Sunday, 4 December 2011

Invest in Jordan 2011

Invest in Jordan 2011 - published by Newsdesk Media (London)

Spreading economic growth around the country

A series of tax and other incentives are attracting companies to new business hubs across Jordan.

Connecting Jordan to the world

As a leading manager of Arabic-language content on the internet, Jordan is in a powerful position online.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Flurry of Media Laws in Wake of Arab Spring

Across the Arab world in 2011, governments from Mauritania to Syria have passed new laws to regulate the media, whether liberalising formerly state-controlled sectors or tightening control and extending it to news websites and electronic media.

Algerian newspapers

This article was first published in The Middle East, November 2011

Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, this flurry of legislation came as a reaction to the growing use of online media by political activists, and the erosion of the state’s monopoly of broadcasting as pan-Arab satellite TV enters its third decade.

In Tunisia and Egypt, which have both enjoyed a post-revolution media boom, old attitudes towards freedom of expression persist among the remnants of the former regimes. Nevertheless, some countries appear to be discarding draconian media laws and moving towards genuine media liberalisation.

Plans by Algeria and Mauritania to open up their media sectors have provoked a mixture of approval and scepticism.

In September, Mauritania said it would allow the setting-up of five private commercial radio stations and five TV channels. The head of the Union of Mauritanian Journalists, Houssein Ould Imedou, said the move would enable citizens "to own media outlets that would represent their views and express their desires without any censorship or dictates".

But sociologist Ibrahim Ould Sidi expressed fears that private broadcasting would be dominated by tribes, "at the expense of professionalism and efficiency", while writer Said Ould Habib voiced concerns that the state would retain control by other means.

In Algeria, which has a long history of press pluralism, the cabinet appeared to meet a key opposition demand when it passed a draft law in September to open up the television sector to private channels by 2012.  Private stations would be regulated by an official  body and need a government licence. "The move appears to have come under the pressure of pro-democracy popular uprisings that have swept across several Arab countries over the past few months," the BBC commented.

Algeria’s leading Arabic daily Al-Khabar and the French-language daily Al-Watan, both long-standing critics of government policy, plan to launch TV and radio stations. But journalist Larabi Zeouak was cautious, predicting that only government allies and loyalists would receive licences to operate TV stations.

The draft media law also envisages a regulatory body to "strengthen press freedoms", as well as decriminalising press offences. But the Algerian journalists' union said the latter provision was merely a "return to normality", and dismissed the draft law as "containing nothing new".

In the run-up to Tunisia’s constituent assembly elections in October, an independent media reform committee criticised the interim government for failing to endorse two draft laws regulating the press and the audiovisual sector. Some journalists fear that elements of the old guard are conspiring with senior media figures to block the development of genuinely free media, and that the former regime's restrictions could be reimposed. There is still no clear and specific legislation relating to digital media, which played a central role in Tunisia’s political transition. On a positive note, 12 licences have been granted for new FM radio stations.

In Libya, until a stable government with nationwide authority is formed, dozens of daily and weekly publications, FM radio stations and satellite TV channels continue to operate in a free but unregulated and chaotic media environment. The challenge in drawing up post-conflict legislation will be, in the words of Paris-based media freedom organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), to enable resistance media that have been combating disinformation and propaganda to evolve into media for political stability.

In Egypt, amidst claims that some media have abused the new climate of free expression that followed the ousting of former President Mubarak in February, there have been calls for greater regulation. While partisanship and campaigning in the media for Islamist, secular or progressive groups is hardly unexpected, several newspapers and TV channels stand accused of rumour-mongering and disseminating false and unverified news likely to cause social unrest.

However, critics have questioned how a body such as the Information Ministry - associated with decades of authoritarian rule and abolished days after Mubarak’s downfall, then reinstated in July – could play any role in future media reform. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the reinstatement of the Information Ministry as "a substantial setback for media freedom in Egypt".

In September, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the cabinet suspended the issuing of new licences to private satellite TV channels. Officials insisted the move was temporary, but said action was essential to confront channels that "instigate sedition and violence and cause instability at such a critical phase".

Speculation since June that the SCAF would pass a new media law has proved unfounded. Nevertheless, self-censorship remains common among Egyptian journalists, and some observers fear that censorship and intimidation of journalists are creeping back to Mubarak-era levels.

American academic and veteran Middle East correspondent Lawrence Pintak argues that Egypt is a unique case. "There has been an explosion of new media, particularly TV, outlets in the regulatory chaos following Mubarak's overthrow. Many of those outlets have proven irresponsible in their coverage, others effectively aggressive, and both are creating a backlash from the military," he told The Middle East.


