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Wikileaks, the changing face of news reporting, and the ‘video game war’

By on Apr 7, 2010 in Food For Thought, Stop The Press | 4 comments

I don’t know whether you have heard of Wikileaks until now; there remains no doubt whatsoever though that after today’s major whistleblowing coup they accomplished today. Although Wikileaks has shown the guts to go up against ‘the establishment’ previously nothing quite matches the controversy they have set off today, releasing a video which shows a US Army Apache helicopter opening fire, and ultimately killing, twelve people including two Reuters journalists. It’s a 17-minute video that is going to bring up a lot of questions in the near future about US presence in Iraq and rules of modern warfare in general. (You can also see the complete, unedited video here. In case you don’t have the bandwidth to watch the video, you can read the transcript but it doesn’t show the true horror of what happened.) The initial reaction will be that of outrage and there are many reactions along the lines of how “the people in the video obviously aren’t carrying weapons”. In hindsight, from the comfort of our room, we can say that because we can watch it back at our leisure (I just dread having to use that last word) but during a war-zone when making split-second decisions, it can be easy to overreact and consider a telephoto lens of a camera to be an RPG – especially when you’re trying to make out what’s happening from such footage. And while I don’t find radio chatter along the lines of “Look at those dead bastards. Nice.” to be condonable, I do realize that soldiers on the frontline are not bound to make politically correct commentary. The New Yorker has released preliminary legal analysis regarding the rules of engagement with respect to this video. I think (and this is purely personal opinion) that the initial firing, while not absolutely necessary, can be understood as being over-cautious. What follows later on in the video, of opening fire on a van try to carry away wounded was overstepping the boundary. What strikes me is the feeling that Pentagon would’ve given more shit about this – and mainstream media would’ve given more shit about this – if it had been foreign correspondents instead of Iraqi journalists (albeit still working for Reuters). It wouldn’t have taken three years, nor would they be making excuses right now of ‘not being able to find the video‘. That, I think, is the main issue. While what happened on that day is…understandable…the Pentagon going to great lengths to try and shut people and being forthcoming about details is what’s going to cause a major loss of confidence in the region. This video itself has the potential to become ‘recommended watching’ for terrorists – and the US isn’t going to come out looking any good out of it. ‘Mainstream media’ is a term that will be brought up again and again when this issue is discussed over the coming days. The very fact that it was Wikileaks – a non-profit organization that doesn’t take any donations from organizations, only individuals – publishing this online via bulletproof hosting servers in Sweden, without any physical offices was what made it possible. In times which are already financially hard for newspapers and new TV channels it’s difficult to conceive them being able to withstand the pressure from various authorities on not releasing such a video. Indeed, Reuters had been trying to get this same video released under Freedom of Information Act and failed. What did Wikileaks do? It obtained copies of the footage from whistleblowers within the military, did on-ground background research, broke the encryption on the copy they had and released the video. They went ahead and were simply able to do things while a news organization would have had to face pressure to shut up and at the same time consider the legal liability of disclosing this. That’s probably what gives whisteblowers greater confidence to reveal damning information to Wikileaks rather than a brick-and-mortar entity that can be sued to divulge their identity. Pentagon identified this and considered attaching Wikileaks by, among other things, outing whistleblowers and making an example out of them. At the same time, you can’t deny the fact that the resources behind a ‘proper’ (although the definition is now up for debate) news organization can often make things easier to investigate. Wikileaks has been forced to shut down temporarily (and currently operates in a stripped down state) because of funding issues. Following the release of this footage it’s seeking funding right now to help it release further videos regarding US military actions. As it says: Press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC, a cost which starts at $2,000 for a medium-sized room with projector and microphone. In addition, it costs $5,000 to Web cast the video from the National Press Club. This is why I don’t believe in statements such as “mainstream media is dead”. I know it’s trendy in the blogosphere to refer to the old guard as MSM and fill gigabytes of ‘pages’ online with whoop-whoop battlecries of “old media is dead, blogs will do all news reporting in the future”. It doesn’t take much to publish a blog or a video online, but it takes resources and support – for better or worse – to be able to get that content on to a proper pedestal that ‘MSM’ does. As the Washington Post opinion piece in the last...

