Flouting the Law

Intellectual Property RightsOn a recent trip to India, I was quite fascinated by the lack of respect for the law there from a number of perspectives. For a country that’s over-burdened with an inherited bureaucracy, the most obvious flouting that strikes one is corruption. Corruption in India, however, is not always deemed acceptable practice by the public – certainly not by the likes of Anna Hazare, a prominent anti-corruption activist that even went on a hunger strike in protest. Stay a little longer in India, and one is sure to notice a more publicly acceptable flouting of the law: specifically those pertaining to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

The IPR challenges in India span across a number of different sectors including technology, education and more recently coming to the fore, pharmaceuticals. In the technology sector, even Microsoft has all but surrendered to piracy of their Windows platform in India. They literally cannot afford to enforce the use of genuine product there given the enormous size of the market – they would risk a move of both usage and development to alternative platforms which would likely kill their international business model.

With respect to education, the somewhat controversial Nobel laureate Amartya Sen famously commented in a public discussion with South African, then finance minister, Trevor Manuel, about the taxes on books – specifically about how short-sighted such moves are when a primary goal of developing nations such as India and South Africa is to promote and push education of the masses. He argued that government should be doing everything possible to facilitate increased penetration of books and knowledge. One wonders what comment he would have given about the free copying of textbooks and other academic material in India. Such moves certainly do help promote education and bring otherwise expensive texts within reach of many who would otherwise be unable to access them.

More recently, the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to reject a motion by Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical firm, to patent an updated version Glivec has raised further IPR issues in the Indian market. Glivec, their cancer drug, stands to help many more people if it remains affordable – something that will clearly not be the case had the patent gone through. This however was not the reasoning that drove the decision. India has been exceptional in ensuring that frivolous patents applications are thrown out, a move that is sure to anger many in the industry.

The decision obviously raises questions about the value of research – particularly for pharmaceutical companies who spend millions of dollars before they arrive to the market with an acceptable product. If they cannot protect their IPR with respect to their research there is no incentive for them to conduct the research in the first place – others would simply be walking away with profit at their expense – an unacceptable equation for any commercially viable business venture.

So what is the acceptable rule of thumb here. Should IPR be neglected if there is clearly mass public benefit in doing so? If so, how does one factor in the social impact in IPR related court rulings. The answer is not quite that simple. Book publishers and technology companies, like the pharmaceutical companies, are profit making enterprises. For them to continue doing what they do, they need a financial incentive – the social incentives are clearly not sufficient. Using price discrimination for countries like India – i.e. charging them less and the likes of the UK or USA more, is difficult if not impossible to monitor and manage commercially. The likely solutions are government subsidies to these enterprises, or these companies refusing to engage in business with certain markets. Both of these are fraught with complications. Possibly the best solution would be to maintain drug prices at an acceptable level that keeps the medication within reach for most – now which pharmaceutical company would be altruistic enough to even consider that option?

Other laws that are being continually flouted in developing countries include those around online gambling. This is the case not only in India but is evident with the many South African online casino options available. This is despite the landmark ruling against a local online casino, Piggs Peak, based out of Swaziland. The problem once again lies not in the law but the apparent lack of interest or incentive for government to enforce them.

US Elections 2012 – Romney vs Obama

The journey to the election showdown between Republic candidate Mitt Romney and incumbent Democrat Barack Obama has been both entertaining and scary in some respects. NewsView thought it would be worthwhile providing some context based on Obama’s term thus far as voters prepare for the 2012 US Elections in early November.

Ron McCune of Policymic summed the opposing positions in a nutshell:

“This election is a choice between two different opposing views. Romney will extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich and cut other taxes for the rich, Obama won’t. Romney will let oil companies drill anywhere with less regulations and give them tax breaks, Obama won’t. Obama will help develop alternative energy, Romney won’t. Romney believes in voodoonomics (more wealth in the hands of the rich spreads throughout an economy helping the poor), Obama doesn’t. Romney will make abortions illegal, Obama won’t. Romney will get us into a war with Iran and others while also getting Israel into a war with Iran and the Palestinians. Obama won’t. Romney wants to increase the military budget. Obama won’t. Obama gives all of us health care, Romney won’t.”

Obama vs Romney US Elections 2012 photo

US President Barack Obama and contender Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate. Photo by Jason Reed/ Reuters.

The above quote is perhaps an over-simplication of key issues but it sets out in stark terms the perceived differences between the candidates. In order to appreciate if in reality there is such a stark difference between them however, it will be worthwhile to take a step back and review Obama’s actual performance over the past four years.

Barack Obama was elected in 2008 at the height of a major economic crisis – the meltdown of major U.S banks had placed the global economy on a knife-edge. It was also a time of deep conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and, in general, in relations between the Islamic world and the Judeo-Christian “West”. The third issue of major and looming concern was the ecological crisis of global warming and the uncertainly surrounding energy security.