Despite the Jordanian government’s stated aim of increasing freedom of the press through proper regulation, journalists fear that two draft laws approved by parliament this summer will have the opposite effect.

In August, the lower house endorsed amendments to the press and publications law which would treat news websites as "newspapers" for legal purposes.

Electronic media would have a choice between registering officially with the government and benefiting from "guarantees" specified in the press law, or remaining unregistered and being subject to the provisions of other laws such as the Penal Code and the Cyber Crimes Law.

While some MPs called for more monitoring of electronic media to curb alleged defamation, character assassination and false reporting, others maintained that controlling websites was unfeasible.

"News websites have been the main vehicle for pro-reform popular movements that have sprouted up across the country," Oraib Rintawi of the Al Quds Centre for Political Studies told the Jordan Times. A survey by the Centre found that 65 per cent of Jordanian journalists were against the amended law.

Jordan’s Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) said the amendments "posed a new threat to e-reporters as they added more constraints to the electronic media". The CDFJ added that the law would not prohibit the arrest of journalists, who still faced the threat of trial in the State Security Court and imprisonment under other laws such as the Penal Code.

Media freedom concerns grew in September after MPs endorsed the Anti-Corruption Commission draft law, which journalists regard as a setback to efforts to expose and combat corruption.


In August Syria adopted a new law setting out "media principles, journalists' duties and rights, and licensing procedures for launching audiovisual, printed and electronic media," in the words of the official Syrian news agency SANA. A National Council of Information will be set up, which will have "administrative and financial independence". SANA added that the new law was part of Syria’s continuing process of "comprehensive reform". At its core was the principle that media should be "independent and fulfill their mission freely, and are only restricted by the constitution and the law".

Freedom of expression should be exercised "with responsibility and awareness," the law cautions. It also bans the publication of any content "that affects national unity and national security, harms the holy religions and beliefs, or incites sectarian or confessional strife… [or] acts of violence and terrorism".

Syrian pro-regime journalists hailed the new legislation, but critics said that while it tried to give the impression that media freedom was being expanded, it lacked any credibility. "A harsh crackdown has been going on for the past six months, many journalists and free speech defenders have been jailed, and the number of citizens being killed grows by the day," RSF said on 29 August.

Journalists Sceptical

The media landscape in every Arab country has its own characteristics. But the tide of change and the calls for reform that have swept through the Arab world in the past 12 months have been a common factor in driving governments to bring in these new media laws.

Mohamed Ahmad, a Cairo-based analyst of the Arab media, said: "The passing of media laws in several Arab countries is definitely related to the upheaval sweeping across the Arab world, but the intentions and motives vary from one country to another. For example, in the case of Algeria, the planned opening up of the audiovisual sector is clearly an attempt to absorb anger and send a message that a greater measure of media freedom, together with promised political reforms, are on the way."

Most Arab journalists feel a mix of suspicion blended with cautious welcome. In the words of Lawrence Pintak, "they are pleased with their newfound power, but concerned about the backlash and sceptical about the future."

Sunday, 18 September 2011

London Arms Fair Shrugs Off Economic Gloom

Protests in Bahrain 2011

First published on Technorati on 16 September 2011

One of the world's biggest arms exhibitions ends in London today after four days of weapons salesmen touting their wares, ranging from guns that can shoot around corners to an "invisible" tank.

With no respite in sight to the economic gloom on both sides of the Atlantic, major defense cutbacks are under way in the UK and the United States.

The British government plans to reduce defense spending by 8 per cent by 2015, and the US is cutting at least $350 billion from previous project spending.

So exhibitors at this week's Defense Security and Equipment International arms fair are looking instead to markets such as India and Africa to boost sales.

And with the continuing unrest in many Arab countries, the Middle East arms market remains extremely lucrative, and unaffected by the international outcry about the violence that governments such as Syria and the Gaddafi regime in Libya used against protesting citizens during the Arab Spring.

Human rights activists and anti-arms campaigners held a series of events across London in protest against the presence of delegates from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, both accused of using weapons bought from the UK to suppress demonstrations.

Of the 65 national delegations attending the arms fair, 14 were from what human rights groups called "authoritarian regimes".

Libya was not invited, but Western arms dealers will be buoyed by National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil's statement that Tripoli was not planning to buy Russian weapons, and would review arms contracts with Russia signed by the former Libyan government. Russia said earlier this year that it stood to lose as much as $4 billion in existing and potential deals with the Gaddafi regime.

Minister says UK follows strict export rules

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox told delegates at the arms fair that Britain's weapons manufacturers should tailor their products for overseas markets, to protect defense and security jobs and profits during a period of spending cuts at home.

