ASIA’S ONLY WEEKLY REGION-WIDE NEWS MAGAZINE
30 March 2012
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xtra! Extra! Read all about it! The days of newspaper boys bellowing headlines are long gone. Time was, that’s how we heard breaking news. Today our phones buzz and we can know, in seconds, as much about faraway current affairs as we may know of our own neighbourhoods. This week’s Asia360 News does what the media does best — looks at itself in the mirror and talks about what it sees. And so we should, too. Reflection is essential to offering you, the reader, an ever-improving service. Everyone knows that journalism has been turned upside down by the internet. But the transformation is far from complete — nor is the story the same, the world over. In South Asia and parts of East Asia, for example, we learn this week that the newspaper industry is booming. Declining circulation and advertising revenue has eviscerated print media in the West even while online news fails to make money. But in China, India and Japan, readership is growing and profits are strong. And yet the picture is not perfect. The rude health of the Asian press does not mean that journalists are as freely rude and aggressive as they can be in Western democracies. Most Asian countries fall into the lower half of global press freedom rankings. Censorship is sophisticated in China, absolute in North Korea, self-imposed in parts of Southeast Asia, and a problem nearly everywhere. Wily internet users, especially in China, can get around the gags — but public debate is stifled in developing countries just when it is needed most. The answer may be citizen journalism — but the enthusiasm of bloggers and upstart reporters can be undermined by a lack of professionalism. At best, we find, citizen hacks must complement editors who know how to choose the news. Who, meanwhile, may we admire and revile as Asia’s answer to Charles Foster Kane? The protagonist of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, the Hollywood classic about a press baron extraordinaire, created the archetype of the egomaniacal media mogul. Rupert Murdoch has perhaps best emulated the model so far. We look at a few examples of Asian moguls and their empires. We also take in Tudou, China’s version of YouTube; Asian paparazzi; and we bend our ear to Himalayan radio news. And lest you think that so much navel-gazing distracts us from the big issues, we also remember to cover the elections in Hong Kong, North Korea’s latest threat to launch a nuclear test missile, and the gradual emergence of Islamic financial products. So please, go ahead and turn the page.
Goh Chien Yen
Editor in Chief On behalf of the Asia360 Team
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Contents 03 Editor’s note World This Week 06 News in brief Asia This Week South Asia 10 India Confidential letter by army chief disrupts parliamentary proceedings 12 Pakistan Severe electrical shortages spark violent protests 14 Bangladesh Nation celebrates 41st independence day by honouring ‘foreign friends’ 16 Sri Lanka Island nation insists it is doing enough in addressing human rights concerns 18 Nepal Widening rift in ruling party threatens to undermine peace process Southeast Asia 22 Philippines Fresh reports of top judge’s alleged overseas properties surface in impeachment trial 24 Thailand Political uproar over amnesty bill that paves way for homecoming of deposed leader 26 Cambodia Violent evictions on the rise as the poor pay the price for economic development 28 Vietnam Country’s largest dam appears to be leaking and locals want answers 30 Malaysia Prime minister risks image to support politician tainted by cattle-rearing scandal 32 Indonesia Prospect of higher fuel prices triggers street riots and political deadlock 34 Singapore World Water Day highlights challenges for city state East Asia 38 China Country to abolish harvesting of deathrow prisoners’ organs 40 South Korea Rigging revelations in electoral nominations dent opposition’s chances
48 Asia’s Newspaper Boom Traditional media still has its place in society. While print in the rest of the world is a sunset industry, in Asia, newspapers are flying off the shelves. Images: AFP
News in Context
30 March 2012
42 Taiwan Opposition up in arms over suggestion that Taiwan is part of China Australasia 46 Australia Loss of Queensland elections deals another blow to prime minister Global Asia 48 Asia’s Newspaper Boom Buoyed by huge untapped markets, Asia’s newspapers are bucking a global downward trend 50 Ballistic Blackmail North Korea reverts to type by prioritising missiles and military symbolism over food aid 52 Nothing But Talk Global nuclear summit largely fails to make the world a safer place Politics 54 Occupational Hazard The internet helps free speech but governments and biased editors are still a problem 56 Flirting with Democracy Beijing bows down to popular opinion as Hong Kong elects ‘outsider’ chief executive Society 58 Press Titans Asia’s media kingpins are some of the region’s most powerful people 64 The New Media Order Can citizen journalism ever be a credible alternative to mainstream media? Markets & More 66 The ‘Original’ YouTube Copycats in China stimulate innovation, says Tudou co-founder 68 Star Performer Islamic financial products quietly coming out from under the radar Life & Culture 70 Asian Paps Celebrities love to hate the paparazzi 72 Radio Mountain In the foothills of the Himalayas, radio reigns supreme The World Forgot 74 Death of Two Dragon Kings
50 Ballistic Blackmail Pyongyang returns to status quo. Its ‘satellite launch’ plan may boost the regime’s security, but leaves the rest of the world in a fix on how best to react to North Korea’s hostility.
58 Press Titans There is no shortage of players in the increasingly noisy media sphere. Asia360 News looks at some of the most powerful and influential media barons Asia has to offer.
24 Cool Comeback? Thaksin’s coming home. The former Thai prime minister in self-exile pledges a red carpet return as his sister’s administration finalises the paperwork for his amnesty.
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The World This Week US Supreme Court opens health care reform case
WASHINGTON: The US Supreme court judges wrapped up 3 days of debate on 28 March over President Obamaâ€™s signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act. The judges are to decide whether federally mandadted health insurance in all states is constitutional. The act, if passed will be the biggest overhaul to the US health care system which leaves millions of people uninsured. The court will come to a decision by late June and is likely to be a key issue ahead of Obamaâ€™s bid for a second term in the November 6 election.
Canada supports US candidate for World Bank
OTTAWA: Canada has backed the US choice for the new head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-born American physician. A global health expert, he is the president of ivy league institution, Dartmouth College. He is known for being a technocrat who designs programs using on-theground data to solve public health issues.
Newspaper owner in southern Brazil shot dead
RIO DE JANEIRO: The owner of a weekly newspaper was shot dead in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Helena following a bar brawl, and the assailant was released after confessing his crime, police said March 26. Onei de Moura, the 42-year-old co-owner of the weekly Costa Oeste, was shot three times in the chest on the night of March 24, shortly after he had an altercation with his assailant in a nearby bar.
NATO to declare missile shield without Putin
MOSCOW: NATO will announce the completion of the first stage of a controversial missile defence shield at a May summit in Chicago that will not include Russian leader Vladimir Putin, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said March 26. The US-backed system has been bitterly opposed by Russia and has remained one of the main stumbling blocks in Moscow’s recent relations with Washington.
Al-Jazeera not to air shootings video
PARIS: An angry France won a pledge on Tuesday from the AlJazeera news channel not to air a video shot by an Islamist extremist during a murderous shooting spree targeting soldiers and Jewish children. President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded that the channel not broadcast the video sent to its Paris bureau, which includes graphic footage shot by Mohamed Merah during attacks this month in southern France that left seven people dead.
JERUSALEM: The Israeli foreign ministry decided on March 26 to cut contact with the United Nations Human Rights Council after it passed a resolution on March 22 ordering an investigation into how Israeli settlements may be infringing on the land rights of Palestinians. Israeli media have said that the government was weighing various punitive measures against the Palestinians, who it blamed for initiating the council’s decision, including suspending tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
Work on Africa’s biggest wind farm to begin
Egypt secularists pull out of constituent assembly
NAIROBI: The construction of what is to become Africa’s biggest wind farm will start by June in an arid region of northern Kenya, the project’s officials said on March 24. After seven years of study and funding negotiations, the €585 million (US$775 million) project is to take off in June once risk guarantees from the Ida and Miga financial institutions — part of the World Bank Group — are finalised, Carlo Van Wageningen, head of Lake Turkana Wind Power, told AFP.
Pope’s visit to Havana fuels political debate
HAVANA: Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Havana Tuesday after calling for Cuba to open up more, prompting the vice-president to declare that no political reforms were on the horizon for the communist-ruled island. The 84-year-old pontiff was due to meet President Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution and possibly with revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, the current president’s brother, Vatican officials said.
Israel cuts contact with UN rights council
CAIRO: Liberal and leftist parties have pulled out of a panel drafting Egypt’s new constitution, they announced on Tuesday, accusing Islamists of monopolising the process to deliver its post-revolution charter. The withdrawals from the panel will call its legitimacy into question, pushing the struggle between Islamists and secularists over the issue to crisis point.
South Africa launches plan to curb rampant TB
JOHANNESBURG: South Africa on March 24 launched a plan to diagnose tuberculosis in the country’s gold mines, where the disease’s incidence is the highest in the world. Tuberculosis is rampant in all South African mines but the incidence is particularly high in gold mines due to toxic conditions causing illnesses such as silicosis, which destroys the lungs of miners exposed to silica dust.
warplanes bomb border zones
JUBA: Sudanese warplanes bombed oil-rich border regions of South Sudan overnight after days of clashes, but fighting on the ground between the rival armies has ceased, a Southern official said Wednesday. Both sides claim each other started the fighting. The unrest jeopardises efforts to resolve contentious border and oil disputes that have ratcheted up tension between Juba and Khartoum.
Top Stories from National News Coverage INDIA Letter Bomb A confidential letter by Indiaâ€™s army chief disrupts parliamentary proceedings PAKISTAN Electric Shocks, Political Jolts Severe electrical shortages sparked violent protests BANGLADESH Foreign Friends Bangladesh celebrates its 41st independence day by honouring those across the world that helped it get there SRI LANKA Softening Defiance Sri Lanka insists it is doing enough in addressing human rights concerns NEPAL A House Divided Widening rift in ruling party threatens fragile peace
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South Asia: India
Letter Bomb NEW DELHI
A confidential letter by India’s army chief disrupts parliamentary proceedings
uestion marks were raised about the future of India’s Army Chief VK Singh on March 28 when two prominent political parties called for his sacking after a confidential letter written by him to the prime minister found its way into media. The letter, which was written on March 12 this year, stated that the Indian army is constrained by outdated technology, air defence “is 97% obsolete” and army tanks are “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks”. The letter also urged the prime minister to bridge the shortcomings and bring the army to fighting level. Uproar over the letter led to angry scenes in parliament as Janata Dal United (JD-U) leader Shivanand Tiwari demanded the dismissal of the army chief. “This [leaking of a confidential letter] is a matter of serious indiscipline. The army chief should be sacked. If we don’t take an action, it can become a bad tradition,” said Tiwari. Supporting Tiwari’s call, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ramgopal Yadav told reporters outside parliament that “responsibility should be fixed and strict action should be taken. If General Singh is responsible, he must be sacked and jailed”. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, said that it did not share the view of the two parties. While the government did not comment on the demands for the army chief’s dismissal, NDTV news channel’s sources said the government believed that his office was responsible for leak. Alluding to the belief, Defence Minister AK Antony said in parliament that publishing “secret communication within government cannot serve our national security”. As the enraged opposition disrupted parliament thrice in a single day on March 28, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh met the two senior most members of his cabinet, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram to find a way out of the impasse. The two senior leaders briefed the prime minister about the leaked letter as well as the other huge controversy from the army chief’s disclosure that he was offered a bribe two years ago to influence a defence purchase deal. On March 26, Army Chief General VK Singh alleged in an interview to leading newspaper Hindu that an equipment lobbyist offered him a bribe of 14 crore rupees (US$2.7 million) in 2010 in order to have a tranche of 600 sub-standard vehicles cleared for purchase. He said he had immediately reported the matter to the defence minister. Reacting to demands of the noisy opposition for a statement on the issue, the defence minister said in parliament on March 27 that the army chief did tell him that a retired officer, Lt General Tejinder Singh had visited him in 2010 and offered him a kickback. The minister said he asked the army chief to take action, but he said he did not want to pursue the matter. The defence minister also said that once news reports on the alleged bribe offer was made public on March 26, he ordered an inquiry, even though there was no formal complaint. “I immediately told the defence secretary to take action without waiting for any formal complaint,” he told the parliament. When asked by media about his refusal to take any action on the matter, General Singh said in a television interview on March 27: “It was not like he was giving me bribe in my hand. This was an indirect method and that is why no arrest was made”. Following the disclosure of his name in the matter, Tejinder Singh refuted General Singh’s claim and said that
though he visited the army chief in September 2010, he did not offer him any money. Tejinder Singh filed a defamation case against the army chief on March 28. Earlier this month, the army had accused Tejinder Singh of offering bribes on behalf of companies that supply the army with trucks used to transport artillery and troops. Irrespective of the accuracy of the army chief’s claims, the controversy has brought the spotlight once again on the murky defence deals in India. In January, General Singh became the first serving military chief to take the government to court. He wanted the government to accept that he was born in 1951 and not 1950. Army records show both, but the government said that his seniority and promotions have been based on 1950 as his year of birth, and that records cannot be amended now. General Singh withdrew his petition against the government after India’s highest court indicated it would not agree with his arguments. He was widely criticised for turning his differences with the government into a public battle, even as he said he was fighting to defend his honour and integrity. The army chief is scheduled to retire at the end of May.
Publishing secret communication within government cannot serve our national security…
India’s Army Chief General VK Singh has earned the wrath of sections of the political class due to his tendency to talk via the media.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
13% of national news coverage
Army chief’s future at stake after confidential letter leak
11% of national news coverage
Parliament censures Team Anna for criticising politicians
4% of national news coverage
Maoist rebels abduct Italian tourist and local politician
72% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis The controversy surrounding a confidential letter written by the army chief to the prime minister that came out in open captured maximum attention from India’s media this week. Opinions were divided on March 28 among political parties on the future of the army chief. The Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal United called for his sacking while the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said it did not support the demand. Also making the news was the Indian parliamentarians’ united stand against blanket criticism of politicians by social activist Anna Hazare and his team, “Team Anna”. Without naming Team Anna and without adopting a formal resolution, the chair of India’s lower house of parliament on March 27 condemned attempts at lowering the dignity of parliament and its members. Negotiations towards the release of a local politician and an Italian tourist from the captivity of Maoists rebels in the eastern Indian state of Odisha was the third most covered news item. The Maoists have threatened to kill the politician if the government continues security operations against them. Negotiators sympathetic to the rebels’ cause have been appointed as mediators by the government to secure the release of the two. Image: Prakash Singh/AFP
South Asia: Pakistan
Electric Shocks, Political Jolts ISLAMABAD
Severe electrical shortages spark violent protests
n electricity shortage crisis in Punjab caused a series of violent protests this week, giving the opposition, a new angle of attack to undermine the already embattled government. Pakistan has for years organised rolling blackouts or load shedding during the summer when air conditioning and refrigeration are used more intensively. The periodic blackouts of roughly an hour or two a day, typically last for a few weeks. But this year, poor government planning has meant that load shedding has been happening months ahead of summer. Unscheduled blackouts of more than 12 hours a day finally sparked this week’s protests. The Urdu-language Daily Express reported upheaval in major cities across Punjab. Protesters reportedly smashed traffic signals, damaged motorcycles and cars, and ransacked the offices of electricity distribution companies. The police, meanwhile, did not attempt to break up the mobs. The situation worsened in Lahore, the provincial capital, over the weekend. Protesters again tried to ransack offices — but on this occasion, a security guard fired into the crowd, killing a protester. The death sparked yet more violence that again swept through central parts of the city and damaged traffic infrastructure and vehicles. But what should be a question of technical competence, according to the newspaper Dawn, solved by better planning, maintenance management and climactic forecasts, has now become a political fight. The opposition, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which is in power in Punjab’s provincial government, is using the energy shortage and the protests to renew its attempts to discredit President Asif Ali Zardari and his prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani.
Punjab’s law minister, Rana Sanaullah, was seen at protests in his hometown of Faisalabad. That city saw organised strikes with protest crowds carrying PML-N banners and placards, according to Dawn. Sanaullah allegedly spurred protestors on against the government in remarks he addressed to the crowd. Speaking to Asia360 News, Sanaullah accused the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government in Islamabad of deliberately administering severe load shedding in Punjab to punish the province’s voters for supporting Sharif’s party. Critics have accused the PML-N government in Punjab of purposefully ordering the police to not interfere in the violent protests The country’s information minister, meanwhile said that the supreme court should probe the ‘illegal’ activities of the PML-N during the load shedding. Insiders at the utilities authorities told Asia360 News that government failure to pay 320 billion rupees to ten different energy firms was the true cause of the blackouts. The companies have allegedly reduced their output by 50% in retaliation, creating an electricity shortfall of 700 megawatts. Naveed Qamar, the federal minister for water and power, pointed out that despite the prime minister’s vows to curb the shortage, rolling blackouts are a practical necessity. Qamar also stressed that the shortfall is less than the 700 megawatts suggested by some critics and is in fact only 320 megawatts. Authorities are reportedly planning to pay the overdue fees to the power companies within days. Last year, quick government action to pay late fees and push more power from the grid brought violent protests to a halt and thwarted the PML-N’s attempts to score political points. The government hopes to do the same thsi year.
