Friday, July 15, 2011

Murdoch's Media Empire Collapsing

Rupert Murdoch's media empire worth $46 billion is now collapsing over the allegation of phone hacking scandal by the London-based tabloid daily News of the World. The paper has already been shut down and Rupert Murdoch's bid to acquire British TV channel Sky Broadcasting has been stalled.

Rupert Murdoch bought the News of the World in 1969 which specialised in sex scandals and populist campaigns. All three political parties in Britain through a consensus in the House of Commons have summoned Rupert Murdoch to explain his conduct.

Two of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers are reported to have bribed the police and employed other illegal methods to obtain information about Queen Elizabeth and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Phone hacking and other unlawful and unethical methods to obtain news are common in many British newspapers.

BBC and the Guardian newspaper disclosed citing internal e-mails from the News of World that it had bribed people knowledgeable about Buckingham Palace for detailed classified information about the Queen, Prince Charles and other members of the royal family. Police said the cell phones of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla have also been hacked. Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his outrage at police involvement in phone hacking scandal. 'We need to get to the bottom of that, if it's true', the New York Times quoted the prime minister as saying. Scotland Yard refused to be drawn into controversy.

The hunter has now become hunted. Rupert Murdoch owns such prestigious newspapers like The Times, The Sun and the Sunday Time. These papers routinely helped elect prime ministers with timely endorsements. One of the more troubling aspects of the affair has been the sense of collusion between police and the media and a political class that has seemed too cowed to speak out against News of the World's powerful proprietor Rupert Murdoch, Financial Times in an editorial said. Rupert Murdoch has media investments in Australia, India and America and was planning to go to China. Tailpiece Arrogance has a habit of hitting back sometimes in the most inane of situations.

People Resist Move To Build Power Plant Near Sundarbans

Despite a High Court (HC) ban on building power project closer to the Sundarbans which is an ecologically vulnerable zone, the government is using police force against local villagers to take away their land to give it to an Indian power generation company.

The left front government in West Bengal lost power because of its attempt to take away farmers' land to give it to a big industry. Arial Beel in Munshiganj proved that nothing can be done if people rise in revolt against any land acquisition scheme.

And yet the government is opening a new front this time to take away farmers' land to give it to Indian big business at the cost of farmers' livelihood and right to live in their own homes.

Police and villagers are facing a growing confrontation over the project this time at Rampal upazila on Mongla-Kkulna highway where the government has planned to acquire a large swath of arable land to hand over to an Indian power generation company.

The company wants to set up a coal-based 1320 MW power plant there.   

The confrontation is only on the increase as hundreds of villagers armed with bamboo-sticks,
gathered on the highway Saturday last protesting the move to acquire 2,000 acres of land on which they grow crops twice a year to make a living.
Confrontation with villagers 
People were locked in an hour-long clash with police and at least 50 people were injured. The land belongs to people from five local villages and hundreds of people from those villages formed a human chain under the banner of Krishi Jomi Rakkha Sangram Committee (committee to save cultivable land) on the spot that day located under Bagerhat district.

The clash triggered violence all around when a contingent of riot police tried to snatch the banners charging batons on the protesting villagers standing on the road side. The agitated villagers equipped with bamboo-sticks, brickbats etc attacked the police resulting in clash and counter clash. The area turned into a battle ground snapping road communication for at least three hours. The villagers left the place when additional police force reached there. Deputy Commissioner of Bagerhat claimed the situation was however under control.
Human chain 
Meanwhile, different environmentalist groups, human rights activists and local groups have joined hand to protect the land acquisition move and save the area from the impact of dust that may spread from a coal-run power plant.

Centre for Human Rights Movement (CHRM), Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA), Sundarban Parjatan Club and Save the Sundarbans joined the human chain Saturday and demanded that the government should remove the venue to save the arable land.

Environmental scientist Professor D. M. Sadrul Amin, Chief Coordinator of Save the Sundarbans, Sheikh Faridul Islam, President of the organization and Freedom Fighter Abdul Malek Gazi, Joint Secretary BAPA, Shajahan Mridha Benu, Coordinator Krishi, Bon Sampad Rakkha Jatiya Committee, Engineer M Inamul Hoq, Secretary CHRM M Muzahidul Islam, Divisional Coordinator Advocate Azizul Hoq, Prinicipal Shaikh Siddique Ahmed, Secretary Krishi Jomi Rakkha Sangram Committee Moynul Hoq and Journalist Yaseen Babu have given the call to scrap the entire project from the region to save the Sundarbans from disaster.

