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« May 2005 | Main | July 2005 »

Happy Slapping

Before 12 May, when Tonight With Trevor McDonald broadcast its 10pm special “Mugging for Kicks”, a Google search for “happy slaps” reportedly produced 542 hits. It now returns 23,700.

“Mugging for Kicks” was an investigation launched by the programme, in its element when documenting food scares, health scares and society scares, about the latest trend amongst Britain’s teenagers.  “Happy slapping” is an episode where a group of young people film each other with video phones slapping or kicking members of the public or each other. These video recordings are then sent to their friends and posted on the internet.

Or are they? The vast majority of internet searches on happy slapping produce forums of users denouncing happy slapping and newspapers discussing  the Tonight show. It took this experienced Googler quite some exertion to locate these fabled videos. And then the site asked me to register to download them! Hardly a spiral of copy-cat hooliganism.

The most, and often only, quoted “expert” is Graham Barnfield who appeared on Tonight’s show, but here he bemoans this unmerited and unwanted title. It appears that a few casual remarks have been repeated countless times in the world’s media, spawning a mass happy slapping moral panic.

Nice one Trevor!

June 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Map of the Creative Commons


From Lawrence Lessig's blog: The countries marked in green are all the places where the Creative Commons exists locally. Yellow is where they are nearly there, and red is where the bug has yet to spread.

June 17, 2005 in Media & the Net | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

openDemocracy shortlisted for award

openDemocracy has been shorlisted for the New Statesman New Media Awards in the category of "Contribution to civic society". Other candidates are My Society super star Not Apathetic, Public Whip, and TheyWorkForYou. Congratulations to the brilliant folks behind all three projects. Losing to them wouldn't hurt so much. Losing to Net House Prices (cool site, but how on earth did they make that category?) would.

June 17, 2005 in openDemocracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Under attack in Ethiopia

This report from Addis Ababa on recent brutality in the Ethiopian capital "done in the name of democracy" came in late yesterday through Glenn Brigaldino (an oD reader and writer). It has been posted elsewhere too but Glenn wanted to make sure the report and its call for international attention reached oD's democracy-minded readership.

Sat, 11 Jun 2005 10:45, anonymous
Large scale arrests of innocent people continue

Yesterday (June 10,2005), the brutal security forces of the TPLF arrested a lot of people who are suspected of being supporters of the opposition parties. The security forces arrested these young men by breaking into selected houses of those who had supported or organized people to support the CUD and UEDF (Coalition for Unity and Democracy and United Ethiopian Democratic Forces). A lot of people are missing in Addis Ababa these days and most of the arrests are carried out at night by cutting off electric light in the areas selected for the mission...

We can confirm that there are more than 3,000 people concentrated in Ziway town near Langano some 200KM south of Addis Ababa. Many students who oppose the cheating and stealing of people's vote by the ruling party on the May 15th election were arrested throughout the country's higher education establishments.

To mention a few:  Jimma Universty, South University (Awassa), Gonder University, Bahirdar University, Arbaminch University, etc..

The total number of students arrested is estimated to be over 1500. Arresting of people still continues in the towns where EPRDF lost its candidates like Dessie, Awassa, Bahirdar, Gonder and so many places in rural country side. The 'crime' of these people is simply to cast their votes for the opposition parties.

Yesterday the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC) announced that it needs to interrupt short message services (SMS) due to traffic problems on the network. They say that the service will continue as soon as upgrading works are completed. AS if they have ever been much concerned about upgrading things here. This is simply a plot carried out by the TPLF leaders in order to stop transferring messages among the people.

Residents of Addis Ababa were passing on information about the current events in the country. The security forces stop people whom they suspect of using mobile phones for exchanging short messages, but most of the security force members do not know how to operate cellular phones, as the TPLF has not trained soldiers to do this. So their solution is to cut the service altogether. May be sooner or later the internet service and the telephone network could be cut only for those who are supporters of the opposition parties, but since they do not know how to do it, the best solution is to close down the whole system.