Now all these crises were largely the result of policies followed by the American Right in the shape of the Oil and Military-Industrial lobbies. Their representative presidents, the father and son, George Bush senior and junior (and before them, Ronald Reagan) instituted policies that greatly favoured the super-rich on the economic front and warmongers outraged by any action that challenged ‘Rule America’ – whether that be Al-Quaeda or Chavez. This was the mentality of ‘Shock and Awe’.

As such, when Obama won the 2008 election, he had an exceptional opportunity to redefine American society; his election being a resounding victory for those classes (the middle and working) who were the primary casualties of neo-liberalism. Indeed, the world gasped and celebrated the audacity of a seemingly docile American electorate in electing a black man who espoused radical politics and had given form to an outpouring of hope and optimism that the Bush doctrines could and would be overturned.

From an American perspective, this reversal of neo-liberalism entailed bringing the corrupt and swollen finance system (typified by Wall St) under stringent control, restoring worker rights as well as rebuilding the American manufacturing base. As importantly, it entailed terminating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting real pressure on Israel to recognize a viable Palestinian state, putting similar pressure on China to recognize Tibetan rights and so forth – in short, to change American foreign policy so that the ‘empire’ truly advanced democracy, accountability, fair trade and equal rights in all societies. This mandate to Obama was a very clear and strong one – and excited social democrats all over the world. But what has been the reality? Has Obama kept his promises?

On the economic front he has allowed the finance houses responsible for the recession to escape the consequences of their mismanagement and corruption. The federal bailout was enacted on the basis that, notwithstanding serious deficiencies and malpractices, they were objectively ‘too big to fail’. As such, Obama reneged on a key election plank and none of the culprits were brought to account, they continue to head their banks, asset management companies etc after the largest financial rescue ever instituted. Indeed, by carrying out a rescue that did not carry penalties or include deep structural changes to the sector, Obama resuscitated Wall St. In general, he has failed to challenge the super-rich with the necessary vigour thus leaving inequality levels as deep as they were under the Bush regime, failed to effectively discipline cartels such as in oil and agriculture, and generally allowed the American economy to stagnate.

On the social level, he has taken several very constructive steps relating to the historic institution of Health Insurance for all, boosted education schemes for pre-school kids and the poor, made college education more accessible, improved support for single parents and so forth. As such, in this area, despite the great increase in unemployment (which stemmed from the financial meltdown), the Obama presidency has shown some real commitment to maintaining a social safety net for the most vulnerable. The sceptic would point out that structural reform of the economy (which would restore jobs and reduce inequality) would have a far bigger social impact than (what is essentially) poverty alleviation and that Obama is tinkering with the symptoms rather than tackling the roots of the problem.

On the political side, Obama has been uneven in his actions. A brief scan shows that the pullout from Iraq has been positive notwithstanding the fact that the country continues to be wracked by violence and lack of direction. Afghanistan is still occupied by a large American military force and operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan continue unabated. Indeed, they were stepped up and led to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. In the Middle East, Obama has not reined in Israel’s annexationist policies thus allowing a stalemate to kill all attempts at setting up an independent Palestinian state. His support for the Arab Spring was stop-start though the chance to depose Gaddafi was not missed. It is perhaps not unexpected that the Syrian civil war has gone on unchecked because that country has no oil deposits. In short, Obama’s foreign policy record has been deeply uneven – the failure to shut down the infamous Guantanomo Bay prison being a particularly galling one.

With respect to ecological issues, Obama failed to advance the need for significant carbon emission reduction at important international meetings and failed to direct massive investments needed for green energy research and advancement. Given the state of the economy however, Americans stood a better chance of success if they play lottery online than if they relied on government to actually honor ecological commitments. Regardless, the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was handled relatively well in that the company has to foot the lion’s share of the clean up bill but thereafter, he failed to rein in similar underwater exploration. In general, he has skirted round the edges rather than vigorously pushed a green agenda. This will prove devastating as the U>S is still the number polluter in the world and its reluctance to take action encourages newly industrializing countries like China, India and Brazil to disregard the need for global discipline.

In summary, the Obama presidency has not even come close to fulfilling its 2008 election promises. Quite frankly, it has been as erratic as a stint at some online casino and succeeded only in once again discouraging social activists from trusting this type of politics. Why did Obama back down before the right wing on so many issues? Was it fear that his own party, the Democrats, would baulk at supporting far reaching initiatives? Or is it that, like so many before him, radical action which will fundamentally affect the balance of power in favour of the ‘have-nots’, frightens those who promise it once they taste the pleasures and prestige of high office?

Having said all this, what of Romney? Romney is cut from the same cloth as the Bushes. He will pursue the same neo-liberal policies and perhaps lean even further to the right on social issues. The real question is whether Obama, despite his chequered first term, is likely to be bolder in pursuing change and honoring his election commitments knowing that the second term does free a president from the concerns of re-election? The jury has to be out on this, but given both candidates records, it appears to be a certainty that a Romney presidency will be more destructive of human needs if it comes to pass.

