Singapore 3rd best on Newsweek list if…

Singapore ranks 20th on the world's best countries list compiled by Newsweek. But it would have the third highest score if the list didn't include the political category.

If you look at the chart, it includes five categories: education, health, quality of life, economic dynamism and political environment. Newsweek says the list gives equal weight to all five categories.

Newsweek list of world's 20 best countries

The chart shows Singapore ranked first in economic dynamism, fourth in education, seventh in health and 23rd in quality of life but 67th in political environment. That is what dragged it down. Leave aside the political environment and tot up the scores (shown in brackets in the chart) in the other categories. And only two countries emerge with higher scores than Singapore: Switzerland followed by Finland. Japan comes a close fourth.

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Time, Newsweek and Economist earnings

Newsweek wants to stop chasing the news and lose circulation, according to the New York Times. It wants to deliver more opinion pieces to a smaller readership. In other words, Newsweek wants to be more like the Economist, the healthiest of the three international newsweeklies.

The Economist has the fewest subscribers and possibly the lowest advertising rates. A one-time run-of the-book full-page colour ad costs $39, 950 in its Asia Pacific edition. A similar ad costs $57,585 in Newsweek’s Asian edition and  $77,200 in Time’s Asian edition. (All prices quoted from the companies’ rate cards.) 

The Economist sells nearly 134,000 copies a week in Asia Pacific and close to 1.4 million throughout the world. Newsweek sells just over three million copies including 200,000 in Asia and 2.6 million in the US. It plans to reduce circulation to 1.5 million by January next year. Time sells over four million copies including 3.25 million in the US and nearly 280,000 in  Asia. But only the Economist Group is making a profit. Here are the latest financial reports by the owners of Newsweek, Time and the Economist.

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India’s communist problem

Newsweek’s international edition’s cover this week articulates my own feelings. "Why India is blowing its chance", says the headline above a picture of a dejected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And the subhead adds,"The architect of the boom has a plan to vault India into the great-power club, only the communists stand in the way".

What it doesn’t say is, the communists also maintain relations with the communist party of China, which has a border dispute with India and helps Pakistan in various ways.

Anyone who follows the news knows how China feels about India’s growing closeness to the US. But the Chinese needn’t worry; they can count on their Indian communist friends to stall the Indo-US nuclear energy agreement.

Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is fiercely opposed to the deal, calling it a bid to "encircle" China. He cuts an almost Stalinist figure in the Newsweek article, which begins:

From his fortress-like red sandstone headquarters near New Delhi’s Connaught Place — a bustling commercial hub lined with McDonald’s, foreign banks and boutiques — Prakash Karat, India’s reigning communist ideologue, is fighting to kill his country’s
economic- and political-reform process…

That Karat — the feisty, British-educated
59-year-old general secretary of the Communist Party of India
(Marxist), or CPI-M — has come to dominate New Delhi’s agenda is
remarkable, given that he has little national following, has never held
elected public office and holds ideas that were already out of date 15
years ago, when most communist systems came crashing down… That’s because the
Congress Party-led coalition has just a razor-thin majority in
Parliament, which has forced it to lean on Karat for support, turning
him into a kingmaker…

Karat even threatened to bring down the government over the nuclear issue. But he was advised to cool it by party leaders from the communist-ruled state of West Bengal who have their own problems. After three decades in power, they are meeting armed resistance from peasants in Nandigram where they want to acquire land and build chemical plants. They don’t want the Congress party to step into the conflict. So Karat has not been able to carry out his threat, but he could still wreck any nuclear deal, says Newsweek.

Newsweek simplifies the issue by casting the communists as the only opponents to the deal. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian scientists have also raised objections. But they have cited national interests, not a plot to "encircle" China.

A Newsweek online article which calls it a "sweetheart deal" glosses over the constraints it places on India, which became a nuclear power on its own. But could India get a better deal?

The Economist says:

To most neutrals, this looks like a steal for India. It has an urgent
need of imported uranium to cope with a worsening energy shortfall. The
special treatment that the deal would afford India would confirm its
rising status, and cement a growing friendship with America. Yet that
is what the communists object to.

That doesn’t make the communists sound very friendly or patriotic, does it?

New Singapore rules for Time, Newsweek, International Herald Tribune

I don’t know how I missed the news in the local papers, but on Google News today I learnt that Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times will have to follow new rules to operate in Singapore.

They will have to appoint a legal representative in Singapore "to accept service of any notice or legal process on behalf of the publisher" and submit a security deposit of 200,000 Singapore dollars (about $127,000), says the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA). I visited the government website to verify the reports in the Guardian and Reporters Without Borders which were picked up by Google News.

The ball starts rolling with the Far Eastern Economic Review which has been given time until September 11 to follow the new rules. And it has to follow them "before it can be allowed to circulate in Singapore", says the ministry.

I don’t read the Review but, according to  Reporters Without Borders, it published an interview with Singapore opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, calling him a "martyr" because of various lawsuits against him.