Exports of UK-made weapons would help drive the country's economic recovery, Fox said. But he insisted that Britain would not arm repressive regimes, describing the UK's export-licensing guidelines as being among the toughest in the world.

"Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are mandatory considerations for all export license applications, which we consider on a case-by-case basis… When conditions change we act swiftly to revoke licenses that do not meet our strict criteria - just as we did earlier this year as the events in the Middle East and North Africa unfolded," Fox said.

A group of British parliamentarians have called on ministers to stop arms sales to authoritarian regimes around the world. They said that UK Trade and Investment, the government body responsible for promoting British defense exports, had countries including Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as "arms export priority markets" for 2010-2011.

With the exception of Libya, sales efforts were continuing, causing concern over "the inherent conflict between the government's promotion of military exports and its stated desire to help protect human rights overseas", the MPs added.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas noted that in 2010 the UK had issued over £200m ($318 million) worth of equipment requiring export licenses to Libya, "providing Colonel Gaddafi with resources including tear gas, crowd control equipment, and ammunition for wall and door-breaching projectile launchers."

A government spokesman in London commented: "The British position is clear: we will not issue licenses where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression."

Britain has the world's second-largest defense industry after the United States, which generated more than 22 billion pounds ($35 billion) in sales in 2010, according to a survey published on 12 September by ADS, the trade group that promotes the UK aerospace, defense, security and space industries. UK defense exports contributed 9.5 billion pounds ($15 billion), about 43 per cent of turnover, with three-quarters of sales generated by the aerospace sector.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Impact of Arms Embargoes in the Middle East and North Africa

Protests in Syria, June 2011

This article was first published in Defence Management Journal, August 2011

Four UN arms embargoes are currently in force in the Middle East and North Africa, targeting Libya and Iran as well as non-government forces in Lebanon and Iraq. A European Union (EU) arms embargo is also in place against Syria.

On 26 February 2011 , UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1970 imposed an arms embargo against Libya and put in place sanctions on members of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi's inner circle, while Resolution 1973 adopted on 17 March authorized a no-fly zone over Libya. Previous UN and EU sanctions on Libya, including arms embargoes, had been lifted in 2003 and 2004 after Libya announced that it had ended its nuclear, biological and chemical weapon programmes.

A range of UN sanctions is in place against Iran, including bans on arms sales and transfer of technology. In June 2010, the UNSC approved fresh restrictions, including prohibiting Iran from buying heavy weapons such as attack helicopters and missiles.

The EU imposed an arms sales embargo on Syria on 9 May 2011, as part of efforts intended to force Damascus to end violence against anti-government protesters. The embargo covers weapons, military vehicles and equipment, spare parts and ammunition, and equipment that could be used for internal repression.

Libya embargo violations

The UN and EU arms embargoes are impacting the two countries targeted in 2011 in different ways.

In Syria, whose main arms suppliers are Iran, Russia and China, troops already have plenty of military equipment to use since pro-democracy protests flared in March 2011. The effects of the EU arms embargo are limited, and events are more likely to be affected by international diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions.
However, there are reports that the smuggling of small arms from the black market in Lebanon to Syria has soared. Lebanese arms dealers, most of them working under the protection of political parties, have supplied light and medium weapons not only to Syrians but also to Lebanese fearful of violence spilling over into their country. Syrian activists, for their part, have denied using weapons during protests against government troops.

Tensions have escalated between Syria and its neighbour Turkey, which opened its borders to Syrian refugees fleeing embattled border towns. As a NATO member, Turkey has contributed naval vessels to patrols enforcing the UN arms embargo in Libyan waters, although it not taken part in air raids.
The UN arms embargo on Libya has been more controversial than the EU-Syria one. It has produced sharply opposed views over interpretation, as well as confusion over its precise scope. While some sides maintain that arming the anti-Gaddafi opposition technically violates the embargo, others argue that the UN sanctions apply only to the government.

Despite NATO AWACS planes and more than 20 ships patrolling the Central Mediterranean to enforce the embargo, there have been many reports of rebels bringing weapons into Libya, including within supposed aid shipments, or in small consignments across the border from Tunisia. The rebel forces have also been supplied with weapons by France and Qatar, among others. The French military confirmed that in June, it had air-dropped weapons to rebels fighting government forces in the highlands south of Tripoli, the first time France admitted arming the rebels.

