Today our Malaysian National Day in pensive mood: Hate politics taking its toll!


Malaysia Flag_57

Malaysian raise the Jalur Gemilang during the Amanat Merdeka deliver by Datuk Seri Najib Razak at MATIC..– M. Azhar Arif/The Star

TODAY is our National Day but the mood in the country is pensive. This has been a year when the mood has been severely dampened by those who spew divisive remarks on a continuous basis.

TODAY is our National Day. I wish I could say that I woke up early to wave the Jalur Gemilang. And that my heart is bursting with pride because it is all pumped up with extra doses of patriotic fervour.

I do recall a time not too long ago when everyone was indeed eager to wave the flag. We even had little flags on our cars and there was a genuine spirit of patriotism. We needed no reminders that we are one as a nation.

Sad to say, the mood in my neighbourhood, and in the country overall, is pensive.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a patriot. And most of us, as citizens of this blessed land, do know what allegiance to the nation means. We not only love our nation but have full respect for the institutions that bind us together.

But on a day-to-day basis, this has been a year when the mood has been severely dampened by those who spew divisive remarks on a continuous basis.

From politicians who seek the limelight for all the wrong reasons to self-appointed champions of race and religion, these people have created an environment to embolden even the lesser-known individuals and instant NGOs to amplify their extremist views.

I dare say that I am more loyal than these people. Many of us wonder why they continue to find space in the media to arti­culate their outrageous views. The publicity given them by some media outlets is akin to providing oxygen to these dangerous elements.

A vibrant democracy should provide space for the healthy discourse of differing views and perspectives. We can certainly benefit by disagreeing without being disagreeable.

But hate politics does not deserve space.

I would like to put on record that like the majority of Malaysians, I am proud that we have come so far as a nation. In just over five decades, we have surely come a long way.

There were many naysayers when we achieved independence who did not give us much of a chance of making it. They predicted that the natives, as we were called, would end up fighting each other and the whole country would end up in chaos.

Well, they thought we would be like one of those countries in Central Africa which are forever locked in a civil war involving one ethnic group or another.

Malaysia has proven them wrong. Not only did we survive but we have progressed well and we remained intact too.

So what is it that disturbs me greatly this Merdeka?

Perhaps it is the sadness over the loss of the two Malaysia Airlines planes within the same year. The meaningless loss of innocent lives on board MH17 is so hard to bear even as we despair over the fate of MH370 where the plane has yet to be found.

It has been a horrible year indeed.

But it is also the never-ending, disturbing and offensive statements from extreme personalities. Many of us wonder why these people can get away with what they say. Shouldn’t they be charged with sedition or do they have powerful backers, as some have questioned?

Sadly, it is not just these politico-types but also ordinary Malaysians who post outrageous remarks on social media. They involve normal people, some of whom I thought I know well enough. But their inability to exercise some form of self-restraint and not add fuel to the fire is highly ­worrying.

No one is spared now. Thanks to social media, these people seem to believe that they can post and put up whatever comments they want without a second thought. They do not care if their sweeping comments affect the feelings of fellow Malaysians.

Everything seems to be fair game. While politicians are expected to take even the harshest criticisms in stride, there has always been an understanding that we do not undermine the various institutions that not only make Malaysia unique but also hold us together as a people.

Even the royalty has been targeted, and many of the remarks made are not only improper but outrightly seditious. It does not help that some politicians are leading by example. If they are in Thailand, they would be in jail now.

I am sure our founding fathers, if they were alive now, would have been shocked, if not saddened, by what they see of us today.

Yes, in terms of physical development and our standard of living, we have been a shining example. We have a huge middle class, unlike other neighbouring countries where the gap between the rich and poor is wide.

This is a country where people have no worries over the next meal although many are unfit because they eat too much. We spend huge sums of money to reduce weight and even bigger amounts to slim down.

We have also become a country of whiners. We complain over our high electricity bills but we want to sleep with the air-conditioners on, while wrapped up in our blankets. Of course, it is much easier to blame the government for increasing our electricity bills.

We should be glad that we have taken away preventive laws such as the Internal Security Act and the famous detention camp in Kamunting has closed down.

But, to some people, this seems to have opened the floodgates for unrestrained remarks, often laced with extreme racial elements, to flourish.

Many of us seem unable to articulate a point or a thought over an issue without dragging the racial element in.

