France 24… ‘new media’ News broadcasting?

France 24Global news is really taking off, much to my surprise we now have a second non-anglo centric view of the world… within one month, France 24 (en anglias) rumoured to be a reactive idea by President Jacque Chirac following the Anglo intervention in Iraq, was launched on 6th December!

To quote President Chirac, France “must be at the forefront of the global battle of images, that’s why I am resolved that our country should have an international news channel” BBC

Published in French, English and Arabic it will hopefully prove to be yet another voice, view and analysis of world events, along with Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN. Available across Europe, Middle East, Africa and North America some of us are unfortunately unable to view the channel. Early suggestions implied that France 24 would operate its broadcast News channel over the internet. Sadly this is not yet the case, the online version appears to be focused on enabling access to broadcast content, but of course does not yet have the back up of a comprehensive depth of audio, video and text data. The unofficial weblog appears to be a great location for information and comment.

Lets hope the unconventional site structure is a hint of things to come… the tag cloud, journalists blogs… just imagine a conventional broadcaster establishing a News wiki including audio and video. It is already far ahead of Al Jazeera which hasn’t organised downloads yet! It may not be so far fetched after all France 24 would gain from developing a radically different media model. As a rarity the government appointed Chariman is a self made communications and advertising man, Alain de Poulzilhac , no énarque here … “Vive la France Libre”.

Perhaps I shouldn’t get too carried away, a ‘new media’ approach by staid old broadcasting, not yet. Also the énarque appear to have generally lost their shine as Chirac hands the batton to Nicholas Sarkozy. However I am an optimist, Richard Porter of the BBC reports Iran’s interest in an English 24 hour News channel called The Press.

Just perhaps France 24 will bring a fresh approach together with its competition for our valuable time and attention? If not maybe we can look to the Iranians or one of the Anglo channels to take the next step and bring participatory new media, encompassing the views of millions, to us where, when and as we want it, whether by cell, broadband, cable or satellite… “plus ca change!”

Al Jazeera – English channel goes live!

Al Jazeera LogoCuriously I have only just discovered that on November 15th, just after its 10th Aniversary on November 1st, Al Jazeera has launched its English News Channel.

Aiming to be the channel of reference for Middle East events, Al Jazeera also has broadcast centres Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington.

For the first time this creates a genuinely different view to the US and UK ‘Anglo’ centric opinions on world developments, clearly an event to celebrate. Why is it that this slipped out unnoticed and celebrated? Or maybe this should be no surprise, perhaps conventional channels, cable companies, satellite providers have shun Al Jazeera for political reasons?. The BBC covered it like any other story but with no fanfare, but it does recommend the Al Jezeera English channel as an in depth news source, often it was cast as an unremarkable and bias start. Of course Al Jazeera is not popular with leaders across the Middle East, but despite that Israel plans to have it up and running soon, and Friends of al Jazeera blog gives some interesting perspectives. However I have never been big on conspiracy theory, surely the delay is simply teething troubles while channel agreements are put in place.

Since I am in Brazil and unable to see the channel, I assumed Al Jazeera would be pushing its content online, sadly the only option for viewing (that functioned) included a 99cent charge to watch! no video podcast available yet. I did find a clip of the english channel from a staff blog don’tbomb from Dec 2005. Lets hope Al Jazeera organises all of its channels to market sharpish so they can become another informed opinion and voice available globally!

“Out of Damascus”

Our intrepid Logistician made it, (see Sidney to Syria “I got a ticket to ride”, “It’s been a hard days night” and “A day in the life”), only to find after buying a car that he is not permitted to travel outside Damascus… this was his first escape, a tourist trip in the ancient country of Syria.

I arrived in Latakia, which is on the Syrian Mediterranean coast approximately 400kms from Damascus, in the afternoon of the Saturday and caught up with one of the military observers, we had a few beers and a meal together. Clearly it was time to look around the place and went to investigate what was on offer. He had been there a day or two and the highlight of his explorations was finding an Internet cafe and the DVD shop. So it was time to look around and see how the Syrian nightlife was. Imagine our surprise that the first place that we went, turned out to be a den of iniquity, .

The next day we had great plans for visiting the sites of this historic area where the crusaders achieved a dubious reputation for betrayal and vengence, fortunately we got back to the hotel just after 1:00 AM and as we said our goodnights, we arranged to meet early, breakfast and get on the road to look at some of the significant historical points of interest on the way back. After breakfast, we planned our visits and would set off after a quick stop over since I needed to get some fuel.

We were travelling in convoy with the UN vehicle in front, running interference and me following close behind. Suddenly he stopped at what was once a fuel station, it now however looked like something that would be left behind after the holocaust. Not even cockroaches would have felt comfortable there.