Help Haiti

By on Jan 16, 2010 in Stop The Press | 0 comments

If you have been following news stories for the past few days, you’d have read about the earthquake in Haiti and the amount of destruction that it has caused. Every now and then, such tragedies strike and at times like these I think it is our collective responsibility to help fellow humans beings out as much as possible. What is truly shocking is how little aid was able to reach to the island nation in the first few days since the earthquake struck. News reports showing bulldozers piling up corpses and riots over single cans of water make for disturbing viewing. So choose a charitable organization working in relief operations there, and donate now. Even if it’s a small amount, it counts. A country like Haiti is hit harder because it is so poor and has less resources already. I’ll be donating what I get from part-time work this month to Doctors Without Borders and the World Food Programme operations in Haiti. Take your pick, and donate now. This brings me a to odd juncture in this blog post. Readers from UK have access to multiple charities they can donate to for the cause (including the ones I mentioned). I initially thought of sharing links to sites where readers from India could donate too. Surprisingly, as far as I see it there isn’t a single website based out of India that allows to donate to emergency relief funds. Not even the Indian Red Cross! (Having a single paragraph saying donations are tax-deductible is useless.) Furthermore, Indian news sites seem to be paying hardly any attention to this ‘story’. Forget the front page, there isn’t a single reference to the Haiti earthquake on the world news page of hindustantimes.com (when I saw it). And on Times of India’s website, a link to a story on Haiti is buried deep beneath stories about some UN weapons inspector being caught in a sex sting. Times of India then goes to reach heights of tactlessness by displaying keyword ads in its news article for ‘Haiti’ and ’emergency situation’. At least world leaders are pledging aid and the media is paying attention here. Not so encouraging on the streets, where the attitude here is – to a large extent – “don’t care”. I just hope that enough people chip in, in whatever way they can in times of humanitarian crisis. Related articles by Zemanta Google Offers Satellite Images of Haiti, Post-Earthquake (readwriteweb.com) Haiti earthquake: among tales of tragedy, boy’s rescue provides rare moment of hope (telegraph.co.uk) Emergency Relief for Haiti: Members of Electronic Payments Coalition Pledge to Help (pindebit.blogspot.com) Cellphone campaign raises $1.4M in one day for Haiti (calgaryherald.com) Don’t give money to Haiti (blogs.reuters.com) SCUM: Haiti Disaster Attracts Hoaxes and Scammers (mashable.com) Pat Robertson Claims Haiti Made Pact With The Devil (manolith.com) Haiti earthquake: food houses looted, WFP says (telegraph.co.uk) Haiti earthquake: anger turns to violence on the streets...

