Tunisia: Private TV Channel Shut Down

23 Jan

This is what happens when people in power feel threatened.

Even after promising freedom of expression last week, Tunisia’s interim government took the predictable step Monday of closing the largest privately owned TV channel. Can you guess that the channel, Hannibal TV, was carrying messages critical of the direction of the caretaker government?

Here is a report from The New York Times.  And another from Reuters-Africa that reports that the owner of the TV channel has been arrested for treason. The government says Hannibal TV was not supporting the revolt and was, in fact, obscuring things.  Which makes us wonder: To whom was the channel showing treason? To the people in power in the interim government or to the protesters in the street who are objecting to the make-up of the interim government?

Given that the TV channel was about to interview a major critic of the old government — and he was not fond of the chemistry of the interim government — we can guess why the owner was arrested and the station shut down.



Arab Impatience: Economics, not Religion?

19 Jan

If more societies in the Arab World bubble over with frustrations, as in Tunisia, the cause will be economics rather than religion.  That is the suggestion in this report from Al-Jazeera from the Arab League summit taking place in Egypt.

Watch for strong top-down initiatives from Arab leaders to improve the quality of life in many of the troubled Middle East nations.  Those initiatives, though, may not include much in the way of more lenience for free speech.  Giving critics public platforms to rally protesters may be a little too dangerous.

Now What? In Beirut, Saudi Negotiators Pull Out

19 Jan

This video news segment from Al-Jazeera, in English, suggests a dire and perhaps violent outcome in Lebanon as various political and sectarian groups face off over control of the country.

The report captures a common line about the tensions in Lebanon: the country is vulnerable because outside powers are involved in a so-called proxy war.  Among the outsiders supporting some factions: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and, yes, the United States and other Western powers.

And, of course, interested neighbors Israel, Turkey and Jordan have a stake in the outcome, since violence has a way of spilling beyond borders and inviting secondary consequences.

Once again here, the line gets blurry between media organizations and sponsoring (or protecting) political/cultural groups.

On Tunisia’s Revolt: Promising Post from The Guardian

19 Jan

Today’s story in The Guardian suggests that Tunisia’s protesters are toning down their demonstrations after winning some, if not most, of their demands.  Can a revolution end quite this well?

The story says that a local TV station has reported that 33 members of the deposed president’s family have been arrested for crimes against the state, which probably means for enriching themselves by dipping illegally into the state treasury.

I’m curious about the TV station and hope we can trace this news.  Seems likely that this is rather new territory for local TV; I’d like to know how the journalists are adapting.

Meanwhile, here is a worthy related story on Egypt from the same newspaper.

Protests for the Pope

17 Jan

When Pope Benedict XVI issued a call for Pakistan to repeal its anti-blasphemy law, some unhappy protestors in Islamabad were inflamed at the suggestion of his intervention.  National leaders say the laws are not going to change.

Are these political differences or cultural — or a mix of all of the conditions, including economic distinctions,  that have set groups of people apart?

Burning for anti-blasphemy laws

Tunisians Topple Authoritarian Leader

17 Jan

This could not have seemed more scripted, but it’s real in all of its breaking consequences.

Just as we’ve been studying the ways that authoritarian leaders hold power in the Middle East and Northern Africa, along comes the student-led revolt in Tunisia, now called the Jasmine Revolution, to force out longtime President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and to offer a surprising case entirely worthy of our careful attention.

Remember the concept of stability?  Well, here is the opposite as sudden change has led the country’s people into at least temporary chaos.  Actions like this can seem politically grand, but they also cause ugly outcomes.  People die.  Groups fight groups.  The most humane policies and promises do not immediately trump the dangers on the street.

On Monday, those in the government and some opposition leaders agreed to set up a so-called caretaker government — a term we’ve also noted lately in Lebanon — that reportedly will run the country until later elections.  Caretaking is easy to say; hard to do.  Meanwhile, some protests continue with a goal to force a complete ejection of top officials who are aligned with the Ben Ali government.

Media in the Middle

What sort of media forms did the protesters use?  Try the latest digital form, Twitter, for starters.  This was a medium the government couldn’t co-opt or control.  Too decentralized.  Too spontaneous.  And it was this capacity to build a spontaneous and sustained push that forced change.

We can study how the world’s elite media covered the event by examining stories Monday by the Wall Street Journal on the political situation,  the BBC on the European Union’s involvement.  Here is a thoughtful commentary from the Indian Express, noting the significance of the event in its lead:

This should be marked carefully: it is the first successful Arab overthrow of an authoritarian government, many of which are still ruling countries in Middle East and North Africa.

The author of that line is Shadan Farasat, a lawyer from Delhi who worked in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia, with an international organization the African Development Bank, an organization we mentioned briefly (along with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) on Friday.

Shock Waves

We might also hope to explore how the regional media has dealt with the tumult.  Here is a piece Monday from UAE-based Al-Arabiya TV, with video, capturing a promise for “total freedom of information” in a new Tunisia.

Al-Jazeera’s English-language website is carrying a real-time Twitter feed that is constantly moving on the screen, thanks to the deluge of messages.  Take a look, if you can keep up with it.

As we’ve noted, Al-Jazeera loves to spar with power and rarely shies from taking on U.S. policy-makers.  Take a look at this commentary by Mark LeVine, an American professor and Middle East expert who usually stakes out a position concerned with the welfare of the local residents, a kind of thinking that fits AJ’s approach.  He makes a point we’ve been considering:

Indeed, the problem with most post-colonial nationalisms – whether that of the first generation of independence leaders or of the leaders who replaced (often by overthrowing) them – is precisely that they have always remained infected with the virus of greed, corruption and violence so entrenched by decades of European colonial rule. Tunisia’s nascent revolution will only succeed if it can finally repair the damage caused by French rule and the post-independence regime that in so many ways continued to serve European and American – rather than Tunisian – interests.

Keep reading and thinking.  In a global story like this, the information just keeps coming.

Will ‘The Daily’ Go Global?

11 Jan

Those following digital developments may have marked Jan. 19 on your calendar — the day Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation will team with Apple to unveil its new application called The Daily. Here for background is a story from The Guardian.

The goal is to deliver news and information in a newspaper-style format for electronic tablet readers, such as the iPad. Seems likely Murdoch eventually will want to move its content to other tablets as well, such as  Kindle and Nook, among others.

This qualifies for our course blog because, as this story reports, one of the key players is Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who operates holdings such as the Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, The Sun, Fox TV Network, Sky Television satellite holdings). Murdoch’s involvement makes this a global issue, given that his influence and holdings span the oceans and continents.  And his won’t be the only interested media outfit.

Murdoch has been a proponent for devising web systems that require subscriptions to access content.  In other words, he has decided the news industry needs to charge for online news — if experts can devise a successful way to block out the aggregators and others who would grab-and-repackage the information.  Special programs exclusive for tablets may help.  Imagine spending a dollar a week for access to a news site


Think iTunes for news.  It’s coming, in some form.

The publisher of The New York Times and leaders of several other big organizations, such as Pearson (Financial Times, The Economist) also have hinted that they are likely to set up pay-for-news digital systems, too, to emulate the financial transactions that are traditional for print products.  Fair to speculate that publishers in many countries are considering the same. In Japan, the national newspaper association has been tinkering with tablet and mobile-phone formats for a year or two.

Keep an eye on this.  We’re in the midst of a digital revolution that will change society not unlike the way Gutenberg’s press did in 1450.  This is just one more development of the sort that will keep occurring throughout your lives.