploitation of oil and natural gas on indigenous lands in Bilwi, in the Puerto Cabezas municipality. Community elders in Wiwinak, a small village of 120 families, say their wells have also been contaminated by cyanide and mercury from the new gold mines along the river.

Weather monitoring stations installed by Oxfam along the banks of the Rio Coco help Nicaragua’s indigenous people deal with the impact that increasingly unpredictable weather patterns are having on their way of life. But the long-term ability of the Miskitos to adapt is looking increasingly uncertain.

“We feel we can’t be the guardians of the land like our ancestors anymore and we don’t know what to teach our children,” says Nicanor Rizo. “The world has changed and we know that we will somehow have to change with it if we want to survive.”

At risk: Other communities on the frontline of climate change.

In the Canadian Arctic, western Inuit are having trouble reaching their traditional hunting grounds as warmer springs have brought an earlier thaw. Inuit campaigners say their human rights are being violated by human-induced climate change.

In Norway, Sami reindeer hunters have recorded severe changes in weather patterns that are affecting breeding cycles and destroying grazing areas. The Sami are having to alter their travel routes because of changes to prevailing winds previously used for navigation.

Residents of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu claim to be the first climate change refugees, as many have been forced to flee to neighbouring New Zealand to escape rising seas. The islands, only three feet above sea level, are expected to disappear below the waves.

Indigenous communities in Puerto Rico have seen plants they gather for traditional medicines disappear, making it impossible to continue healing practices.

Severe droughts are forcing the nomadic Turkana people of north-west Kenya into towns and relief camps as entire herds of camels, cows and goats are being wiped out. Although they are accustomed to months of dry weather and resulting food shortages, droughts are becoming more intense and more frequent.

May 28, 2007

The Life of Information

Filed under: General,media — admin @ 5:39 am

In 2003, a group of economists and information theorists at the University of Berkeley, published their study How Much Information, one of the first systematic attempts to measure the amount of information produced and stored in all kind of media, among which digital media figure prominently. Their study shows that information is growing at an accelerating pace, doubling itself in increasingly shorter time intervals. The numbers cause dizziness and elude the human perception of quantity. A recent study by the International Data Corporation (IDC) provides further evidence that information growth is a key socio-economic development at the outset of the 21st century.

The IDC study predicts that digital information will increase more than six-fold from 161 exabytes to roughly 1000 exabytes in 2010 (1 exabyte is around 1 trillion gigabytes). There are several drivers to this information growth, including the migration of images to the digital realm and the transformation of analogue to digital information, the proliferation of mobile media like cameras and cellular phones and the spectacular circulation and duplication of information. Over the next few years, one quarter of this expanding digital universe will come from cameras and video recorders. Many organizations that rely on massive amounts of video information are trying to make it available in digital form. For example the BBC, one of the world’s biggest broadcasting companies, is planning to become ‘tapeless’ for 2010, which means it will exclusively rely on information available on digital storage.

The proliferation alone of devices of capturing, producing and diffusing information does not suffice to account for the phenomenon of information growth and its subtle implications. It is interesting to observe that organizations, major producers and containers of information, have less than 10% of their information classified. 95% of the content of the internet is unstructured data. As information grows it requires efficient ways of managing it. This is one of the reasons why information search tools like Google become fundamental ways, if we are to believe Google’s motto, of “organizing the world’s information”.

Organizing information does help people make sense of the bewildering array of data and images populating the infospaces of contemporary life. However, counter-intuitive as it may seem, ordering and editing information does not reduce but rather increases information. This happens because the organization of data items is often itself information, produced out of the rearrangement of these items. When your bank orders and sorts out your transactions, significant information about your spending habits is revealed. The rearrangement of the data items is substantially aided by the fact that digital information is always recorded and updated while its granularity makes it increasingly possible to recombine it with other information items, often across data sources.