Rioting Pakistani demonstrators gesture at a burning petrol station during a violent protest in Lahore.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
12% of national news coverage
Violent protests at rolling blackouts
8% of national news coverage NATO supply talks political controversy
4% of national news coverage
Memogate scandal twists and turns
76% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis Unscheduled electricity load shedding at the start of Pakistan’s summer has triggered a wave of popular anger. Violent protests erupted in a number of cities in Punjab, the most affected province, and in other parts of the country. The Pakistan Muslim League-N has used the issue to attack the government, but Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, has vowed to bring the blackouts under control. The government is engaged in a political tug-of-war over plans to restore the NATO supply route through Pakistan to Afghanistan. The route was closed after a NATO attack killed 24 Pakistan soldiers in November. The government wants parliament to approve reopening the route but opposition parties hope to block the motion. Other Islamist groups have threatened violence if the route is restored. The interminable Memogate scandal has suffered its latest twist this week. Mansoor Ijaz, who sparked the controversy by leaking an alleged memorandum from Pakistan’s government to US authorities about a military coup, has now claimed that he arranged a meeting between Kashmiri freedom fighters and Indian intelligence officials. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, meanwhile failed to travel to Pakistan to give testimony on his role in the scandal. Image: Arif Ali/AFP
South Asia: Bangladesh
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
Paying respects to the country’s fallen martyrs.
17% of national news coverage
Foreigners recognised on independence day
12% of national news coverage
Tigers fall in Asia cup final
8% of national news coverage War criminals trial
63% of national news coverage Image: Munir uz Zaman/AFP DHAKA
Bangladesh celebrates its 41st independence day by honouring those across the world that helped it get there
n light of its 41st independence day on March 26, Bangladesh took the opportunity to pay homage to 83 foreign individuals and organisations that played supporting roles during the nation’s 1971 Liberation war. Two categories of awards — the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ and the ‘Bangladesh Liberation War Honour’ — were conferred at a gala function in Dhaka on March 27. The ‘friends of Bangladesh’ were selected by a committee after a two-year long search process. However, only 21 of those recognised were either alive or in good enough health to personally receive their awards from President Zillur Rahman this week. The war began in Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, when West Pakistani forces cracked down on civilians after the nation’s 1970 elections, which saw Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman become the first East Pakistani to win office. Bangladeshi lore suggests that 3 million of its people died, while around 10 million took refuge in India, in what has been termed by many as a genocide. Intervention from India eventually
brought the conflict to a close. Not surprisingly then, 29 of the award recipients honoured in Dhaka this week were Indian. But Bangladesh also had broad international support, from Cuba to Japan, which encompassed a wide range of individuals and institutions, including media outlets, government and non-governmental organisations. “We received unflinching support from people outside who found legitimacy in our cause, and therefore, stood by the principles we sought to uphold. They rose in protest against the atrocities committed on the people of Bangladesh. They associated with our aspiration, and our demand for equality, human dignity, and economic and social justice,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at the ceremony. Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman, who went on to become Bangladesh’s first president and is considered the father of the nation. Bangladesh’s foreign friends had earlier paid their respects to the fallen martyrs of the 1971 war by visiting the National Mausoleum near Dhaka on March 26.
News Media Analysis The most-covered news story of the week was Bangladesh’s 41st independence day on March 26, and the conferring of awards upon the nation’s ‘foreign friends’, who aided Bangladesh in its liberation struggle. Twenty-nine of the 83 awardees were from India. The second largest story was the fall of the Bangladeshi cricket team in the final of the Asia Cup. After a magical run that included victories over regional powerhouses India and Sri Lanka, the Tigers — as they are affectionately known — fell in a thrilling finish to Pakistan by two runs. According to reports, the loss caused two deaths in the country — a heart attack and a suicide. Finally, the ongoing war criminals trial was the third largest news story of the week. Several prominent Bangladeshis have been accused of aiding Pakistani military forces in their brutal crackdown on Bangladesh during the 1971 Liberation war. In an attempt to speed up the trial, a second tribunal was formed on March 22. Meanwhile, the original tribunal accepted the crimes against humanity charges levelled against former Bangladesh National Party lawmaker Abdul Alim, on March 27.
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South Asia: Sri Lanka
Softening Defiance Sri Lanka insists it is doing enough in addressing human rights concerns
espite a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution condemning Sri Lanka’s human rights record, the island nation’s government has remained adamant that it will not buckle under international pressure. The resolution, sponsored by the United States, urged Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The government body was set up to investigate the final stages of the island nation’s deadly decades-long civil war. The resolution also calls on Sri Lanka to make concerted efforts to provide meaningful accountability upon for its reconciliation efforts. Despite its failed diplomatic efforts to defeat the resolution, the Sri Lankan government has not backed down, insisting that it is already dealing with the situation adequately. “We need to be given time to further consolidate the clear progress that has been achieved in a short period of three years. In respect of Sri Lanka’s situation it is barely three months since the presentation of the domestic mechanism’s report,” Mahinda Samarasinghe, the President’s Special Envoy on Human Rights said at the UNHRC session in Geneva While President Mahinda Rajapaksa had publicly claimed on March 24, a day after the resolution was passed
that the country “will not surrender to such forms of pressure”, sources revealed that he has quietly instructed ministers to explain to the international community the reconciliatory actions the government has taken since the conclusion of the war. To demonstrate its commitment to the reconciliation process, the government has extended an invitation to Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit the island and observe the resettled civilians and rehabilitated rebel fighters. GL Peiris, the country’s external affairs minister, will also be paying a visit to Washington in May, to meet with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Wimal Weerawansa, the Minister of Construction and Housing, have called on the public to boycott all US-based products, including the use of the popular search engine Google, and its email service, Gmail. The government however has distanced itself from this stance despite feeling that the international community has acted impatiently and judged its reconciliation prematurely. While 24 countries had voted in favour of the resolution, it was India’s vote that most surprised the Sri Lankan establishment. Sri Lanka had been counting on India’s long-standing policy of not supporting resolutions that were seen to be interfering with the domestic affairs of countries.
“Many countries planning to vote with us were compelled to abstain and some countries planning to abstain were compelled to vote. The problem for us was not the Indian vote but the statement made in the Indian Parliament two and a half days before the crucial vote,” said Peiris on March 26, as reported in the Daily News. The Indian prime minister had informed Indian lawmakers last week that “we are inclined to vote in favour of the resolution if the resolution will cover our objectives, namely the
Protest against UN resolution condemning Sri Lanka’s rights record.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
48% of national news coverage UN human rights resolution against Sri Lanka
16% of national news coverage Two monks murdered
8% of national news coverage
Tamil Tigers confess to gunning down aircraft
28% of national news coverage Other news
Image: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP
achievement of a future for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka that is based on equality, dignity, justice and self respect.” Peiris has subsequently sought to downplay speculation that bilateral relations between the two nations have soured over India’s backing of the resolution. “The friendship and relationship between India and Sri Lanka is historical. The relationship between the two countries is not one dimensional,” he pointed out.
News Media Analysis This week’s top news story was the resolution against Sri Lanka which was passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 23. The Sri Lankan government remained intransigent, decrying that it will not permit the international community, led by the United States, to dictate the internal affairs of the country. Also making headlines during the week was the shocking murder of two senior Buddhist monks at a temple in Colombo. While investigations are currently underway, the monks are believed to have been killed while trying to prevent a robbery. Two suspects have been arrested and remanded. The third most covered story of the week was on two former Tamil Tiger fighters who confessed that they shot down a military transport plane in March 2000, killing some 40 soldiers. It was initially believed that the aircraft had crashed due to a technical defect.
...we will not surrender to such forms of pressure...
South Asia: Nepal
A House Divided Widening rift in ruling party threatens fragile peace
epal’s ruling Maoist party is on shaky ground after its hardline faction boycotted a central committee meeting on March 26. The split is the latest setback in the transition to peace for the Maoists, who ended their civil war barely six years ago. The ideological differences that first arose between the hardliners and the rest of the party last August boiled over when the hardline camp forged an alliance with a dozen radical fringe groups on March 23. Headed by CP Gajurel, the hardliner faction intends to stage country-wide protests to demand the stepping down of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai; the hardliners disagree with his decision to form a coalition government, among others. “It is wrong to say that we are trying to split the party,” CP Gajurel was quoted as saying in Nepali-language Nagarik on March 28, referring to his
anti-government group. “We are the ones who established the party. Why should we break away?” The hardliners are a minority within the party but they have the backing of the majority of the battlehardened former rebel fighters. The mainstream members of Maoist party have dismissed the hardliners, led by senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’, as clinging on to an old dream of communism. “In this age of globalisation, we need to redefine nationalism. [Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal], who has learned lessons from history as well as the current situation, is moving towards a new experiment,” wrote Maoist mainstream leader Haribol Gajurel leader in a March 28 Kantipur article. “But the Kiran faction is stuck in old dogma.” Nepal is still trying to forge its way as a new and fragile democracy after the long years of civil war that led to the
overthrow of the monarchy. A split in the ruling Maoist party may look imminent but it may not materialise until May 27, when the term of Nepal’s constituent assembly expires, said Kantipur in an editorial on March 21. “It’s no secret that the Maoist party is a divided house. Separate meetings and programmes are commonplace,” it added. “If the new constitution is realised, perhaps no one can stop the Maoists from breaking up. Dahal and Bhattarai will gear towards mainstream state politics whereas the Kiran faction, as per their ideological orientation, will form a puritanical Maoist party.” Leading political analyst Aditya
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Senior Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidya in better times.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
15% of national news coverage
Maoist party threatened by split
10% of national news coverage
Deadline for constitution looms
8% of national news coverage
Government ministers sacked
67% of national news coverage Other news
Image: Prakash Mathema/AFP
Adhikari also argues, in a column published in The Kathmandu Post on March 27, that the Maoist party’s democratic transformation will prompt the hardliners to retain their radical ideology and break away. “While one section of the communist movement has become powerful and entered the system, another one has accused it of betrayal and tried to cultivate a separate organisation,” he wrote. “The Maoist radicals may not become very powerful in the near future. They cannot go back to war […] But the old communist dream is far from dead and will continue to impact Nepali politics for some time.”
News Media Analysis Topping the news was the widening rift within the ruling Maoist party. The minority hardliner faction has intensified the conflict just months before the constituent assembly is due to expire. Also widely covered was May 27 expiration deadline for the constituent assembly. The assembly was given an initial two-year mandate to write a new constitution for the young republic. But the mandate has been delayed several times due to political bickering and a lack of consensus. Rounding out the top news was the firing of two government ministers. Sarita Giri was sacked on March 23 as labour minister on corruption charges. Nandan Kumar Datta was fired as agriculture minister on March 26 for defying party orders.
It’s no secret that the Maoist party is a divided house...
Top Stories from National News Coverage PHILIPPINES Improper Properties Fresh reports of top judgeâ€™s alleged overseas properties surface, as public opinion assumes greater importance in trial THAILAND Cool Comeback? Political uproar over amnesty bill that paves way for homecoming of deposed leader CAMBODIA Land Grab Slapped Violent evictions are on the rise in Cambodia as the poor pay the price for economic development VIETNAM Crack in the Wall Vietnamâ€™s biggest dam appears to be leaking and locals want answers MALAYSIA Not Cowed Cattle-rearing scandal fails to bring down controversial politician, as prime minister risks image to support her INDONESIA Fuelling Protest Prospect of higher fuel prices triggers street riots and political deadlock SINGAPORE Solutions on Tap World Water Day highlights challenges for Singapore
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Southeast Asia: Philippines
Fresh reports of top judge’s alleged overseas properties surface, as public opinion assumes greater importance in trial
he protracted and nationallycaptivating corruption trial of the country’s chief justice took another turn this week, with a journalist claiming that Renato Corona’s family owns two expensive properties in the United States. Despite being ruled out from being submitted as court evidence, the revelations could further influence public opinion against Corona, which could have political ramifications for the senators who are hearing the case. The top judge is currently on trial by the senate, which has the power to remove him from office if the panel of senator-judges finds him guilty of “culpable violation of the constitution, corruption and betrayal of the public trust”. The new allegations come on top of prosecution charges that Corona had falsified his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth to conceal his ownership of several luxury apartments and properties in the Philippines — a highly-suspicious financial feat, given his relatively modest official salary. On her website, journalist Raissa Robles claimed to have discovered residential addresses in the US that had been used by Corona in the past. While he initially denied that he had any link to the properties, Corona later admitted that they were owned by his daughters who work there. He claimed that they were purchased at a low price during a real estate slump. “I’m not saying that Chief Justice Corona gave a helping hand in the purchase of these two properties.
All I’m saying is that given these two transactions, it has become very relevant, material and pertinent to look at the money flow in Chief Justice Corona’s dollar accounts,” Robles wrote on March 26. Although the overseas properties were initially viewed as possible evidence that could be used against Corona, the senator-judges said that it would be unlikely for the impeachment court to accept more evidence from the prosecution panel. “It’s too late in the day now because they have already rested [their case],” said senator-judge Aquilino Pimentel. Earlier, the prosecution had come under fire for claiming that Corona had ownership links to 45 properties in the Philippines, which the defense later proved was based on an erroneous interpretation of poorly-maintained documentation from the land registration authority. Despite public opinion weighing heavily against him — a recent survey showed almost half of the respondents thought he was guilty — Corona appears determined to stay in his post. He recently declared in a public speech that he is “prepared to lose everything” in his fight and continues to position himself as a defender of judicial independence and a political casualty of President Benigno Aquino III’s drive to stamp out allies of his predecessor in the judiciary. Former president Gloria Arroyo, who appointed Corona to his office in 2010, a month before she stepped down, is herself on trial for electoral fraud. Corona has also insinuated that
another of Aquino’s motives to remove him may stem from the supreme court’s decision to redistribute Hacienda Luisita, a sprawling agricultural property owned by the president’s family, to farmer-beneficiaries. Speaking at the Philippine Law School’s graduation ceremony on March 26, he said, “I have done no wrong to anyone nor ever violated my oath as a magistrate. In my heart of hearts, I am fighting for democracy and the preservation of the fundamental freedoms that guarantee the preservation of our way of life.” Although the senate’s impeachment court is in recess for the Catholic preEaster period of Lent, the prosecution and defense teams, as well as the senator-judges, remain attentive to new developments. The prosecution team declared a ceasefire on the trial earlier and urged the defense to do the same. Many of the senators have said that the Lenten break will allow them to reflect
Senators are mulling over the removal of the country’s top judge over corruption allegations.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
19% of national news coverage Impeachment court in recess
5% of national news coverage
Power crisis in Mindanao
3% of national news coverage Arroyo court case continues
73% of national news coverage Other news
Image: Bullit Marquez/AFP
on Corona’s case. Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile told reporters that the trial would likely finish in May. However, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago warned that administration officials may approach senator-judges during the Lenten break to lobby for a conviction. Commentators say that Corona’s trial should be viewed as both a judicial and political exercise and that its outcome may be influenced by factors such as public opinion and the 2013 national elections. While some senators have said they will remain immune to public opinion, others say that their decision to convict will necessarily be influenced by it. A senator-judge’s sensitivity to public opinion can win him voters in the upcoming elections. “I’ve always believed that senators have been historically elected based on how they’ve participated in ‘big issues’ that confront the nation. Some have
likewise been unseated by their failure ‘to take the moment,’” prosecution spokesperson Romero Quimbo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on March 28. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV holds the same view, saying to the Inquirer on March 27 that “it should be a factor. We are supposed to be representatives of the people, so we are answerable to them. If our vote in this impeachment trial is not acceptable to them, they may not renew our mandate.” The trial is scheduled to resume on May 7.
In my heart of hearts, I am fighting for democracy...
News Media Analysis Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial remains the top story of the week. Although the senate court has taken a Lenten break, senator-judges promised to use the time to mull over Corona’s case, vowing to weigh the legal and political elements of the trial. Meanwhile, reports have surfaced regarding Corona’s alleged ownership of several properties in the US. The prosecution team is looking at the possibility of presenting this as additional evidence to the impeachment court. However, the impeachment court said that it is unlikely to accept the evidence because it came too late. Trailing the top story was Mindanao’s ongoing rotating blackouts. Residents and local officials have become increasingly concerned about the power shortages and they are demanding action from the national government. President Aquino stated that the power shortages may have been caused by long term neglect. Updates on ex-president Gloria Arroyo’s court case also made this week’s headlines. Arroyo is currently on trial for electoral sabotage and aggravated corruption. While she remains confined to a government hospital, her legal team has posted bail and petitioned the court to waive her presence during the proceedings.