Many of us also cannot draw the distinction between criticism and insult.

Some have become arrogant in their line of comment while some have become so thin-skinned and sensitive that they take offence easily, sometimes blowing up over a minor issue.

I grew up in Penang where places of worship were built next to each other. This is similar in many parts of the country too. We take pride in it. Now we have bureaucrats and politicians who tell us it’s not possible because it is sensitive.

Sensitive to who? The racially twisted bureaucrats and politicians themselves, perhaps? Real people have no issue with one another.

This is a multi-racial country even though the demographic landscape has changed drastically. A plural society is an asset, not a political liability. But we seem to have reached a point where many of us are frightened, not just shy, of upholding such values lest we be seen as going against our own community and religion.

Like it or not, there are certain realities that we, as Malaysians, must accept so we can be realistic in our expectations.

For a start, the Malays are the majority and they are Muslims. We must acknow­ledge and respect their deep reverence towards Islam, the race and the royalty.

But the Chinese and Indians are here to stay, so please stop these nonsensical pendatang remarks. Together with the many other races, and especially the original inhabitants of this land, we are all Malaysians.

We need to focus on real issues within our country, which include education, health, crime and a healthy business environment. Our priority must also be to ponder seriously on how to handle race relations, religious freedom and the sentiments of the people in Sabah and Sarawak who are an integral part of Malaysia.

We need to get our act right so we can compete efficiently as a member of the global community.

We should spend more time thinking, listening and reflecting instead of making silly remarks. We can help chart a better future for Malaysia. Then we will not only fly the flag on Merdeka Day but our heart will always beat as a Malaysian too, all the time.

By Wong Chun Wai On the beat –  The Star/Asia News Network > The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own..

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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China can weigh reconnaissance on US



J11B-fighter

China and the US started a two-day meeting at the Pentagon on Wednesday to negotiate a code of conduct on the high seas, in the wake of a Chinese fighter jet intercepting a US spy plane near the Hainan Island. Although the meeting was set up before this incident, it is believed the near-miss will make a difference during the negotiations.

Given the fact that Washington’s determination to continue its short-range surveillance of China is as strong as China’s commitment to drive US planes away, whether the 2001 mid-air collision could recur has become a Sword of Damocles above their heads.

The new strategic trajectory of Asia-Pacific, namely China is growing stronger and a containment circle drawn by the US and its allies is taking shape, is changing the mindsets of both sides to define specific conflicts. If the 2001 incident happened again, the possibility of an all-out crisis between both sides will increase.

China’s rise is increasing the odds that China and the US are sliding into “mutual distrust.” A feasible way to avoid such a crisis is that both sides should reduce the chances that their vessels and planes engage in confrontation in international seas and airspace.

As of now, the confrontations usually happen in Chinese coastal waters and air spaces. The US takes it for granted, but China feels its core interests are being challenged.

There are two ways to address this kind of disputes: Washington withdraws its surveillance to an extent that China can accept, or China develops its surveillance technology and starts military reconnaissance near US territories. The latter option has become increasingly possible as China’s military technologies are advancing.

There is no doubt that Washington will find more evidence to prove that China and the US can only be adversaries, and it is possible that more conflicts will make both sides lose control of the situation. But China has no choice if Washington doesn’t restrain itself.

It seems that both China and the US are willing to build a strategic mutual trust, but the communication mechanisms are not working well.

The US says it has no plan to contain China, and China also says it has no intention to drive US out of Asia. But the US wants to maintain its absolute superiority in strength, and China is sparing no effort to bridge the gap.

Thus, it is hard for Washington and Beijing to reach a consensus on this issue, and they have to get used to each other.

But Washington must note that making troubles on China’s doorstep can only stir up China’s determination to defend its legitimate interests. In this regard, the US is much less determined than China.

China can put up a tough stand against the US in this short-range surveillance matter, and develop its capability to conduct such surveillance to the US as soon as possible, as long as China will not threaten the national security of the US.

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-8-28 0:33:01

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Reconnaissance damages trust

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Surveillance spoils military engagement

China cannot stop US reconnaissance, but can take countermeasures. If the US is sincere about building up a major power relationship with China, it should adopt a more restrained manner.

Medicines for ailing MAS : losses RM2bil, 6,000 job cuts, RM6bil capital injection a bailout?