For al these reasons, digital information is frequently crossing the boundaries of the specific domains within which it is conventionally produced and utilized. Text, image and sound become increasingly interoperable. Interoperability is a key motive behind the transformation of analogue information (low granularity, low combinability) to digital. The digital traces left out by our internet habits (surfing and shopping on the internet) are bought by commercial companies that recombine them into consumer profiles and life styles to be used for targeting promotion. Insurance companies try to combine information about individuals that is spread across different digitized sources (e.g. banks, medical records, tax returns, travel agencies, sport clubs etc) to produce individualized premiums that map the risk and life profiles of individuals. Police forces construct profiles of criminals by data mining aggregate financial transactions and other data. Examples of this sort are encountered across most domains of contemporary life. They attest to one of the most interesting characteristic of current developments, that is the production of information out of information in self-reinforcing and expanding cycles.

Less clear is the contribution, which the short-lived character of information makes to the phenomenon of information growth. Information obtains its informativeness (its value or capacity to inform) due to its adding something new to what is already known. Reciting a statement that is already known does not qualify as information, no matter how important such a statement may be. In order to be informative, information has to pick up a new fact or state and convey it. But novelty does not and cannot last. It dies out at the very moment it is consumed. Information is today becoming perishable and for that reason easily disposable. Market information, for instance, that reaches stock exchanges all over the world in terms of price changes often lasts no more than few minutes. Traffic information, so useful in the rush hours, is of no use a little later.

Information as Niklas Luhmann suggests is no more than an event, a semantic flash created against the background of memory and knowledge to which it is assimilated. In so doing however the value of information is consumed. The pending evaporation of information triggers a complex institutional game to maintain its value through a variety of mechanisms. Key among them is the ceaseless updatability of technological information and the constant expansion of the data universe it leads to. Without constant updating, stock markets, to mention the same example, around the world would collapse or become seriously impeded. Paradoxically, the more frequently information is updated the faster it becomes out-dated. Thus understood, the prevalence of information inflates the present and makes the event and its ephemeral constitution central elements of social and institutional life.

There is little doubt that a variety of objections could be raised as regards the particular methodologies employed to measure and document the growth of information. But this should not be the major point. The recent attempts to estimate the amount of information mark the growing awareness of which most of us bear a clear testimony: information and the artefacts and technologies by which it is produced penetrate deeper and deeper into the fabric of everyday life. They remake, often quite imperceptibly, a large range of everyday tasks, redefine the meaning of established practices and modes of doing things and introduce new habits and activities. Looked upon at an aggregate level and over larger time spans, these developments reshuffle the balance between things and images, objects and representations, reality and artifice. How many fictional or semi-fictional characters are really created by the algorithmic techniques of data mining and profiling (the construction of individuals out of data)? Be that as it may, the developments underlying information growth do lend empirical support to the speculative, albeit highly original, and dystopian visions of Virilio, Baudrillard and others. Technological information segments, dissolves and transposes social life to digital marks. Once a description of reality, it is increasingly becoming reality itself.

Nicaragua seizes Chinese-made toothpaste

Filed under: global islands,panama — admin @ 4:52 am

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaraguan police seized 6,000 tubes of a Chinese-made toothpaste suspected of containing a chemical that killed at least 51 people in nearby Panama last year, the health minister said Sunday.

Nicaraguan Health Minister Maritza Cuan told Channel 8 the seized toothpaste, labeled “Excel” and “Mr. Cool,” had been smuggled in from Panama.

In Nicaragua, the toothpaste was seized from a vast market in the capital. Some vendors also were hawking it door to door, Cuan said. The product also could have been smuggled from Panama to Honduras and Colombia.

The Chinese government has said it is investigating the toothpaste, which the manufacturer has said is safe.

Earlier this year, pet food ingredients from China were blamed in the deaths of dogs and cats in North America.