Southeast Asia: Thailand
Cool Comeback? BANGKOK
Political uproar over amnesty bill that paves way for homecoming of deposed leader
hailand’s exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is preparing to come home in style as the government, led by his sister Yingluck, takes the first steps towards overturning his criminal convictions. The government is pressing ahead with a proposed amnesty bill, which will excuse a slew of political convictions, including the two-year prison sentence imposed on Thaksin by a Thai court in 2008 after trying the self-exiled former leader in absentia. On March 24, Thaksin addressed a rally of his supporters through a teleconference, telling the gathering of so-called red shirts in the eastern province of Chonburi that he would return to Thailand to “help alleviate the people’s economic problems”. The billionaire fugitive told his supporters to remain calm and patient and vowed to come home “stylishly”. “I will let you know later what kind of comeback should be called cool,” Thaksin said, according to a March 24 Bangkok Post report. The opposition Democrat Party is furious at the prospect of a pardon for Thaksin. “The main cause of Thai political conflicts in the past all stems from Thaksin Shinawatra who doesn’t have any respect for the Thai justice system,” Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva previously told Thai news agency MCOT. On March 27, the house of representatives voted 348-162 in favour of discussing a controversial reconciliation
I will let you know later what kind of comeback should be called cool...
proposal by the King Prajadhipok Institute and which is backed by a houseappointed reconciliation committee. The proposal includes an amnesty for people convicted for their political activities from 2005 onwards. Since the 2006 military coup that deposed the democratically elected Thaksin, Thailand has been wracked by a series of violent political protests. The latest, in May 2010, left more than 90 people dead. To try to heal the rifts in society, successive governments have sought to implement a national reconciliation process. The current reconciliation committee, chaired by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, a key figure in the 2006 coup, directed the King Prajadhipok Institute to propose a reconciliation process. “Forget the past,” Sonthi told a public seminar last week. “Think about today and build the future.” The general, who entered politics in 2007, added that what Thai society needed now, more than anything else, is “peace and society”. To protest against the amnesty plan, nine Democrat Party lawmakers resigned from the house of representatives’ reconciliation committee on March 26. “We, the nine committee members, see many mistakes in the report that could cause much damage in the future,” Democrat parliamentarian Nipit Intarasombat told reporters after the mass resignation. The King Prajadhipok Institute report will be drafted into a reconciliation
bill and submitted to parliament. With Yingluck’s Pheu Thai-led coalition controlling three-fifths of the votes in parliament, the bill is likely to be passed. The controversial report examined reconciliation models from more than 100 countries and concluded that the government should grant amnesty for political convictions. However, the report said those convicted under the lese majeste law, which outlaws criticism of the royal family, should be excluded. The report also recommended that all legal cases lodged against Thaksin by the Assets Examination Committee — established specifically to investigate the former leader — be dropped or transferred to another body. Observers and academics warn that the government’s reconciliation process is moving too fast for Thailand, a country where people are passionate about politics and where political protests can quickly spiral out of control. Sunai Phasuk, a Thai researcher for Human Rights Watch, does not regard the current parliamentary processes as reconciliatory. Instead, political leaders seemed to be looking for political gain, he said. The latest developments could very well trigger another vicious political cycle, Sunai told Asia360 News. “As long as we don’t seek the truth or make it public, true reconciliation will be very difficult,” he said, adding that the Democrat Party was working against the reconciliation process by continuing to focus on Thaksin.
Self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is ready to return in style.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
26% of national news coverage Amnesty plan causes political uproar
8% of national news coverage
Flu, cold pills vanish from hospitals
6% of national news coverage Food, fuel prices still rising
60% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis Top of the news is the parliament’s decision to discuss a national reconciliation plan to heal the wounds left by years of political violence. The plan recommends an amnesty on political convictions dating back to 2005 — which would include a pardon for self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinatwatra. Thaksin was convicted in absentia on corruption charges in 2008 after he was deposed in a military-backed coup. Coming in second is the mysterious disappearance of more than 200,000 cold and flu tablets from hospitals in the northeast. Police have launched an investigation. Also in the news are the rising prices of fuel and food. The government’s plan to alleviate inflation, announced in the previous week, also continued to generate headlines. Under the plan, subsidised food will be sold at fairs and local stores across the country.
Image: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Southeast Asia: Cambodia
Land Grab Slapped Violent evictions are on the rise in Cambodia as the poor pay the price for economic development PHNOM PENH
orced evictions of poor citizens are damaging efforts to create a more equitable society in Cambodia, with 36 violent clashes over land use disputes ending in armed crackdowns by authorities over the past year, according to a new report. The report released by Adhoc, a local non-governmental organisation, revealed that nearly 500 people involved in land disputes had criminal charges pressed against them by the authorities, with some 100 arrested. Almost half of these villagers remain in jail. “The use of violence by armed forces for dispersing and beating up affected communities and land protesters is on the rise in Cambodia,” Ou Virak, the President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told Asia360 News. Forced evictions after concessions of land to property developers are one of the less palatable side effects of Cambodia’s recent push for stronger economic development. The government has handed thousands of hectares in concessions to private companies, contracting 85 companies on nearly 1 million hectares in 16 provinces, according to a government website. But activists said environmental and social impact assessments of the concessions are rarely released publicly. They claim that the companies owning the concessions are managed by family members and associates of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, assisted by
police and military authorities. Adhoc said nearly 50,000 families have been affected in more than 200 land disputes since 2007. “It’s very natural for people to protest and defend their own land and home,” Chan Savet, an activist at Adhoc, told Asia360 News. Activists said thousands of families have been driven from their homes without any compensation despite living there for many years before land concessions were granted. “The culture of silence is still prevalent in Cambodia society,” said Chan Savet. “But why do people come out and protest in public? Because it’s too much for them to bear.” Recent years have seen a surge in forced evictions by private companies aided by hired military police and other armed personnel. The Adhoc report revealed that 332 villagers have gone into hiding to avoid arrest after protesting their evictions. Villagers at the province of Kampong Speu have been particularly hard hit by land disputes and criminal charges against protesting residents. Opposition newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer reported this week that the social problems stemming from land concessions and forced evictions have become particularly serious in the past five years. The newspaper said land grabs were designed to boost development, but were in fact hindering it as foreign investors are worried about the lack of law and order in the kingdom.
Increasingly violent forced evictions and unresolved land disputes threaten Cambodia’s stability.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
7% of national news coverage
Violence in land disputes rising
6% of national news coverage
General’s family jailed
3% of national news coverage
Authorities nab loggers at border
84% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis Leading the news was Cambodian human rights group Adhoc, which released a report on violence and criminal charges against villagers protesting against forced evictions. Local media latched onto the issue, branding it one of the kingdom’s biggest problems as it was holding back economic growth rather than promoting it. A father involved in legal action against his wife and three sons has created a media storm. Nuon Pak, a 52-year-old army officer, was taken hostage, beaten and tortured by his family last year in an attempt to convince him to sell the family property and hand over the proceeds. He later withdrew the charges, but his wife and children have been handed prison sentences of several years. Also gaining attention was the arrest of 12 people who attempted to cross illegally from Preah Vihear province to Thailand to log rosewood. Logging equipment was confiscated by Cambodian police as the loggers tried to cross the border. Local media reported the incident largely positively, as previous border logging incidents have resulted in fatal shootings.
Image: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP
Southeast Asia: Vietnam
Crack in the Wall
Vietnam’s biggest dam appears to be leaking and locals want answers HO CHI MINH
ater is pouring out of a 180-metre high dam wall — a wall that holds back about 730 million cubic metres of water — and the nearby residents in Quang Nam province in central Vietnam are terrified. Locals first discovered what appeared to be cracks in the Song Tranh 2 Dam wall in mid-March. Some of the cracks were tiny, only a few millimetres long, but other cracks were big enough for water to stream out, news website VnExpress reported last week. Government agencies and the company that built the dam have assured local residents that the reservoir is safe, but residents are not convinced. Local authorities are now desperately seeking technical advice about the stability of the dam. If the dam wall collapsed, a wall of water would probably wash through five districts and the popular World Heritagelisted tourist town of Hoi An, according to a March 27 Tuoi Tre report. About 40,000 people live in the district closest to the Song Tranh 2 Dam. Vietnam’s state-run monopoly power company, Vietnam Electricity, said the “leaking” water was actually coming through heat-dissipating outlets in the dam wall — small vents designed to release the heat that builds up from the water pressure.
About 30 litres of water a second was escaping through the heat vents, a rate that “does not affect the dam’s safety”, said EVN on March 26. It added that water flow from the heat vents have been reduced by 80%. Construction ministry engineers and local military units have also backed EVN’s assurances that the dam is safe. But Dr Dao Trong Tu, the former deputy chairman of the Mekong River Commission, dismissed EVN’s claim as a public relations stunt. “EVN was just saying that to calm the public down.” He pointed out that a dam’s heat outlets should not be allowing so much water through. Other scientists and engineers who have inspected the US$240 million dam, including experts from the science and technology ministry, have also rejected EVN’s explanation that the water coming through the dam’s wall was from heat vents. “EVN is trying to avoid the fact that
the dam wall has cracked,” Dao told Thanh Nien on March 27. “A dam is very hard to fix once it’s cracked.” The Quang Nam local government wants more independent inspections of the Song Tranh 2 Dam, Vietnam’s biggest hydropower project. Some of the leaders of districts lying in the path of the dam water have prepared evacuation plans. “We have to remember that water erodes rock, so if we do not act quickly,
A dam is very hard to fix once it’s cracked...
Vietnam has more than 400 hydropower dams, working to meet its growing electricity needs.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
11% of national news coverage Dam ‘leaks’ threaten thousands
7% of national news coverage
China arrests Vietnamese fishermen
6% of national news coverage
State-owned shipbuilder execs on trial
76% of national news coverage Other news
Image: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP
anything could happen,” Dr To Van Truong, a reservoir engineer, told Tuoi Tre in an interview on March 26. To, who worked on hydropower projects in Asia, US and Europe, pointed to the deadly collapse of the St Francis reservoir in the US in 1928, two years after cracks appeared in the dam wall. The St Francis reservoir wall collapsed in the middle of the night, killing around 600 people. Finding the cause of the leaks is urgent, To said. “There should not be vague conclusions just to calm down the public.” Late last year, Vietnamese scientists said the construction of the dam had actually caused more earth tremors, a phenomenon known as “induced seismicity”, where the weight of the water in the reservoir places extra stress on the earth’s crust, triggering increased seismic activity. Locals in Quang Nam suspect earth tremors that have shaken
the area since 2010, creating the cracks in the dam wall, Thanh Nien reported on March 22. Song Tranh 2 was built in an area vulnerable to quakes measuring up to 5.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, according to local media. Locals are clamouring for answers and they want them before the storm season arrives. Central Vietnam is lashed by violent storms and cyclones every year. Last October, severe flooding in Quang Nam province exacerbated by the ill-timed releases of water from hydropower plants, claimed the lives of 24 people. There are more than 400 hydropower dams in central Vietnam, including 62 in Quang Nam province. Like neighbouring China, Vietnam is turning to hydropower to meet its increasing energy demands. The government aims to generate 3% of Vietnam’s power from alternative energy by 2015, and 5% by 2020.
News Media Analysis Top of the news was the widespread concern over suspected leaks in a dam wall in central Quang Nam province. State utility company Vietnam Electricity has issued assurances that the situation was under control and not serious. Various experts and local-level officials accused the company of spouting platitudes rather than dealing with the issue. Also in the headlines was Vietnam’s demand that China release fisherman arrested near the disputed Paracel Islands. Vietnam and China both claim sovereignty over the islands and the surrounding area, thought to be rich in oil and gas reserves. Rounding out the top news was the trial of former executives at Vinashin, a state-owned shipbuilder, for “abusing power” and “deliberately acting against state regulations on economic management”. Investigations have found that poor management was behind Vinashin’s near-bankruptcy in 2010 with debts of up to US$4.5 billion.
Southeast Asia: Malaysia
Not Cowed Cattle-rearing scandal fails to bring down controversial politician, as prime minister risks image to support her KUALA LUMPUR
he country’s scandal-plagued top female politician is resisting pressuring to quit a party leadership post despite having recently stepped down from the cabinet. While many of the ruling party’s election-wary cadres are calling for her ouster, the prime minister has come out in support of her. Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said that she would stay on as chief of her party’s women’s wing because it could not be proven that she was complicit in a corruption scandal involving a high-profile cattle rearing project. Her husband, Mohamad Salleh Ismail, was in charge of the company overseeing the failed National Feedlot Centre (NFC) and was recently charged with criminal breach of trust over the alleged misuse of government funds allocated to the failed project. Shahrizat’s personal proximity to the scandal and speculation that she used her influence obtain the soft loan from the government — amounting to about RM250 million (US$80 million) — quickly led to her being seen as a political liability for the ruling Malaybased UMNO party, which faces critical national polls expected within the coming months. Some of her fiercest critics have been her closest party colleagues. They say her decision to step down as the minister for women, family and community development is not enough. “I’ve gone down to the grassroots and this is generally what [our party] members are saying. They are finding it hard to meet the people when the
image of their leader is tarnished,” Kamilia Ibrahim, Shahrizat’s deputy chief of the UMNO’s women’s wing, told The Star newspaper on March 22. “People are poking fun at Wanita [the women’s wing] and calling us ‘cows’. The Wanita grassroots are saying it’s difficult to work [for the general election]. As a leader, we have to listen to what the grassroots are saying,” she added. However, Shahrizat is not without her supporters. Her allies in the 1.3 million-strong women’s wing responded to Kamilia’s attacks, releasing a statement on March 22, saying that “it does not at all give the true picture of what is happening in UMNO’s women movement regarding that particular issue (the NFC scandal), whether at the exco level, state, division or even the grassroots.” Prime Minister Najib Razak has also thrown his weight behind Shahrizat. “This is the policy of UMNO as something is not proven yet, or there must at least be a charge. If not, there is no need to give up,” Najib told The Malaysian Insider website on March 23 after addressing thousands of women party members in a closed-door meeting. The opposition has seized the opportunity to disparage Najib for his refusal to heed the sentiments of his own party’s senior members. They say his support of his scandal-plagued colleague contradicts his claims of being a reformer. Leading the fray is the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which said that the
prime minister’s statement betrays how lowly the government values integrity in its leaders. “The man on the street will judge Najib and UMNO as a leader and party willing to tolerate corruption, cronyism and unethical practices, and forgo the principles of good governance and integrity,” Tony Pua, the DAP’s national publicity secretary told The Malaysian Insider on March 25. The political climate in Malaysia has been heating up in the last few months. Commentators say recent hints by the prime minister and his deputies, along with government cash handouts to lower income and minority groups, could indicate that elections will be called soon. The prime minister has been reticent on the exact time frame, but speculation is rife that it will be within the first half of this year. Good governance and corruption are among the key issues voters are expected to latch onto. Campaigning on both sides have already begun in earnest. Najib has visited opposition-held states, while his fiercest political adversary, Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, has been speaking regularly across the country at packed rallies. Stakes for both sides are high. The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is desperate to win back its coveted two-thirds majority in parliament, while Pakatan Rakyat is attempting to cast itself as government-in-waiting and is capitalising on the historic gains it made at the last elections in 2008.
Controversial politician Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is staying on as chief of the ruling party’s women’s wing despite calls for her to go.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
10% of national news coverage PM backs Shahrizat as women’s wing chief
9% of national news coverage
Controversial rare-earths plant to proceed
9% of national news coverage Chinese teachers shortage
72% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis Leading the headlines this week, Prime Minister Najib Razak has defended his party’s women’s wing chief, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, saying that without any proof of personal complicity in a high-profile corruption scandal involving her husband, she did not have to resign from her party post. Shahrizat had earlier announced her intention to step down from her cabinet office when her tenure expires next month. Also making the news, activists are up in arms again after a company official revealed that Australian mining firm, Lynas Corporation did not conduct a comprehensive environmental impact assessment for its rare earth refinery plant in Kuantan, Pahang, because Malaysian law does not require it. A parliamentary select committee has been set up to look into the safety of the plant but it will unlikely have any bearing on the plant’s scheduled opening in June. The third-most reported story was the shortage of teachers in Chinese primary schools. Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong said he would quit if it could help resolve the problem. He had been heckled during a rally by a group of Chinese educationists who accused the government of compromising Chinese education by intentionally not training enough Chinese school teachers.
Image: Saeed Khan/AFP
Southeast Asia: Indonesia
Fuelling Protest Prospect of higher fuel prices triggers street riots and political deadlock JAKARTA
early 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets across Indonesia to mark a day of violent protest against a government budgetary move that will push fuel prices up by a third. The decision to cut fuel subsidies that for years have enabled Indonesians to fill up cheaply at the pump has sparked widespread anger ahead of its implementation on April 1. Protesters spanning the gamut of Indonesian society voiced their opposition to the proposal to increase fuel prices by 1,500 rupiah, approximately 33%. Activists say the price jump will be particularly hard on the poor, who rely on cheap petrol to make ends meet. On March 27, the police reported that there were 127 demonstrations across the archipelago that day, involving around 88,000 protesters. Indonesiaâ€™s economy has grown
strongly over the past year, but the government is concerned it will not be able to balance the budget unless fuel subsidies are scrapped. Subsidies take up around 20% of the budget. â€œWe need the people to understand that the government needs to look after the state budget,â€? Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo told reporters on March 26. The following day, protesters and police clashed in central Jakarta, as antiriot police tried to prevent students from approaching the State Palace. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was not in residence at the time as he was travelling abroad. In scenes reminiscent of violent rioting in 1998 against food shortages and mass unemployment, students with the National Consolidation of Indonesian Students, or Konami, hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at riot police, who responded with warning shots, water cannon and tear gas.