Yesterday the government TV and radio (by the way all electronic media in Ethiopia are controlled by the TPLF) announced that the Capital city of Oromia Regional State is going to be Addis Ababa. Previously it was decided that the Oromia capital state was to be ADAMA (Nazareth) and during that time there was strong opposition against this decision and the ruling party had jailed those opposed. Many students were thrown out of Addis Ababa University. But now that the EPRDF has lost all parliamentary seats in the capital, it came up with this idea to divide the people by its racist policy and to bring unrest to Addis Ababa.

To summarize what is going on in Ethiopia in the past few days:

1. Killing of civilians, arresting and torturing of students as well as of opposition party members;
2. 2.. VOA and Deutsche Welle Amharic service foreign reporters were banned from reporting what is happening in Ethiopia.
3. Heavily armed soldiers, security forces and federal police are in the capital city Addis Ababa and the citizens of Addis Ababa are very scared and terrorized by the merciless act of these brutal forces who are commanded by the evil minded TPLF leaders like Meles and Bereket.
4. No body is allowed to demonstrate or to oppose the government or the ruling party and meetings are not possible;
5. The security forces can break in any house and arrest those who are suspected of being opposition party supporters;
6. The leaders of the main opposition party leaders are under house arrest and they are not allowed to move anywhere. Even some of them are taken to unknown places to be tortured;
7. Many university students who are suspected of supporting opposition parties, are taken into military camps to be tortured. To mention some of these torture chambers: Sendafa camp located at 40 KM north of Addis, Kolfe camp somewhere in the West of Addis, Ziway camp some 200 KM south of Addis, Bilaten camp in the southern part of Ethiopia along the high way to Nairobi, also  there a lot of detention centers in the capital;
8. The Ethiopian people are indirectly ordered to listen only to the TPLF controlled radio and television, but the propaganda broadcasted by the irresponsible cadres of EPRDF is sickening the people because the messages and the news are deliberately broadcast to terrorize and to create a psychological crisis amongst the Ethiopian people (by the way everything broadcast by these media is cheap propaganda and most of it consists of fabricated lies. As one neighbour said, the only truth they tell you is the time of day;
9. Information flows are controlled and now the SMS service is blocked; we have no guarantee that the Internet service may not be shut down as well. That would cut off important connections to the outside world;
10. Addis Ababa looks like a battle ground: the war is between heavily armed TPLF security forces and innocent poor people who have not much more than their vote. However, the people's vote has been stolen by the ruling party, by those who have clung to power the past fourteen years by force, pretending to be fostering democracy. Still they want to rule for another five years in the same way, but the majority people did not vote for them, this is the plain and simple truth.

All this is being done in the name of democracy, in front of those donor countries that are trying to help the Ethiopian government to practice good governance and exercise true democracy. Sadly, most of your money will be used to kill innocent people unless you put pressure on the TPLF leaders to stop killing, arresting and torturing innocent and defenseless civilians. The Ethiopian people know that donors like the EU and U.S.A are aware of what is happening here and we hope they will not come up with excuses like they did when the Rwandan genocide was starting. Even now you are late to act fast and your representatives here in Addis Ababa are thus indirectly encouraging or supporting the Ethiopian fascist government in its crimes against the citizens of Ethiopia.

Yesterday (June 10, 2005), the main opposition parties the CUD and UEDF have signed an agreement with EPRDF to accept the results of the May 15th election after investigations are carried out concerning alleged irregularities at  many polling stations. But the CUDs pre-conditions were not supported by the EU commission representative. The CUD commented that in order to implement the peace pact signed, the leaders of the CUDs have to be released, the house arrest of the leaders of the CUD must be lifted, the intimidation and harassment of the security forces on the CUD and its supporters must stop and the killings of innocent civilians must be investigated and the criminals must be brought to justice. In the evening news the EPRDF mass media propagated that CUDs rejected the peace pact by putting up pre-conditions and claiming that EPRDF is the only party that stands for peace and democracy. They were quick to add that the EU commission representative also condemned the preconditions of CUD. But later on from VOA, the legal advisor of CUD explained that it will be difficult to implement an agreement while so many constraints on the movement of the parties leaders remain in force.

Some CUD leaders have been arrested and taken to unknown places, others are under house arrest. Members who want to enter the CUD office risk being questioned or simply arrested by the security forces of the TPLF.

