Joining usual suspects like Syria, Iran, China and North Korea among the so-called Enemies of the Internet, Bahrain and Belarus have joined a list of 12 countries, which the international press freedom advocate, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), says are guilty of cyber censorship and restricting the freedom of information. To mark this year’s World Day Against Cyber Censorship (March 12), RSF has released its latest report on the world’s worst offenders of Internet censoship. The “Enemies of the Internet” list includes Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. RSF says Bahrain and Belarus were added to the list after the organization found those countries to have increased efforts to restrict the flow of information. But the countries have not been ranked individually. Matthias Spielkamp from the German branch of Reporters Without Borders says the methods of cyber censorship are too varied and too numerous to allow a clear ranking. For example, China, Iran and Vietnam feature for the imprisonment of 120 bloggers and online activists, while Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are cited for censorship. Several online activists were killed in 2011 in Bahrain, Mexico, India and Syria. A second report just published details those countries which RSF says are “under surveillance.” It includes 14 countries: Australia, Egypt, Eritrea, France, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. But the organization admits that even this list is incomplete. Its main report also mentions Morocco, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Tajikistan
Beijing authorities on Friday ordered Internet microblogs to require users to register with their real names, a tightening of rules aimed at controlling China’s rapidly growing social networks. An announcement posted online said all microblog companies registered in the capital had to enforce real name registration within three months. The rules, jointly issued by the Beijing government, police and Internet management office, apparently apply to all 250 million users of the hugely popular Twitter-like service Weibo.com, regardless of location, because its operator, Chinese Web portal Sina Corp., is headquartered in Beijing. Sina rival Tencent Holdings is based in the southern city of Shenzhen. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the company’s microblog service would have to comply with the same rules. China had more than 485 million Internet users as of the end of June, the most of any country in the world. The new rules explicitly forbid use of microblogging to “incite illegal assembly.” Public protests are illegal in China and are a concern for the Communist leadership
If the US economy needs QE3 or QE4 as a collapse in market + consumer confidence sets in – asset prices will rise, so will food prices – fuelling unrest in the developing world…
Wheat and corn rose in Chicago after President Barack Obama said U.S. lawmakers agreed to raise the federal debt limit, avoiding a possible default. Both grains climbed for a first session in three after falling 2.6 percent on July 29 on concern talks would fail to produce an accord. Though, as the House of Representative passed the first part of the settlement,
market sentiment appeared mixed with pressure on currencies like the Yen, and stock markets in Asia reacting poorly when they opened shortly after the news, though it may be in part, due to poor figures on U.S. manufacturing data as well.
Crop yields + demand sit on a finally balanced knife edge….poor weather can blow yield predictions out the water + hit prices
Elsewhere, a report by the National Drought Mitigation Centre said that some 12% of U.S. territory was seeing ‘exceptional drought’ conditions, focused mainly on the southern U.S. and southern plains. Texas officials say that five years ago the state saw losses of some $4.1bn due to a savage drought that year. David Anderson, an economist with the Texas AgriLife Extension service at Texas A&M University said “We won’t be surprised if it’s a lot bigger than that this time,” he said.
Sharply growing demand out of China means the world market can do without additional shocks that may be closer than we think
A little reported story suggested that China faces the risk of severe damage from a hurricane whose trail of destruction could encompass Shanghai and major crop producing regions, lifting the country’s need for imports of crops such as corn and soybeans. This was based on reports from forecasters at the Korea Meteorological Administration and at US-based weather service WxRisk.com, who have jointly warned that either South Korea or eastern China will be struck next weekend by a typhoon which is already blowing winds of more than 100 miles per hour.
There are fears that China may boost imports of grain to a record 6 million metric tons in the year beginning Oct. 1, to replenish stockpiles, as demand for feed grows, according to Yigu Information Consulting Ltd. Thus, purchases by China may further drain U.S. inventories, forecast to be at the lowest level since 1996.
Ramadan – more pressure on world commodity prices? – Could this aggravate Arab world social unrest still further?
Arab unrest and high food prices are casting a shadow on the Arab world as Ramadan approaches, with prices sharply rising. Ramadan falls this year during a scorching summer, when tempers in the Arab world, already running hot, could easily boil over, especially as many complain about the continued rise in food prices and general economic malaise. Also, it is worth remembering that food prices typically spike during Ramadan, and the extravagant dinners many put on to break the daily fast could drive a deeper hole in household budgets.