Earlier that day, a group of 300 demonstrators pelted stones at the house of representatives, but left after it started to rain heavily. Other violent protests took place in smaller cities such as Makassar in South Sulawesi, where helmeted students hurled rocks at the police, who returned fire with warning shots and tear gas. Injuries and arrests were reported, but no fatalities. Media reports
We need the people to understand that the government needs to look after the state budget...
Thousands of Indonesians protested nationwide to reject the government’s plan to hike the subsidised fuel price in line with rising global oil prices.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
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Demonstrations against fuel price hike
6% of national news coverage
New election commissioners named
5% of national news coverage
Government’s purchase of warplanes queried
60% of national news coverage Other news
Image: Adek Berry/AFP
suggested that the protests were tamer than expected, perhaps due to the restraint shown by riot police. The government had prepared for the worst, deploying 22,000 police officers and 8,000 soldiers around Jakarta. Critics lambasted the posting of soldiers at riot hot spots, fearing excessive violence in suppressing the protests, which had happened frequently under previous administrations. “Any negative consequences of a mass protest should be handled through measures of law enforcement,” Haris Azhar, the chairman of human rights group Republika said on March 25. The government defended its approach, saying the soldiers would be tasked only with securing vital venues such as the State Palace. The protests coincided with the government’s attempts to secure approval for the policy change in the house of representatives.
A smooth passage had been anticipated, but resistance from opposition parties and one ruling coalition party has been unexpectedly fierce. President Yudhoyono’s rationale for the price hike has been drowned out by claims from opposition parties that the measure was only the first of a series of price rises for basic goods. Political deadlock has hampered efforts to resolve the issue. In the latest round of political talks on March 26, the government’s insistence on ignoring compromise proposals prompted a walkout by the opposition Gerindra and Hanura parties. A vote on the policy is set for March 29, as Asia360 News goes to press. The government is confident of gaining approval from the house of representatives, but protest leaders have vowed more demonstrations if the measure is approved.
News Media Analysis The planned fuel price rise was the major story throughout the week. Protesters demonstrated at cities around Indonesia against the price rise, scheduled to take effect from April 1. Despite some violent clashes, most of the demonstrations were peaceful. The naming of seven new commissioners to the General Election Commission also gained media attention. The new members, all of whom were recommended by an independent panel, immediately demanded that parliament pass a law to reform electoral rules that has languished for the past two years. Also making news was the government’s purchase of six Sukhoi fighter jets from Russia, which activists said involved kickbacks. They claim the price for the jets was marked up by as much as US$50 million. Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro has announced that the Corruption Eradication Commission is looking into the allegations.
Southeast Asia: Singapore
Solutions on Tap Singapore, which invests heavily in water technologies and infrastructure to meet its ever growing needs, marked World Water Day last weekend.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
4% of national news coverage Singapore celebrates World Water Day
3% of national news coverage Primary school admission to favour citizens
2% of national news coverage
Green light for Malaysian casino operators Image: PUB
World Water Day highlights challenges for Singapore
oting small blue water buckets, more than 10,000 Singaporeans walked, cycled and paddled last weekend, symbolically portraying the ordeal that people from less-developed countries have to endure in order to obtain clean, drinking water. The March 24 event was part of Singapore’s largest-ever World Water Day celebration, which aimed to highlight the importance of a reliable supply of drinking water to the island nation’s security. The densely-populated country aims to achieve complete self-reliance for its water needs by 2061, which is when its water supply arrangement with neighbouring Malaysia — a pact that has been politically contentious — expires. The country lacks sufficient natural sources of fresh water to meet its evergrowing needs. In addition to investing heavily in new water technologies and infrastructure, the government has also encouraged people to reduce consumption and not take water security for granted. “We will need collective efforts of every individual, young and old, not just
91% of national news coverage
to conserve water in our daily activities, but to also keep our water resources clean for long-term sustainability,” said President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the event, according to Today newspaper. Singapore’s demand for water is expected to double over the next 50 years, according to Today. The government is under pressure to make sure its water supply keeps up. To achieve water self-reliance within the next half century, Singapore would have to triple its daily production of recycled water and increase its capacity for desalination by ten times, according to a March 25 report by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao. To supplement its current efforts, which include purifying sewage water and desalinating seawater, Singapore is also stepping up its efforts to harvest stormwater. It was recently announced that the government is exploring the viability of constructing deep, underground reservoirs. World Water Day is a United Nations initiative meant to highlight the need to preserve the world’s water resources. Singapore first commemorated it in 2008.
News Media Analysis Topping the news was World Water Day, which was commemorated on March 24. The event is of particular significance to Singapore, given its lack of natural water resources. The occasion also highlighted ongoing government efforts to achieve water self-reliance by 2061. Also in the headlines was a policy change to prioritise citizens over permanent residents in the registration of children in popular primary schools. The annual registration exercise for next year’s primary school cohort has entered its second phase. In popular schools, these remaining places have to be balloted for. Rounding out the top news was the unprecedented granting of licences to two Malaysian casino junket operators despite a recent government announcement that it was committed to curbing gambling for Singaporeans. The regulatory panel said that stringent controls would be put in place to ensure the junket operators target only foreigners.
Top Stories from National News Coverage CHINA Grisly Harvest China to abolish harvesting of death-row organs SOUTH KOREA Primary Blame Revelations of rigging in the electoral nominations dent oppositionâ€™s chances ahead of elections TAIWAN One Country, Two Areas Opposition up in arms over suggestion that Taiwan is part of China
East Asia: China
Grisly Harvest BEIJING
China to abolish harvesting of death-row organs
hina has moved to halt the secretive harvesting of donated organs from executed prisoners, amid fresh concerns that the practice encourages humanitarian abuses and corruption. The move reflects a significant shift in Chinese attitudes towards the treatment of prisoners, which has received more attention as a growing middle class starts to question practices it had previously taken for granted. The policy would be phased out over five years in China, where 90% of organs used in transplants come from the death row, Health Vice-Minister told Xinhua news agency on March 22. Ending the practice will resolve ethical considerations but is also likely to worsen the organ shortage. Of the more than 1.5 million Chinese needing transplants each year, only 10,000 actually receive new organs. Using the organs of prisoners has been a convenient solution, and authorities claimed that prisoners’ rights were respected and their consent sought before organs were extracted. Human rights activists however raised doubts over the ability of a prisoner to make a rational choice when faced with execution. “The international community worries that it’s hard to protect the rights of death row inmates when they’re already under arrest,” said a Beijing News report on March 26. Demand for new organs far outstrips supply in China, which partly explains the persistence of using the organs of executed convicts. A flourishing blackmarket trade has sprouted where private hospitals work with brokers to buy organs from poor families, sometimes using coercion. In an exposé published on the same day, the Southern Daily newspaper revealed a network of brokers who worked with private hospitals to buy organs from cash-strapped people located through online discussion rooms. “It’s an extremely high stakes
business,” said the report. “Every year over a million patients in China need a new kidney, but fewer than 4,000 legal transplants took place last year. The huge market demand means a flourishing trade.” Authorities have cracked down on the black market by introducing new laws including one in 2007 barring donations from living people who have no family or emotional connection to the recipient. The next step is to introduce a voluntary donor scheme like that used in many developed countries. A survey by the Red Cross in selected provinces found broad support for voluntary donation, especially among the young. Guidelines were being drafted to encourage donations from recently bereaved poor families, said Hao Linna, vice-president of China’s Red Cross in a March 23 interview with China Daily newspaper. The guidelines are expected to take effect from June, with detailed conditions on donor registry, witnessing and family support. Health authorities are also under pressure to revise the definition of death in China, which uses heart failure rather than the brain death standard used in many countries. Benchmarking brain death has been avoided due to fears that authorities in poorer areas may hastily declare a person brain-dead in order to quickly sell the organs. On China’s vibrant micro-blogging sites however, many are sceptical that the new policy will result in genuine change. A microblogger named ‘Yuzhirui’ pointed out that only five years ago, Beijing had flatly denied a foreign media report claiming widespread use of prisoners’ organs in the country. “How can we trust a government that lies like this?” wrote Yuzhirui. “I’m sure someone is taking money in this.” But some other bloggers were more positive. “Admitting the problem is a start,” said one. “It’s not too late the fix the situation.”
It’s hard to protect the rights of death row inmates when they’re already under arrest...
Five years from now, prisoners facing the death row in jails such as this will no longer be approached for their organs.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
6% of national news coverage Death-row organ transplants to stop
5% of national news coverage Hong Kong chief executive election
5% of national news coverage President Hu’s travels
84% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis Top of the news were government plans to halt organ transplants from death-row prisoners. News reports focused on the problems associated with the practice, including a lack of regulation and a flourishing black market. The move surprised many micro-bloggers, coming just a few years after official denials that organs were routinely harvested from the death row. Also making headlines was Hong Kong’s election for chief executive, which was won by Leung Chun-ying, the son of a policeman, on March 25. Reports focused on the need for the territory and the mainland to embrace each other’s differences. President Hu Jintao’s travels also gained notice. After meeting US President Barack Obama on March 26 in Seoul, South Korea, Hu headed to India for the 4th BRICS summit. In Seoul, Hu expressed hopes that security tensions in North Asia would not rise despite an imminent North Korean rocket test. Chinese media focused on the warming relationship between Hu and Obama, noting they had met 11 times in three years.
Image: Goh Chai Hin/AFP
East Asia: South Korea
Primary Blame Revelations of rigging in the electoral nominations dent opposition’s chances ahead of elections SEOUL
he opposition coalition is trying to put the latest election scandal behind it after pressuring one of its candidates to drop out of the race. This followed revelations that party workers had manipulated telephone surveys during a February primary to nominate the electoral candidates. The revelations were a blow to the opposition coalition, which has promised the electorate a breath of fresh air in the April 11 general elections, in comparison to the ruling Saenuri party and its corruption scandals. Lee Jung-hee, co-leader of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), announced her resignation on March 23. She blamed campaign staff for encouraging her supporters to lie about their ages to squeeze in more votes during the telephone surveys in South Korea’s complicated primary system — although she took ultimate responsibility for the wrongdoing. “The opposition alliance that was built with great effort by many people is in a mess because of my action. I undermined the ethical standards of UPP so the responsibility should be borne by me,” Lee told a press briefing, according to the Hankyoreh Daily. Political pundits speculate that the move may cost the opposition coalition dearly, as Lee drew support from a large base of progressive-minded voters. Reactions to Lee’s initial request to hold the primary again also revealed a weakening of the coalition, which is led by the Democratic United Party (DUP).
Her rival in the primary, DUP candidate Kim Hee-chul dismissed the request as an “indulgence” and subsequently resigned from DUP altogether to stand as an independent. DUP is launching full damage control, mindful that the elections are mere weeks away. “We take her decision as sacrifice and concession to realise the opposition front’s common goals of a great victory in the election and punishment of the Lee Myung-bak government,” said the DUP in response to Lee’s resignation. In the wake of the scandal, Saenuri has trained its sights on what it alleges is a “pro-North Korea” faction within the minor UPP, feeding speculation that factionalism was behind the rigging of the primary. “Looking at the coalition between the main opposition DUP and the UPP, there is something that the people have to know,” said Saenuri lawmaker Cho Yoonsun in a report on The Korea Times. “What will happen to our future if the nation is led by a pro-North Korea group? We need to be aware.” North Korea has emerged as a hot button issue in practically every election since the 1953 ceasefire. This year, tension between the North and the South has been ratcheting up after Pyongyang executed a puzzling volte-face on its deal with the US to receive food aid. Despite promising to suspend its nuclear and missile programmes, North Korea has announced plans to launch a satellite that many believe would aid its missile
ambitions. Earlier this month, South Korea commemorated the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship which Seoul alleges was a result of a torpedo attack from North Korea and which killed 46 sailors. The primary-rigging scandal and Saenuri’s new front of attack has turned the April 11 general elections back into a neck-and-neck race. Nearly 43% of respondents in a Hankook Ilbo survey expect Saenuri to score the most wins against 33% for DUP. In another survey by TV news channel YTN, some 26% of those polled said they would vote for Saenuri against 22.4% for DUP, with nearly 40% undecided. South Korea goes to the polls on April 11 to vote for 300 parliamentary lawmakers — 246 by electoral district representation and 54 by proportional representation. Official campaigning started on March 29 and continues for 13 days. The general elections are expected to be a bellwether for the presidential election in December.
The opposition alliance that was built with great effort by many people is in a mess because of my action...
Yet another scandal has erupted in the lead up to the April 11 general elections.
March 23 â€“ MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
47% of national news coverage Opposition in primaryrigging scandal
9% of national news coverage
Global nuclear summit in Seoul
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Probe into illegal spying re-opened
40% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis Dominating the news was the primaryrigging scandal that threatened the stability of the opposition coalition and led to the resignation of the coleader of coalition member, the United Progressive Party. With the general elections just weeks away, the ruling Saenuri party has capitalised on the scandal to open a new front of attack on the opposition around the hot button issue of North Korea. In distant second is coverage of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. Over March 26 and 27, representatives from 53 countries gathered to discuss cooperative measures to combat nuclear terrorism. The Seoul Communique will be drawn on the basis of their agreement. Rounding out the top news is the re-opening of investigations into allegations that the office of President Lee Myung-bak illegally conducted surveillance on citizens critical of the administration. Chang Jin-soo, a former ethics official in the prime ministerâ€™s office, has confessed that he was ordered by the presidential office to destroy evidence of the illegal surveillance.
Image: Park Yeong-Dai/AFP
East Asia: Taiwan
One Country, Two Areas TAIPEI
Opposition up in arms over suggestion that Taiwan is part of China
aiwan’s opposition parties erupted in fury after reports revealed that Wu Poh-hsiung, a former chairman of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), told Chinese President Hu Jintao that Taiwan’s government supported a system for the cross-strait interaction he termed “one country, two areas”. Opposition politicians are accusing Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou of committing treason by allowing the concept of “one country, two areas”, which they say is tantamount to surrendering Taiwan to China. Ma has already been the subject of a lawsuit over the 1992 consensus between China and Taiwan, which recognises that there is one China but leaves the exact definition to individual interpretation. The Taiwan Solidarity Union, which filed the lawsuit last year, may be allying with the Taiwan National Alliance to consider “further measures to hold Ma accountable”, said the Taipei Times on March 28. Wu’s comments came during a March 21 meeting in Beijing between the KMT and Chinese Communist Party leadership. The annual event is designed to enhance party-to-party relations and began after a trip to Beijing by former vice-president and then-KMT chairman Lien Chan in 2005. At the meeting, Wu told the Chinese president that Taiwan’s government is using the “one country, two areas” concept as a framework for improving bilateral ties, explaining that the legal basis for his reasoning is that TaiwanChina ties are handled by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, not the foreign ministry, meaning that crossstrait relations are not “state-to-state relations” but rather, “special relations”. Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, who stepped down in February after losing her bid for the presidency, said Wu’s remarks were dangerous. “It is dangerous because the KMT has not been able to explain the difference between the
Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China,” Tsai said at a March 23 press conference. “We may accept ‘one system, two countries’ or ‘one area, two countries,’ but we would never accept ‘one country, two areas’ or ‘one country, two systems,’” said DPP legislator Chen Oupo in a March 23 Taipei Times report. Meanwhile, DPP spokesman Lo Chih-cheng accused President Ma of abandoning his pledge to allow the citizens of Taiwan to decide the country’s fate and said “one country, two areas” represented a change in the status quo. Ruling party officials quickly went to work trying to put out the fires caused by Wu’s statements. “Wu’s remark did not signify a change in Taiwan’s status quo,” Chang Hsien-yao, vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, said at the Taipei Forum Foundation on March 25. Chang and other officials explained that the “one country, two areas” concept is actually enshrined in Taiwan’s constitution, which states that China encompasses both the “Taiwan area” and the “mainland area”. Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), which was established on the mainland in 1912 and had at one time governed most of mainland. A presidential office spokesman also waded into the controversy, saying that Wu’s wording could have been clearer. “One ROC, two areas, would be a more precise way of defining the concept,” Fan Chiang Tai-chi said at a press conference. Fang Chiang added that President Ma’s “Three No’s” policy of no unification, no independence and no use of force, had not changed. Opposition parties, however, are not buying the government’s line. “This act is an insult to the integrity of Taiwan’s 23 million people,” said former Tainan county commissioner Su Huan-chih. “The Ma administration has to realise that it cannot do anything it wants simply because Ma won a
We may accept ‘one system, two countries’ or ‘one area, two countries,’ but we would never accept ‘one country, two areas’ or ‘one country, two systems...
second term.” Su also promised to lead a 100,000-strong march against the “one country, two areas” proposal on May 20, when Ma is due for his presidential inauguration. Taiwan Solidarity Union Chairman Huang Kun-huei also urged citizens to stage a mass protest on May 20. Huang blasted “one country, two areas” as both an act of self-belittlement and as a step towards unification with the mainland. DPP lawmakers said at a March 27 news conference that the government is going against the will of the people as most of Taiwan’s citizens do not want unification with China. Lee added that any change in the cross-strait status quo should require a referendum. Opposition lawmakers have begun discussions on amending Taiwan’s constitution to remove any references to unification with the mainland, but considering their minority status, such moves are unlikely to succeed. Some analysts believe that the brouhaha over “one country, two areas” is all smoke but no fire. George Tsai, a political scientist with Taipei’s Chinese Culture University, told Taiwan’s only English-language radio station International Community Radio Taipei that the row is based on opportunistic politics. “The purpose is to embarrass Ma Ying-jeou. I think it was easy for the DPP supporters, particularly the politicians, to use the seemingly justifiable cause against Ma Ying-jeou. So I think they can easily mobilise a lot of supporters to go to the streets,” Tsai said.
