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Fleeing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden pulled a vanishing act in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport Monday by failing to show up for an Aeroflot flight to Havana that he was booked on – sending a planeload of frustrated Moscow-based journalists off for an unplanned vacation in Cuba.
Aeroflot, Russia's national airline, had confirmed Monday that Mr. Snowden was booked to fly to Cuba on a regular flight leaving Monday afternoon. But as the plane's doors closed and he was still a no-show, reporters for major news outlets who'd scrambled to buy tickets for the flight in hopes of talking with the elusive whistleblower tweeted photos of his empty seat and resigned themselves to an unwanted twelve-and-a-half hour flight.
Russian news services had reported that Snowden arrived in Moscow Sunday aboard an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong. An unidentified Aeroflot source told journalists that he and his companion, WikiLeaks official Sarah Harrison, spent the night in the "capsule" hotel Vozdushni Express inside Sheremetyevo's transit area. Reporters saw the ambassador of Ecuador, the country to which Snowden has applied for asylum, arrive and go inside the transit zone. But there have been no independently confirmed sightings of Snowden himself.
Though Snowden himself remains invisible, Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño Aroca, read out a statement from him – reported by the Guardian – in which he compares himself with Bradley Manning, the former US army private currently on trial for handing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents to WikiLeaks.
"Manning has been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. The trial of Bradley Manning is taking place now and secret witnesses have been summoned to court and secret documents have been submitted," Snowden is quoted as saying in defense of his decision to seek asylum in Ecuador.
"I think that because of the circumstances it is unlikely that I will have a fair trial or humane treatment before trial, and also I have the risk of life imprisonment or death," he added.
The apparent news that Snowden might still be in Russia could energize efforts by Washington to convince Russia to give him over, despite the fact that Russia and the US have no mutual extradition treaty.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in several statements to the Russian media, has insisted that President Vladimir Putin has no knowledge of Snowden's whereabouts or interest in his itinerary. "Overall, we have no information about [Snowden]," he told the independent Interfax agency Monday.
Overnight, the US appealed urgently to Russia to see Snowden as an acid test of partnership and the security cooperation Moscow has been hoping to get from the US in advance of the upcoming Sochi Winter Games.
"Given our intensified cooperation after the Boston marathon bombings and our history of working with Russia on law enforcement matters – including returning numerous high-level criminals back to Russia at the request of the Russian government – we expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged," US National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
Speaking to journalists during a visit to New Delhi Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the episode is likely to damage US relations with both Russia and China if they should prove to have been officially involved in his flight.
"It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they [Russia and China] had adequate notice, and notwithstanding that, they make the decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law," news agencies quoted Mr. Kerry as saying.
"As a result there would be without any question some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences," he said.
Russian experts say it's highly unlikely that Snowden boarded an Aeroflot plane, without a valid US passport, and flew to Moscow without at least the acquiescence of the Kremlin.
"I'm pretty sure this could not have taken place without some level of involvement on the part of Russian and Chinese authorities," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal.
"Russia can resist pressure, and that's why he's here in safety. But I don't think Russia wants to keep him, even if [the Kremlin] has suggested that it would be open to that. It's one thing to show that we can't be pushed around, and quite another to have this as a permanent headache in our relations with the US," he says.
Alexei Pushkov, the chair of the State Duma's international affairs committee, told journalists Monday that the US should stop posing as the offended party, in light of the recent "red-handed" capture of an alleged CIA agent in downtown Moscow and disclosures by Snowden that the NSA and its British counterpart tried to listen to former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's phone calls during a G-20 summit in London in 2009.
"I think we should be guided by our own understanding of what we should do. We do not see any special restraint on the part of U.S. special services with regards to Russia," Mr. Pushkov told Interfax.
"If Snowden were the only problem upsetting perfect relations between Russia and the US, that would be one thing," says Alexei Makarkin, director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
"But as things stand now, we have different positions on all the key issues of world politics. Russia is extremely disenchanted with the US and given up all hopes of building normal relations with it. So, why would Russia trouble itself over threats that this Snowden case might worsen our ties with Washington?" he adds.
Western human rights activists have never made much of a fuss about it, but China’s “one child policy” has a little known canine equivalent.
“Vicious” dogs are outlawed. But so is every other dog that is likely to stand more than 14 inches high when it is fully grown.