They said the Sundarbans is within 12 km proximity of the project site. This is an ecologically sensitive zone and in the interest of saving the rain forest the local community vowed to continue to resist the project and go for any movement at national level.

The important thing is that the ministry of forest and environmental has a ban on taking any such activity in the region which may endanger the Sundarbans. But the project authority appeared not to have bothered to seek permission from the directorate of environment.

 Moreover, such project is not also congenial to smooth operation of Mongla Port which is only a few kilometres from the project site, because the coal dust that it may cause would be harmful to safe living. Sources say, Chittagong Port Authority has earlier opposed such a power plant at Anwara on the same ground.

But the question is the government itself is the violator of the ground rules.

But land acquisition has increasingly become a critical issue. The government only recently tested the bitter resistance at Arial Beel when the local people rose in an open revolt to save their land which the authorities had tried to acquire to build an airport.

The left front government in West Bengal had to leave power largely because of similar bloody revolt of farmers in Singur and Nandigram when it sought to take over land to build a Tata car factory in the first place and an industrial park on the later.

Moreover local people remained sceptical as to why the government is going to hand over thecountry's power sector to an Indian giant thereby making it dependent on it at a time when the balance of trade is tremendously negative and is only widening.

Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Aug 30 last year at New Delhi to set up the power plant by an Indian company. Meanwhile the government decided to acquire the land in question from the villagers of Sapmari, Daidarbesh Kati, Basurhulla and Katakhali of Rampal upazila. The villagers claimed it is their arable lands which give them food.

Moreover, they will be forced to migrate if the power project continues. Besides, impacting the world heritage of Sundarbans, coal dust will spread diseases and create other environmental hazards. The leaders of CHRM also pointed out that a High Court bench, comprising Justice AHM Shamsuddin and Justice Shaikh M Zakir Hussain, has already ordered a stay on the move to build the power project.

Rights activists wondered why the government is using police force against innocent
villagers despite the fact that the High Court has already put a ban on such project at such a sensitive location.

U.S Alarmed At China's Growing Satellite Power

Phenomenal growth of China's satellite power is expected to alter "power dynamics in Asia" submerging the US dominance in the region. Chinese reconnaissance satellites are now capable of tracking down their targets for over six hours a day jumping from only three hours barely 18 months ago.

Starting from a scratch ten years ago, People's Liberation Army (PLA) has equalled the US's ability to observe targets from the space. China's growing military muscle has unnerved some of the trusted allies in the region. China has made giant strides in developing military hard wares. Among China's prized possessions are anti-ship ballistic missiles, stealth fighter which it jointly manufactured with Pakistan and will shortly launch its first aircraft carrier. The United States has turned a deaf ear to China's urging of staying away from the region which is rich in mineral resources including oil.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is no question of US leaving the region. 'Our enduring presence in this region has been important to our allies for decades and continues to be so', Admiral Mullen was quoted as saying by the Financial Times.

The military leaders of the two countries in the meanwhile pledged last Monday to cast aside decades of hostilities and pursue shared vision of cooperation. Admiral Mullen was in China and held talks with his counterpart Gen.Chen Binge, chief of PLA. Two military leaders are under order to improve military to military ties. Exhortations came during President Hu Jintao's summit talks President Obama in January this year.

Both the generals spoke in effusive terms about each other and agreed to hold counter piracy manoeuvres in the Gulf of Aden and plan exercises in humanitarian relief in 2012. Gen Binge dismissed American concerns that the Chinese were deploying new and modern weapons to counter America, the New York Times reported.

Gen.Binge conceded that China's military technology is decades behind Pentagon and its military spending is far behind the United States. China's army is a defensive force, he said. Gen. Binge suggested that the US should severely cut its defence spending. According to one estimate, the US spends $21000 per minute on defence spending.

A triangular tussle is going on between the US, China and Pakistan. The US has threatened to suspend its $800 million military aid to Pakistan which the analysts claim is an "empty gesture." Pakistan has strong military ties with China. The US-Pak tie has chilled since US found and killed Osama bin-Laden in May this year in Pakistan's garrison city of Abottabad. The US frustration with Pakistan is understandable. In today's inflamed climate anything that looks like a concession to US is politically all but impossible, the Financial Times in an editorial said. The stakes are too high for the US to cause a serious rift. The US needs Pakistan's help to stabilise situation in Afghanistan.

The Financial Times has urged Washington to be mindful of Pakistan's concern about Indian activities in Kabul. The Paper called for resolution of the Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan.