MAS Planes

Malaysia Airlines to cut 6,000 staff, new company to be formed – CCTV News – CCTV.com English http://t.cn/RhZECT7

New medicine for ailing MAS

FOR the first time ever, a government-linked company (GLC) will lay off workers and renegotiate contracts with suppliers and employees – a move that will obliterate the view that companies owned by the Government provide steady employment and are safe paymasters.

In its strongest action to rehabilitate the ailing Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the Government has given its undertaking to its investment arm, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, with the necessary legislation to bring the employees and suppliers to the negotiation table.

This is among the highlights of a 12-point plan unveiled by Khazanah yesterday to resuscitate MAS.

To recap, Khazanah, in a bid to save MAS, has proposed to take it private and delist it by year-end. It has a 69% equity in MAS and has offered to buy the remaining 31% in the airline at 27 sen a share.

A new Bill called the MAS Act will be tabled in Parliament before July next year to facilitate the migration of MAS’ existing operations into a new company (Newco), which will take over MAS’ operations on July 1 next year.

“The MAS Act is to facilitate the migration of the existing operations to a Newco. It is something that was proposed by the Government so that a new airline can take over. It will have a finite life,” Khazanah managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar told the media yesterday.

“The Government will allow the transfer of the AOC (air operator’s certificate) and tax losses to the Newco.”

Apart from the establishment of a Newco to carry on the business of the existing airline, the plan calls for the conversion of some debt into equity and Khazanah injecting RM6bil more into the airline. Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (KWAP) agreed to swap its RM750mil existing perpetual sukuk with ordinary equity, meaning that it will eventually become shareholder in MAS.

Azman: ‘The MAS Act is to facilitate the migration of the existing operations to a Newco’.

Of the RM6bil, a sum of RM1.4bil is for the privatisation of MAS, RM1.6bil for cost incurred in shutting down the existing company and a voluntary separation scheme to reduce the workforce by 6,000 and penalties for early termination of contracts with suppliers, and RM3bil for working capital for the Newco to take over the operations.

Since taking over MAS in 2001 from Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli, Khazanah has injected more than RM7bil into MAS, which Azman does not think would be recoverable.

However, he is confident that the RM6bil capital that will be pumped in can be recovered.

“We have done the financial modelling and are confident that the money can be recovered,” he said.

“Also, it is a conditional injection of funds, meaning that the money will only be available subject to the MAS management fulfilling the conditions set out in the recovery plan.”

Azman admits that renegotiating contracts with suppliers, leasing agents and converting debt to equity could have some effect on the credit ratings of MAS and other companies within the stable of the strategic investment fund.

However, he opines that the shedding of the workforce and the renegotiations of contracts is only to bring about a significant change in work practices and supply contracts.

“It would not be done arbitrarily. There is some bench-marking on the pricing of the contracts. The suppliers will be given an option to migrate to the Newco on new terms,” he said.

Azman is also confident that the new MAS will achieve profitability by the end of 2017. The new plan will also see net gearing reduced from 290% now to about 100% -125% eventually.

But not many share Azman’s sentiments, as MAS has undertaken half a dozen restructuring exercises over the past 13 years and yet remains in dire straits.

“I obviously do not share the same sentiments as Azman and am not as optimistic about seeing a profit in 2017. I don’t think the new plan goes far enough to resolve the structural problems within the airline. You can call it downsizing or rightsizing, and the plan may appear bold and courageous by slashing 6,000 jobs, but the question is: how much can you actually save from that?” Shukor Yusof, an analyst with Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, asks.

He says, “The real issue in MAS the past decade is an ill-conceived strategy and financial mismanagement. That’s the key contributors to the losses, shareholder value destruction and the mess built up over the years. While I do agree that MAS is overstaffed, resulting in low productivity levels compared to Singapore Airlines (SIA) or Cathay Pacific, it is not a critical aspect of the overall picture. The losses registered over the years by the airline are not because the airline is overstaffed, but because it had a management which, unfortunately, had little understanding of the airline industry and was slow to adapt to the dynamics of the landscape of the industry,” Shukor says.

Route rationalisation 

MAS has been loss-making for the past 10 quarters, and the amount has ballooned since the two tragedies hit the airline within a space of four months since March this year. The first was on March 8 when a plane, MH370 en route to Beijing, disappeared.

The second was on July 17 when MH17, which was on the way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down while flying over Ukraine.