I pulled up at the fuel pump and after much posturing and hand gestures, it was determined that I should move to another pump. As I was talking to my friend I noticed that the guy filling the tank was having some difficulty in getting the nozzle into the fuel tank. To tell you the truth I never even thought it was strange he then patrolled the area and found a small stick to aid in his attempt to refuel the car.

I mentioned to my friend that the price of fuel here seemed to be a hell of a lot cheaper than Damascus and didn’t understand why. He finished filling the car and we set off, well my friend did. I made it as far as the drive-way entrance to the main road. This tall, inept, idiot had filled the car with Diesel.

I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. To say that I flew out of the car would have done me an injustice. All I can say is that if it was over a hundred metres, you would now be talking to the new world record holder. Using all of the restraint I could muster, that is to say hurling threats and abuse to all of those that were within listening distance, I call up the true marital status of his parents and if indeed he was actually intellectually challenged. Fortunately someone spoke English, and acted as an interpreter on my behalf. It appears that somehow, after leaving the road and entering his establishment, my car had miraculously changed from a petrol driven vehicle to one now powered by diesel. At least this is what he had said that I told him. No wonder the fuel was cheap and the nozzle didn’t fit.

I now was left with a small problem, the tank would have to be drained, along with the fuel lines. No problems, my only now too helpful bowser attendant said that he knew someone up the road that could help me. Suddenly he couldn’t do enough for me. He arranged for the guy that was interpreting for us, to tow me a mile or so up the road to a mechanic. In between all of this my friend had returned to the scene of the crime, because he had realised after a few miles that I wasn’t following.

Off we went to the mechanic, which in fact turned out to be a car washing station. So before my temper got the better of me and I ending up killing some poor unfortunate. I called my assistant in Damascus 400kms away to act as a go between. It appears that they would leave my car at the car wash and get the mechanic (who was 50 metres from the fuel station) and bring him to the car. Decent I suppose. Then the guy that towed me, wanted a little something for his assistance. All he got was a curious look, a lesson in Australian vocabulary. He left empty handed, but certainly blessed with a new way of saying goodbye.

Time was dragging on and it was looking very slim that we would act as tourists. After two hours my car had been drained of the diesel, which I must admit, was cunningly siphoned, collected and spirited away by the people in the car wash and never seen again. The lines were now flushed with petrol, which was ironically purchased from the same fuel station that created the mess in the first place, and an amount poured into the fuel tank. All was fixed, but it had cost me another 1500 Syrian pounds. I thought the best moment of it all was when the people from the car wash asked me if I would like my vehicle cleaned.

So my time for adventure and exploring was spent between an establishment of dubious reputation and a car wash. Either way they both cleaned me out by hook and crook. Maybe next time I will be luckier and get to see some of the sites. Oh and I never got any pictures either .

by A. Logistician (aka Catweazle)

Alive in Baghdad … witness awarded!

Video Blogging or Vlogging is, as it sounds, regular posts of video’s from bloggers. Scobelizer and John Furrier amoungst others report on the Vloggies…. Yes you guessed it an annual award show. Highly deserved the Best Vlog went to Alive in Baghdad along with three other awards Best Group Vlog, Political Vlog, Favourite interview Vlog! New world journalists in Baghdad who report on daily life and challenges.

One of the first podcasts that I subscribed to on my return to the connected world (after Kabul), Alive in Baghdad is intense, real-life and scarey. During the First Gulf War depleted uranium affects on health came to the for, how many of us are aware that today the grotesque disfiguration of iraqi’s due to depleated uranium is now common place. Highlighting the daily challenges of people trying to live a normal day to day life. Such as ‘disappearence’ from a line to collect fuel at the petrol station. The impact of minor injury on a families survival. The need for middle class and poor to set up neighbourhood watch “vigilante” groups. Alive in Baghdad place this all on your screen in full lurid colour.

As we all witness Iraq lurching through one crisis after another it is important we all witness the daily impact on people, who a short while ago lived daily life like us! After all regime change has been foistered on this country in our name. We are currently witnessing only the first step in a change process that is likely continue in fits and starts for a decade or more.

History illustrates how countries typically stagger through a whole host of upheavals as they shift from a State controlled from the top to a Nation of citizens. Many countries have seen huge displacements of population and dramatic changes in national boundaries as they underwent this change. The inter-ethnic strife and political activism suggest that Iraq has just started on this path.

Alive in Baghdad provides a small window on the past, present and future. It is a fantastic example of new participatory media and will no doubt provide evidence for future generations to reflect, learn and hopefully advance transitional justice!