Importance of voting for the Sunderbans

Precious time is ticking away. We only have about four months, till  November 11, to mobilize for an all-out struggle to have one of Bangladesh’s proudest possessions, its Sundarban forest, the largest mangrove forest and unique in the world, elected as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The contest is in the final phase and Bangladesh cannot absolutely afford an outcome of non-inclusion   of the Sundarbans in this global seven natural wonders list for obvious reasons.

Getting selected will not only make the nation proud or have the name of the forest imprinted in the minds of millions of people round the world. The triumph would also, very significantly, be a feather in the cap of Bangladesh for other tangible reasons. 

It would create the motivation for the regular arrival of foreign eco- tourists in large numbers to  Bangladesh and they, of course, spend in this country. Thus, a huge tourist bonanaza  on a sustainable basis is likely from our winning in the race to have the Sunderbans selected as one of the seven  natural wonder sites.

Tourism creates employment. According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the tourism industry accounts for 11% of total global employment. It is said that every twelve tourists create a new job. Unfortunately, tourism is one of the most neglected sectors in Bangladesh.

The number of eco-tourists in the world has been increasing by more than ten percent a year. Initially, Bangladesh may set its target to attract one million eco-tourists a year and may well attain it if the Sundarbans is finally selected as one of the seven natural wonders. Add to that the benefits it would deliver to the Bangladesh economy.

Out of the 440 natural sites of the world, 28 were selected by polls by July 2009 of which the Sunderbans is one. But the countdown for the final selection has started. Only seven natural wonders will be finally selected from the 28 already selected.

But are we going to be content with being only semi-finalists instead of winning the trophy? This question is looking increasingly stark as the countdown has come closer. Many times in the past it was noted that Bangladesh missed invaluable opportunities presented to it on a platter.

Take, for example, the offer of a free undersea connection to the information superhighway that Bangladesh received in the nineties. It was spurned by short-sighted bureaucrats who thought that the same would compromise the country’s requirements for secrecy or its security. But only a decade later Bangladesh was found seeking such connections and paying for the costs after the late realisation about how important such an acquisition would be.

Bangladesh would be well set on the path to becoming an information technology (IT) power if the right decision was taken by its then government to steer the country in the right direction. The appropriateness of the old idiom “a stitch in time, saves nine” has still plenty of relevance in the context of Bangladesh.

Thus, one should not be misunderstood for being apprehensive about Bangladesh’s preparation though the incumbent government deserves praise for successfully organizing World Cup cricket in Bangladesh. It cannot be, thus, dismissed as not having the capacity or the outlook to reach targets on such vital matters.

Another example of its relatively better alertness was its last minute actions that saved the country from the fallout for not moving in time to make its claim to the adjacent Bay of Bengal. This had been the responsibility of successive governments, but was neglected.

Nonetheless, anxiety remains as a huge effort is required and we need to go all out from now to ensure our berth among the seven. Earlier, in January this year, the relevant minister stated that 150 million votes would be needed to ensure a win for the Sunderbans.

That is, almost all the votes of the total population of Bangladesh will be required to launch the Sunderbans effectively into the winning position. As far as it is known, the number of votes so far has not crossed 10 million. So, evidently we are still far away from the target.

But how many Bangladeshis, so far, know about the contest and their patriotic duty to vote for it? A couple of roadshows, at least, across the country should have been held by now to make the people aware. But not even one has been staged.

Publicity in the mass media or otherwise to this end is still not loud or extensive enough.  A telephone facility exists for the voting but one has to pay a charge for using it to vote although that cost would be considered nominal by many.

But only people’s spontaneous enthusiasm must not be relied on. The government should make an offer of toll-free calls through numerous points in the country and urge the people to avail these facilities.  The telephone companies and the NBR must get their act together on these aspects at the soonest.

But the biggest push can be no other than India and Bangladesh coming together on this. Sixty per cent of the Sunderbans falls within Bangladesh and the remaining 40 per cent in India. Thus, it should be in India’s interest as well to make sure that the Sunderbans wins in the contest. It can be a shining example of a win-win situation for both countries.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to come to Dhaka  in September. A number of treaties are likely to be signed during his visit. The occasion would be wonderfully suited to sign another accord whereby both countries would undertake to cooperate to motivate their people respectively to vote in great numbers for the Sunderbans.

India and Bangladesh are among the seven most populous countries in the world. So, there is no reason why the Sundarbans will fail to win in the selection process if the population of both countries are inspired through systematic publicity and motivational programmes to cast  their vote massively.

Also our expatriate community is fairly large in number. They should be also persuaded to take an interest in the matter by voting as well as motivating people in their host countries to vote for the Sunderbans.