The New Hindu

By on Aug 20, 2009 in Reviews, Stop The Press, Tech Takes | 6 comments

The Hindu is probably one of the most old-fashioned major newspaper in India. While all the others have moved on to the “Yay us! We have full-colour newspapers!” bandwagon, The Hindu staunchly refuses to give anything other than black & white. And with its strong focus on South India events even in the Delhi edition it says a big “FUCK YOU” to all ‘naarth Eendyen’ newspapers like Times of India and Hindustan Times. Without a doubt, it’s the best copy-edited, best written, sane and sober newspaper in India. The effect of all the roofies that the editors at Hindu took seems to be wearing off – they have discovered the Internet! “Oh look, this Facebook thing is ossumz!“ So The Hindu decided to give its website a major upgrade. The old site is still lurking around at thehindu.com – in all its 1990s Internet glory; the new website is at beta.thehindu.com. This redesign has been done by Mario Garcia Jr. Mario Garcia Jr, in case you haven’t heard of him in Hindustan Times, where they brag about getting redesigns done from him on the umpteen number of times it has ‘changed’ over the past few years. Journalism outsourcing professionals in India have been out-Bangalore’d by a Floridan! As someone else puts it, “Future contestants of Mastermind might like to consider “Indian Newspaper Design” for their specialist round. The answer for all 10 questions is Mario Garcia.” Consider what we have had to deal with so far. A cursory look suggests that the designer of the Hindustan Times website had an Uzi pointed at his head while he was designing the website, with some sub-editor saying “Naach Basanti, naach” in the background while yet another editor shouted “I want like, every, goddamn news article section to be on the front page. It’s so cluttered that the basic idea behind this is “Let’s put a link every 1cm and hope the user clicks something, even if accidentally.” And then HT editors keep wondering on their blogs as to why they aren’t earning revenues through ads. If guys like these stay around a bit longer, journalism will be dead. Times of India‘s website is a tad better than Hindustan Times. Their delight knew no bounds when ComScore (quite probably made a mistake and) declared that TOI’s site was the most trafficked in the world. Maybe it was the whole subdomain thing which bamboozled ComScore, because I kinda find it hard to believe that with the number of Internet users India has, TOI’s site got more visitors than any other newspaper website in the world. TOI’s site design is a bit better but still somewhat cluttered. Coming back to The Hindu’s redesign – what I wanted to say was “This is fantastic!”. The design is really clean. Everything is arranged in a proper fashion – heck, they even placed the ads properly rather than jamming them anywhere, anyhow. When you land on the website, you eyes scan easily through the content without getting overwhelmed with information. There are flashing scrolling tickers and animated jumping monkeys to distract you. Also, The Hindu has decided to implement with a ‘web first’ policy – which means that from now on their reporters will publish their stories first on the website, then in print. Most other newspapers keep breaking news to a minimum, opting to publish online only very important breaking news via dispatches from agencies. Hindu‘s idea, if it takes off, could mean a day when the online version of a print newspaper – that too one of the more traditional ones! – is given more importance. Why this makes sense is that fresh, original content being posted on the website first, a lot more people might be interested in reading news there – thus increasing potential for ad revenue. I don’t know about other, but I for instance only check online news sites in case some major event has happened and I want new news updates – or in case I need to link back to a news story. And with an uncluttered interface, chances are that readers will stick around longer and read more of Hindu‘s content. Douglas Adams, in his essay What Have We Got To Lose, was right on target that the future of media is online. Years after he originally wrote this article, its astonishing to note that most people associated with news media still think the same way, websites are still made with the same thought process like the early days of the Web that DNA has described in the essay. I urge you to read his arguments on why digital media makes sense for everyone – even media house owners once they get it. Originally posted at...

Khan’t get past security

By on Aug 17, 2009 in Stop The Press | 3 comments

So then, Shah Rukh Khan gets stopped at for further questioning at Newark airport and the rabble-rabble crowd is getting ready to hold protest demonstrations near the Parliament. Me? I find the situation delightfully hilarious, in a ironic sort of way. You see, SRK had gone to the US of A to promote his new movie My Name Is Khan – and here’s the irony – it’s about racial profiling of Muslims after the 9/11 attacks. Maybe I wouldn’t have found it hilarious if it happened to me, but since it hasn’t I’ll can have a laugh. See, a lolcat too! photo credit: Kitty de Medici You see, most of the outrage is centered around “INDIANS ARE BEING RACIALLY DISCRIMINATED AGAINST! BUY BARACK OBAMA POSTERS FOR Rs 100 ONLY AND BURN IT!”. Sorry to disappoint you guys but Transporation Security Administration has made some truly astounding errors earlier too. SRK isn’t the first one to be stopped because his name featured on the watchlist either – earlier, a five year old kid called Matthew Gardner was prevented from flying too. The same link (gracias, Cracked.com) details other incidents – like a guy called David Nelson being stopped too, and someone else who was handicapped and her crutches were snatched away because they needed to be inspected. ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ being on the watchlist doesn’t mean that the Shah Rukh Khan was being ‘targetted’ – it simply means that quite possibly there’s a suspected criminal with the same name whom the authorities are looking out for. The issue is not of targeting but that of idiots who slavishly follow rules taking things a bit too far. While at this point you would love to hear a redneck joke or two along the lines of “haha Americans are so dumb”, lemme remind you that security staff anywhere around the world can be dumb when it comes to taking rulebook interpretations too far. I don’t understand why HT decided to headline this story as ‘Child abuse by CISF…’ (what’s described is not child abuse); anyway, the story is about how CISF made a 10-year old kid stand outside a security checkpoint for over an hour because he didn’t follow the security drill. Must we protest outside the...