“A day in the life” … … … Sidney to Syria … Part III

“I got a ticket to ride”

Finale…. Part III of III … “A day in the life” … by A. Logistician

Day 2

After a good nights sleep I woke up refreshed and ready to go exploring again. Remembering the words of the driver, I decided not to get any maps of the place or things that would have Hebrew markings on them. I set off to find new adventures, Knowing already where Jaffa Gate was, I was off in a different direction. I walked down towards the west bank and suddenly there was a Japanese tourist with a Guide Book. So I did what anyone would have done and followed him. He had the guide book and looked like he knew where he was going.

It however appears that he was only looking for the bus terminal, and now we both know where it is. A lovely place – Not. I did find the Garden Tomb – whatever that is, but it was closed on a Sunday. Which seems strange because they hold services there. Back into the Old City again looking for whatever. I walked around and around and somehow managed to come out of the same gate that I walked into. Success. I managed not to get lost this time.

Back to the Hotel and a bit of exploring in the room. As you do most people look in all of the drawers to see what’s in there and what’s been left behind. Well I do any way. Imagine my amazement when I found a bible. Not the old and new testament, just the new testament. It seemed a little strange to me that the home of Judaism and all I find is a New testament Bible. I now use it a travel guide. The places are still there, it is just a little bit harder to find map references. Ruth ch1 v16 doesn’t appear very often in many places of interest.

Day 3 – 6:

I checked in to the mission and spent most of my time in new comers briefings and security briefs. There is a lot more going on than what you first think. There is always that uncomfortable feeling that something is going to happen.

Those that have been following the news in the passed few days know that, that uncomfortable feeling has come to fruition.

It is now the weekend again and I have been here a week. It has been a week of high adventure and higher drama. I don’t know if at this time if I will be going to Syria on Wednesday or if I will have to stay here for awhile longer. It all depends on the activities in the next few days and if there is a cease fire. The firing so far has not reached Syria, but there have been rocker attacks on Tiberius (In the North) I have to drive through there so at the moment the UN is deciding if they will allow travel.

I will try and write more when and if I am allowed. I have had a briefing about Syria and there seems to be a lot of things that you can not do. Taking pictures is one of them. The Syrian authorities seem to take a dim view of people taking pic’s
all over the place.

You can however buy an official CD with pictures on them. Not sort of what I was expecting. It also appears that all emails are monitored, so I will have to watch what I say and do, and the killer is that I am only allowed to travel within a 40km radius from the city, unless I get UN and ministry approval. Not that easy to do. So bit by bit I will try and let you know how I am going and what I am up to.

Our intrepid Logistician is currently in Damascus, we await news!

“It’s been a hard days night” … … … Sydney to Syria, Part II

“I got a ticket to ride”

Part II of III … “It’s been a hard days night” … by A. Logistician

Arriving at Tel Aviv airport is nothing spectacular, just another airport with funny writing. Following the crowd, I made it to passport control. Choosing the right line is important, and like most of us that have been in a supermarket. I picked the wrong line. I watched as each line around me got smaller and smaller, while the one that I was in hardly moved. There was a point in time that I thought my visa may expire before I was processed, but eventually the person in the booth that was checking passports, must have been given a jolt from a cattle prod and things began to move a little quicker. After I got through I didn’t give a damn about the others.

Out of passport control and into baggage collection. Surprise, surprise for once my luggage and I arrived in the same place at the same time. The down side was that my bag had its zip broken, but a small price to pay. In fact I felt like doing a lap of honour. Maybe it was the people standing around with guns that put me off.

A driver met me at the airport collection point and drove me to Jerusalem. I was amazed that it wasn’t that far really. Only about 30 minutes. We arrived in Jerusalem, and I was dropped at my hotel. OK it was the YMCA but close enough to a hotel (No I haven’t joined the Village people… yet).

On the journey my driver was more than helpful, telling me all about the place and also told me that since as I was going to Syria, don’t buy anything that is remotely related to Israel, as it will be confiscated and I may be detained. Welcome to the Middle East.

I am staying within walking distance from the Old City of Jerusalem. Now this is a place that I have always wanted to visit, ever since my younger days, as a boy in short pants at Sunday school (To all of you that sniggered about the Sunday school comment – shame on you). I checked in, found the room – it’s not that bad.

I had arrived on the Sabbath (see I am picking up the local language) so there was not a lot open. After a quick shower, a change of clothes (Shorts and a tee shirt….thank God for warm weather) I walked down to reception and asked for directions to the old city.

17:00 hrs. Directions firmly in my head. Turn right at the lights from King David street, and head towards Jaffa gate. I had no idea what a Jaffa gate was, nor was I inclined to ask. But putting one foot in front of the other, I set off. I walked down the road, turned left, turned around and then when right. Past the temple of David (which in fact turned out to be a hotel) and went straight on. I saw a sign that said Jaffa gate, and kept on walking. After about 30 minutes of walking, I turned around because I had obviously missed the place. All I could see was this big wall on my left hand side. You guessed it, that was that old city. Frustrated, I crossed the road and decided that I would follow the wall to see where it would take me. Low and behold, I arrived at Jaffa gate.