Even before the first airline tragedy on March 8, the airline was already losing close to RM1bil a year due to competition from low-cost carriers and Middle-Eastern full-service carriers (FSCs).

However, the losses exacerbated to RM2bil following the airline tragedies.

For the second quarter of 2014, MAS announced on Thursday an RM307mil net loss, bringing its first-half losses to RM750mil.

 

A lack of demand and the massive cancellations of flights has become a norm after the two incidents, and the policy to refund passengers after the MH17 mishap has further seen flight bookings going down. The airline’s strategy of pushing for loads at the expense of yields has also backfired. However, it has embarked on a new plan to drop fares to win back customers, a strategy which, however, does not guarantee high yields, which MAS needs.

MAS’ current yield of 20 sen per seat kilometre is lower than Cathay Pacific’s 24 sen and SIA’s 22.9 sen.

Azman says there are several conditions for the money to be injected into MAS.

Among them is route rationalisation, whereby the emphasis is on destinations that are within eight hours of flying time. The plan is also to bring short-haul cost within the 15% of the low-cost carrier competition, at parity with Middle-Eastern FSCs and below those of the regional FSC competition. The Newco will only focus on profitable routes and secure global connectivity via oneworld and other alliances, says Khazanah, adding that MAS will come up with a business plan and fleet requirements.

Maybank Investment Bank senior analyst Mohshin Aziz says that with one-third of the jobs going, the route network also needs to be reduced by one-third.

“We were hoping to get the details of the route cuts, but they were not forthcoming. We really believe MAS should terminate its long-haul routes, such as Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, Istanbul and even Dubai as soon as possible.

“They need to reduce frequencies on their Australian routes to twice daily from thrice daily now, and terminate the Brisbane and Adelaide routes,” Mohshin says.

Since the network will be reconfigured, MAS will also have to reduce the number of aircraft it flies from its current fleet of 127 to bring down cost.

Khazanah says MAS needs to renew its focus on revenue management to increase unit revenue by 10% to 15%, and among other things, it needs to also unbundle ancillary products and services and revamp its loyalty programme.

Staff buy-in

A major part of the success of Khazanah’s new plan for MAS hinges on the support of the airline’s employees and their unions. Yesterday, Azman met representatives of the unions to tell them of the new plan, but will the unions support the plan?

A major part of the success of Khazanah’s new plan for MAS hinges on the support of the airline’s employees and their unions.

“It was a good and frank discussion. I think we were at pains to try and explain what would be happening. And explain that the vessel of the Newco will not be able to carry everybody,” Azman says.

Throughout the day, Khazanah officials and MAS senior team members had various briefing sessions with its employees.

For now, the ties are somewhat strained between the senior team and many of the unions and their members, with many worried about the selection process of who would be axed.

Under the new plan, MAS will undertake a voluntary separation scheme to reduce its workforce to 14,000, with the plan also involving reskilling, redeployment and job creation.

“There seems to be a renewed effort to harmonise now so that Khazanah’s vision of rebuilding a national icon will succeed. But at a glance, the plan is wishy-washy and they are not able to give us details. We are worried as to who will decide on who stays and who leaves. We also do not want the existing team to decide, as there would be no professionalism, only partiality,’’ said a source.

Khazanah says the process of transfer migration and separation will be conducted with “utmost care, fairness and due process”.

A Khazanah official added that “the decision on who stays and who leaves will be done by the Newco”.

“The search for a new chief executive officer (CEO) for the Newco has begun and we are looking at both Malaysian leadership talent and global aviation specialists, basically for the CEO (post),” Azman says.

“Hopefully they will hire the best in the industry and not just anyone for the hot seat. It should be someone with entrepreneurial spirit and expertise to drive profits,’’ says an expert.

The current group CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya will leave MAS in June next year.

The plan to set up a Newco is also seen as a way to weaken MAS’ vociferous unions, although an expert says that the Newco could also set up new unions, provided there are no conditions attached to the Newco’s staff appointment letters.

Would minority shareholders sell out?

The biggest challenge Khazanah will face is whether it can get enough minority shareholders and institutional funds to vote in favour of its plan to privatise MAS at an EGM to be called in the coming weeks.

It needs 100% acceptance to take MAS private, and then there will be grounds for the Act to be established.

