Media | Zooming In

April 9, 2005

Zooming In 4/9/05

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local newspapers around the world. In this edition: Security and diplomacy collide in Australia, pirates rule Indonesian waters, robots will patrol the DMZ, and more.

Carl Bialik

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the U.S. comes from local newspapers. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.


Mozambique: At a roundtable in Johannesburg on Friday, president Joaquim Chissano cited a study of 2,700 articles about Africa, from U.S. newspapers. His not surprising conclusion, according to SAPA: "Coverage of Africa, by the leading forces of American media, is, at best, dismissive of the continent's progress and potential."

South Africa: Gelf earlier noted Mail & Guardian reports on the apparent inflation of official statistics about adult literacy programs here. Now M&G's David Macfarlane, who wrote the earlier article, digs deeper into a program called Ikhwelo: "Several adult basic education and training experts question the quick pace of allocation, and suggest there was 'dumping'—money hurriedly allocated in ways not originally intended."


Costa Rica: The nation's Coca-Cola bottling company, Coca-Cola FEMSA S.A., was fined $145,610 (U.S.) for alleged monopolistic practices such as "exclusivity contracts that prohibited Coca-Cola vendors from selling Pepsi, and releasing lists with suggested prices for its products," The Tico Times reported. Also, "the firm did not allow vendors to place other soft-drink brands in refrigerators bearing the Coca-Cola logo." Gelf wonders: Are such practices unique to Costa Rica?

Asia, Oceania

Afghanistan: Mullah Omar, ruler here until the U.S. deposed the Taliban in 2001, is "finalizing a new guerrilla strategy similar to that adopted by the Iraqi resistance," Asia Times Online reports. "The results of this are expected to manifest themselves within a few months." More: "Previously, the Taliban's unorganized approach and lack of communication and proper planning resulted in heavy casualties, and exposure of its network. Thousands of youths have been killed or captured in the past three and a half years. The new strategy is much more secure and highly clandestine, and the teams are unknown, thus they have the element of surprise on their side."

Australia: Security workers are wreaking diplomatic havoc on two fronts and raising controversy at home.

Gelf noted the furor in Papua New Guinea over the search of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somar while changing planes in Brisbane. That furor continues unabated: Papua New Guinea's The National reports that a protest march was expected in Port Moresby Saturday morning. The article shows a wave of politicians rushing to condemn the search.

All of this has the Post-Courier scratching its head: "To some, it will be seen as a huge case of over-kill to threaten the K2 billion Enhanced Co-operation Program [$612 million U.S.] over a blunder by guards." The editorial goes on to wonder, "Whether the motives were purely to defend the honour of our nation and the longtime leader against the crass behaviour of airport security guards, or to leverage a new look at the aid package, only time will tell."

Now Indian politician Somnath Chatterjee has called off a planned trip to Sydney to avoid the mandatory frisking "because the Australians have told him in very clear terms that they are not going to bend airport security rules to let him in," the Indian Express reports. Chatterjee says, self-importantly, "My country's prestige is at stake."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard took the high road, in Gelf's view, telling Melbourne radio, "If I go to another country and I'm asked to go through an X-ray machine, I'm only too happy to do so," according to the Australian.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that security-camera operators are using their technology to "follow people—especially women—down the street, against the guidelines issued for the cameras' use. The audit, carried out by Sutherland Council, cited cameras being used to follow shoppers walking down the mall and watch them sitting down at outdoor eateries. The guidelines for the Street Safe program state the cameras would be operated 'with due regard to the privacy and civil liberties of individual members of the public'. But the report found breaches occurred because operating staff were bored and inactive."

Malaysia: " Pirates are making a mockery of the half-hearted efforts of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to make the Malacca Strait safe for shipping," Ioannis Gatsiounis reports in the Asia Times. While the story is datelined in Kuala Lumpur, the biggest problem lies in the nearby archipelago nation: "Of 325 reported pirate attacks worldwide in 2004, 93 occurred in Indonesian waters (compared with nine in Malaysia and eight in Singapore)."