The man behind the controversial comment is Wu Poh-hsiung, a former chairman of the ruling Kuomintang.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
19% of national news coverage
Opposition decries ‘One Country, Two Areas’
7% of national news coverage
Deadly air force crash at sea
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Basketball star Lin still draws fans
68% of national news coverage Other news
News Media Analysis Grabbing a fifth of headlines is the controversial “one country, two areas” comment by a ruling KMT official in Beijing. Opposition parties denounced the remark, which they say endangers Taiwan’s status as an independent sovereign state. The government disagrees, saying that the phrase is technically in line with Taiwan’s constitution. Opposition politicians said they were planning street protests. The second biggest story is the deadly plunge in the sea taken by an air force rescue helicopter on its way to a fisherman suffering chest pains. One helicopter crew member was thrown clear of the wreckage and rescued by the fishing boat, but five other crew members are missing. Rescue teams continue to search for survivors. The air force has commissioned a special task force to find the cause of the crash. Lastly, the so-called Linsanity phenomenon continues to have legs with New York Knicks’ basketball star Jeremy Lin still making the headlines. Lin, an American of Taiwanese descent, has helped his team go on another winning streak.
Image: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Top Stories from National News Coverage AUSTRALIA Love’s Labor’s Lost Loss in Queensland elections deal another blow to Prime Minister Gillard
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Love’s Labor’s Lost Loss in Queensland elections deal another blow to Prime Minister Gillard
n yet another sign of the Labor Party’s dipping fortunes, it has suffered a devastating electoral defeat in the northeastern state of Queensland to the opposition Liberal National Party. Labor’s Anna Bligh, Australia’s first elected female state premier, had to step down as Queensland premier after Labor won just six out of 89 seats in the March 24 polls, ending the party’s 14-year legacy in the resource-rich state. The party now holds power in just two out of nation’s six states. Bligh has also announced her political resignation. “Queensland needs an effective opposition and Queensland Labor can only do that if it rebuilds and recovers and renews, and I don’t believe they can effectively do that while I’m sitting in their ranks,’’ Bligh told reporters on March 25. “The world is changing and Labor has to change with it.” The election result — which The Australian described as the “biggest
election massacre for any major party in modern Australian political history” — reflected dissatisfaction with the Labor government and underscores the challenges that Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces in turning around her party’s fortunes, said commentators. “Campbell Newman’s election to power today is more a rejection of the Labor Party than any strong endorsement of the LNP,” wrote Madonna King, a columnist at Brisbane’s daily newspaper The CourierMail on March 24. “Of course the Queensland election has federal implications,” Peter Reith wrote on ABC’s The Drum on March 27. “No one can quantify how much but the consequences of one of the biggest losses ever in Australian politics cannot be ignored.” The national elections do not
have to be held until 2013 but the rapidly declining fortunes of the ruling Labor Party could trigger a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Gillard before then. In an opinion piece published in Fairfax newspapers on March 28, Peter Costello, a former federal treasurer said the electoral results in Queensland was “a harbinger of the next federal campaign”. “Labor once saw its purpose as supporting skilled and unskilled workers to raise their living standards. But today its historic mission seems to be to stop [opposition leader] Tony Abbott,” Costello wrote. He added that the results showed that the party should reduce the new tax on carbon pollution, cancel “uneconomic” forms of spending on clean energy, and help create more jobs.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard (right) and ousted Queensland state premier Anna Bligh in happier times.
March 23 – MARCH 29, 2012
National News Coverage
20% of national news coverage
Labor loses Queensland
4% of national news coverage
Carmaker subsidy ignites debate
2% of national news coverage
Chinese telco blocked from broadband tender
2% of national news coverage
US ‘plans’ drone base on Cocos Islands
72% of national news coverage Other news
Image: Gary Ramage/AFP
Labor Party member Grace Grace, however, defended Labor’s legacy in Queensland. Grace told online publication The Brisbane Times that Labor should take pride in the completed infrastructure projects and the passing of the same-sex union bill. Crikey, another online publication, said in an opinion piece that the legal protection of Queensland’s woodlands was “the single most important environmental policy achievement in Australian history”. Prime Minister Gillard, who narrowly won parliamentary approval to tax wealthy mining companies last week, has sought to distance herself from her party’s weekend loss. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Nuclear Summit in Seoul, Gillard said that she has always
acted in the interests of the nation. “Ultimately, the 2013 [federal] election will be decided on its own issues. I’m happy now and in the 2013 election to say, who do you trust to manage the economy in the interests of working people?”
The consequences of one of the biggest losses ever in Australian politics cannot be ignored...
News Media Analysis Leading the headlines was the ruling Labor Party’s loss at the Queensland election, to the opposition Liberal National Party. The result is seen as a reflection of voter unhappiness towards the government’s recent policies such as increased taxes. The loss also underscores the challenges that Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces ahead of the national polls, which are due by 2013. Also making the news was the government’s controversial decision to award a subsidy package of more A$200 million (US$209 million) to car manufacturer Holden. The move has reignited a debate about whether to subsidise ailing industries. Coming in third in news coverage this week was the government’s decision to block off China’s telco Huawei from bidding for a broadband network project. Garnering equal media attention is Prime Minister Gillard’s denial that a decision had been taken to allow the US military to open a drone base on the Cocos Islands.
Global Asia: Newspapers
Asia’s Newspaper Boom Buoyed by huge untapped markets, Asia’s newspapers are bucking a global trend of miserable sales, bankruptcies and job cuts
he newspaper industry is in trouble, if not terminal decline. Circulation and advertising revenue are slumping as readers opt to snack on bytes of information on their phones and iPads, rather than slog through a newspaper. Not in Asia. The region’s voracious appetite for print news boosted paid circulation by 7% in 2010, and by 16% over the five-year period between 2006 and 2010, according to the forthcoming World Press Trends 2011 report. The report, published annually by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-INFRA) reveals that India, China and Japan are the world’s top three newspaper markets, selling 110 million, 109 million and 50 million copies a day respectively. Circulation in the region makes up over 60% of the global total. Moreover, 67 of the world’s 100 largest daily newspapers come from Asia. The region witnessed 2.7% growth in the number of daily newspaper titles in 2010, one whole percent more than the global average. “Newspapers [in Asia] are the reach medium that offers huge penetration compared to other publications,” said Jacob Mathew, president of the WANINFRA, in a recent interview. Mathew points out that in major markets such as India and China, print is growing both in terms of circulation as well as advertising revenue. Advertising
revenue at Asian print publications dropped during the global financial crisis, but rebounded in 2010 by 4% over the previous year. “This is likely to continue as our penetration levels are relatively low compared to the advanced economies,” said Mathew of WAN-INFRA. Those numbers contrast sharply with the miserable state of newspapers in most developed markets. Battered by competition from online news sources, paid circulation fell by 11.8% over the last five years in western Europe, 12% in eastern Europe and 10% in central Europe, according to the WAN-INFRA 2011 report. The decline was especially steep in the US, where newspapers lost 17% over five years. Asia faces some of the same challenges. But its huge and aspirational population, coupled with relatively low subscription prices in many markets, has given newspapers a flying start. Circulation for The Times of India has grown to around 4 million, helped by low internet penetration, making it the country’s most widely read Englishlanguage daily. This has helped to boost turnover at The Times Group to an estimated US$1 billion per year despite rock-bottom cover prices. Japan offers another case study of success, but for different reasons. With Internet penetration at 80%, home to huge broadcasters and a massive blogosphere, its newspaper should,
according to the experiences elsewhere, be under siege. Yet Japan boasts three paid dailies that are the most widely read in the world, according to WAN-INFA. The Yomiuri Shimbun boasts a growing paid circulation of more than 10 million, followed by The Asahi Shimbun with about 8 million, and the Mainichi Shimbun with about 4 million. In contrast, The Wall Street Journal is the most widely-read US paper with just 2 million. Japan’s largest media conglomerate is the Yomiuri Group, which owns the Yomiuri Shimbun, The Asahi Shimbun and The Nikkei. It is hard to find out just how much money this privately-owned company makes, but with a monthly subscription running at around ¥4,000 per month (US$48), and stratospheric ad rates, it is clearly immensely profitable. One reason for the success of Japanese newspapers is a government policy that forces all newspapers to sell at the same price, effectively allowing local papers to charge more. Price wars of the type seen between British tabloids are against the law. “The national dailies, and 13 of the leading regional and local dailies, have exploited this antitrust exemption to maintain collusive subscription fees,” said David Flath of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Osaka University. “This has benefited the other local dailies and may have promoted improvements in content.” It is not all positive, however, for the region’s newspapers, with the same dynamics seen in more developed markets beginning to bite in Asia. Other developed markets like Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan reported their circulations falling by 10.3%, 3.3%, and 15.6% respectively. Singapore was the sole developed economy on the growth list, with circulation rallying by nearly 19%. The trend mirrors a global problem for the print media, where countries with sophisticated digital infrastructure are herding news consumers to interactive media of websites and, increasingly, smartphones. The warning signs are there for the rest of Asia. N Ram, a former editor-inchief of India’s The Hindu news daily, warns that Asia’s newspaper proprietors cannot afford to be complacent. Asia might have even less time than Western economies to prepare for the “digitization of the news media
landscape”, he told the global media convention FICCI Frames 2012 in Mumbai on March 19. Ram pointed out that Asia already has more broadband Internet subscribers than any other region — nearly 158 million. And with nearly 2 billion connections, the region also leads the world in the number of mobile cellular subscriptions. So can Asia’s newsrooms expect to end up in the same disastrous straits as their western cousins? There are two compelling reasons to answer no.
Newspapers in Asia are the reach medium that offers huge penetration compared to other publications... First, even in highly-wired markets like South Korea and Singapore, with world-class high-speed digital infrastructure, there remains a solid audience for quality news analysis, features, and investigative reports. Media experts say the secret sauce is a good mix of journalists in the field and capable editors — not the strength of the less substantial digital news world. Secondly, digital technology overloads the consumer with information, leaving space for a business model that curates the best stories and presents them intelligently in their proper context. Certainly, there are no signs of slumping profits yet. Singapore Press Holdings, which publishes national broadsheet The Straits Times, saw recurrent profits rise by 8% in the last financial year, while net profit at Malaysia’s Media Prima climbed 11% in the same period. In Hong Kong, advertising revenue for newspapers is declining but circulation is getting a second wind. This is raising hopes that newspapers could once again dominate a mediascape now led by television. “The world considers the newspaper business a sunset industry,” wrote KK Tsang, CEO of GroupM in The Standard in January. “But the Hong Kong market is very special because free newspapers have mushroomed — reversing the circulation plunge.” While digital news is cannibalising
Image: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP
print in many markets, World Press Trends 2011 suggests that websites and mobile devices are actually bolstering news consumption, which in the long run should benefit traditional media brands. In other words, the digital media is threatening only the existing business model of print media, and not the purpose and importance of the medium itself.
Some newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal, have jumped on the digital bandwagon to good effect by coming up with profitable websites. That lesson might not yet resonate in countries like India and China, where massive untapped markets are yielding strong profits. But it shows that even more challenging markets like Hong Kong and South Korea can thrive — along with the rest of Asia. DT/AR
Global Asia: Security
B l a C k M Ai L
North Korea reverts to type by prioritising missiles and military symbolism over food aid
o the outside world, North Korea’s latest diplomatic provocation is a puzzling reversal, to say the least. As a by-product of Pyongyang’s ruthless pursuit of regime survival however, it just might make perfect sense. Less than three weeks after signing a deal with the United States to suspend nuclear and missile programmes, Pyongyang put the pact at risk by announcing a plan to launch a satellite that most observers believe amounts to a missile in the making. Under the February 29 deal, Pyongyang agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and long-range missile tests, as well as allow inspections of nuclear facilities, in exchange for 240,000 tonnes of food aid over the next year. Assuming the launch goes ahead, that deal appears to be a dead letter. Why would Pyongyang agree to freeze its weapons programmes in return for a mountain of food aid, only to deliberately wreck the pact within days? “It doesn’t sound logical or consistent,” says Leonid Petrov, a Korea specialist at Sydney University. “But North Korea has its own logic.” Driving Pyongyang’s logic is the paramount importance of regime survival. Faced with the choice of feeding its hungry people or flexing a new military muscle to bolster domestic support, Pyongyang will opt for the latter every time, say North Korea watchers. The launch of the Kwangmyongsong 3 satellite is scheduled to happen between April 12 and April 16 — during mass festivities to commemorate the centenary of North Korea’s revered founder Kim Il-sung. Pyongyang claims the satellite is a peaceful initiative justified under the Outer Space Treaty, which codifies the
use of space under international law. The rest of the world, even its ally China, believes the ballistic technology can also be used for missile development and therefore violates two UN Security Council resolutions. All of North Korea’s major neighbours, and the UN, have denounced the launch plan. But Pyongyang has some good reasons to ignore the outrage. North Korea’s leadership has promised that 2012 will be the year the nation emerges as kangsongdaeguk: strong and mighty. Kim Jong-un is under pressure to deliver appropriate fireworks on April 15. He plans to spend US$2 billion, a third of North Korea’s total annual budget, on the centennial celebrations, according to an estimate published by South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper. “This is like a holy day in North Korea, a day to celebrate a strong and mighty nation,” says Kongdan Oh, an East Asia specialist at the Institute for Defence Analyses in Washington. “What better way to do that than launch a rocket using ballistic technology?” Pyongyang looks willing to sacrifice a closer relationship with the US, supposedly one of its top foreign policy goals, at the altar of regime security. “US relations can wait five, or even 10 years,” says Petrov. The question is whether Pyongyang’s volte-face was premeditated. If it was, says Petrov, the calculus may have been to hope that the US takes the line that humanitarian assistance is apolitical, and delivers the food aid anyway. Even if Washington retracts the food aid, Pyongyang can revert to its timehonoured tactic of accusing the US of pursuing a hostile policy, then blame it
for the inevitable escalation in security tensions. Adding credence to this view is the nature of the food aid. The brains at Pyongyang probably calculate that it would not lose much as the aid comprises mostly high-nutrition biscuits destined for women and children rather than the Korean People Army — a crucial support pillar for the regime. Symbolism matters in Pyongyang. While a satellite launch will not put food into bellies, it will help to bracket the younger Kim with his grandfather Kim Il Sung, thereby sanctifying his
There’s a lot of symbolism to this launch... Mysticism is an important part of this as it will distract people from the realities of their harsh lives...
Protestors in South Korea shout slogans against Kim Jong-un during a mock satellite launch.
Image: Jung Yeong-Je/AFP
stewardship. The satellite’s name, Kwangmyongsong, means right shining star, an oft-employed euphemism for the elder Kim. “There’s a lot of symbolism to this launch,” said Petrov of Sydney University. “Mysticism is an important part of this as it will distract people from the realities of their harsh lives.” One intriguing theory is that the sudden back-pedalling from the conciliatory food aid agreement reflects fractures within Pyongyang’s ruling echelon, with hardliners vetoing reformists who framed the February 29 deal. “The situation then appears to be two different groups of elites, with two different intentions,” Andray Abrahamian, a North Korea specialist at Ulsan University in South Korea, wrote recently in the Pyongyang-watching blog 38 North. But with Pyongyang’s machinations and motives as opaque as ever, the real question is how the US and, possibly, the UN Security Council will react to this latest affront.