Weather forecasts are also being keenly watched, as crops mature in the northern hemisphere and concerns remain that the sizzling heat in the U.S. Midwest last week, might have hurt corn and soybean yields, despite kinder weather predictions for this week.
Warner Bros Entertainment will distribute on-demand movies in China starting this summer, through an agreement with China’s YOU On Demand Holdings Inc, Warner Bros said in a statement on Wednesday. Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc , will be the first studio to offer films in China via this method and will have the potential to reach 200 million cable households through YOU On Demand’s pay-per-view and video-on-demand platform. Warner Bros, which distributes the popular Harry Potter movie franchise, could be available to as many as 3 million households by the end of the summer. Foreign movies are available in cinemas through a quota system that limits the number of foreign movies screened in China each year. Otherwise, foreign movies are widely accessible to the public on pirated DVDs that can be bought on the black market for less than a dollar. The problem of rampant piracy has robbed Hollywood studios and music production companies of millions in profit in the world’s most populous country.
- In simple terms this is seen by increased demand in rapidly growing BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and other fast developing regions.
- This is matched by a relative stagnation in ‘supply’ – crop yields are not rising anything like fast enough to meet shooting demand
- Now the loss of oil supplies (Libya) has fuelled this unease still further
The beginning of a pattern of climatic incidents suggesting that global warming is having at least starting to have a major effect on regions of the world that are traditionally seen as the breadbaskets for food & vital commodities – acute droughts in north eastern China & in Russia in 2010; floods in Queensland and droughts in Western Australia and a similar story in places such as Argentina, the USA and Canada
- As there is little or no excess margin in terms of ‘supply’ that can absorb this shock in a seamless fashion, price equilibrium is at risk as each bit of poor news fuels market uncertainty still further
- This is made worse as, unlike oil, there is little or no concrete and reliable information on ‘physical commodity stockpiles,’ there was not a single real calculation when Russia banned grain exports after a damaging drought in 2010, so the market reacts to what little it knows
- This lack of clarity is compounded by the weakness of bodies monitoring the financial instruments known as ‘standardised commodity derivatives’ – the European Market Standards Authority having a staff of less than 100 to monitor trades across 27 countries & the incoming US Republicans cutting the budgets of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission still further
The final, and “speculative” explanation is that the US Federal Reserve’s decision to expand liquidity (quantitative easing) has leaked into all risk assets, including commodities, via financial market demand for these assets. If this is true, it implies that the Fed has imparted an adverse supply side shock into the world economy by raising the oil price due to a lower dollar rate (which ought to have some fairly profound implications for the future conduct of monetary policy around the world).
What’s this mean in simple terms – oil, wheat, corn is traded in dollars – a weak dollar means it is more expensive….with the debt celing hit in the USA in terms of the Federal Budget it is in all our interests that the U.S. deficit is addressed and some strength returns to the dollar.
Why this post? – Well Media Focus has been doing some work in this field and we thought it good to share some of what we’ve learnt…we’ve built some interesting reports for clients – looking at Influencer Network Analysis and then taking the findings through to their conclusions (see above).
How does this affect things moving forward? – This problem is not going away any time soon. The fragility of the balance between supply and demand is so delicate at the moment that a crop plague (one moving across the world right now, charmingly called Ug99) or a wider drought or an exceptionally bad winter or a spread of the tension from Libya to other oil rich nations – and boom – we all fall over the edge
What can we do – pray our politicians get it right as they seek to introduce curbs on the untrammelled speculation that is thriving in the commodity trading markets. Hope for tighter regulation on that trade and for it to emerge sooner rather than later
A supercomputing cluster in China has laid claim to the title of fastest in the world. The recently-upgraded Tianhe-1 cluster has reported a top performance of 2.507 petaflops, more than 2.5 trillion calculations per second. The benchmark blows past a record set by the Oak Ridge National Laboratories Cray Jaguar cluster, which topped out at a speed of 1.5 petaflops. The announcement of the 2.5 petaflop mark comes just two years after IBM’s RoadRunner system clipped the 1 petaflop barrier for the first time. Located at China’s National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, the system was designed by the country’s National University of Defense Technology. Prior to the update, the Tianhe-1 cluster had ranked seventh on the Top500 supercomputing list. The system uses a combination of 14,336 Intel Xeon processors and 7.168 Nvidia Tesla graphics processors. Nvidia said that by integrating graphics chips into the cluster, a technique known as general processing over GPU (GPGPU) the system is able to cut its energy consumption from 14 megawatts to just over 4 megawatts.