Khazanah cannot vote at the EGM, given the fact that it is an interested party and institutional shareholders only hold less than a 4% equity in MAS.

Now that there is a serious plan to resuscitate MAS, it is possible that some minorities may want to hold back and not sell their shares. Not only will MAS be profitable by 2017, but there is also a plan to relist the Newco in 2018-2020.

“There will be some minorities who will give up their shares, as holding MAS has been one painful episode. But there are yet others who may see that there is going to be creation of value in the future. So, why sell and miss out on future growth?” opined a source.

However, if Khazanah fails to get 100% equity in MAS, then the entire revival plan will be off.

By B.K. Sidhu The Star/Asia News Network

Radical plan to revive MAS

Khazanah Nasional Bhd has unveiled a radical plan to revive the ailing Malaysia Airlines that calls for job cuts, a capital injection of up to RM6bil and creation of a new company (Newco) to carry the airline business.

To facilitate the migration of the existing business to Newco, the Government will table a new law in Parliament called the MAS Act.

Khazanah managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar said that the new legislation would have a finite life and was needed to facilitate the migration of the existing business to Newco.

In a move to ensure that Newco has a leaner workforce and cleaner balance sheet to compete effectively in a tough operating environment, Khazanah wants to see job cuts of 30% from the existing MAS workforce of 20,000 employees.

It is one of the many conditions Khazanah has imposed on the management of MAS if it were to inject more funds into the ailing airline.

“In our opinion, we think that Newco with its business model will require a workforce of about 14,000. A net reduction of 30% is an across-the-board number,” said Azman at a media briefing yesterday.

The job cuts also affect the top leadership of MAS, which comprises a team of 500 staff called the Extended Leadership Team (ELT). Most of them were holding senior positions with long service.

Azman said the current chief executive officer (CEO) of MAS, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, has indicated his wish to leave.

In commending the MAS CEO for having led the airline during its toughest period, Azman said Ahmad Jauhari would remain in place until the transition.

“We have embarked on a global search for a new CEO and have engaged an international firm to undertake the task,” he said.

Some of the other conditions of the 12-point plan mapped by Khazanah for the recovery of MAS include the relocation of the airline’s existing headquarters in Subang to the KL International Airport and Khazanah owning 100% of MAS.

Towards this end, Khazanah is undertaking a privatisation of MAS at 27 sen per share.

Azman clarified that Khazanah had engaged a consultancy to undertake a review of MAS on Feb 26 this year, before the first airline tragedy on March 8.

“The review came about after the Government was concerned about the financial and general state of affairs in MAS,” he said.

On March 8, a MAS aircraft en route to Beijing went missing and further exacerbated the airline’s losses.

The Cabinet approved MAS’ proposal on Wednesday and yesterday the various stakeholders, which are mainly the unions, existing airline management and some key directors, were summoned for a briefing.

The management and union have been told to work together to decide the shedding of the workforce, he said.

The MAS Act is expected to arm Khazanah with the necessary bite to carry out the radical measures, especially in negotiating the new contracts and collective agreements of the unions.

“The Act would allow for the Air Operators Certificate (AOC) to be transferred from the existing MAS to Newco and the assets and liabilities,” said Azman.

By July 1 next year, Newco is expected to take off.

Azman said that employees who were not absorbed into Newco would be offered a retrenchment scheme or given an option to be absorbed into a scheme for re-training.

Towards this end, Khazanah is working with three business process outsourcing firms that have vacancies for 3,500.

Azman said Khazanah explored several options in coming up with the plan.

“Putting in more money into MAS would not save MAS. So we felt that enabling MAS to start on a clean slate and putting in new money into Newco provided it met the conditions stated was the best option,” he said. – The Star

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What the hack were they up to, MH370?


HackingHackers target information on MH370 probe

The computers of high-ranking officials in agencies involved in the MH370 investigation were hacked and classified information was stolen.

The stolen information was allegedly being sent to a computer in China before CyberSecurity Malaysia – a Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation agency – had the transmissions blocked and the infected machines shut down.

The national cyber security specialist agency revealed that sophisticated malicious software (malware), disguised as a news article reporting that the missing Boeing 777 had been found, was emailed to the officials on March 9, a day after the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane vanished during its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Attached to the email was an executable file that was made to look like a PDF document, which released the malware when a user clicked on it.