Russia accused France of committing a "crude violation" of the UN weapons embargo by arming the rebels. The UK said diplomatically that, in its view, "the UN resolutions allow, in certain limited circumstances, defensive weapons to be provided".
The UK, along with France and Italy, has deployed military advisers with the rebels, and has sent body armour, uniforms and communications equipment to police officers in rebel-held areas. There have also been reports of US teams operating covertly inside Libya. As for the pro-Gaddafi forces, they have reportedly received missiles and grenade launchers from Iran, as well as 500 "military grade" vehicles supplied by Algeria.

The lack of security across large parts of Libya has also raised fears over weapons falling into the hands of hostile forces in the wider region. The US, other Western governments and Libya's neighbours, notably Algeria, are concerned that stockpiles of weapons and ammunition at former military bases in eastern Libya abandoned by Gaddafi's troops after NATO air strikes could be sold on to militant groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), or organized crime cartels.

Political difficulties

Enforcing arms embargoes invariably involves political as well as practical difficulties.

There are very few provisions for the UN to punish violators, other than normative condemnation. Christian Le Mière, Research Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: "This is particularly true for the world’s major arms exporters, who are all coincidentally the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, with veto power." Generally, veto wielders Russia and China are reluctant to agree with UN sanctions.

In the Libyan case, the sanctions were imposed in great haste and the UNSC did not anticipate the stalemate and potential partition of the country.

With hindsight, "it was not the best idea to impose an arms embargo on the entire country which technically prohibits support to the anti-Gaddafi forces", said Thomas Biersteker, Professor of International Security and Conflict Studies at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

Arming the Libyan rebels might possibly be defensible in law, based on the letter of the relevant UN resolutions, but doing so is politically very questionable, in the vierws of Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). "It will undermine the chances of getting China and Russia to agree on future UN arms embargoes if such a legalistic approach is taken. If it was the intention of the sanctions to allow rebels to receive arms, that should have been stated clearly in the resolutions," he added.

As regards enforcement of embargoes in practice, many prohibited arms are likely to get through controls undetected. Weapons, particularly small arms and light weapons, can easily be hidden in shipments. The volume of global trade makes it impossible to verify the content of every shipping container, while air transport can use falsified documents to mislead regulators about the destination of a particular cargo.

Professor Peter Wallensteen of Uppsala University, one of the authors of a 2007 report on the impacts of UN arms embargoes, believes that they are a good instrument that the international community should save for the right conditions where they are likely to succeed.

"There is often a tendency with this kind of sanctions, as well as with other kinds of sanctions, that they are generated more for domestic reasons, to appeal to public opinion and so on, rather than thinking whether they will be an effective tool," he argues.

Biggest losers

The UN arms embargo on Libya could prove costly to the global arms industry if NATO's campaign is scaled down and Libya becomes mired in a low-intensity civil war.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted military sources as saying that Russia could lose up to 3.8 billion dollars in confirmed or possible orders as a result of the ban on arms sales to Libya.

According to EU figures, in 2009 member states granted export licences worth 490 million dollars to Libya. Italy was a prime source for border surveillance and security equipment, and several Italian firms had signed or lined up deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The UK was not a major supplier of weapons to Gaddafi's forces, even before the British government revoked arms export licences this year. Since January 2011, more than 160 export licences for Middle East countries have been revoked, mainly for Libya and Bahrain.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Egypt Pulls Plug on Libyan TV after "Al-Qaeda" Jibes

Egypt's Nilesat satellite has dropped Libyan state TV broadcasts, which allegedly incited violence against anti-Gaddafi rebels.

"No comment!"

Article first published as Egypt Pulls Plug on Libyan TV after "Al-Qaeda" Jibes on Technorati

In response to months of protests by Libyans living in Egypt, the authorities in Cairo on 11 July ordered Egypt's state-owned operator Nilesat to pull the plug on Libyan state TV satellite broadcasts to the Middle East and North Africa.

An Egyptian court ruled that Nilesat should take 16 Libyan satellite channels off the air, the official MENA news agency reported. The barred channels carry sports and variety programming as well as news, current affairs and talk shows.

The ruling by the Cairo Administrative Court followed lawsuits filed by Libyan citizens and Egyptian lawyers who complained that Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi was using Libya's state TV channels to incite violence against rebels fighting to overthrow him. The complainants also accused the channels of false reporting.

Since anti-Gaddafi protests began on 17 February, Libyan state TV has alleged on occasions that the uprising was being fomented by Al-Qaeda and "foreign elements".

One of the channels affected by today's ruling, Al-Libiyah TV, affiliated with Gaddafi's son Sayf-al-Islam, last month accused the opposition of broadcasting "Christian missionary messages" from the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

"The rebel leadership based in the eastern city of Benghazi has repeatedly accused Gaddafi of using state media as a weapon in the war that has left thousands dead," the French news agency AFP reported.