So I ask of you please, if you or anyone you know of who has access to the EU commission representative in Addis Ababa ask these questions:

How can it be possible to implement the signed peace pact with all these obstacles?

Do any of the CUD leaders have access to the media to express their views?

Who controls the Ethiopian electronic media established with the people's money, much of which was donated from the international community?

Don't you think that the CUD must denounce the massacre carried out on innocent civilians by the merciless security forces of TPLF?

How do you define justice?

I hope these questions are not difficult to answer for those with a clean conscience and for those who believe in genuine democracy. This is my message to those donor countries and NGOs:

The TPLF leaders under the name of democracy have fooled you for the past fourteen years. The result has been bloodshed of innocent citizens on the streets of Addis in broad daylight. The TPLF leaders claim that they killed only bank robbers and they sell you fabricated lies about their dirty works. But the truth about what has happened top those innocent civilians is undeniable: there were women, mothers, teenagers, young ones, students with their uniforms etc. and most of them shot in their heads, chests or in the back. The bodies of the dead were everywhere in the hospitals like Black Lion, Zewditu, St. Paul, Ras Desta etc..

Addis Ababa is a city full of diplomats from many countries and the massacre carried out by the soldiers of the TPLF (by the way they are not regular army Ethiopian soldiers) was witnessed by most of the international community. To those of you who really spoke out in support of the Ethiopian people, we much appreciate your courage.

To the ambassadors and representatives of the EU countries who observed the signing of the peace pact yesterday, we ask of you to tell the Ethiopian Government that the massacre must be investigated by a neutral board of inquiry: do not let the criminals go free. I heard somebody saying that establishing democracy could defeat terrorism. What was established in Ethiopia for the past fourteen years? Democracy or terrorism? I leave the answer to those who are struggling to establish genuine democracy around the world. Those of you, who are trading by the name of democracy, do not even think about answering the question.

Peace, freedom and democracy are global goods: don't let it be robbed from us, nor from your selves.

June 15, 2005 in News related | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

openDemocracy goes Creative Commons

Most people have heard of copyright. It means you can't just pluck things off the internet and publish them on your own website. And that you shouldn't download Britney Spears music onto your iPod without paying for it. In many cases it also locks down science, scholarship, culture and development because someone needs to make a profit. Copyright is good. But sometimes it is used in bad ways.

openDemocracy wants to be good. We don't publish articles to make a profit. And most of the authors on this site write with no pay because they really care about the issues. The more people who read the things they write, the more hope we have for dialogue and understanding worldwide. So we've been thinking: it's time to change our copyright terms to make it easier for you to share the articles - and the ideas - with anyone you like. From today openDemocracy is publishing the majority of its articles (subject to author agreement) under Creative Commons licenses.

Today is a great day.

We're inviting you to visit your favourite article, check if it is licensed under the Creative Commons,  and then republish it in any non-commercial medium of your choice. Got a blog? Do it! Work for a non-profit organisation with a members newsletter? Do it! Are you the editor of the school newspaper? Do it! Want to read our articles aloud and podcast them? We want you to think of this site as a resource for your work. Free, simple, permission granted in advance.

But openDemocracy also wants to survive. We ask that you follow some simple guidelines for attribution. And commercial publishers must pay for the rights to republish just as before. If we see you are using our gift to enrich yourself, we will send you an invoice with the thundering speed of lightning. Newspaper editors, we welcome you here.

Siva Vaidhyanathan has written an article celebrating the Creative Commons and our decision to join. And you can browse through a selection of some of the hundreds of articles from the archive we have set free on openDemocracy's home page. I'm so excited about this move I could burst. If more scholars and writers, (and publications) had the courage to set their ideas free, the world would already be a better place. Congratulations to our generous authors, who have embraced this idea enthusiastically.

(If you like the idea too, consider making a small donation. I'm hoping to prove the people who would consider this commercial suicide wrong. Free thinking! Not free beer.)

June 13, 2005 in openDemocracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Latest from Brussels

Just back from Brussels. I was at a meeting where members of the Club de Madrid were advancing their Madrid Agenda on confronting terrorism through democratic means “at the European level”. Both The Council of Europe and Amnesty International’s European office circulated documents. The Council of Europe has 46 member states in a loose alliance (which has to be distinguished from The Council of Ministers of the European Union, of which more in a moment).