Nepal: In Nepal News, Kamala Sarup spotlights the troubling trafficking in women that has spread thanks to poverty and war. "One of the most tragic consequences of the long-drawn civil war has been abduction of women and children," Sarup writes. "However, the government as well as non-governmental organisations have failed to systematically identify and meet distinct needs of a large and particularly at-risk group of women and have no program for them."

New Zealand: The country is debating whether to rename Waitangi Day as New Zealand Day, or ditch the controversial holiday entirely in favor of a different national day of celebration. February 6 commemorates the signing by the British empire and indigenous New Zealanders of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which established the modern nation yet has become a source of anguish for Maori who feel their ancestors got the short end of the deal and that they continue to suffer for it. (Wikipedia) In the Ashburton Guardian, Grant Shimmin argues for the name change: "It's certainly a day that stirs plenty of emotions, but they're not necessarily all positive, and conflict, especially at Waitangi itself, often seems to form a significant part of the commemorations. So the concept of a day which would bring forth the positive emotions often associated with a national day is an attractive one, although of course we won't know exactly how well it will work in that regard until it is actually in place, assuming the legislation is passed."

But a New Zealand Herald editorial calls the new name "a weak compromise" engineered by member of parliament Peter Dunne: "Not even Mr Dunne can seriously believe that changing the name again is going to remove any of the annual rancour surrounding the commemoration of the treaty. The suggestion appears to be one of those pointless contributions that serve only to offer a refuge for those who would rather not support one side or the other of a contentious issue."

South Korea: "The Defense Ministry plans to deploy robots with combat capability along the heavily fortified inter-Korean border as part of revamped security measures to deter North Korean infiltration," the Korea Herald reports. The paper adds: "Robots with weapons mounted on their frames are each expected to be able to observe from 2 and 1 kilometers during the day and night, respectively, and will have the capability to record voices and take pictures in a 180-degree circle." According to a Herald paraphrase of noted understatement, Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung says "the ability to shoot at targets is a matter which needs to be discussed and worked out very carefully." The news comes two months after word emerged in the U.S. of Pentagon plans to develop a robot soldier. (New York Times)


On, Norwegian Dag Herbjornsrud points out that Europe still hasn't properly come to terms with its horrifying colonial past. The colonial empires of Britain, France, and Belgium, Herbjornsrud asserts, are the "original axis of evil." Yet "citizens of former colonial empires are actually taught to be proud of their glorious colonial past."

United Kingdom: Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles, in case you hadn't heard. BBC reporters filed updates minute-by-minute, much like European websites cover more-important events like Champions League soccer games. At 1304 GMT, Mark Whitaker reported, "It's a very good-natured crowd here. And obviously the opinion in Windsor is probably about 95 percent in favour of this royal wedding." (Hence the Scotsman's story headlined, "If it moves—it'll be interviewed in wedding frenzy.") The Guardian also ran a reporter's online log.

In a proud moment for journalism, the Daily Mail reports: "Mrs Parker Bowles was wearing an oyster silk basket-weave coat with herringbone stitch embroidery and a chiffon dress with applique woven lacquered disc detail. The outfit, by the design team Robinson Valentine, took more than six weeks to make—and was, not surprisingly, as different to Princess Diana's wedding dress as you could get.

A Guardian leader tries to wring some good out of the silliness, noting that the scene of "a royal adulterer marrying a divorcee with the church's blessing" demonstrates that "the gap between the fantasy of monarchy and the reality has never been wider or more in need of reform."

Meanwhile, a day before the wedding, Charles shook the hand of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe at the pope's funeral. His advocates blame bad seating arrangements and the element of surprise. "Opponents of Mr Mugabe, whose ruling Zanu-PF party won the election last week and has been condemned for vote-rigging and widespread intimidation, said the gesture left 'blood on the hands' of the Prince by appearing to accept the President as an equal," the Independent reports.

United Kingdom: In 1984, at age 78, anti-nukes campaigner Hilda Murrell was killed under mysterious circumstances. The case was recently reopened, and now prosecutors are trying to convince jurors that the murderer was a teenager from a children's home. "You might have been aware of the conspiracy theories, but do not allow yourself to become contaminated by what we say is pure speculation —much of it ill-informed and some of it wholly speculative," prosecutor Richard Latham told the court, according to the Guardian.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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