AFP recalled that in June 2011, NATO had denied Libyan accusations that it had targeted the country's state broadcaster's facilities in Tripoli.

In May the Arab League ordered the intergovernmental organization Arabsat to stop carrying Libyan state TV broadcasts.

The Libyan rebels themselves have two main TV channels: Libya al-Hurra ("Free Libya"), which started as a web-based streaming operation at the beginning of the uprising, and now transmits via satellite from Benghazi; and Libya TV, a pro-opposition TV station based in Qatar, which has been broadcasting since the end of March.
State-run media in Libya today initially ignored the Egyptian decision, filling their bulletins instead with the usual denunciations of the rebels and NATO strikes.

But before long Gaddafi, not known for championing media pluralism in Libya during his 41-year rule, will very likely claim that his country's state-run TV channels are now the victims of media censorship imposed by his Arab brothers in neighbouring Egypt.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Kuwaiti Net Mogul Launches Arab Online Political Forum

One of the world's leading internet developers hopes his new site will become a leading political forum in the Arab world.

Thunayan Khalid al-Ghanim

Article first published as Kuwaiti Net Mogul Launches Arab Online Political Forum on Technorati.

London, 6 July: Kuwaiti businessman Thunayan Khalid al-Ghanim (also known online as Elequa) is one of the foremost internet developers in the world.

Over the past decade his British Virgin Islands-based company Future Media Architects (FMA) has built up a portfolio of some 120,000 domain names, valued at over $3 billion. His top names include, and Music.TV. And unlike most other internet investors seeking to profit from domain names, FMA is known for its rigid policy of refusing to sell the names it owns.

In London I caught up with Thunayan, an artist and sculptor before he turned internet entrepreneur, to ask him about the latest phase of his varied career - as a champion of free expression online in the Arab world.

As the Middle East and North Africa are convulsed by the fastest-moving period of revolutionary change in 60 years, Thunayan has launched, a website in Arabic and English that he intends to develop into a major online political forum.

As well as a general discussion area, the site has separate sections including women's rights, cultural affairs, an archive project collating historical political transcripts, and a section called Transparency, "for whistleblowers to expose scandals and secret files". Bloggers can also post their own articles or opinion pieces in a separate area.

" is a forum for Arabs by Arabs - and anyone around the world who is interested in Arab issues - from every segment of society, without bias or preference for one voice over another, to create their reality without censorship or guardianship, where each person is responsible for their exercise of free choice and expression," he explained.

No Political Ambitions

The launch of signifies "recognition of the power of the new citizen journalist generation", Thunayan said. It is a site committed to providing "a zone free of censorship for civil objective dialogue that excludes no one."

The site describes itself as "a platform for Middle East voices and those interested in and knowledgeable about the region". But it does not represent or support any political or religious group or party, and he has no personal political ambitions, the 41-year-old international "domain artist" insisted.

"I come from a long family lineage of historical political leaders and oppositionists, though I’m not a politician myself and have no ambitions to be one," Thunayan said. "My family background ingrained in me early awareness of the condition of the world we live in and a concern with its issues, probably earlier than a child should have. I have encountered and inherited injustices in my life, and it’s through those trials that my belief in the human spirit and the value of freedom and truth has developed."

Social Media And The Arab Spring

Commenting on the part played by social media and citizen journalists in the Arab Spring, Thunayan agreed that social media were useful tools, but there had to be old-fashioned political organizing and grass-roots activism to begin with.

"History is not made by super-powers of heaven or earth, it’s human-made through the collective exercise of humanity expressing itself freely. The Arab Spring is a case of little brother taking over big brother, a David and Goliath scenario if you like, where too many little people are moving at once too fast for the organized power to control the power of organized chaos," he argued.

Thunayan believes that the tools of social media - including Facebook, Twitter and blogs - are replacing the traditional broadcast media because of what he calls their "instancy": "Television and radio, for those with access to the internet, have become archaic in my point of view, maybe good for entertainment, and even decreasingly at that. Books on the other hand could be served by the fact that most of the internet is the written word, and books being word-based media - I think the book as a concept will survive, as long as the format changes. The book industry should accept the progress of the digital evolution of the word."

Arab Governments And The Internet

"I believe in the free flow of information," said Thunayan, who was scathing about the attempts of Arab governments to regulate the internet and online media. "Regulatory bodies in the Arab world don't know how to use the filters that they buy. Quite legitimate discussion sites could be blocked, for example, if they contain words such as 'adult' or 'sexism'," he added. "They should restrain themselves rather than absurdly trying to restrain the internet. "

As for the old and discredited state-run newspapers and TV stations across the Arab world, he predicted that their days were nearly over. "They're becoming obsolete. They won't give up, but they're living in their own dimension."