The ministry, however, says as a foreign publication it has to follow the same rules as other "offshore newspapers".  Offshore newspapers need a permit to circulate in Singapore. The Review’s circulation will remain capped at 10,000 copies, says the ministry.

The same rules will apply to Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times when their current permits expire. They have so far been exempted from these rules laid down by the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. But "there have been changes in the media scene . In view of these developments, MICA has reviewed the exempt status of offshore newspapers circulating in Singapore," says the ministry.

It adds that "it is a privilege, not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore" and they "should not interfere in the domestic politics of Singapore".

I wonder if this means Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times will also have their circulation capped like the Far Eastern Economic Review. That’s not mentioned in the ministry press release online.

The great thing about Singapore is it’s so cosmopolitan, so well-connected to the world. Internet broadband connections are widely available and even news kiosks at some of the bus interchanges sell Time, Newsweek and The Economist. And if one visits one of the bigger bookshops like Borders or Kinokuniya, one can get anything from Wired magazine to New Yorker and Vanity Fair. It will be sad if one can’t get them as and when one wants. The local media is fine, but it’s only natural to be curious about what others are saying.

Jihad Momani

Jihad_momani I was amazed when I first heard on the BBC that a newspaper in Jordan had reprinted the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed — and not surprised at all when the BBC added that the newspaper’s editor had been fired and arrested for "insulting religion" by running the cartoons. I expected to hear more about him — he is an Arab, a Muslim, publishing the cartoons in a Muslim country of all places — but surprisingly he seemed to disappear from the news. It seemed strange that the media were reporting on the outrage in the Muslim world and what the European media and the governments had to say while virtually ignoring a Muslim journalist who had the courage/foolhardiness to reprint them. Well, Jihad Momani was interviewed by Newsweek before getting arrested — and he said he did not mean to insult religion at all. He published the "silly cartoons" in his weekly, Shihan, to calm down the people. "I was trying to calm them down, to tell them these cartoons are not the end of the world, that insults have happened before and will happen again. The cartoons are silly. They don’t deserve such an intense reaction," he said.

Yes, indeed, the cartoons are silly. But he should have also realised the danger he was putting himself in. Getting arrested was the least of the risks. Insulting religion carries the death penalty in countries like Pakistan. Ayatollah Khomeini ordered a hit on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses.  The Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen had to flee overseas after fundamentalists wanted her killed after she wrote about the torture of Hindus in Bangladesh in her book, Lajja (Shame).

I can only wonder how Momani found the courage/foolhardiness to publish the cartoons. He is no utopian. "What we are seeing here is a conflict between civilizations, West and East. We must put an end to this struggle because it simply isn’t good for our future," he said.

But if he could turn back the clock, he added, " I wouldn’t publish the cartoons. I feel I haven’t done anything wrong but I wouldn’t do this again. I believe in freedom of the press and I have always fought for it. But what I wanted to do was to show the people exactly what they were protesting against. When I looked at these images, I just saw silly cartoons without any meaning."

He is right. I am sure there are other people in his country who feel the same way too but dare not say so. Those in Europe who defended the cartoons in the name of  "freedom of expression" should realise how serious the consequences can be for people who feel the same way in the Middle East.

Imran Khan and Newsweek

154pximran It’s incredible. Imran Khan, Oxford blue, Pakistani cricketing legend, ex-husband of the late British billionaire James Goldsmith’s daughter Jemima, is now apparently a Muslim firebrand. Newsweek magazine is accusing him of whipping up anti-American feelings in Pakistan and Afghanistan after it reported — inaccurately, it now says — that US interrogators desecrated the Koran.

"The spark was apparently lit at a press conference held on Friday, May 6, by Imran Khan,” said Newsweek. "Brandishing a copy of that week’s Newsweek (dated May 9), Khan read a report that US interrogators at Guantanamo prison had placed the Quran on toilet seats and even flushed one. ‘This is what the US is doing,’ exclaimed Khan, ‘desecrating the Koran.’ Khan’s remarks, as well as the outraged comments of Muslim clerics and Pakistani government officials, were picked up on local radio and played throughout neighboring Afghanistan," Newsweek added.

Khan had every reason to be outraged by the alleged desecration of the Holy Book. But he is also a politician who knew the forces he was unleashing with his shock announcement.

Newsweek should not, however, blame him for the riots that followed that claimed at least 15 lives. For that it has only itself to blame. What did it expect when it reported the story? As an international newsmagazine, it should have known the turmoil it would create in the Muslim world.

It’s all very well to say journalists should report without fear or favour, but let’s get real, folks. Words can hurt, words can kill. And that’s what happened in this case. And nobody is the winner. Newsweek has had to eat its words, its credibility damaged. The Pentagon says the report was baseless. But Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t believe what the Pentagon says, reports Reuters.

I will still read Newsweek. But it should not have touched this story. When the story broke, I was awed by the freedom of the US media that it could expose a story so damaging to national interests. But will it continue to enjoy such freedom? Political Animal reports: "A recent poll showed that 43% of the American public thinks the press has too much freedom." After this incident, those numbers are likely to rise even higher.