That means no Rottweilers, St. Bernards or Great Danes, of course. But it also rules out keeping a Dalmatian, a Bloodhound, or a Chow.
Officials say the law is a public health measure, aimed at protecting citizens from strays. More people die of rabies in China than anywhere else in the world save India, they point out.
This being China, nothing goes unregulated. (Though this being China, the regulations are by no means always enforced: The number of outsized Tibetan Mastiffs you see being paraded around town as status symbols is testimony to that.) So each dog must, like his or her owner, have a “residence permit.”
The plastic permits look very like Chinese ID cards, with the dog’s photo, name, sex, and type printed on it. The reverse of a Beijing resident-dog-license is decorated with – what else? – a Pekinese. And it doesn’t come cheap: $160 the first year and $80 a year after that.
Failure to register your dog risks an even costlier punishment – an $800 fine.
Keeping dogs as pets is not really a Chinese tradition, though in the countryside farmers may keep guard dogs or hunting dogs. In fact, pooches are as often eaten than pampered in this part of the world, despite the best efforts of nascent animal rights groups.
Last week, for example, residents of Yulin in the southern province of Guangxi, got through about 10,000 dogs at their annual summer solstice dog meat festival, according to activists. Most of them were served in a traditional hotpot with lychees and grain liquor.
The fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has sprung yet another surprise. He's on the move, and reportedly traveling to Cuba, and then perhaps on to Venezuela or Ecuador, via Moscow.
Mr. Snowden left his temporary refuge in Hong Kong Sunday morning, just one day after the US government charged him with espionage and launched an urgent effort to extradite him from the former British colony. He boarded an Aeroflot flight to Moscow, and news reports say he has an onward ticket with the Russian national airline to fly to Cuba on Monday.
In addition to the clear suggestion of official Russian aid with the fleeing whistleblower's logistics, Snowden appears to have received help from a more kindred source. WikiLeaks tweeted Sunday that it had "assisted Mr. Snowden's political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers and safe exit from Hong Kong."
Kremlin authorities earlier hinted that Russia might be willing to grant asylum to Snowden. But President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists Sunday that he knows nothing about the NSA leaker's travel plans.
Authorities in Hong Kong announced Snowden's departure Sunday in an official statement that noted he had left "on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel," and added that US authorities had already been informed.
The statement said the urgent US warrant to arrest Snowden could not be carried out "since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law.... As the HKSAR [Hong Kong] Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong."
The statement included an extraordinary passage that may go far toward explaining why Hong Kong, which does have an extradition treaty and good relations with the US, appears to have turned so uncooperative in Snowden's case: "Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong."
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement Sunday that his organization was providing legal and logistical help to move Snowden to a safe haven in a "democratic country."
"Mr. Snowden is flying in an Aeroflot aircraft over Russian airspace, accompanied by WikiLeaks legal advisers," Mr. Assange said.
Upon arrival in Moscow he will be "met by diplomats from the country that will be his ultimate destination. Diplomats from that country will accompany him on a further flight to his destination," he added. The third country is still not named, but experts say it's most likely to be Venezuela or Ecuador.
"Owing to WikiLeaks' own circumstances, we have developed significant expertise in international asylum and extradition law, associated diplomacy and the practicalities in these matters," Assange said. "I have great personal sympathy for Ed Snowden's position. WikiLeaks absolutely supports his decision to blow the whistle on the mass surveillance of the world's population by the US government."
Snowden's latest revelations, published in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post on Sunday, indicate that US intelligence agencies have been hacking Chinese mobile phone companies to steal millions of text messages.
Russian security expert Andrei Soldatov, who edits Agentura.ru, an online journal that focuses on the secret services, says that in addition to granting Snowden safe passage to Cuba on an Aeroflot jetliner, Russia may have played a deeper role in helping to arrange his flight.
He suggests that the Kremlin's English-language satellite news network, RT, which enjoys very close relations with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, could have used its offices to help Wikileaks hook up with Snowden in Hong Kong,
"There are reports that Assange's assistant, Sarah Harrison, is flying on the same plane with Snowden," says Mr. Soldatov. "Involvement of RT would make sense, since RT has close cooperation with Assange, and he did a series of programs for them last year [Russia gives WikiLeaks' Julian Assange a TV platform]. The involvement of WikiLeaks requires no explanation. It wants to maintain itself as the key center for all disclosures of the kind that Snowden brought to the world," he adds.