May 22, 2007

Global web censorship on the rise

Filed under: General,media — admin @ 7:57 am

The number of governments that routinely block web sites is increasing, according to the most comprehensive survey of internet filtering yet. Meanwhile, the same study suggests that techniques for blocking undesirable content are growing ever more sophisticated.

Previous reports of government internet filtering have been limited to specific countries, such as China, Iran and Cuba, says Rafal Rohozinski, of the Open Net Initiative (ONI), which produced the report. The ONI is a partnership between the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Harvard University and Toronto University.

Rohozinski says such reports have been based largely on anecdotal information and spot sampling. “This is the first attempt to create a rather comprehensive survey across a large number of countries, looking comparatively at whether they filter, what they filter and for what reasons,” he says.

In its report, the ONI states that governments in at least 25 countries regularly block access to internet sites for political, social or security reasons. It says that Burma, China, Iran, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam filter political content, such as sites belonging to political opposition parties. Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tunisia and Yemen filter for social reasons: for example by blocking access to pornography, gay and lesbian content and gambling sites.

Wider restrictions

By comparing their findings to earlier reports, the authors conclude that filtering is currently increasing worldwide. They also believe that governments are extending restrictions beyond just information websites to other online services, such as internet telephony network Skype.

Furthermore, the team discovered so-called “event-based” filtering – an upsurge in restrictions during significant political periods such as elections.

In 2006, the ONI created software that automatically visits a list of web sites and reports back to a central computer on whether the site is available. The software runs simultaneously on a computer inside a country being tested, and in another country.

This makes it possible to distinguish between active filtering and a temporary outage.

But Rohozinski adds that, in many countries, filtering probably goes well beyond what the tests reveals.

Oppressive controls

Based on other evidence, he says 16 further countries may control internet access in ways not detected by the ONI tests, for example, by arresting people who visit certain sites at internet cafes, something that has happened in Uzbekistan. “We may be understating the problem in a rather big way,” says Rohozinski

“As internet censorship and surveillance grow, there’s reason to worry about the implications of these trends for human rights, political activism and economic development around the world,” says Jonathan Zittrain, a principle investigator at the ONI.

May 21, 2007

In India, newspapers are likely to be a long story

Filed under: General,media — admin @ 6:18 am

The Internet poses little threat and literacy is rising in this vast nation.

NEW DELHI — Extra! Extra! Researchers have discovered a place where the newspaper, a threatened species in some parts of the world, is still thriving.

That would be India, home to 1.1 billion people. And not only is the press in robust health, it’s breeding at an astonishing rate.

From 2005 to 2006, nearly 2,100 newspapers made their debut in India, joining 60,000 already circulating. Here in the capital, a bustling megalopolis with 15 million residents, two new dailies have hit the streets in the last four months, angling for their share of a market already divided among more than a dozen competitors.

Why the rush to join an industry that seems to be heading for extinction in the U.S. and other developed nations?

Indian newspapers are blessed with propitious circumstances that their ailing Western counterparts can only dream of or recall with teary nostalgia.

This is a country with an expanding middle class and a booming economy, which have fueled an explosion in consumer spending and advertising. At the same time, the illiteracy rate — though still stubbornly high at an estimated 35% — is gradually coming down.

In cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai, about 80% of residents age 7 and older can read and write.

Meanwhile, Internet penetration remains marginal, despite India’s reputation as an information-technology powerhouse. Only a tiny sliver of the population, mostly well-heeled urbanites, can afford the home computers and high-speed Internet access that have punched the wind out of print media in the West.

People in the world’s biggest democracy still respect newspapers; they count on them for information and read them in numbers that would make publishers, editors and advertisers in the United States drool.

“You cannot really compare the Indian market with the market in the West,” said Subir Ghosh, the editor of Newswatch India, a website that tracks the media. “The bulk of the market is actually virgin territory, even now.”

With such a vast potential market — more than 350 million of the people who can read and write do not buy newspapers, Ghosh says — there is plenty of room, and good argument, for going after a specialized audience.