A source told The Star that officials in the Department of Civil Aviation, the National Security Council and MAS were among those targeted by the hackers.

“We received reports from the administration of the agencies telling us that their network was congested with email going out of their servers,” said CyberSecurity Malaysia chief executive Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab.

“Those email contained confidential data from the officials’ computers including the minutes of meetings and classified documents. Some of these were related to the MH370 investigation.”

About 30 computers were infected by the malware, CyberSecurity Malaysia said. It discovered that the malware was sending the information to an IP address in China and asked the Internet service provider in that region to block it.

An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a unique numerical label assigned to each device on a computer network.

“This was well-crafted malware that antivirus programs couldn’t detect. It was a very sophisticated attack,” Amirudin said.

The agency and police are working with Interpol on the incident.

CyberSecurity Malaysia suspects the motivation for the hacking was the MH370 investigations.

“At that time, there were some people accusing the Government of not releasing crucial information,” Amirudin said. “But everything on the investigation had been disclosed.”

Flight MH370 with 239 on board went missing on March 8 about 45 minutes after take-off.

Expert: Spearphishing needs a lot of planning and work

Hacker Anatomy of Spearphishing attack

Spearphishing attacks such as the ones that targeted the Civil Aviation Department and the National Security Council require a lot of planning and work, said a cyber security expert.

These point to either a very skilled attacker or group of hackers who have the know-how to spoof an email address to make it appear as if the message is coming from a familiar sender, said Dhillon Kannabhiran.

He is chief executive of Hack In The Box which organises the annual HITBSecConf series of network security conferences.

He said that sensitive and confidential documents should always be encrypted as an added layer of security against hackers.

How sophisticated an attack was, Kannabhiran said, depended on which version of the Microsoft Windows operating system was on the victim’s computer and how up to date the system security was.

By Nicholas Cheng, The Star/Asia News Network

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USA Today: US print newspapers break-ups without financial support


Gannett, publisher of USA Today and dozens of other newspapers, became the latest to unveil its plan, splitting its print and broadcast operations into two separate units in a move to ‘sharpen’ the focus of each. – AFP

Washington (AFP) – Following an unprecedented series of spinoffs by major US media companies, the print news industry now faces a rocky future without financial support from deep-pocketed parent firms.

The wave of corporate breakups comes with newspapers and magazines struggling in a transition to digital news, and shareholders of media conglomerates increasingly intolerant of the lagging print segment.

Gannett, publisher of USA Today and dozens of other newspapers, became the latest to unveil its plan, splitting its print and broadcast operations into two separate units in a move to “sharpen” the focus of each.

This follows the recently completed spinoff by Tribune Co. of its newspaper group, which includes the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, and Time Warner’s separation of its magazine publishing group Time Inc.

Two other newspaper groups, EW Scripps and Journal Communications, announced last month they would merge and then spin off their combined newspaper operations while creating a separate entity focused on broadcasting and digital media.

The trend arguably took hold last year with Rupert Murdoch’s split of his empire into separate firms focused on media-entertainment and publishing — 21st Century Fox and the newly structured News Corp.

- ‘Cast out of house’ -

The wave of spinoffs “certainly plays into the perception that these are children being cast out of the house by their parents,” said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.

Newspapers were snapped up by media groups in an era when print was hugely profitable, but other segments of the media conglomerates are now driving profits, such as local television.

“The market doesn’t think much of the newspaper industry’s future,” Jurkowitz said.

Industry consultant Alan Mutter argues that publicly traded newspaper firms still produce an average profit margin of 16 percent, higher than that of Walmart and Amazon.

But Mutter said on his blog that profits and newsroom staffing have taken a huge hit in recent years, and that newspapers have failed to do enough in the digital arena.

“Rather than reliably ‘owning’ their audiences as they once did in print, the internal metrics at every newspaper show an increasing dependence on the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter to generate the traffic that is the lifeblood of any media enterprise,” he said.

Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, said newspapers are recovering from the negative impact of earlier corporate tie-ups.

“It’s really corporate debt and the expectations of Wall Street that have done as much to damage the newspapers business as Craigslist,” Kennedy told AFP.

“Newspaper margins are still pretty good. And when you have newspapers owned by private companies without debt, some of them are doing pretty well.”