Soldatov says Russian assistance is also logical, for wider reasons than just an opportunity to stick it to Uncle Sam.
"Russia and China have been involved in a so-far unsuccessful struggle to change the rules of the Internet, by taking control of it away from the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and giving its functions to a wider, non-US-based entity," he says.
"The Russians and Chinese have been posing, for these purposes, as big defenders of Internet freedom. This political context helps to explain RT's close relations with WikiLeaks as well.... So, it makes sense for them to help Snowden too. Russian authorities see an opportunity to present themselves as the new center of refuge for whistleblowers against US dominance in Cyberspace. It's a coup for them," he adds.
By allowing Edward Snowden to leave Hong Kong Sunday, hours after the United States sought to extradite him, the government there has rid itself – and Beijing – of an awkward diplomatic and legal problem.
Indeed there are strong suspicions in the former British colony that the Hong Kong authorities deliberately gave the fugitive NSA whistleblower time to get out.
The US extradition request, filed on Saturday, “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law,” the Hong Kong government said on Sunday, so it had asked Washington for “additional information.”
In the meantime, there was “no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” the statement added. On Sunday morning, Snowden boarded a plane bound for Moscow, accompanied by legal advisors from the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks according to a post on the group’s Twitter account.
His final destination was unclear.
“I suspect it was ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge, you’ve got 48 hours to get out of Dodge City’,” says Kevin Egan, a Hong Kong lawyer with experience of extradition cases. “When the government got the clarification it had sought, it might not have been able to let him go.”
“Snowden managed to get away because Hong Kong decided to stall,” adds Claudia Mo, a lawmaker with the pro-democracy Civic Party. “The matter was too tricky for Sino-American relations … so Beijing gave instructions he should be given time to leave.”
Snowden had said he planned to challenge any US extradition attempt in Hong Kong courts, declaring his faith in the city’s rule of law. But he faced the possibility of having to stay in jail throughout the court proceedings, which could have taken several years according to local lawyers.
His case was a thorny one for Beijing, anxious to improve relations with the United States and embarrassed by the US fugitive’s presence in Hong Kong, but unable to intervene openly in Hong Kong’s judicial process under the “one country, two systems” principle that safeguards Hong Kong’s courts.
Hong Kong’s top official, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had promised that the case would be handled “in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong.” But the politically sensitive case “would have been quite a test for our rule of law,” says Ms. Mo. “It would have been a very thorny issue and it is all for the best for both Hong Kong and Beijing that he has gone.”
“This was not a case that Hong Kong or Beijing ever wanted to get involved in,” agrees Mr. Egan. “The best thing for both of them was for Snowden to leave.”
The Paris weather suddenly turning from cold and damp to hot and steamy prompted a discussion on wearing shorts at a play center where I take my daughter on Wednesday afternoons.
“I would never wear shorts,” said the older, impeccably dressed supervisor, to which I nodded in agreement. I would never wear shorts either.
But then she took it further. “It’s shocking to me to see visitors wearing shorts in Paris, even when they come from countries where wearing shorts is normal. On the beach, that is one thing. But in Paris, one should respect local customs.”
And to that, I had to respectfully disagree.
I could only imagine the looks she gives tourists, in cut-off jeans or flower-motif bermudas, lining up to enter the Louvre or Notre Dame cathedral. Such looks aren’t kind. But they are all too common. And even if shorts might not be pretty on many a tourist who wears them, they hardly rank up there in offense with halter tops at mosques.
It is this type of attitude - one might call it snobbery – that France’s promoters are seeking to undo in the tourism industry in a new campaign launched this week as summer arrives and the tourist season kicks off.
The Paris chamber of commerce and regional tourism committee have published a new manual sent off to 30,000 in the tourism industry called “Do you speak touriste?”
“The aim of this campaign is to focus on the quality of welcome that visitors receive in Paris, and to train professionals here to understand the differences between them,” François Naverro from the regional tourism committee, told The Local, an English-language news site in France.
He added that over 30 million tourists come to France each year, and while almost all leave satisfied (96 percent) there is always room for improvement – a waiter who could have been kinder, a shop clerk who could have been more helpful.