Click here to leave your comment on the US 2012 Election

If you, like the latest YouTube sensation – 4-year old Abigael (whose video was posted online by her mother as she bawled in despair at constantly hearing about “Bronco Bamma and Romney”), are simply sick and tired of hearing about 2012 US Elections, now would probably be a good time to divert your attention and hopefully your fortune to some of the top South African online casinos here now. Alternatively, if you’re based in the UK then click here instead, or visit this website if you’re based in India. Given the views on the US elections above though, you may well be better off storing up all that luck and hoping that whichever candidate wins at least honors some of their many election promises!

How Technology is Changing Journalism

Earlier this year, some of my journalist colleagues and I participated in an informal strategy think tank in South Africa. The topic under consideration was how changing technology and increasingly quick take-up rates will affect journalism in the future. The goal was to come up with some key ideas about the next steps in developing the newsroom of the future, and to determine if there were any opportunities media-savvy or tech-savvy entrepreneurs could capitalise on.

It does not require much speculation to see how the likes of Facebook and Twitter are influencing journalism. Broadcasters from the BBC to Zee TV are already incorporating social media feeds into their programming. Whether it is displayed in a constant stream online or is read out by presenters, the presence of social media is easily felt. The question remains though, was how might this technology evolve and what would the impact be for both broadcasters as well as news consumers? Further, what are the other technology trends that are likely to affect journalism and how can newsroom prepare, if not pre-empt these changes?

Knight-Mozilla Logo imageThis is the first in a series of articles outlining the key categories in which we expect significant movement. If history is any indicator, it will be likely be a technology-driven change in newsrooms rather than a proactive, newsroom-driven one. Regardless, initiatives like the Knight-Mozilla Fellowships, are definitely steps in the right direction and it is encouraging to see the likes of BBC, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Guardian being part of the process to shape the way forward.


journalism and technology convergence photoIncreased affordability has led to a proliferation of devices on which to consume news and other media. Traditional consumption took place largely through television, print, radio and later personal computers. Over the last 5 years, mobile smart-phones, various types of e-readers, and tablet devices like the iPad have become ubiquitous.

Given the experience of mobile content, more specifically mobile TV, it is clear that most consumers will continue to maintain multiple devices. While the resolution and processing power may increase on these smaller devices, the user experience is quite different from watching a large screen television. Further as technology evolves, and the amount and quality of 3D programming increases on traditional TV broadcasts, this differentiation will be even greater.

Add this differentiation to the need for different device form factors and it is easy to see that complete device convergence is unlikely. Further, even for portable devices, most users will likely opt for having both a tablet device (as a convenient portable replacement for a PC) and a mobile phone. It is less a question of the capability of the device to do things, but rather one of user preference.

The opportunity on the convergence dimension lies more with the content producers. Media consumers are likely to want their content on the best available device at that particular time. So, for example, if Joe Bloggs is sitting on a train on the way to work, it might be most convenient for him to receive the news on his mobile phone. If he is already at work, his PC or tablet device might be more convenient. When he’s at home he might prefer his large screen TV etc. The content producers however currently need to tailor their content for each device – that means they effectively need to reproduce, usually with much effort, the content for TV, for proprietary tablet devices and mobile phones.

For newsrooms of the future to stop being the whipping boys of the latest technology trend, the challenge lies in establishing a versatile content distribution framework. Much like object oriented programming, the idea is to create content modules that can easily be pulled by devices. This includes everything from text articles and sounds clips to varying qualities of video content. The content creator would need to produce these modules to the standards specified and the idea is for new devices to be built with these universal standards in mind. Think of it as a type of XML standard for multi-device broadcast content.

From a device manufacturer point of view, convergence in terms of device capability is where there is much opportunity. If Joe Bloggs only has a television at his disposal at that moment, he should still be able to do much more than just watch TV. With the latest TVs already including internet capability it is now already possible to communicate over Skype and surf the net online on TV.

If one takes the convergence one step further to integrate with the broadcaster, the user experience could be phenomenal. Imagine reading an IMDB movie review on TV pulled from a programming schedule, or having immediate access to follow-up information via a Wiki article after an interesting how-to show. Even products and services can be more tightly integrated with content – for example linking to a life coaching website through an interactive ad with a broadcast of Dr Phil, or a documentary on decluttering. Or having a feature to buy lottery tickets online here when it is announced that the most recent US Powerball has just rolled over again. Not only will this result in new revenue streams for broadcasters, it will make it easier for consumers to access the services they need while they are still top-of-mind. More about this will be covered in a future article on advertising and newsroom revenue streams.

Other categories to be covered in future articles of the technology and journalism series include:

  1. Effectively using Citizen Journalism
  2. Future Advertising Models for Broadcasters
  3. Designing for Interactivity
  4. Content Sharing between Broadcasters
  5. The Power of Direct Consumer Access
  6. Organising Information – Indexing & Distribution

Stay tuned for the next episode of technology changing journalism as we explore citizen journalism: people-powered news.

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