Pyongyang’s decision to launch from the west coast rather than the eastern pad used in two previous failed launches, means the rocket is not likely to fly over Japan. This might be enough to prevent a UN Security Council sanction. “I don’t think that they will face any significant penalties,” said Marcus Noland, deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “While the Chinese are reportedly displeased, it’s hard to imagine them implementing tougher sanctions.” Perhaps the clearest takeaway from this morass of conflicting agendas is the difficulty of negotiating with a nation that refuses to abide by the traditional norms of diplomacy. Yet again, the US finds itself snookered by Pyongyang. If it delivers the food aid as promised, it will stand accused of caving in to ballistic blackmail. Yet if it withdraws the aid, Pyongyang will happily pocket another win, using Washington’s “hostile” policy to justify its continued possession of
missile and nuclear weaponry. As world leaders gathered in Seoul for a summit on nuclear security this week, North Korea insisted that it would go ahead with the launch, calling it “a legitimate right of a sovereign state”. European Union leaders expressed “grave concern” at North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programmes, and urged Pyongyang to scrap the launch. Japan also used the summit to call on Pyongyang to show restraint. Washington’s next step will be crucial to determining how the imbroglio will play out. Most analysts expect it to retract food aid, which could hand the initiative to Pyongyang. North Korea could conceivably invite nuclear inspectors into the country, then kick them out on the basis the US did not provide promised food assistance, said Victor Cha, a senior advisor at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It would be hogwash, but all of a sudden we’d look like the bad guys,” said Cha. “How did we get ourselves into this situation?” John Larkin
Global Asia: Nuclear Security
Nothing But Talk
Global nuclear summit largely fails to make the world a safer place
Image: Jewel Samad/AFP
opelessly hijacked by North Korea’s rocket launch plans, the recent Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul failed to move beyond a symbolic solidarity against nuclear proliferation. The biggest nuclear meeting in the world, the March 26-27 summit saw prominent heads of states representing around 80% of the world’s population and 90% of the global economy. But the high-profile attendance produced no binding requirements, focused on matters not on its agenda, and failed to address issues urgently in need of attention, analysts said. The summit’s goal is to combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen the security of fissile material — material used in reactors and explosives to generate a chain reaction of nuclear fission. But it fell so far short of its goal that some critics warn that the 2014 summit in the Netherlands could well be the last. Delegates politely applauded progress such as Italy’s pledge to dispose of its fissile material. But by the second day, the agenda had veered off course when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda urged the international community to demand that North Korea abandon the planned April launch of a satellite that many believe is a cover for a missile test. Many nations supported Japan’s call, but the fact remains that North Korea’s weapons programme was off the table during the summit itself.
Noda’s decision to ignore diplomatic and summit protocol reflected Japan’s frustration with the failure of the sixparty talks between the two Koreas, the US, Russia, China and Japan to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, said Professor Srikanth Kondapalli at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, in an interview with Asia360 News. North Korea walked out of the talks three years ago after the United Nations Security Council condemned its launch of a long-range rocket. Within weeks of abandoning the talks, North Korea had conducted a nuclear test. This type of behaviour certainly makes Pyongyang a nuclear threat, along with Iran. However, neither of these nations was invited to the summit. The one thing the summit got right was choosing Seoul as a venue, analysts said, given the risks of nuclear proliferation in North Asia. “Asia is the most likely region in the world to witness cascading nuclearisation in the near future,” said Robert E Kelly, an assistant professor in the political science and diplomacy department of Pusan National University in Busan. “If North Korea does halt its nuclear programme, it would become difficult for South Korea and Japan to avoid going nuclear themselves in future. Nuclear weapons matter more in Asia than any other part of the world,” he told Asia360 News. Pakistan, another nuclear trouble spot, was ignored by the summit.
“When the first summit in Washington was conceived, it was of everyone’s knowledge, though not stated publicly, that the idea was to keep Pakistan’s nuclear stock away from terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda,” Rajiv Nayan, senior research associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, told Asia360 News. But, he added: “Pakistan is not even being discussed at a nuclear security summit, despite the revelation about the relationship between the Pakistani establishment and terrorists like the late Osama bin Laden.” Nayan concluded that the US and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) nations had attempted to shield Pakistan from criticism due to its importance to their “war against terror”. In addition to failing to confront rogue nuclear states, the summit secured only slight progress on problems outlined in its charter. While the US and Russia have made recent progress in cutting nuclear stockpiles, India, China, Japan and South Korea remain at odds over how best to reduce their own inventories. China has expressed a strong will to reduce its nuclear warheads. It is believed to possess at least 200 warheads although Beijing maintains it only has a “handful” of nuclear weapons. As Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Kondapalli points out: “When countries are debating the starting point itself, how much hope can there be of reaching the destination any time soon?” AR
Politics : Censorship
An internet café in China, where the country operates Asia’s most sophisticated censorship programme.
Censorship and violence against journalists strangles public life across Asia — the internet helps free speech but governments and biased editors are still a problem
Image: Gou Yige/AFP
ucky you, dear reader, that you may peruse an article about media censorship in Asia: the how and the why, the state of play. There are 179 journalists in jail around the world, up from 81 just over a decade ago, and although the number of imprisoned reporters is not a clear measure of worsening censorship, it nevertheless suggests a global trend of press freedoms coming under attack. Your correspondent is not one of those unfortunate hacks. In these pages you will find, among other things, criticism of China and praise for Salman Rushdie — both of which, in the wrong country, could land Asia360 News in a spot of bother. Let us remember that millions of Asians do not have our good fortune. North Korea, for instance, has the lowest media freedom of any Asian country. But surprisingly, it is not the world’s worst for censorship, an honour that falls to faraway Eritrea. Asian countries, with few exceptions, rank somewhere in the bottom half of the 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, a ranking produced by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), a Paris-based media defence organisation. By happy accident, the top Asian country for press freedom is South Korea, 44th out of 179 listed states, and which ranks only a few spots shy of Spain and higher than the United States. Between the two Koreas lies a varied world of press restraints and censorship. These restraints can refer to government officials with red pens, internet monitoring systems that
block access to certain websites, citizens who keep an eye on their compatriots, and even journalists who practice the most effective form of censorship by keeping their mouths shut. A few spots above North Korea in the RWB rankings is China, stuck between Bahrain and Iran. Madeline Earp, the senior Asia programme researcher for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says that “China has one of the most extreme and pervasive [censorship] apparatuses in the world”. China’s censorship system, known as the Golden Shield Project, includes monitoring and blocking websites, and controlling the print and broadcast media. It is a national policy but, according to Earp, different agencies and authorities implement it at various levels. Outlawed subjects start with the Tiananmen Square massacre and include the banned Falun Gong religious group, ethnic independence groups, and other cultural issues. Bo Xilai, the recently sacked Communist Party chief of Chongqing, China’s largest city, was similarly taboo. Bo was removed from his post in a storm of controversy — but you would not know it if you relied on Chongqing’s local media. The Chinese press eulogised his replacement but failed to mention why Bo lost his job. And because China would like its people to forget, we must remember Liu Xiaobo, the pro-democracy journalist currently languishing in a Chinese jail. China’s media
did not cover Liu’s acceptance, in absentia, of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his defence of free expression in China. Index on Censorship, a London-based organisation that monitors violations of press freedom, notes two other recent cases of journalists or outlets experiencing repression in China. Shang Laicheng, an editor at the Tiantian Xin online forum, was jailed for ten days after posting claims that two local officials had solicited the services of prostitutes. Authorities rejected the claims. Index also noted that Ai Weiwei, the celebrated artist, claimed to have penetrated a brief gap in China’s “great firewall” to regain access to Sina Weibo, China’s hugely popular microblogging website, but that his account was deleted within hours. Sina Weibo is the bleeding edge of free speech in China. CPJ’s Earp says that were it not for a “very lively and active community of bloggers […] fighting censorship measures”, China’s sophisticated censorship regime — the most advanced in Asia — would also be the most effective muzzle in the region. But Sina Weibo’s 250 million users (many of which are duplicate accounts) deftly circumvent the keyword blocks by euphemistically referring to banned subjects — like Bo Xilai. “It’s a longstanding practice […] and constantly changing according to the needs of the time,” Earp says. “It really doesn’t take long for censors to catch on when something is apparently innocuous. The obvious example is the [pro-democracy] jasmine revolution last year. For a time, any use of the word jasmine, including people trying to export jasmine tea, or poems with the word jasmine, were swept up in the internet block intended for people trying to spark a king of Arab Spring [in China].” Clumsy internet blocks are matched by low-fi but bitingly effective censorship methods for print. If a foreign magazine, such as the National Geographic, runs a critical article on China, readers of such publications (which are only available in hotels, airports and similar places) have found, according to Earp, that “someone will have sat and glued those pages shut for every copy of the magazine”. An insidious method of censorship, in China, lies with the Fifty Cent Party. The Golden Shield Project employs an unknown number of government supporters, plucked from China’s 420 million internet users, to monitor taboo subjects and report their compatriots, as well as to leave progovernment messages across Chinese websites and internet forums. The group’s name comes from the reputed fee the activists earn for every pro-government post: a handsome fifty US cents. The most alarming fact about China’s censorship techniques is that they are on the move. Earp says that China is “one of the leading countries for exporting technology and know-how to other countries seeking to build up their censorship measures”. The most recent example is Pakistan, where the government has acknowledged that its model is China. “As long as China continues to openly censor the media and invest in its censorship industry, that is going to filter to the rest of the world”. Southeast Asia, meanwhile, has less sophisticated systems but entrenched problems of a different sort. Newspapers in the area are “deeply partisan”, according to Earp, and there is also a great deal of self-censorship. Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh are especially problematic. A lack of editorial independence makes it difficult for a free press to thrive, regardless of laws that technically guarantee freedom of expression, and the internet has created an alternative forum. “But the problem […] is that online media doesn’t necessarily have the training or the protection” to do mainstream media’s job. Myanmar is a country that has relied on a vibrant exile
media during its decades of severe repression under the military government. Reports of positive change in the country give reason for hope — but CPJ remains wary of the country’s censorship situation. Journalists still need a licence to work, there are restrictions on publishing, social media access is limited or banned, sending information abroad is a crime — all of these restrictions are hallmarks of a country that lacks press freedom. And so newspapers like The Irrawaddy, founded in 1993 by Burmese exiles in Thailand, provide one of the few sources of credible politics and other news for the country. And during the 2007 monks’ uprising against the junta, it was video-journalists in Burma smuggling their footage to colleagues in Thailand who managed to engage the attention of the global media. Violence against journalists, and their imprisonment, is the other side “of the same coin” as censorship, according to Earp. And the Philippines has one of the worst records in Asia for journalists suffering physical harassment or meeting untimely ends because of their work. CPJ ranks countries according to impunity. Earp explains that “once people see they can kill journalists who write critically about what they’re doing […] that pattern is very hard to break”. Seventy-two reporters have been killed in the Philippines since 1992. Violence can be the most effective gag of all. The Guardian recently reported that Thet Sambath, a reporter for the Phnom Penh Post who has spent decades tracking down Khmer Rouge cadres and produced a 2009 Oscar-shortlisted documentary about the group’s atrocities in the 1970s, has had to suspend his latest investigative work to recuperate from shattered nerves after years of being harassed, chased and threatened with violence by rogue police officers and plain-clothed agents. And where does Salman Rushdie fall in all of this? The writer was unable to attend the Jaipur literary festival in India earlier this year because Islamist groups and Muslim fundamentalists in the country had issued death threats against him for his controversial book “The Satanic Verses”. Rushdie has since travelled to India to denounce the climate of selfcensorship that has taken hold in India because of violence against writers, journalists and publishers. Other recent examples include the killing of a reporter for a local newspaper with a circulation of 500 and an attack by an angry mob on a group of 100 journalists earlier this month in Uttar Pradesh. “In the debacle of Jaipur, it was suggested that for me to turn up at all was wrong,” Rushdie said in Delhi. “This is a case of the world turned upside down. What’s happening here, tonight, is what I would call normal. A writer of Indian birth, who loves this country, who has spent much of his life writing about it, shows up to talk to an Indian audience about India. I would call that normal. What is abnormal is for that to be prevented. And we seem to be in danger of getting this upside down.” Rushdie summed up the tension that exists over censorship across Asia, when he said in Delhi that, “the attempt to silence our tongue is not only censorship. It’s also an existential crime about the kind of species that we are. We are a species which requires to speak, and we must not be silenced. Language itself is a liberty and please, do not let the battle for this liberty be lost.” SV
Violence against journalists, and their imprisonment, is the other side “of the same coin” as censorship...
Politics : Hong Kong
Flirting with Democracy Beijing bows down to popular opinion as Hong Kong elects ‘outsider’ chief executive
ong Kong’s unusually clamorous leadership election — which saw a self-made millionaire property consultant ascend to the top job — had all the trappings of a thriving democracy. The rowdy campaigns were rife with scandal and intrigue. Thousands of protesters rallied on the streets with banners and helium balloons inscribed with acerbic messages denouncing corruption scandals. It was a political spectacle rarely seen in the city, where previous chief executives — typically anointed by China — were selected virtually unopposed. On March 25, a 1,200-strong election committee dominated by an elite group of China loyalists cherrypicked 57-year-old Leung Chunying to succeed outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang. Leung — who won with 689 votes — was considered an outsider at the start of the election, in sharp contrast to his main rival Henry Tang, a well-connected tycoon who reportedly enjoyed strong support from Beijing, which is considered a vital prerequisite to win the race. But Leung’s political fortunes had turned as Tang’s popularity ratings tanked — first by his scandalous admission that he had an extramarital affair and fathered a child out of wedlock and then by the revelation of an illegal 2,250 square foot luxury basement in his home reportedly retrofitted with a Japanese spa and a wine-tasting room. Ordinary Hong Kongers who typically have no say in their leader’s
selection went out onto the streets and protested against the scandals. As the city’s 7.1 million people spoke out — Beijing was compelled to listen. “For the first time,” says Michael DeGolyer of Hong Kong Baptist University, Beijing paid “close attention to what the people of the city wanted.” Just a week before the vote, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the city’s next leader would enjoy the support of the “vast majority” of the people of Hong Kong, in a sign that his government had thrown its support behind Leung, who topped popularity ratings in the run-up to the polls. Tang, the city’s former number two official and the heir to a textile fortune, received only 285 votes from the committee, who were faced with thousands of protesters rallying outside Hong Kong’s harbourside convention centre where the vote was held. At an emotional press conference after the result, Tang, 59, promised to continue serving the people and apologised to his supporters. “This was the first real contest between two pro-establishment candidates,” says Willy Lam, a history professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But at the same time, Hong Kongers are quite frustrated because they are forced to choose between a bunch of scandal-hit candidates.” The election in Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, was at best a contest between what observers say are “various rotten apples”. Leung, who enjoyed a bit more popularity than Tang for his humble origins — he is the son of a police officer
and is touted as a self-made tycoon — and his promises to boost social welfare and public housing, is not untouched by scandal. He is facing a parliament enquiry over a decade-old conflict of interest case. It is alleged that when he was a judge on an arts centre design competition ten years ago, one of the contestants was linked to his own property firm. He also faces claims of being linked to Hong Kong’s triad crime syndicate and of being a secret member of the Chinese Communist Party — all claims he has repeatedly denied. Outgoing chief executive Tsang, who has served two terms, has also been engulfed by graft allegations. He stands accused of accepting private jet trips to Japan and Thailand and luxury yacht rides from wealthy tycoon friends. He was also forced to give up his posh retirement home after allegations surfaced in the press that it was owned by a mainland Chinese property magnate. The scandals and the ensuing political bickering and mud-slinging riveted Hong Kong, triggering a debate about the city’s political future, and more importantly its troubled relationship with the mainland. Many in the city chafe at Beijing’s interference in governance and the “small circle” nature of the election, which is controlled entirely by a tiny clutch of pro-China business and political elite. The election for chief executive is viewed more of a power struggle than a real vote. “This election was nothing but a farce because Beijing has been pulling the strings from behind the scene,”
‘Outsider’ Leung Chun-ying has been elected chief executive in Hong Kong.
says veteran pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau. “China’s blatant interference seriously undermines the ‘one country, two systems’ model because the central government officials are directly issuing orders to the Hong Kong government and election committee members on what to do.” Since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control from British rule 15 years ago, the city has enjoyed semiautonomy under limited democracy. Hong Kongers have long demanded a quick progress towards democracy and full universal suffrage before the 2017 deadline — the year when China says the city will be entitled to directly vote for their leader. But there are lingering concerns over whether Beijing will honour its word. Leung was quick to gauge the public mood and make that point in his victory speech. He pledged to work with “one heart and one vision” and “pave the way for enhanced democracy with an open and fair election system” in 2017. That’s what the people want, he said. Is Beijing listening?
Image: Aaron Tam/AFP
For the first time [Beijing paid] close attention to what the people of the city wanted...
Life and Culture: Media Conglomerates
Press Titans We read their newspapers, watch their television channels, scan their websites and devour their magazines. Asia’s media kingpins are some of the region’s most powerful people. But they are often publicity-shy, despite the high-profile nature of their business. Who are the modern-day moguls who run Asia’s biggest media groups?