In New Delhi, four financial newspapers were vying for readers when upstart Mint, a spinoff of the mainstream daily Hindustan Times, arrived on the scene in February.

Mint has tried to separate itself from the pack with its Berliner format sized between tabloids and broadsheets, splashy graphics, livelier writing and the prestigious imprimatur of the Wall Street Journal, which may provide as much as 20% of the paper’s content. That’s the maximum allowed by law. India limits how much foreign-sourced content a news publication can put in its pages.

“A lot of business-newspaper readers felt that reading them was work,” said Raju Narisetti, Mint’s managing editor. “The whole idea [of Mint] is that business journalism can be clear and you can understand it. Clarity is the big promise that we make.”

Narisetti spent 13 years at the Wall Street Journal, which, like most big American newspapers, is struggling to hold on to readers and advertisers in the digital age. By contrast, advertising in India’s print media shot up by nearly a quarter last year, according to one estimate.

“I’ve sat here in meetings — and it’s kind of a shock — [where] the CEO pounds his fist and says, ‘Forty percent growth? You guys aren’t doing your work!’ ” Narisetti said.

In three months, his paper has built a circulation of about 80,000. (The runaway leader, the Economic Times, pegs its circulation at more than half a million.) Leavening the usual diet of market trends, corporate earnings and mergers and acquisitions are lifestyle features and chatty columns on life in New Delhi and Mumbai.

The paper’s target demographic is obvious: the 25-to-45-year-old professionals who shop in gleaming new malls, order martinis at clubs and generally move in a world that most of their parents never knew.

Among this crowd, reading a newspaper is an indicator of upward mobility.

“Most households look at it as a sign of their economic and educational progress, especially when it’s the first or second generation that’s gone to college or moved to the city,” Narisetti said. “One of the first things they do is subscribe to a paper.”

For that reason, too, Mint is in English. In spite of its colonial roots, the language of Britain is still preferred by India’s movers and shakers and its young and hip. English-language papers account for a small proportion of the nation’s newspapers but receive nearly half the advertising revenue.

The vernacular press also is growing rapidly. The nation’s bestselling newspapers are in Hindi, which is spoken by about 30% of Indians. The top Hindi dailies, Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaksar, boast a combined circulation of 4.3 million and a staggering implied readership of 40 million people.

Greatly helping newspaper circulation are newsstand prices that rarely exceed 3 rupees a copy, the equivalent of about 7 cents. A vicious price war several years ago suppressed prices. But thanks in part to the surge in advertising, only four newspapers out of more than 60,000 ceased publication between 2005 and 2006, according to the official Registrar for Newspapers in India.

Quantity does not equal quality. Editors here lament the shrinking pool of qualified, experienced journalists, whose salaries have risen dramatically. A mid-career reporter can earn from $1,000 to $2,000 a month. Some urban laborers are lucky to make $200.

More conservative readers complain of coarsening standards, which they see in page after page devoted to Bollywood gossip or in photographs of scantily clad young women in the popular Mumbai tabloid Midday.

Sameer Kapoor, president of Metropolitan Media Co., which recently launched the Metro Now tabloid in Delhi, makes no bones about trying to give his newspaper an edgy feel to appeal to young people who are as likely to receive news in TV sound bites or text-message alerts as they are to pick up a paper.

When the Indian government unveiled its budget in late February, many commentators agreed that it contained nothing radical. Metro Now decided to make the same point by publishing a nearly blank page to show what was new in the spending plan.

“We are not going around looking for scandals. We are not showing much skin in our pictures. Very clearly those things are not to be done. But at the same time, we are focusing on issues relating to the young,” Kapoor said.

Whether the Indian newspaper industry will eventually reach a saturation point remains to be seen. With widespread Internet access not expected for at least a decade, the traditional media are likely to continue ruling the roost. The competition is about how many newspapers the roost can fit.

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