"Pivotal Point in History"

Awareness of is spreading by word of mouth, without publicity, and it is attracting citizen journalists, according to Thunayan.

"The site started with 10,000 visitors a day… We have started a Twitter page to engage with people and invite them to comment…We are mostly republishing at the moment, and have started producing original content. We are targeting writers to give us exclusives and hope in turn to give them an excellent audience… The only thing we won't allow on the site is hate," he said.

Although the launch of coincided with the rise of the Arab Spring, it was not a spur of the moment decision, Thunayan added.

"It has been a long time in the making, of accumulating credible sources, documents and information. It’s not meant to be nothing more that an outlet for a current outburst, as is the case of what I call shout-out websites. It's here for the long haul, with conviction, determination and focus."

The uprisings of the Arab people were not constrictively Arab but an uprising of humanity, he concluded. "My message to those interested and even to those not so interested is to take notice that we are at a pivotal point in history."

Friday, 1 July 2011

Revolutions Transform North Africa's Media Landscape

This article was first published in The Middle East magazine, July 2011

Arab journalists at the dawn of the 21st century, far from being defenders of the status quo, "see their mission as driving political and social change," said veteran US journalist Lawrence Pintak in his recent book, "The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil".

The rapid transformations in North African media during the Arab Spring show that they are embracing that mission with enthusiasm, replacing the formerly state-dominated media.

Fighting in Libya and political upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt have brought unprecedented changes to the media landscape, as new broadcasters, publications and websites have emerged.

Pundits differ over the role played by online media and social networking sites in fuelling the unrest, and the media revolution that has ensued.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the blogging, video sharing, text messaging and live streaming from mobile phones of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and Tunis as a "seismic shift" in how journalists rely on the Internet and other digital tools. But the CPJ warned that oppressive regimes were also showing increasing sophistication in using the tools of new technology to suppress information.

For established broadcasters, the Arab uprisings have brought a surge in viewing figures, but with no corresponding economic benefit.

Audiences for satellite TV news channels, primarily the leading pan-Arab stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, have doubled in key markets such as Saudi Arabia, the Dubai-based Pan-Arab Research Centre (PARC) reports.

However, spending on TV advertising across the Arab world has slumped. In Egypt, it was down by 97% in February and 78% in March 2011, compared with the same months a year ago, PARC added.

"Voice of Free Libya"

Since the 17 February 2011 uprising, various opposition groups in rebel-held areas in eastern Libya, as well as abroad, launched their own affiliated newspapers, websites, radio and satellite TV stations to counter what they termed the "propaganda" of the state-controlled broadcaster.

"Voice of Free Libya" radio stations went on air in Benghazi and Al-Bayda, as well as the besieged rebel-held port of Misrata in the west. The rebel-linked stations reflect a mix of Islamist and Libyan nationalist views in their programmes. In the town of Nalut in the mountains of western Libya, journalists who had formerly broadcast pro-Gaddafi material on the local radio station switched sides, relaunching it as "Radio Free Nalut".

Of the new opposition satellite TV channels, the slickest is Libya TV, launched at the end of March. It is based for the time being in Qatar, the first Arab country to recognize the Transitional National Council, the opposition shadow government.

After more than 40 years of state control over the media, apart from a short-lived period when Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam operated the country's first privately-owned media outlets, it is no surprise that most journalists in Libya fall short on production and technical skills.

But they make up for this in creativity and enthusiasm. The Voice of Free Libya broadcasts include revolutionary music, popular songs by Arab divas like Fairuz, poetry with rebel themes, and phone-in programmes allowing citizens to air their views and grievances.

State-run Al-Jamahiriyah TV went on the counter-offensive, launching an English-language TV channel to convey the Gaddafi regime's views to international audiences. The channel took the line that the uprising in Libya was fomented by Al-Qaeda and "foreign elements".

Libyan state TV says its external service has been deliberately jammed. Air strikes on Tripoli by NATO-led forces have also intermittently disrupted state-controlled TV broadcasts.

Mixed signals for Egyptian media

The media in Egypt were already cowed by the severe crackdown that preceded the November 2010 parliamentary elections. Now media outlets are moving cautiously, after being given mixed signals.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces warned in March that it would carry out prior vetting of all reporting on topics covering Egypt's military establishment. In late April it said that it would not interfere in media policy. But in May, the Council warned against websites and Facebook pages which could, in its words, "incite sectarianism and violence and spread rumours that could destabilize the country".