James Riady, 54 Indonesia The scion of a powerful Indonesian media clan, James Riady made headlines at a comparatively young age — for the wrong reasons. In the mid-1990s, his links with the Clinton administration entangled him in a campaign finance scandal for which he received a fine of US$8.6 million and was barred from entering the US for several years. That hiccup has not spoiled his rise to the top of Asia’s media scene however. He has expanded the empire started by his father, Mochtar Riady, who founded Lippo Group in the 1950s. James Riady, who started as an investment banker and is now Lippo’s chief executive, is today one of Asia’s best-known businessmen. Ongoing controversies have not dented his revenue stream. The Lippo Group currently has US$22 billion in assets under management and boasts interests across the archipelago in everything from property and finance to healthcare and media. Lippo’s media business gives the Riady name added prestige
and prominence. Four years ago it launched a new English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Globe, which is owned by PT Jakarta Globe Media, an associate company of Lippo Group. The broadsheet has grown in popularity and is now second in circulation only to the well-established daily The Jakarta Post. The Lippo Group is also heavily invested in high-tech media formats. It owns integrated multimedia news company BeritaSatu Media Holdings, which last year launched the 24-hour news portal BeritaSatu.com and Indonesia’s first high-definition news channel BeritaSatu TV. The company’s First Media cable television and Internet business is also listed on the Indonesian Stock Exchange. Media ownership in Indonesia is concentrated in a few hands, and can be closely linked to powerful vested interests. The independence of news organisations has been sacrificed to their owners’ business interests in the past, according to an Inside Indonesia report in 2009. “Conflicts of interest are not uncommon in Indonesia’s media landscape and have not disappeared in the post-Suharto era,” the report contended.
Eugenio Lopez III, 59 Philippines Eugenio Lopez III stands head and shoulders above his competitors. As CEO of ABS-CBN Corporation, the Philippines’ leading media conglomerate, he has a net worth of US$90 million and made the Forbes’ list of the nation’s 40 richest people last year. Again, success runs in the family. His father, the late Eugenio Lopez Jr, pioneered broadcast television in Southeast Asia, and is still known as the father of Philippine broadcasting. Since taking the reins, Eugenio has built on his father’s legacy to take the company into a variety of multimedia segments. Today, ABSCBN owns the nation’s largest cable company, Skycable; its largest film and television production company, Star Cinema; a publishing company, ABS-CBN Publishing Inc; television and radio networks, and a record label, Star Records. The company also has a pervasive presence online. In a recent speech at the 22nd Philippine Advertising Congress, Lopez revealed that “ABS-
Life and Culture: Media Conglomerates
CBNNews.com was the number one Filipino news website globally”. The Philippine media sector is one of the region’s most independent, with press freedoms jealously guarded. Lopez clearly thrives in this environment. “Working at ABS-CBN is not a job, it is a calling,” he said at the close of his speech.
Tsuneo Watanabe, 85 Japan Tsuneo Watanabe began his journalistic career more than 60 years ago as a humble reporter at the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Today, the 85-year-old media magnate sits atop Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings as chairman and editor-in-chief. This is no ordinary media company. As well as owning the world’s most popular newspaper,
it runs leading Japanese broadcast network Nippon Television, and the country’s most famous professional baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants. For years, little was known about this unassuming mogul, whom The Economist has aptly christened “the most powerful publisher you’ve never heard of”. He has received more exposure recently. The Yomiuri Shimbun espouses conservative politics and often editorialises against the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Watanabe, however, has taken a decidedly progressive tack in calling on Japan to take more responsibility for its actions during World War II. The Yomiuri has a daily circulation of 14 million copies, astronomical even in media-mad Japan. Newspapers are still the first resort of the news hungry, despite the omnipresence of online and cable news sources.
Raghav Bahl, 50 India Raghav Bahl is India’s undisputed king of television. Satellite TV is experiencing explosive growth on the subcontinent, driven by technology that is able to straddle the nation’s vast distances. At the comparatively young age of 50, Bahl is controlling shareholder and managing director of Network 18 Media & Investments Limited — India’s largest television news and broadcast network. His business acumen and techsavvy ways have spawned labels like “India’s Rupert Murdoch” and Bahl is not one to play down the comparisons. A born entrepreneur, Bahl has, in his words, created “a pantheon of the world’s leading media brands on the same Indian balance sheet” in just five years. His success mirrors the supercharged growth of India’s technology and media sectors, and Bahl has taken full advantage. He recently brought competing American media groups — CNBC, CNN, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, Forbes — under his Indian umbrella. Bahl made his move in the 1990s, when the Indian government relaxed
Life and Culture: Media Conglomerates rules on satellite broadcasting. He launched Network 18 in 1993 as a television production company providing Indian content for satellite broadcasters. Hitting another sweet spot, he switched Network 18 from a production company to a 24-hour India-focused television channel. Bahl started in media in 1985 as a journalist, winning the prestigious Sanskriti Award for journalism in 1994. In 2007, Ernst & Young named him Entrepreneur of the Year for Business Transformation. Considered at home to possess a Midas touch, he is particularly adept at forging successful media partnerships to crease some India’s most-watched channels, widely-read magazines and mostpopular websites.
Vineet Jain, 45 Samir Jain, 57 India The venerable The Times of India rules India’s newspaper firmament. As such, its owners, brothers Vineet and Samir Jain, hold an uncommon degree of
power in India’s rowdy democracy. The brothers head the Times Group and its publishing company Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd, which is India’s largest media conglomerate. The Times of India is the world’s biggest-selling English-language newspaper with a circulation of over 3 million, while sister publication The Economic Times is the second-biggest circulating business paper with over 620,000 copies sold daily. Those number translate into sheer power, as English is the language of India’s political and corporate elite. Although The Times Group relies heavily on its print media, it has a dominant presence in radio, television, music, movies, internet, and retailing. The company has an annual turnover of over US$1 billion, with Internet ventures comprising an increasing share of revenue. The Indiatimes.com news portal, which averages 400 million page views monthly, is India’s largest e-commerce site and often ranks in the world’s 150 most popular sites. Vineet and Samir Jain joined the company in the 1980s, and rose steadily through the ranks. Like many Indian business tycoons, the brothers lead low-profile lives despite their
powerful positions. The pair has an almost symbiotic relationship and feed off each other’s strong suits. “You cannot split the two brothers. The older one is the thinker, the fount of ideation and strategy; the younger one is all about action, the architect who [puts] the plans to work,” an insider at the group’s headquarters was quoted saying in Business Today. FE
Society: Citizen Journalism
The New Media Order Citizen journalism is taking off in the region, but will it ever be considered a credible alternative to the mainstream media?
hey say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But when ordinary citizens take on the role of professional journalists, perhaps it is not so flattering for the media. In fact, the very reason citizen journalism is flourishing in Asia is a growing dissatisfaction with traditional media, which is often accused of being pro-government. “The state of Malaysia’s mainstream media is appalling,” Maran Perianan, programme director of Malaysiakini’s citizen journalism initiative, told Asia360 News. “When you have a certain slant that always
Citizen journalists don’t see it from the standpoint of newsworthiness to sell more papers...
sways towards the government, of course people would look for alternative sources.” In Malaysia, the perceived bias of the news establishment has galvanised many people into turning themselves into amateur journalists, using modern technology to report, self-publish and publicise opinions and issues that are often anti-establishment. The same story is being played out through the rest of Asia. Not content to leave it to the mainstream media to shape public opinion, amateur journalists are reporting local and world events, some in a more organised manner than others. While there are portals dedicated to citizen journalism, such as South Korea’s OhmyNews, Singapore’s The Online Citizen, Sri Lanka’s Groundviews and Pakistan’s Hosh Media, much of the content produced by citizen journalists is disseminated on general content sites such as YouTube or on countless personal blogs. The plethora of such portals and relative ease for any self-proclaimed citizen journalist to get content
published reflects the major problem plaguing the movement in its current state. While the mainstream media in many countries is regulated, citizen journalism is a loosely-defined term that is neither a profession nor, in many cases, professional. Mainstream media is often critical of citizen journalists, labelling them agitators with little regard for basic journalistic tenets such as objectivity and checking facts. To the established media outlets, citizen journalists are considered little more than armchair critics with unfettered access to the largest broadcast platform in the world. As a result, citizen journalists have a bit of an image problem. Building credibility and trust with their audiences can be a challenge. Advocates are unfazed by such sentiments. Perianan, for one, agrees that citizen journalists need to improve editorial standards in order be seen as more professional. To achieve this, Malaysiakini, a news portal staffed by professional journalists, trains citizen journalists using grant money donated by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). The objective is to
Reporters at Malaysiakini, a news website that supports citizen journalism in Malaysia, work on their stories.
Image: Saeed Khan/AFP
improve standards so that “rather than just writing commentaries, they engage the community and highlight bread and butter issues”. Since the programme started in 2008, 380 Malaysians from a variety of backgrounds, including doctors, government workers, civil society activists and retirees, have completed the training. From a current pool of 160 active citizen journalists, they have produced close to 2,000 articles and 1,800 video reports since 2008. “When I joined […] I was taught a lot of things in journalism — how to be responsible, how to write well, and how to present your work well […] and I just got to the realisation that this is what I want to do, at least for now,” programme graduate Christine Chan told ICFJ. Chan went on to become a full-time journalist with Malaysiakini. Supporters of citizen journalism say that because the practice is largely a grassroots phenomenon, citizen journalists tend to be more sensitised to how policies affect ordinary people and can present a more authentic account of the social impact of government plans.
“When citizen journalists report, they talk to real people, we don’t edit them. It comes out as authentically as possible. The citizen journalists, whatever they have reported, they reflect the voice of the grassroots. When they tell a story about inflation, it tells the story about how hard it is to live rather than policy issues,” Perianan said. “There are a lot of issues that have not been brought to the forefront. No one, apart from citizen journalists, has addressed them,” he said, adding that citizen journalists are not influenced by the need to generate profitable news. But because such stories tend to focus on localised communities and centre round the lives of individuals who often feel they have been aggrieved, objectivity may inadvertently take a back seat. Perianan conceded that many citizen journalists might have a natural antiestablishment inclination, sometimes making them as biased in their reporting as the mainstream media. “I would accept this bias. The bias is meant to counter-balance the bias towards the government that
the mainstream media is guilty of,” Perianan said. While he is pragmatic about the often-unavoidable partiality present in citizen journalism, Perianan is more irked by what he sees as a prejudice against citizen journalists from the mainstream media, who belittle the newsgathering and reporting abilities of non-professional journalists. But advocates of citizen journalism remain hopeful for the future. They take heart from the changing media consumption habits of a more techsavvy audience. These consumers often find it more convenient to turn to Facebook or Twitter for information rather than open a newspaper or switch on the television news. As this trend evolves, citizen journalism advocates believe it is only a matter of time before — at least in Malaysia — citizen journalism gives the establishment a run for its money. “Although the mainstream media haven’t yet accepted this group of people called citizen journalists, I don’t need to be accepted by my media peers, I need to be accepted by the people,” Perianan says. JC
Markets & More: Profile
The ‘Original’ YouTube Copycats in China stimulate innovation, says Tudou co-founder
efore YouTube, there was Tudou. Launched in 2004 — one year before YouTube — video-sharing website Tudou has suffered the ignominy of being labelled a YouTube ripoff. Tudou most recently made headlines when rival Youku announced its billiondollar takeover offer. Since the March 12 announcement, the share price of Nasdaq-listed Tudou has doubled to more than US$30 — making cofounder Marc van der Chijs one happy Dutchman. Not bad for a company that has yet to turn a profit. For the 2011 fiscal year, Tudou reported a net loss of US$81 million, unsurprising perhaps in an industry that continues to bleed millions of dollars due to escalating costs for internet bandwidth. Both Tudou and Youku collectively control more than a third of China’s online video market of around 450 million internet users. Van der Chijs, ever the entrepreneur, recently started up UnitedStyles in China, which he touts as the “eBay of fashion design”. He speaks to Asia360 News about the Chinese copycat phenomenon, and how start-ups thrive in the environment.
Asia360News: How is Tudou different from YouTube? Van der Chijs: Basically I think Tudou is bigger than what YouTube does. YouTube is a website for user-generated content. Tudou is partly YouTube, it’s also partly HBO, meaning we produce our own high-quality content, films, series, programmes and we’re also a Netflix — we’re buying films, series, and podcasting them online. We have evolved much further than YouTube actually. YouTube stopped innovating when they got bought over by Google. We were forced to completely innovate because we were not backed by anybody. Q: Does it bother you that Tudou is sometimes seen as a YouTube ripoff? A: YouTube is an international website, so everyone knows YouTube — Tudou is focused only on China. So most people in the world [first hear about] YouTube, then they hear about Tudou, then they call us copycats. It doesn’t really matter actually. We’re much broader than they are. YouTube started after we started, so [if anything,] YouTube is a copycat of Tudou. Q: How about Youku? A: Youku was another copycat of Tudou actually, that’s how they started.
They saw Tudou as a very successful model and they found investors with a lot of money to start it. They started Youku out of purely financial prospectives, I feel. Q: China is trying to tighten up its lax intellectual property (IP) regulations. What effect do you think this will have innovation? A: I think IP regulation is good, so long as they don’t go too far. [Companies] start off as copycats but they evolve much further. If you look at weibo for example, it started as a Chinese Twitter but has become much more advanced. It has evolved into a different kind of social network. And the way I see it, Google Plus is actually a copy of weibo. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Chinese companies copy US models. Because they evolve them to the next level, they adapt them to the local market and they add new features. There’s so much competition in China. There are so many copycats nowadays that you have to differentiate yourself from the others to grow. Q: Which would you say is more common: companies that copy wholesale or companies that copy and tweak? A: If you look at the Apple clones,
Being copied is also a good thing, it means you’re doing something right...
Image: Marc van der Chijs
everyone knows they are terrible. The people who buy them know that they’re fake. But some of them have better functions actually. If you look at copies of the iPhone, [some] have replaceable batteries, which is a good thing, in my opinion, or they have multiple SIM cards which iPhone doesn’t have [...] I don’t think Apple think it’s a huge deal. It doesn’t really hurt their brand, I think. Being copied is also a good thing, it means you’re doing something right. Q: But don’t copycats also siphon away profits from the companies that they draw inspiration from? A: Not necessarily. I just set up a new company, UnitedStyles, an online design platform where people can design their own fashion. We’re the only one in the world doing this. I wouldn’t mind if other people copied our idea and did something similar, because it would create awareness of this concept. I don’t think that one company can take 100% of the market anyway. In every sector, there are a few companies that will survive and do well [...] at one point there were 200 clones of Tudou and probably 195 of them died [...] The remaining will survive and thrive, and become more profitable, that’s how the market works. It’s
good that companies die, it’s healthy for the ecosystem. You’re forced to innovate because of the competition. And because of the competition, more people are aware of the phenomenon — online video in this case. Q: You’ve been based in Shanghai for more than a decade now, what are the problems of starting internet-based companies in China? A: The ecosystem is changing in China. A few years ago, China was a great place to set up internet companies with a global presence — for example, I set up my current company UnitedStyles in Shanghai. But I think it’s changing. it’s getting more and more difficult to get visas for foreign employees, for example. Furthermore, the internet quality, the connection speed to the outside world is getting worse. It’s getting more and more difficult for us to reach our servers that are hosted in the cloud on Amazon. If you want to reach your servers and you cannot build and update them, that’s really a problem. If you want to focus only on the Chinese market, it’s perfect. But if you want to do global business it’s not really the best location any more. Salaries are increasing a lot. Good people, well-educated people are not cheap any more.
Q: Are you looking to relocate then? A: For UnitedStyles, we’re looking to relocate part of the company to either Singapore or to Silicon Valley. We’re really comparing the advantages and disadvantages of being in either location. We’ll keep production in China that’s for sure. But for IP and sales and marketing, they are better handled in a different location outside the great firewall. Q: You’re an angel investor yourself. What companies do you have your eye on? A: I’m looking at companies mainly in the e-commerce space, merging e-commerce with social networking, basically social-sharing of what you buy, or what you plan to buy. And especially if there’s a mobile component in it. I really think mobile [applications], location-based [applications] are something that is just starting actually. I [also] see a lot of start-ups working on ideas that are all standalone — it’s quite difficult for standalone ideas to evolve into an app that will make it big. An idea that could be interesting for existing companies, is to acquire these ideas and build them on top of existing products. A lot of things are going to happen in the next 12 months that are hard to imagine at this point. SF
Markets & More: Islamic Banking
Image: Saeed Khan/AFP
Islamic financial products quietly coming out from under the radar
slamic financial products have emerged as not just a safe haven but a star performer in the recent global financial crisis. As the world starts to question the increasingly speculative nature of conventional investment products, the relatively conservative nature of Islamic products is starting to gain
mainstream allure. Outstanding Islamic debt worldwide amounted to US$180 billion at the end of 2011, up from US$33 billion five years ago, according to Bank Negara, the central bank of Malaysia, a country that is also the worldâ€™s biggest issuer of Islamic bonds, or sukuk.