Now to clarify what I mean by Jaffa gate, apparently there were 7 entrances to Old Jerusalem. Jaffa Gate, Damascus Gate, Lion Gate, Zion Gate, Herod’s Gate, New Gate and the best of all Dung Gate ( I kid you not).

18:00 hrs. So there I am at Jaffa Gate, all I see before me is 1) a street full of shops and 2) Tourist trap. I has only just got into the place before I was approached by one of the vendors who asked me if ” he could rip me off” His words not mine. I loved it. I had to smile at this guys honesty.

18:15. I am now officially lost in the old city. For those that know me well enough, you have to realise that I has the sense of direction like a cat caught in the spin cycle of a washing machine. It is amazing that all of the people that I had passed that invited me into their store suddenly didn’t speak a word of English. Back tracking, and after many false starts, I found my way back to the beginning.

In Part III “A day in the life” – our intrepid logistician waits to enter Syria!

Al Jazeera – Happy 10th Birthday

We are all familiar with the controversial nature of Al Jazeera, its root in the BBC Arabic service, its base in Qatar and the very public view they place on TV News in Arabic countries, much to the consternation of most governments in the region.

Are you aware of their popular online Arabic service started in 2001 had 161million visits in 2002! For a different view point the English language is a must view for anyone in the Middle East.

Lets hope their traditional TV News service is soon available in English.

“I got a ticket to ride” … … … Sydney to Syria (Part I of III)

“The long and winding road”

by A. Logistician

I just thought that I would drop you a line to let you know that I have arrived safe and well in Israel. The journey by my standards was relatively “Normal”. Sort of, with the one exception of Vienna airport. Thanks to the UN, I was travelling business class ( I know that most of you from the UN are saying that’s par for the course, but let me show off to the Non-UN workers) – Which enabled me to rest awhile in the Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge.

Now in Sydney Austrian Airlines or AA, share their lounge with Air New Zealand. Now this may not mean a lot, but I have to say that I was fairly impressed with what was on offer. You can imagine my thoughts of what they could offer me on my stop over in Vienna in transit. What would it be like in the country of origin? Gold plated taps? Hot and cold running bar staff? Trust me it is nothing like that. The lounge is hidden away behind the duty free shop and is 2 floors up. Using a
lift that hadn’t seen a coat of paint since Attila the Hun was still plying his trade, you approach that lounge with caution.

For those not familiar with Austrian Airlines, all of the staff wear bright red uniforms with black shoes, this includes stockings etc. I had to admit that they looked very similar to a rolled out lipstick. Entering the lounge at 05:30 is a pretty scary sight. I was feeling the need for coffee to keep me awake in the 4 ½ lay over that I had. After flying all night I was ready to drop – I don’t tend to sleep much on planes, so any break in routine tends to let me catch up with reality.

I walked past the 2 cheerful women on the reception desk (where do they get them from?) and then stopped dead in my tracks. No Golden taps. No hot and cold running bar staff. Just a plain room, a sad assortment of food and a cleaner with a limp. There was also no way of communicating with the outside departures unless you continually watch the departure board.

Thankfully they did have wireless connection and I was able to catch up with a few emails. As time dragged on and no entertainment to speak of – unless you count the magazines in German or Austrian, my eye lids began to droop.

I remember waking up with a start at one stage and looking at my watch screaming “Damn” or a word that rhymes with fire truck. I had missed my bloody plane. I had fallen asleep and committed the cardinal sin of all travellers. The plane had gone and I hadn’t. Racing to get all of my stuff together, I flew out of the so called lounge, at a rate of knots. Down the ancient lift, looking right and left for the AA counter to plead a case that would some how get some sympathy. In all
of this I was thinking what the hell the UN would say about it. Here I am a Logistics Officer that couldn’t make his own plane. This was not a good start to my career.

I found the Airlines counter and explained the situation to the wonderful woman that served me. I gave them my ticket for verification and waited for them to tell me that like buses there would be another one along shortly. Looking expectantly at this potential angel of mercy, you can imagine my surprise when all I could see was this evil grinning woman staring at me. Why couldn’t she feel my pain? Grinning in the appropriate place is fine, but not when I have missed a life-line to Israel.

I did learn a very valuable lesson from all of this. When they tell you the local time, it is best to change your watch. No I hadn’t missed the plane, I was still on Sydney time. I had been asleep for about half an hour. As I slunk back to the now inviting business lounge, I was chastened but awake. The rest of the time was uneventful. I made the flight and flew off to Tel Aviv at the appointed time.

In Part II – The long and winding road – our intrepid logistician discovers Israel!