The raging ragging debate

By on Aug 7, 2009 in Food For Thought, Stop The Press | 1 comment

Originally posted at Youthpad. Once upon a time there was a kid who was studying in an Uttarakhand college. Unfortunately, despite the fairy tale beginning to this blog post, his life did not follow typical fairy tale trajectory. The guy I am talking about is Aman Kachroo, whose death due to ragging sparked off a chain of events which has culminated in two students being expelled this week from Delhi University’s Kirori Mal College. What that one tragic incident in a small college did was blow to smithereens the excuse that ragging helps in bonding with seniors. Even I agree and support fruitful interaction with seniors. As long as it is harmless, it is okay. I’m sure that most college seniors who’re ragging don’t go in with the mindset to kill or grievously injure someone. I hope everyone has that much humanity left in them. The problem starts when, intoxicated with the feeling of being in power, a college student(s) who is doing the ragging forgets the point where his actions have crossed a line. Specifically picking up Aman Kachroo’s case, this is what I remember reading in a newspaper report. He was asked to give an introduction in shudh Hindi – now this itself is innocuous, harmless and may I say, a popular form of ragging. I wouldn’t call this ragging per se; it’s the sort of interaction that I’m sure everyone is OK with. Now, Aman’s family had been living in Tanzania for a considerable amount of time and the kid didn’t know much of Hindi. One thing lead to another and in the end he died due to injuries inflicted upon him. I do not know whether this is true or not, but that’s what a newspaper report said. Post this, the Supreme Court issued directives that ragging in all its forms must be stopped forthwith. Protests have been raised that this is too harsh a measure, that benign forms of interaction should be allowed. Try to understand this issue from the court’s point of view. Can you provide an empirical, unambiguous definition of what ‘safe’ or ‘benign’ ragging is? How do define some action as ‘going too far’? This is further complicated by the fact that ‘damage’ could be both physical and mental. You can have a shot at this – and you’ll realize that this is extremely difficult to do. You could say, in a sense, that ragging extremes are a bit similar to road rage. Both arise from a need to show-off who is in a position of power. And it brings a sea change in a person who otherwise might be quite sociable in any other setting. Typical Dr Jekyll turning into Mr Hyde scenario. Between the two extremes which the court had at hand – of allowing ragging to go on with the possibility of further such incidents happening and of a total ban – the court decided to choose the latter. I support that decision even though I admit the consequence will be that harmless fresher-senior bonding will be impacted badly. Besides, even if a definition of ‘extreme’ ragging could be reached it would be punitive measure instead of a preventive measure. Won’t do a shitload of good to someone who’s dead or injured. Probably, putting in preventive measures was also on of the points the court considered when passing this directive. Coming to the controversial decision taken by Kirori Mal College in expelling the accused students. Frankly, they had no choice. Court orders are quite firm that action needs to be taken in case any such incident is reported. In case action isn’t taken, the complainant could have taken college authorities to court over this issue. Maybe the sentence was a bit harsh; the college principal admits he was trying to set an example but he was well within his rights to do so. Extreme ragging incidents remain under-reported. College authorities will be strict for a few weeks to make sure the court order is implemented; indeed, most freshers are already reporting that hardly any ragging it taking place. Eventually though, colleges will relax monitoring and that is the time when further ‘incidents’ might happen. So the need is also to sensitize seniors to be aware of what the limits are. Also, the need for interactions with seniors is definitely there. Otherwise it will be hard for newcomers to find their way around a place. College authorities themselves should take the initiative to hold sessions where such interactions can take place where anything ‘sensible’ is allowed. You could have counsellors around to ensure that things don’t get out of hand, and in case any fresher wants to back out of any bit then s/he can do so. Even if a single potential death or serious injury is prevented by the Supreme Court’s order, I think it is worth...