I entered the website of the campaign and found a slew of really handy information, such as conversion charts for miles and inches and shoe and shirt sizes between regions (as an American newly arrived in Paris, I plan myself on printing this out).
The site also allows you to click on a nationality to learn some basic greetings in foreign languages and about general cultural traits, like typical times for eating or preferences for greetings. Americans like to lunch at noon. And they like fast and direct service. Shaking hands is rare for Japanese. The British seek authentic experiences. Germans eat at 12:30 and value clarity of information. It’s interesting to compare cultural traits – and to look at how the French generalize other cultures (I, for one, never eat before 1 p.m.)
I looked to see if there was anything written about shorts, or clothing choices in general for hot, tired tourists who have been on their feet all day – perhaps having been on an overnight flight the night before. But unfortunately, that I did not find.
Cloudy skies in Jakarta were no match for the breathtaking haze that hit Singapore on Thursday as air-pollution levels rose to record highs and sparked a war of words between diplomats in both countries over who should shoulder the blame.
Companies have asked employees to work from home, the military has stopped training outdoors, and pictures of Singapore's iconic Marine Bay Sands towers barely visible through the haze have been splashed across social media platforms and newspapers.
Despite the international blame game, the immediate cause was clear enough: fires used to clear land in Sumatra for farming and palm oil plantations. A local meteorological agency reported nearly 150 hotspots alone in Riau Province, itself a hotspot for mining, logging, and palm oil production.
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Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace released a statement saying that the fires illustrated how Indonesia’s government policies aimed at reducing deforestation had failed since half of them were in areas off-limits to land clearing.
Each year slash and burn practices in Indonesia shroud neighboring Singapore and Malaysia in thick haze. As deforestation has accelerated in recent years, it has worsened.
On Thursday, Singapore sent a delegation from its environmental agency to Jakarta to call for immediate action. Singapore’s environment minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, issued an angry statement on his Facebook page saying no country or corporation “has the right to pollute the air at the expense of Singaporeans’ health and well-being.”
But Indonesia shot back its own statement: Singapore should stop “behaving like a child,” said Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Agung Laksono, who oversees fire response.
Mr. Balakrishnan had asked the Indonesian government to name and shame the companies involved in the illegal burning. But Indonesia’s forestry ministry launched back, saying Singapore and Malaysia shared the responsibility for putting pressure on the resource extraction industry since many of companies were based in their countries.
In 2011 Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, issued a ban to prevent plantation companies from obtaining new permits to clear virgin forest and peatland. Last month he extended the ban to 2015. But conservationists say the ban is weak because it only applies to new permits, not those already held by companies.
“The clearing is still happening, either done by palm oil or pulp and paper companies,” says Bustar Maitar, a campaigner with Greenpeace. The fires are worse this year, he says, because most of the slash and burn clearing is being done on once swampy peatland. The peatlands are drained, causing them – a major store for climate-changing carbon - to decompose and become highly combustible.
It’s like “gasoline in the forest,” Mr. Maitar explains. In deed, without heavy rain, the burning can last for months.
Growing demand for palm oil is also partly to blame for the smoggy skies. Indonesia is the leading producer of the commodity, an ingredient used in everything from shampoos to sweets to cleaning agents. It is also a top emitter of harmful climate changing carbons, mostly due to forest clearing.
Endemic corruption exacerbates the issue. Since former dictator Suharto stepped down in 1998, Indonesia’s center of power has shifted from the national government to the provinces and districts, where local politicians are responsible for managing the forests.
Many local leaders take advantage of that decentralization by seeking kickbacks from plantation companies in return for operating permits, harming potential environmental gains.
Some of the worst burning this year has originated in Riau Province, where the governor is a leading suspect in a corruption case involving the issuance of illegal logging permits.
In response to media queries, major producers, including US agricultural giant Cargill, and Golden Agri-Resources, which has committed to a conservation policy aimed at reducing deforestation, said they followed a strict zero-burn policy and were making sure contractors complied with it.
On Thursday, Singapore’s pollutant standards index hit a record high of 371. The PSI ranges from 0 to 500, with anything above 300 considered “hazardous.”
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The smog from Indonesia's fires disrupted air and sea traffic in 1997 and 1998, causing an estimated $9 billion in economic, social, and environmental losses, according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member regional group including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Indonesia has yet to ratify an agreement on transboundary haze pollution that ASEAN members signed in June 2002.