Many laws impeding media freedom are still to be abolished. When a military court sentenced an Egyptian blogger to three years in jail in April for defaming the army and "disseminating false information", journalists got the message that limits on free speech still apply, particularly where the armed forces are concerned.

The new heads of state newspapers, TV and radio appointed by the government after President Mubarak was ousted in February have been accused of having close links with the former regime.

On the plus side, the new government has brought in new rules making it easier for privately-owned TV channels to launch, and 16 new channels have already been approved.

A debate is under way about whether foreign models for media reform are compatible with Egypt's still-evolving political reality. But the vast majority of the tens of thousands of mainstream journalists still operate in a culture of self-censorship.

Tunisian authorities stall

Aspiring media entrepreneurs in Tunisia are already accusing the interim government of using outdated bureaucratic procedures to block private broadcasting.

More than 40 applicants have sought approval to launch new radio and TV stations, but the authorities claim that the number of "frequencies" is limited.

In mid-May, activists reported cases of resumed internet censorship. And journalists also complain that they are still not free to do their jobs because of attacks and threats by security police, party activists and demonstrators.

A long-term goal

With government institutions in North Africa accustomed to decades of state control over the media, not everyone regards Western-style media pluralism as the highest priority, so significant reform could take years to consolidate.

As happened in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, many new broadcasters and publications have been launched, but not all will survive.

Some will go under for financial reasons such as high printing and production costs or lack of advertising, or because they have fulfilled their short-term political objectives of spreading a particular group's message, or because the market simply cannot sustain too many competitors. Others, especially web-based media which are cheaper to operate, may enjoy a longer existence.

Monday, 6 June 2011

North Africa Unrest, High Prices Hamper Continent's Economic Recovery

Although Africa weathered the 2009 global economic crisis, the unrest in North Africa combined with rising fuel and food prices could slow growth this year, a new report from the African Development Bank warns.

Article first published as Unrest, High Prices Hamper Africa's Recovery on Technorati.

 Ghana community farmers (IMAGE – Trees ForTheFuture)

Africa's economies have weathered the global crisis relatively well and rebounded in 2010, according to the African Economic Outlook 2011, launched on 6 June 2011.

But recent political events in North Africa and high food and fuel prices are likely to slow the continent’s growth down to 3.7% in 2011, the report warns.

During this year, sub-Saharan Africa will grow faster than North Africa. The report predicts a rebound to 5.8% in 2012. Economic growth in Africa has averaged 5% in the past decade.

The new report was launched in Lisbon, which later this week will host the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) annual meeting, the first gathering of African finance ministers and other officials to be held in Europe for 10 years.

"Africa is growing but there are risks. Urgent attention is needed to foster inclusive growth, to improve political accountability, and address the youth bulge," said Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice-President of the AfDB.

New trade with emerging economies

Co-authored by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the OECD Development Centre, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the report covers 51 of the continent's 53 countries.

It urges African countries to develop closer cross-border ties in dealing with traditional and emerging partners so they can boost sustainable and inclusive growth.

Despite its large oil and mineral exports, Africa today still accounts for only about 1.5% of global trade. However, Africa is becoming more integrated in the world economy and its partnerships are diversifying, revealing unprecedented economic opportunities.

New routes opened between Africa and emerging countries are promising, the report states. "New partners bring new opportunities for African countries," said Mario Pezzini, Director at the OECD Development Centre.

Emerging economic powers like China and India are seeking to extend their influence in Africa, not only through trade and investment but also through diplomatic alliances.

China's $126 billion annual trade with Africa is worth almost three times that of India's $ 46 billion. But India is moving to shrink that gap, as witnessed at the second India-Africa Forum on 24-25 May 2011 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. India's bilateral trade with Africa is forecast to exceed $50 billion this year.

China now Africa's main trading partner

In 2009, China surpassed the US and became Africa’s main trading partner, while the share conducted by Africa with emerging partners has grown from approximately 23% to 39% in the last 10 years.

Africa’s top five emerging trade partners are now China (38%), India (14%), Korea (7.2%), Brazil (7.1%) and Turkey (6.5%).

While traditional partners, as a whole, still account for the largest proportion of Africa’s trade (62%), investment (80%) and Official Development Assistance (90%), the report notes that emerging economies can provide additional know-how, technology and development experiences required to raise the standard of living for millions of people on the continent.

