Zooming In

May 12, 2005

Zooming In 5/12

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: puréed goldfish copyrights, spy rings, and a controversial kiss.

David Goldenberg

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


Egypt: Alaa Al Aswany quickly rose to fame following the release of his first novel, The Yacoubian Building, a controversial and harsh look at modern Cairo through the lens of the tenants of the building where Aswany himself used to run a dental practice. The book is now being made into the largest-budget film ever in the country's budding film industry (NPR). But Aswany's former colleagues at the Yacoubian are not so happy. Egypt Today reports that several tenants are suing Aswany for libel, saying that his book's characters are thinly concealed and evil versions of them.

Zimbabwe: South Africa has been one of Zimbabwe's strongest allies recently, as much of the rest of the world recoiled from Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. So the revelations over the last few weeks about a South African-controlled spy ring of key Zimbabwean government officials and diplomats, including the ruling Zanu-PF foreign affairs director Itai Marchi, has done much to cool relations. Many within the ring have been sentenced to jail for several years, including the alleged ringleader, South African Secret Service officer Aubrey Welken, who was named by the Zimbabwe Independent last week. Though South African officials are bargaining hard for his release, so far the Zimbabwean government has been unmoved.


Chile: The National Forestry Corporation routinely has allowed illegal loggers to bring out Alerce trees, according to the Santiago Times. Alerce trees, which are prized in construction for their impermeability and can live for up to 4,000 years, are listed as a threatened species and have been protected in Chile since 1976. The judge in charge of the case, who took over after the previous judge resigned upon receiving death threats, made headlines last year after ordering the arrest of Carlos Weber, the director of the National Forestry Corporation. Weber was later released due to lack of evidence.

Panama: In The Panama News, an article (carrying the unusual byline, "by Eric Jackson, mostly from other media") discusses President Martín Torrijos's recent meeting with George Bush. The article states that Panama, on the verge of being included in the regional trade bloc MERCOSUR, had, for the first time, the upper hand in negotiations. "The Americans don't have the votes to continue their domination of the [Organization of American States], and the rich countries don't have the votes to control the current round of [World Trade Organization] talks," writes Jackson. "Despite some occasionally strident rhetoric coming from some people in the U.S. government and Bush's own global 'you're with us or against us' line in the sand, Panama finds itself in circumstances with various options, and thus room for diplomatic maneuver."


Cambodia: In November 2006, a joint U.N.-Cambodian Tribunal will start to prosecute accused former Khmer Rouge leaders. Cambodian and international judges will sit in judgment in all phases of what is termed the Extraordinary Chambers. The Phnom Penh Post reports on the serious doubts some nongovernmental organizations have raised about the government's ability to nominate competent judges. Of the 30 judges thought to have attended training camps for the tribunal, the Post states, "Recent media reports have claimed that three of the judges thought to be attending training have never completed university. Another judge allegedly dropped out of the course after being accused of accepting bribes to illegally release thieves."

Kyrgyzstan: In the Asia Times Online, Swati Parashar, a research associate with the International Terrorism Watch Project of the Observer Research Foundation, writes about the potential for the growth of religious extremism in the power struggle that is enveloping Kyrgyzstan. In particular, she warns about the influence of Hizbut Tehrir, a secretive fundamentalist group that is banned in many countries but has been allowed to flourish in Kyrgyzstan and currently has thousands of members there. "It is true that the government was the most liberal in the region in terms of dealing with Hizb activism," Parashar told Gelf over email. "There are several claims of their involvement in anti-government propaganda and it should really not come as a surprise if the Hizb leadership will gain maximum out of the latest developments"—referring to the overthrow of president Askar Akaev in March—"in the days to come. It is a God-sent opportunity for them."

Pakistan: Meera is the Pakistani actress who recently caused controversy and received death threats after allegedly filming an onscreen kiss with the Indian—and Hindi—actor Ashmit Patel for the Bollywood movie Nazar (Answers.com has more). In the Pakistan Times, Meera talks about the kiss, the movie, and Patel. She states that she had no problem with kissing Patel, "but I'm happy that they have decided to do away with the scene."

Taiwan: Seventeen government officials and civilians have been arrested in Taiwan, accused of passing secrets on to China, according to an Associated Press report in the Taipei Times. The alleged key figure is Major Chuang Poh-hsing, who according to the AP "worked in a unit of the ministry's electronic information department that was believed to handle sensitive missile systems data." The spy ring was uncovered last year after the coast guard found that a person smuggling guns and drugs to China was also carrying sensitive information.


Czech Republic: In the small town of Postoloprty, the town council recently rejected requests to erect a memorial for the 800 ethnic-Germans who were massacred in the direct aftermath of World War II. A Prague Post article discusses the difficulty in dealing with the treatment of ethnic-Germans: Over 30,000 of them were killed in Czechoslovakia after the war ended, according to reports released by the government. And though most ethnic Germans supported the Nazis, several didn't, including one militia that called themselves "Defense of the Republic" and went to fight with the Czechs.

Denmark: Artist Marco Evaristti gained fame—and infamy—for exhibits in which he put live goldfish in blenders and allowed them to be puréed (See some of his exhibits here and some of the fallout at the BBC). But he doesn't have a copyright on the visual, according to the City Court of Frederiksberg. The Copenhagen Post reports that the magazine FHM, whom Evarstti sued after they put images of goldfish in blenders for an article comparing the kitchen devices, was found not guilty of violating the artist's rights.

Ireland: The Pit Stop Ploughshares are a group of five radical anti-war protesters who were arrested in 2003 for causing $2.5 million worth of damage to a U.S. fighter plane that was stationed in the Shannon Airport. In Three Monkeys Online, Ciaron O'Reilly, one of the Ploughshares, talks about what it's like to be on trial for the protest, noting the inherent difficulty of spreading their message: "There's always tension in Ploughshares groups between the legal team and the defendants, you know. The legal team are professionals and their focus is to get you off and I guess, being in Ploughshares, if that was our focus we probably wouldn't have done the action in the first place [laughs]. So there are compromises to be made by both sides."

Sweden: Ninety percent of murderers in Sweden are mentally ill, according to a study in the Nov. 2004 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry. An Agence France-Presse report in the Local states that the authors think this estimate may be on the low side, because many murderers commit suicide before undergoing psychiatric testing. They note, however, that this may not hold true in places where "organized crime, drug trade and easy access to weapons result in a higher percentage of murders committed by people who are not certifiably ill." The United States is listed as one of those places. From the comments section of the Local's online article: "Surely the news here is that 10% of murderers are mentally normal!"

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Article by David Goldenberg

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