Some analysts say that the breakup of big media firms may force publishers to create ways to connect with readers online. “The real problem with newspaper industry has not been with the dead tree part, it is the failure to monetize the digital eyeballs,” Jurkowitz said.

“Unless there is an increase in digital revenue streams it’s hard to imaging them getting out of the situation they are in.”

The industry is closely watching the efforts of newspapers like the New York Times, which is experimenting with new digital access plans, and the Washington Post, which under new owner Jeff Bezos has boosted online readership to record highs.

- ‘Not the death phase’ -

Kennedy said that while newspapers may be profitable and an important part of the community, they may not be able to meet Wall Street’s expectations for growth.

“It’s not a growing business,” Kennedy said.

Private owners can still keep the business in the black, said Kennedy, citing the record of Boston Globe’s new owner, sports magnate John Henry.

But he said that newspapers need to make considerable investments “to make a smart transition to digital” in the coming years.

Peter Copeland, a former Scripps Howard News Service editor and general manager who now is a media consultant, said the breakups are logical and generally positive for newspapers.

“It’s better for the newspapers and TV to be separate,” Copeland said. “They were never a match. They are very different businesses.”

Now, he said the owners “will be able to focus 100 percent on the newspapers.”

Copeland said newspapers may end up severing their corporate ties and going back to their roots of local and private ownership.

“Newspapers always had difficulty” being part of corporate empires, said Copeland.

“I think newspapers are entering another phase. It’s not the death phase, it’s just another phase in the life cycle.” – AFP

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Let the sunshine & natural light in for better health, quality life, more sleep at night


Sunshine_windowsA study has concluded that windows in the workplace could mean up to 173% more white light exposure during the day and an average of 46 minutes more sleep at night. – AFP

A STUDY from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign indicates that all-day exposure to natural light, even by means of a window, leads to longer sleep duration at night, as well as increased physical activity and quality of life.

“There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day, particularly in the morning, is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism,” says senior study author Dr Phyllis Zee, a Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist.

The study was conducted on office workers, and windows in the workplace could mean up to 173% more white light exposure during the day and an average of 46 minutes more sleep at night, researchers concluded.

They also noted a trend of workers with more light exposure being more physically active than their counterparts.

In the study, researchers surveyed 49 day-shift office workers, of which 27 worked in windowless offices and 22 had windows in their offices.

Quality of life and everything health-related was self-reported, whereas sleep was assessed by means of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).

A subset of 21 participants was surveyed for light exposure, activity and sleep by means of actigraphy. Ten of these participants worked in windowless environments and 11 hailed from workplaces with windows.

Actigraphy logs ambulatory physiological data, in this case motion and light illuminance, by means of a scientific wearable device.

“Light is the most important synchronizing agent for the brain and body,” says Ivy Cheung, co-lead author and Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience in Zee’s lab at Northwestern. “Proper synchronization of your internal biological rhythms with the earth’s daily rotation has been shown to be essential for health.”

Sunlight is an important source of vitamin D and a CDC report indicates sun exposure is important even for breast-fed babies, despite the high quantities of vitamin D in breast milk.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. – AFP Relaxnews

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China’s Internet giants, Tencent to undercut Alibaba with billion chat app users


CHINA's Internet giants


Tencent Holdings Ltd. (700) faces the prospect of losing its position as Asia’s most-valuable Internet company this year after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) goes public. The Shenzhen-based company isn’t going to concede quietly.

Tencent is taking on Alibaba in almost every business related to the Web, from games to security to search. In the latest escalation of the battle, Tencent is expanding in messaging services and using the technology to drive customers to its e-commerce partners — in a direct challenge to its rival.

The fight exposes a rare vulnerability for Alibaba, which is planning an initial public offering that may be the largest in U.S. history.

Tencent has an enormous lead in messaging, with about a billion users for its QQ and WeChat products, compared with Alibaba’s last target of 100 million for its offerings.

Tencent is projected to report a 52 percent surge in profit when it announces second-quarter results today, bolstered by messaging.

“Tencent is using Mobile QQ and WeChat to take traffic away from Alibaba and direct people to e-commerce platforms backed by itself,” said Bill Fan, a Hong Kong-based analyst at China Securities Co. “Instant messaging hasn’t been Alibaba’s strong point, but it sees the viral effect that Tencent’s app is having so it’s trying to develop similar services.”