China is on course to build a record number of cinemas this year in a burst of movie infrastructure development that is partly aimed at rivalling the “soft power” of Hollywood. Following the state-backed expansion of China’s TV and newspaper industries since 2009, the government is promoting a major push of film production and distribution. The state council, China’s cabinet, has issued new guidelines for the booming industry that have helped film-makers secure bank loans and reach a wider audience. Despite the widespread piracy of films – which means illegal DVDs often go on sale within days of a new cinema release – the authorities are ramping up cinema construction to draw more audiences to screenings. Industry analysts says the speed of growth – a reflection of a wider economic boom as much as state policy – is so fast that China could start to overtake the US in key benchmarks. Last year the government reportedly injected £4bn into Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV, and the People’s Daily newspaper in a move to strengthen the country’s media voice. All of these organisations have subsequently ramped up their English language content in a bid to counter what is widely seen in Beijing as a biased western media and an overly strong advocacy of western values. Xiang Yong, deputy director of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Beijing University, sees the promotion of the domestic film industry as “an important way to strengthen the soft power of our country.”
Brazil, Russia, India, China and Indonesia will double their Internet users to 1.2 billion by 2015, fueling growth at media companies and phone carriers, according to Boston Consulting Group. By then, the countries will have three times the Internet users of the United States and Japan combined, up from about two times at the end of 2009, the consulting firm said in a report released last week. Personal computers will double in the five countries to more than 920 million, and mobile phones with Internet access will aid growth, according to the report. As consumers gain more access to the Net, they’ll spend more time online, providing a boon to entertainment providers, the report said. Boston Consulting added Indonesia to the group because of its 240 million population and its proportion of mobile-phone users, which at 66 percent is higher than China and India, said David Michael, the report’s lead author. Indonesia’s wireless subscriptions will top 100 percent of the population by 2015, meaning some users will have multiple devices, according to Boston Consulting. Twenty percent of China’s population owns a personal computer, and tens of millions get online at Internet cafes, giving China 384 million Internet users at the end of last year, almost triple the total in 2006, the report said. In India, only 7 percent of the population was using the Internet at the end of 2009, the lowest of the five countries in the report. Indian users spend half an hour online a day, and productivity functions such as e-mail and job-hunting are their most popular activities. That will change as media companies take advantage of the growth in users, which will reach 19 percent by 2015, Michael said. Internet users in Brazil and Russia will surge by 2015 to 74 percent and 55 percent of the population from about one-third last year, according to the report.
Developers of China’s Green Dam Internet filter have not received government funding in the past year, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday, placing in doubt the future of the much-criticized software. China delayed indefinitely the plan to force PC manufacturers to bundle the Green Dam software with computers sold in the country in June last year, after critics denounced the plan as ineffective. Software developer Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy had closed the office where the software was promoted and maintained, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported, citing the company’s general manager. The company and another software developer Zhengshou Jinhui had received CNY 41.7m (USD 6.16m) in May 2008 to develop the software, the report added. Beijing had said the Green Dam software was designed to block objectionable images and stamp out Internet pornography, but faced criticism that the program strengthened China’s ability to censor political content.
A Hong Kong journalists’ group has demanded the semi autonomous government lobby Beijing for better protection after local reporters and cameramen allegedly faced rough treatment, bogus drug accusations and denial of press credentials in the mainland the past year. While mainland China maintains tight media controls, this former British colony enjoys freedom of press as part of its special political status. A Hong Kong Journalists Association’s 2010 annual report issued Sunday urged the Hong Kong government to “make it clear to Chinese leaders that harassment and detention of journalists is totally unacceptable.” The association said the level of interference Hong Kong reporters faced while working on the mainland in the past year was the worst in 10 years. The Hong Kong Journalists Association also urged the Hong Kong government to make radio RTHK an independent public broadcaster — instead of keeping it as a government department — and to review broadcasting legislation in light of the failure of pro-democracy activists to obtain a radio station license.