The Council of Europe document sets out a now familiar back-footed approach that the everything must be done to defeat terrorism provided that the measures are lawful and do not include the use torture. The Amnesty International response available on its website is refreshingly more combative. It argues that it is the breach of human rights that creates the risk to our security. What’s needed is a far more vigorous pursuit of human rights in response to the attack on secular and constitutional values by terrorists. This argument applies to the wholesale moves to secure biometric surveillance now being debated in openDemocracy. As Mary Robinson put it, speaking at a public meeting of the Club de Madrid and the European Policy Centre, we need to “scale up our sense of purpose” if we are to revitalise democracy.

I took advantage of being in Brussels to talk to some senior members of the European Commission who serve the Council of Ministers about the impact of the ‘no’ votes. There is a great deal of denial and sleepwalking, and little recognition that the whole political class across Europe, national and continental, has lost legitimacy. It seems that the French ‘non’ was somehow being adjusted for: it was due to Chirac’s unpopularity, or, this is the Blair theory, that Paris has got its economic policy wrong and is not man enough to embrace globalisation. But this does not explain the Dutch vote which has certainly shaken compacency in Brussels. That the Dutch, whose unemployment is relatively low, whose economy s relatively open and competitive, whose people are the most European and linguistically educated of any in Europe, that they should vote two to one against an improved Union defies easy explanation. It can’t be put down to a racial murder however high profile.

June 12, 2005 in Blair's Bust - UK election | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hoder: Blogging his way home

openDemocracy author and famed Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan (also my friend) today announced that he is going back to Iran for the presidential elections. It's something he's been considering publicy and debating with himself for a long time. He knows he runs the risk of arrest in spite of a newly acquired Canadian passport, but has decided it would be worth it in order to make a stand.

I've been an activist of sorts for many years, but never under threats of imprisonment or torture. I can't pretend to know what I would do in his situation. Among others, Anthony Barnett has encouraged him to jump on the plane, and believes "young people must be brave". Now that he has finally decided to go, I quite admire him. Especially because I know he has good reason to be concerned. Another blogger, Mojtaba Saminejad, just received a two year prison sentence.

When Hossein was in London, I met with him and his friend Sina Motallebi who was detained for three weeks last year because of his blog. Sina was jokingly telling stories of how his interrogators asked him whether Hossein (aka Hoder) had sent him articles to post in his blog. He responded with a question and asked them, why on earth Hoder would send him articles, when he was more free to write what he wanted in Canada ("and anyway I'm a better writer than him, ho ho"). The next time they interrogated Sina, they accused him of sending articles to Hoder's blog instead.

You can say what you want about the effect blogs may or may not have on the politics of the country, but the Iranian government is certainly taking their influence very seriously. In New York, Hossein showed me a scanned handwritten testimony on the internet, that stated Hossein was linking (shock, horror) to subversive and anti-government websites. He thinks someone probably wrote it under force. His website is filtered by the government in Iran.

Join me in wishing him luck on his trip, and if you would like to support him with a little cash there is a Paypal donation link on his website. He has promised to blog, photograph and record his entire journey - in his own blog, as well as in the one he helped create right here on openDemocracy - Iran Scan 1384. In return, he asks that if he gets arrested we all blog, report and raise awareness about it as loudly as we can.

Photo: Sina Motallebi, his wife, and Hoder in Covent Garden in May.
My hand is in the photo too.

June 11, 2005 in Media & the Net | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sisters doing it in the Middle East

This week I've happened on a few articles about women in the Middle East that are worth sharing. I wish more of it were good news. But I definitely get the feeling things are getting shook up a little. Call me an optimist. There is still a long way to go.

First, the news of Iranian women busting into a stadium in Tehran for a pre-qualification game for the World Cup in spite of a stupid ban on women attending sporting events in Iran. Keep an eye on Iran Scan 1384 for more about the role of women in their upcoming election.

Second, a brave Saudi legislator, Mohamed al-Zolfa put forward a proposal on lifting the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia. If you can't chain women's legs, at least you can chain their wheels. The proposal has not been welcomed by the men in power.