It adds a whole new meaning to “distance learning.”
Chinese astronaut Wang Yaping gave a physics lesson by video from a space module orbiting more than 300 km (186 miles) above the earth on Thursday.
She gulped a globule of water floating in the air, and pushed a fellow astronaut against the module’s wall with a touch of her finger, to illustrate the effects of weightlessness. Then she answered questions from a group of children gathered in a studio in Beijing watching the lesson on live TV.
The questions that the Chinese kids asked on Thursday were much like the questions that American kids asked six years ago. Do stars twinkle when you are in space? (No, because there is no atmospheric interference.) Have you seen any UFO’s? (“Not yet” was Ms. Wang’s answer to that one.)
But while Barbara Morgan and her colleagues participated in three low-key sessions with small groups of students in Idaho, Virginia, and Massachusetts, Wang’s class was broadcast nationwide on state TV’s premier channel and 60 million schoolchildren and teachers in 80,000 middle schools watched, according to China’s Education Ministry.
The ministry had “issued instructions requiring middle schools to adjust their class schedules and organize students to watch” the lesson, according to its website.
The compulsory class reflected the importance that the Chinese government has attached to its ambitious space program. Beijing first sent a human into space only 10 years ago, but plans to build its own space station by 2020.
Beijing has more than just a technological interest in space. A few years ago, just before China launched its first lunar probe, the chief scientist for China's moon program, Ouyang Ziyuan, was blunt about its political purposes.
"Lunar exploration is a reflection of a country's comprehensive national power,” he said in an interview with the official newspaper People's Daily. “It is significant for raising our international prestige and increasing our people's cohesion."
In an interview with various news outlets marking today’s anniversary, he said that even if Sweden were to drop its investigation into sex allegations against him, he plans to stay put. That means London faces the prospect of an unusual guest for years to come.
"I wouldn't say I wouldn't leave," he said. But "my lawyers have advised me I shouldn't leave the embassy because of the risk of arrest and extradition to the United States."
Mr. Assange’s plight has drawn in equal measure support and disdain. Some call him a criminal and danger to security, others a crusader of freedom of information. And those same divides are apparent within the United Kingdom itself: just read the comments section of any Guardian article on the Wikileaks head, and the range of views are obvious.
But it appears the UK, after a year hosting Assange, does not want another leaker in its midst. Britain last week warned global airlines not to let Edward Snowden, the American contractor who identified himself as the source of the leak about widespread American surveillance programs called PRISM, into British territory. And this was before Mr. Snowden released documents showing British intelligence spying on foreign diplomats at a G20 in London in 2009.
Assange linked Britain’s position on Snowden to his own, saying the country "doesn't want to end up with another Julian Assange," he said. Yet, Assange said, the UK should consider Snowden a hero and offer him asylum.
That’s not something that Britain was willing to do for Assange, who walked into the Ecuadorean embassy last June after the British government said it would send him to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sexual assault and rape. Assange, who maintains his innocence in that case, says his real fear is being extradited to the US for being behind one of the biggest leaks of confidential documents in US history.
Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, but he cannot leave the embassy in London because Britain promises to arrest him if he does. Recent talks between Ecuador and the UK did nothing to end the stalemate. So the status quo remains: Assange living without natural sunlight, relying on a sun lamp instead, and working 17-hour days in front of his computer, he says, with police on constant guard. He’s likened his circumstances to living in a space station.
Assange is not the only one to compare himself to Snowden. After Snowden answered questions on an online chat this week, Zeke Miller, in Time, draws parallels between the two men. “There were other clear echoes of Assange’s past remarks in Snowden’s responses Monday. Both men suggest that much, if not all, American spying abroad is wrong, including the spying on allies and foreign leaders that perhaps every government has practiced for decades, if not centuries,” Miller writes.
Assange has drawn critics who fault him for putting global security at risk, but also has his share of detractors who distinguish the issue of Wikileaks from the separate sex allegations he faces.
Snowden, meanwhile, has gotten some support in Britain for leaking information about PRISM, says Orla Lynskey, a lecturer in law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “What really struck people here was the disproportionate nature of that kind of intelligence, the blanket surveillance,” Ms. Lynskey says. “That’s where Snowden gets some support.”
One thing you learn quickly if you hang around scrap merchants is not to refer to the materials in which they trade as "trash" or "garbage" or "junk."