That is a four-and-half-fold increase in just five years. The Dow Jones Islamic stock market indices have also consistently outperformed their peers through the financial crisis. The DJ Islamic Europe index, for example, grew more than 12% in the five years ending March 2011 compared to the DJ Europe Stock
index, which grew just 0.08% in the same period. Similarly, DJ Islamic World grew 22%, compared to DJ Global at 6%. “Many countries around the world are tapping into the lucrative opportunities of Islamic finance and banking,” said Farhad Reyazat, editorin-chief of Global Islamic Finance magazine in a February issue. And this is despite the constraints of such products, which allow, for example, neither excessive speculation, leverage, nor the charging of interest, and which require that income is derived as profits from shared business risk. “On the surface, then, you’d expect Islamic finance to be severely constrained. And, you’d be right. But I’d argue that these constraints may offer opportunities for mainstream finance,” said Reyazat, adding that these keep Islamic finance more grounded to the real economy, and lead to innovation that is ultimately beneficial to the sector. The constraints of Islamic financing products should be seen as a virtue, agrees Datuk Noripah Kamso, CEO at CIMB-Principal Islamic Asset Management (CIMB-Principal Islamic). She argues that a shariah-compliant portfolio is less volatile than a conventional one and is thus poised to perform well in global financial turmoil. Shariah is the moral and religious code that Muslims live by. She suggests that “Islamic asset management”, for example, be rebranded as “ethical asset management”. “I put it as my responsibility as a pioneer in this Islamic space to educate the world […] The case for Islamic asset management is actually so compelling,” she told Asia360 News on the sidelines of the Private Banking Asia conference in Singapore in March. The stellar performance of Islamic products may have helped to boost consumer awareness but the growing reputation of Islamic financial products has also started to gently pry open the conservative attitudes of the suppliers of these products. The result? A wider, deeper and
more transparent market. “[In 2007], what you found was that organisations were very reluctant to share their processes, their disciplines, and how they make decisions. You were almost expected to accept that because the investments are being made in accordance with the five disciplines of shariah, that there was no need for you to have due diligence,” said Nick Kalikajaros, CEO and founder of Ploutos Global Advisory. “It could always be better but it’s certainly a lot more transparent than what it was five years ago,” he said. Malaysia, the world’s most active trading centre for Islamic securities, is certainly clear about its ambition to become an Islamic financial hub. “The government is giving Islamic asset managers full support under the Economic Transformation Programme,” said Noripah. Launched in 2010, the programme aims to develop Malaysia into a global training centre for Islamic finance talent, training 55,000 local students and 28,000 foreign students by 2020. The target is for the Islamic education sector to generate 1.2 billion ringgit (US$384 million) by 2020. CIMB-Principal Islamic is moving quickly. Earlier this year, it announced the launch of three Islamic funds registered in Dublin. These funds utilise the pan-European UCITS (Undertakings for Collective Investment in Transferable Securities) platform to enable global distribution. With interest in Islamic financing products rapidly growing, supply may struggle to catch up, however, warned Kalikajaros of Ploutos. “The downsides potentially are that there’s a lack of supply in terms of the investment range that is available in the market,” he told Asia360 News. Still, with the numbers clearly showing that Islamic financial products are outperforming traditional but riskier products in the current volatile market, demand for Islamic products is expected to grow. It may not be too long before Islamic financing truly settles into the mainstream. SF
What do the terms mean? Islamic finance is essentially finance that complies with Muslim rules against payment of interest (riba) and against speculation (gharar). So, an Islamic portfolio only permits stocks from companies that do not engage in taboo (haram) activities such as the sale of alcohol, weaponry, tobacco or pornography. It is also more conservative than a conventional portfolio because it avoids speculation. Islamic finance is also known as shariah-compliant finance for its adherence to the Islamic law and offers an important ethical avenue for Muslims who are uncomfortable with Western-style instruments. Sukuk, for example, is an Islamic bond, serving the same purpose as debt, but structured to avoid the payment of interest.
Many countries around the world are tapping into the lucrative opportunities of Islamic finance and banking...
Life and Culture: Paparazzi
Asian Paps Celebrities love to hate the paparazzi
The paparazzi in India are the very picture of restraint compared to their counterparts in Taiwan or Hong Kong.
Image: Sajjad Hussain/AFP
ar from being miffed by the attention, celebrity singeractor Nicholas Tse cheerfully invites the paparazzi in Hong Kong to follow his children “as closely as possible”. “Even when they are going to the toilet, going to or returning home from school, or even changing their clothes, they are guys, it’s fine to photograph them.” No, Tse was not being sarcastic. As it turns out, being tailed by the media 24/7 can have its benefits — a recent spate of child kidnappings has this celebrity dad worrying about the safety of his sons, Lucas and Quintus. And what better protection to have than the unblinking eyes of the paparazzi and the public. But Tse is in the minority. There is no love lost between the vast majority of celebrities and the paparazzi who stay doggedly on their heels. From Taiwanese starlet Makiyo beating up a cabby, to Korean girl group SNSD taking a nap on an airplane, Asia’s paparazzi determinedly expose both crime and privacy in an endless stream of so-called news. In the world of the paparazzi, everyone is fair game.
Taiwan The Taiwanese paparazzi have a reputation for being as persistent as a pack of hounds, hence their nickname gouzai, which loosely translates as “puppy squad”. They were so persistent that an 85-year-old grandmother was forced to flee her home. Her ‘crime’? Being related to basketball star Jeremy Lin. As the first Asian American to play in the professional National Basketball Association league, 23-yearold Lin inspired global adulation of such manic proportions that the phenomenon was tagged “Linsanity”. Ambushed by camps of photographers and reporters outside her Taipei home, Grandma Lin fled from home and spent the weekend in Beitou — only to find herself pursued by more paparazzi. This type of press hounding is not uncommon in Taiwan, where fierce competition in the media makes any tidbit of information about or photograph of a celebrity a valuable commodity. The most famous of the celebritystalking outlets in Taiwan is Next
magazine. Founded by entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, Next specialises in salacious gossip and caught-in-the-act type of photographs. The magazine was fined in 2002 for publishing an image of the bloodied body of an actress who had committed suicide in one of the alltoo-rare penalisations of paparazzi for sensationalisation.
Hong Kong To call Hong Kong’s paparazzi brazen is an understatement. In 1998, the Oriental Daily announced it was going to tail a judge around the clock in retaliation, after he threw out the paper’s appeal to impose a larger fine on a rival magazine for using its picture of a pregnant Faye Wong. The judge, it seemed, hit a raw nerve when he dismissed the Oriental Daily photographer for taking the intrusive picture in the first place. In response, the paper said it would show the judge the difference between reasonable and intrusive photography. Hong Kong’s media industry is at least as competitive as Taiwan’s and the vibrant local entertainment industry provides plenty of fodder — and photos — for gossip magazines. In 2002, East Week magazine shut down for ten months after publishing a topless photograph of celebrity Carina Lau. Local media reports cited Lau as saying the photograph had been taken by gangsters who had kidnapped her several years earlier. The then chief editor of East Week was subsequently sentenced to five months in jail for publishing the obscene photograph. But the uproar calmed down only after the magazine’s ownership changed and a new editorial policy was announced. Still, that incident did not stop the paparazzi for long. Last year, Hong Kong television actor Bosco Wong Chung-chak filed a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner after Sudden Weekly magazine published censored photographs of him naked in his apartment, as well as photographs of him having dinner and kissing his girlfriend, actress Myolie Wu Hangyee.
India In comparison, paparazzi in India are positively tame. In spite of the national fervour for
all things Bollywood, print publications generally do not carry much celebrity gossip. This is partly due to the traditional image of newspapers as a domain of intellectuals. But the paparazzi are growing bolder. When Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan was released from hospital last year, his car was obstructed by hordes of reporters. He took a photograph of the crowd and posted it on his blog with the caption: “Just an example of how media and paparazzi block my car, not allowing it to move, insensitive to the need of its justreleased ailing occupant to get home secure and as rapidly as possible.” It was a rare rebuke from one of India’s most recognisable stars.
South Korea Nothing is left to chance in South Korea, where special paparazzi schools have sprouted up in the last few years to provide training in the use of hidden cameras and video editing. Radically different, however, is the nature of the so-called paparazzi here, where celebrities are less than lucrative targets compared to the petty wrongdoer. Part paparazzi and part moral police, ordinary people — even housewives — track down lawbreakers in their spare time for extra cash. Taping evidence using hidden cameras, these ‘paparazzi’ then hand over the videos for cash rewards from the authorities. It is a lucrative business. One housewife reportedly made up to US$1,700 a month from her parttime snoop job and special paparazzi schools. This phenomenon emerged from the 2008 financial crisis as the newlyretrenched began working as freelance vigilantes, seeking evidence of minor misdemeanours for a paycheck. Even the smallest of offences would not go unrecorded — one shopkeeper was caught giving plastic bags for free when he should have charged for them under Korean law. The new trend has even resulted in the creation of a new word: ssuparazzi, an amalgamation of Korean and English words, which apparently refers to paparazzi who specialise in catching litterbugs on film. CL
Life and Culture: Radio
In the foothills of the Himalayas, radio reigns supreme
Image: Prakash Singh/AFP
n the age of smartphones and iPads, it is not very often that one gets to indulge in the simple pleasure of sitting by a transistor radio to catch up on the news. For those who miss the good old days, all is not lost. You can travel back in time, so to speak, to the Himalayas, where radio is not just very much alive but is kicking with gusto. Independent FM radio is still very new to the Himalayan region. Nepal did not have these radio stations until the mid-1990s, and most were not licensed until after the nation’s decade-long civil war ended in 2006. But growth has been rapid since then. By August of 2011, 393 licences had been issued, 228 of which were for community stations. Much of radio’s success in the Himalayas is due to the geographical difficulty of delivering newspapers. Rugged mountainous terrain makes radio the most reliable form of news and communication for a vast majority of the population. In Nepal, newspaper circulation is concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley, where 1,080 of the 2,181 newspapers are published. In some cases, daily circulation exceeds 100,000, while non-valley newspapers have circulation figures ranging from 500 to 7,000 copies a day. The problem, however, is that less than 10% of Nepal’s total population lives in the valley. As a result, it is no surprise that less than 5% of the total population reads a daily newspaper. “It takes at least 48 hours for the major newspapers to reach the headquarters of one-fourth of the districts in Nepal,” Professor Parsuram Kharel, chairman of the Nepal Press Institute, told Asia360 News. Radio, on the other hand, has a much wider reach than newspapers, while television is only broadcast to less than 50% of the country. According to Kharel, part of what makes radio so accessible to the people is its low cost. “Radios are very cheap for rural folks, costing on average $3 or even less,” he said. “It is very accessible. Most districts have 17 or 18 stations. So there are multiple choices in many districts.” Additionally, radio provides an alternative source of news for illiterate
citizens, which is a large pool of people in a nation with an adult literacy rate of 56.6%. But the impact of radio in Nepal needs to be measured by more than just the number of listeners. Radio expedited the nation’s democratisation process by raising awareness of a host of topics that had not been much discussed in the past. For example, in many districts across Nepal, disabled children had no access to schools despite a 2008 supreme court ruling that granted them the right to a free education. But when radio stations, including Radio Swargadwari, began broadcasting about the issue, it created enough public pressure for free education to be awarded to the disabled people in one local district. Nepalese airwaves have also been used to tackle issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness and domestic violence. To these ends, organisations such as the Community Radio Support Centre (CRSC) at Nepal’s Forum for Environmental Journalists have played a major role in encouraging active community journalism. This work has not gone unnoticed. On March 22, CRSC was named the co-winner of the 2012 UNESCO-International Programme for the Development of Communication Prize for Rural Communication. “Community radios have played a significant role in promoting civil rights and human rights in Nepal,” Raghu Mainali, the coordinator of the CRSC told UNESCO earlier this month. “The community radios have played a role in making the backward and marginalised people informed. Informed citizen can take informed decisions, which helps democracy.” In Bhutan, radio has also seen significant growth in recent years. As recently as 2007, the only form of radio in Bhutan was the governmentrun Bhutan Broadcasting Service, which ran sporadic news bulletins. As of last year, however, there were seven radio stations in the Himalayan kingdom. In Bhutan though, radio has not been used as a political tool the way it has in Nepal. Still, Bhutanese radio has been equally transformative, making society more open and creating a new form of pop culture that did not
It takes at least 48 hours for the major newspapers to reach the headquarters of one-fourth of the districts in Nepal...
previously exist. The most resounding example of this was the American Idol-style contest called Symphony of Love, which was run by the radio station Kuzoo FM around Valentine’s Day in 2007, gripping the entire nation. The best account of this contest, and arguably Bhutanese radio in general, is in the book “Radio ShangriLa”, where American journalist Lisa Napoli shares her experiences working at Kuzoo and living in Bhutan. “Every night people would call in and sing love songs and dedicate them,” Napoli said during a book launch event for “Radio Shangri-La” last year. “It was a sensation. It was basically the only thing on the air. And in the most remote places outside the city [...] people were tuning in.” Whether or not Bhutan’s radio will eventually tackle more political issues remains to be seen. But if Bhutan’s onair personalities ever decide to make that shift, they have a great model to follow in the form of Nepal. And the Nepalese media are well aware of their pioneering credentials, especially as neighbouring India only allows radio news to be broadcast on the government-owned All India Radio. “Nepal has the distinction of allowing fully fledged news and current affairs on the radio. There are more than 300 broadcasters with several news bulletins a day,” Kharel said. “It is truly unique [in the region]. India doesn’t allow it. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka only allow social information. Political information is not allowed […] It is a distinct feature not seen in many other developing countries in the world.” AM
The World Forgot: Bhutan
Death of Two Dragon Kings KEVIN TAN
Britain’s advice in its external relations. The Dorji family hen Jigme Wangchuck, second king of became the hereditary holders of the post of gongzim, Bhutan, died 50 years ago on March 30, or chief chamberlain, a post that was later elevated to 1952, the kingdom he ruled was barely known to prime minister. the world. Nestled between China and India, this King Ugyen Wangchuck introduced administrative small mountainous country — which has never been reforms in his country and English education to conquered by a foreign power — was ruled as a Buddhist his people. He improved internal communications, theocracy until the 17th century and has been a secular encouraged trade with India, and revitalised the monarchy since 1907. Buddhist monastic system. He died in 1926 after Much of Bhutan’s past is shrouded in mystery. The securing assurances from the British to maintain his name Bhutan is most probably derived from the Sanskrit family’s hereditary claim to the throne. word “Bhu-Uttan” meaning High Land, but today its The king’s eldest son, Jigme Wangchuck, succeeded inhabitants call it Druk Yul or Land of the Dragon. Their him and continued the reforms. He also brought the king is known as Druk Gyalpo — Precious Ruler of the monasteries and school districts under royal control. Dragon People. When India became independent in 1947, Bhutan Bhutan’s recorded history goes back to the immediately recognised the new country and, in 1949, 8th century AD, when the Buddhist mystic Guru signed a new Treaty of Punakha under which the Indians Padmasambhava (popularly known as Guru Rinpoche, took over the old duties of the British. It was during the precious guru), arrived in Bhutan from what is now Jigme Wangchuck’s reign Pakistan. The guru brought that Bhutan moved away Vajrayana Buddhism to Dechencholing Palace, home of from its isolation from the Bhutan and Tibet. There Bhutan’s dragon kings, in Thimphu, rest of the world. When the is little record of what capital of Bhutan. king died in 1952, his son, happened between the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, guru’s arrival and 1616, succeeded him. when Ngawang Namgyel Born in 1929, Jigme (1594–1651), a Tibetan lama, Dorji Wangchuck was arrived to unite the disparate educated in India and parts of Bhutan under a Britain and married the central authority. European-educated cousin Ngawang Namgyel, of the king of Sikkim. In better known as Shabdrung 1953, after ascending the Rinpoche (literally “at throne, the new king created whose feet one submits”) the Tshogdu, the national is considered the father assembly, moving Bhutan of medieval Bhutan. He towards constitutional subdued warring feudal lords monarchy. When China and brought Bhutan under invaded Tibet in 1951, Bhutan closed its Tibet border the Drukpa Kagyud school of Tibetan Buddhism. He and sided with India. The Indians repaid the support by ruled for 35 years until his death in 1651. The lords fell funding the young king’s modernisation drive. Land back to fighting immediately after his death — a contest reforms were undertaken, slavery and serfdom were for supremacy that lasted another 200 years. abolished, and an independent judiciary was established. In 1885, after a three-year civil war, Ugyen A national museum was opened, as were national Wangchuck, penlop (governor) of Trongsa, secured his archives and a national stadium. position as supreme ruler. He eliminated his chief rival In 1968, rules and regulations of the national and installed a member of the pro-British Dorji family in assembly were promulgated and the king decreed that the rival’s place. Ugyen Wangchuck cultivated close ties sovereign power rested with the democratically elected with the British in India and mediated between Britain assembly. In November 1969, the king renounced his and China, making himself indispensible to the British. veto over legislation. In 1971, after holding observer The last Shabdrung died in 1903. No reincarnation status for three years, Bhutan became a member of the had appeared by 1906 and civil administration passed United Nations. to Ugyen Wangchuck. He was elected hereditary ruler King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck died of a heart attack of Bhutan on December 17, 1907. To safeguard Bhutan, on July 21, 1972, while on a visit to Kenya. He was only he signed the Treaty of Punakha (the name of Bhutan’s 44 years old. His son, the 17-year-old Jigme Singye old capital) with the British, who agreed not to interfere Wangchuck, succeeded him. in the kingdom’s internal affairs provided it accepted
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