Then there was this article from Egypt about several hundreds of men and women coming together to protest a sexual assault that happened on a small group of women in plain, daylight view of the police. "Overnight we have become national symbols," said one of the women, a lawyer, who was "groped" in the attack.

Finally, depressing news about the dangers women still face in Afghanistan. A female television host of a popular music programme was shot in her own home after receiving numerous death threats. And this woman's "shelter" in Kabul reportedly beats women if they try to escape. Check out Amnesty International's new report on the systemic failure to protect women in Afghanistan.

June 11, 2005 in News related | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"The Gulag of our Time"

Over the past few weeks, the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay has once again been making headlines, and interestingly, in the states there are signs of a shifting attitude towards it's status  from both politicians and the media.

Last month, Newsweek's allegations of abuse of the Qur'an by US military within the camp sparked riots and death in Afghanistan, and the subsequent retraction of the story only added to the scandal. Closely following this, Amnesty International  released their annual report, in which the detention centre was branded "the gulag of our time", prompting a strong rebuke from the Bush administration. Finally, this week, came the call from Democrat Senator Joe Biden for the closure of Guantanamo.

On the same day, the New York Times ran an editorial "Un-American by Any Name" also calling for the camp to be closed. Amongst those joining the campaign for closure is ex-President Jimmy Carter, and this week the Washington Post reported that a recent poll indicated that for the first time since the war in Iraq began, over 50% of the public believed the conflict had not made Americans safer.

However, the tide has not totally turned against camp delta, as the Wall Street Journal review, and Amnesty's retraction of the "gulag" analogy testifies. There is also evidence that errors in reporting (such as the Newsweek debacle) is providing ammunition for the bush administration and its supporters.

Discussion in our morning meeting turned to questions over media responsibility and influence, a subject covered by the BBC’s John Simpson here . Godfrey Hodgson also has an interesting article on the effect of recent scandals and errors in reporting on the mainstream American media. He sees a mainstream media in retreat, and notes that just as in the political scene, the resurgent conservative right is using recent scandal to push the more liberal left into decline.

June 9, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Francis Wheen calls it right

Sorry folks, I’ve been away and my well planned route to technological upgrade failed. Hence the long silence. Now I’m off to Brussels. The capital of a momentous disaster. I agree with Paul Hilder’s comment on my blog entry just before the French ‘Non’ and the Dutch 'Nee'. It is all very well to support them, as I did – and still do. But it is too sanguine to think that a more democratic Europe will necessary follow from a well earned rebuke to the anti-democratic character of the European elite. It is just as likely that a reactionary, retrograde process will be unleashed.

Spot on. Next week I will write about why even war might follow if Europe defaults back to its older self. But this was happening anyway. There could be no democratic future built on a constitution being pushed through by a tiny majority based on fear – the only other outcome on offer. Had this happened the disaster already taking place would have been postponed, but when it came it would have been much worse. Now, at least, an ‘popular revolt’ delivered by the ballot box opens the way to a better process.

I was fearful that I would be alone as an English Europhile who supported the European refusal. Francis Wheen has ensured a warm cohabitation. By chance I nicked from the plane's club class a copy of Saturday’s Daily Mail of 3 June. This ran an op-ed by Wheen which sets out my views better than I can. (Unfortunately, their wretched website means I can’t link to it.)

He opens with self-criticism: “For too long people like me made what philosophers call a ‘category mistake’. As pro-Europeans, we automatically defended the entity that called itself ‘Europe’ in its gradual evolution… Not any more…. There’s nothing wrong with the European ideal. What’s wrong is the arrogance of a political elite who seeks to realise it through lies instead of honest debate, who assume it can be imposed from above rather than shaped by the people.”

It is a bit like the way Christopher Hitchens thinks that the Bush invasion of Iraq is the Hitch invasion (but that too is for another day). We hoped that the Europe being created was the Europe that was needed - an advance in democratic terms not a retreat.

I was amused to learn that Liam Fox for the Tories demanded a thorough debate over the constitution, without realising that the consitution which most needs this is still Britain's own.

June 9, 2005 in Blair's Bust - UK election | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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