World Bank echoes warning on fuel, food prices

On 12 May 2011 the World Bank also warned that high food and fuel prices could slow Africa's rapid recovery from the global financial crisis. Sub-Saharan Africa's economy was likely to grow by 5.1% in 2011 and 5.4% in 2012, it said. An earlier forecast by the Bank had shown the region growing by 5.3% this year and 5.5% in 2012.

The sub-Saharan African economy grew by 4.7% in 2010, rebounding from 1.7% growth in the previous year, when the world economic crisis hit output.

"Having presented a fairly optimistic picture, I should add that there are some real risks to this growth forecast. Perhaps most importantly is this increase in food and fuel prices that we are seeing right now," Shantayanan Devarajan, World Bank chief economist for Africa, told Reuters in an interview.

"If food prices and particularly fuel prices continue to rise, there is some really serious risk to the growth forecast."

On a positive note, Devarajan said sub-Saharan Africa should also see higher foreign capital flows in 2011 - after rising 6% to $32 billion in 2010 - as perceptions about the continent improve.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Bribery Act's Impact on British Defence Industry

BAE's Tornado fighter/bomber, sold to Saudi Arabia as well as the RAF - Image: Andrew Parsons/PA

This article was first published in Defence Management Journal, Issue 53 - Summer 2011

The UK Bribery Act 2010 was due to come into force in April 2011, but has been put back until three months after the final official guidance on the Act is published.

The Act has attracted considerable negative media coverage, and anti-corruption groups allege there has been intensive last-minute lobbying against it, from unspecified corporate circles.

It comes at a time when the British defence industry is under increasing public scrutiny.

After the headlines created by the Strategic Defence and Spending Review and consequent job cuts, the uprisings in the Arab world since the end of 2010 focused attention on the weapons that British companies supplied to Bahrain, Libya and others, including teargas and crowd control ammunition, which have been used against protesters and insurgents.

In 2009, UK defence export orders were worth £7.2 billion, according to ADS. The UK was fifth in the global weapons suppliers league after the USA, Russia, Germany and France, although the volume of British arms exports actually fell by 11 per cent between the periods 2001–2005 and 2006–10, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in data published in March 2011.

With the domestic spending squeeze tightening, Britain's defence manufacturers must maintain if not strengthen their position in the international marketplace. Industry figures are not happy that government guidance on the Bribery Act has been delayed, but say the legislation should not stifle business because anti-corruption measures are already in place.


The Bribery Act was enacted in response to growing worldwide pressure on the UK to address a perceived lack of commitment to anti-bribery law enforcement. With this extra-territorial legislation, UK-linked companies involved in bribing officials and executives anywhere can be fined and their assets recovered.

It creates four categories of offences: offering, promising or giving a bribe to another person; requesting, agreeing to receive or accepting a bribe from another person; bribing a foreign public official; and the corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery by individuals acting on its behalf.

Failing to prevent bribery introduces strict liability for corporate organizations and is the most significant departure from current law, legal experts say. Ignoring the Act could cost companies dearly, with the maximum penalty for individuals being 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine, and for the new corporate offence an unlimited fine.

The only defence available to commercial organizations charged with strict liability corporate offences will be to show that the organization had "adequate procedures" in place to prevent bribery being committed.

"The breadth of the act is already prompting complaints from British business abroad, concerned that the strictures will give undue advantage to competitors with no links to the UK, who are not covered by the legislation," the Financial Times commented on 24 February 2011.


Tobias Bock, a project officer at the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, estimates that the global cost of corruption in the defence sector is at least 12.5 billion pounds a year.

But facilitation payments by UK firms are already illegal and will continue to be banned when the Act comes into force, though the government’s earlier draft guidance failed to make this explicit.

Transparency International UK spokesman Robert Barrington says honest companies "have nothing to fear from the Act, and should welcome it as an opportunity to create a level playing field." But he warns: "Defence is a notably high-risk sector for bribery. The Act should remind every company in every industry that bribery is unacceptable and there is now a greater likelihood of being caught and punished."

Barrington told DMJ in an interview: "If I have a concern about the defence industry, it's that smaller and medium-sized companies that are exporting to difficult markets might be less aware of their obligations and the legal implications."

Derek Marshall, MD of Policy and Public Affairs at ADS, said many of the UK's bigger companies, especially multinationals, "have adjusted for quite a while now to the notion that they will have to comply with legislation like the Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), so the impact on them will be very limited."

"The real issue for us is having proper guidance soon (from the Ministry of Justice) on how the Act will be interpreted… For the time being, we seem to be in uncharted waters," he told DMJ.

Further delay in publishing the guidance will not only prolong uncertainty for companies, but could also undermine how the government’s commitment to the Act is perceived.