At a recent convention here of the Bureau of International Recycling (essentially the global forum for scrap dealers) I drew some very sharp looks and a reprimand or two before I got the message.
Of course, the traders are right. If scrap was indeed trash it would not be worth anything. And scrap is certainly worth something. In fact, according to a recent Bank of America-Merrill Lynch report, the global waste and recycling business is worth $1 trillion a year. And it could be worth double that by 2020.
"Where there's muck, there's brass," runs an old Yorkshire adage.
People in the know at the conference told me that a lot of the participants were millionaires at least. But they work in the shadows of the world economy, attracting little attention.
There is one synonym for "scrap" that its devotees more or less allow – "waste." But, as I was reminded by Surendra Borad, an Indian businessman whose company, Gemini, handles more scrap plastic than any other firm, "waste is not waste until it is wasted."
Although American trust in media has plummeted according to poll after poll, Arabs say the quality of their regional media is on the rise, led by Al Jazeera, which is making inroads in the US as its profile soars.
According to a sweeping Arab world public opinion survey by Northwestern University in Qatar that will be released tomorrow, 61 percent of respondents said that the "quality of reporting in the Arab world" has improved in the last two years. But while regional media basks in goodwill, less than half of respondents (48 percent) consider their own country's media credible and only 43 percent say the media can report without interference.
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Twenty-six percent of respondents ranked Al Jazeera as their top news source. Broadcaster Al Arabiya trailed at 15 percent. After that, news consumption fragments to a handful of international and local news organizations.
Northwestern in Qatar's first major regional survey since opening its doors in 2008, polled roughly 1,250 people each in eight countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates) on issues of the Internet and the media in the Arab world. The findings will be presented at the International Communications Association conference in London tomorrow. (Editor's note: The paragraph has been edited to make clear that 1,250 people were surveyed in each of the eight countries.)
Everette Dennis, dean and CEO of Northwestern in Qatar, said that he has seen the regional media improve by leaps. Major broadcast networks like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are "doing a more detailed job of covering their own region" and "Some of the newspapers that were more kept cats or very cautious, subsidized media, are doing a better job, a more transparent job."
What propelled them forward may have been the arrival of hordes of members of the international media during the Arab uprisings, which exposed regional and local journalists to high-quality coverage on a part of the world they knew well, Mr. Dennis says.
"When you see outsiders doing a better job covering your region than yourself, that's embarrassing," he says.
Even before then business magazines, which used to be filled with press releases and "self-serving puffery" had become more critical, he says. The wealthier Arab countries are becoming much more a part of the global economy, but they couldn't be there if their business publications were not publishing more accurate information, he says.
The survey also shed light on the region's complicated opinions on freedom of expression. Sixty-one percent of respondents agreed with the statement "It is okay for people to express their ideas on the Internet, even if they are unpopular," but less than half (46 percent) think they should be able to criticize their government online.
While people in the region may agree with freedom of expression on the internet in the abstract, practically speaking many support greater regulation. Half (51%) of the participants in the study believe there is not enough awareness of the “laws, regulations and moralities that control one’s activities on the internet”, and, perhaps consequently, half (50%) also feel the internet in their country should be more tightly regulated than it is now.
Perhaps even more telling, only 16% overall disagree that the internet in their country should be more tightly regulated, ranging from a low of 7 percent disagreement in Egypt to a high of just 25 percent disagreeing in Bahrain. These low levels of disagreement suggest that there is no strong opposition to internet regulation in any of the eight countries under study.
"There is a paradox between people saying they wanted almost absolute freedom of expression online ... and at the same time saying there ought to be regulation in some instances," says Dennis.
While poll respondents often favor something in the abstract, when it is brought down to a personal level the answer often changes, he says. And it comes down to more than that in this region, he says.
"The meaning is much deeper in the Arab world," he says. "I think it's a tension between tradition and modernity."
"The younger, presumably more modern people do tend to favor almost unlimited expression online. They say ‘Let it rip.’ … Their parents, people who are older, tend to say yes, there should be a lot more freedom, but not in the case of criticizing Islam, for example.”
The survey did not include followup questions that allowed the university to get at the root of the contradictions; Dennis says they plan to explore it in a future survey.
An interactive website with the full survey results can be found at menamediasurvey.northwestern.edu.
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