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., 24 percent owned by Yahoo! Inc., is competing with Tencent… Read More

Tencent’s two technologies let people trade messages over mobile phones and tablets, akin to the WhatsApp service that Facebook Inc. (FB) agreed to acquire this year for $19 billion.

QQ, which began as an instant-messaging service on desktop computers and was repurposed for use on mobile devices, has about 848 million monthly active users. WeChat, known as Weixin in China, has 396 million. (WhatsApp has more than half a billion active users.)

Most Valuable

The success of the messaging services has helped boost Tencent’s market value to about $161 billion, making it the most valuable Internet company in Asia.

Alibaba will compete for that title after it goes public. The latest estimate is that after the IPO the company could be valued at $187 billion, according to a survey of 11 analysts by Bloomberg. Tencent shares declined 0.2 percent as of 9:52 a.m. in Hong Kong trading, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index was unchanged.

Alibaba is trying to close the gap in messaging. In September, it started offering a service called Laiwang. Still, Tencent has continued to expand the features available through its apps to maintain its lead

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
QQ and WeChat helped triple Tencent’s mobile-game revenue to 1.8 billion yuan in the… Read More

“In the latest version of QQ, we have upgraded it to a platform for food, drinking and entertainment, and the number of cities we cover is also expanding,” said Dowson Tong, president of the company’s social network group that oversees QQ, in a recent interview.

Revenue Boost

Tencent has integrated games more tightly into its messaging services to capitalize on the China online gaming market, which IResearch projects will expand to 225 billion yuan by 2017.

QQ and WeChat helped triple Tencent’s mobile-game revenue to 1.8 billion yuan in the first quarter from the previous three months.

That trend likely continued in the second quarter. Tencent’s profit rose to 5.59 billion yuan in the three months ended June, according to the average of 11 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

That would make the second successive quarter with profit growth of more than 50 percent. Earnings climbed 61 percent in the three months ended March 2011.

QQ was the first iconic product billionaire Ma Huateng created at Tencent in 1999, two years after AOL Inc. (AOL)’s messaging service took off.

As more Chinese accessed the Internet, instant messaging became the most popular online app. Ma restructured QQ’s divisions in 2012 to take it mobile and the effort paid off.

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
QQ was the first iconic product billionaire Ma Huateng created at Tencent in 1999, two… Read More

Last year, 83 percent of China’s Internet users subscribed to Mobile QQ and 80 percent to WeChat, compared with Laiwang’s 23 percent, according to a survey among almost 4,000 people by Shanghai-based IResearch in June.

Stake Purchases

Tencent is now leveraging its vast user base to go after a bigger share of the China e-commerce market, which IResearch estimates will more than double from last year to 21.6 trillion yuan ($3.5 trillion) in 2017.

The company in March took a 15 percent stake in JD.com Inc., a direct competitor to Alibaba, and folded its own e-commerce assets into the venture. This year, Tencent has also agreed to buy 19.9 percent of Craigslist-like 58.com Inc. and take a 20 percent stake in Dianping.com, a website similar to Yelp Inc. that users review restaurants in China.

Single Click

Tencent has been working closely with JD.com and Dianping, directing traffic from Mobile QQ and WeChat to the websites, said Tong.

Those steps are beginning to yield results. A new single-click link to JD.com from Weixin produced an eightfold increase in daily transaction volumes compared with an earlier access that took two clicks, JD.com said in June. This month a similar integration with JD.com was provided to users of Mobile QQ.

Still, Tencent and its partners are far behind in e-commerce. Alibaba, which operates platforms including Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com that connect retail brands with consumers, accounted for 76.4 percent of total mobile retail transactions in China, according to its IPO filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The fact that Tencent wrapped its e-commerce assets into JD.com shows it wants to limit its investment in the segment, said Yao Yue, a Shenzhen-based analyst with Morningstar Inc.

“Even if Tencent’s instant messaging apps can direct a lot of traffic to JD.com, at the end of the day it still depends on who has the better shopping service, and Alibaba’s Taobao is dominant,” said Yao.

Alibaba hasn’t been able to achieve the same success in mobile messaging so far. The company in 2004 started Aliwangwang, a PC-based instant messenger for buyers and sellers, that is now used for negotiating prices, customer services and delivery notifications on its Taobao marketplace. It also has a mobile version called Wangxin.

Lagging Behind

Laiwang was started by Alibaba to broaden its reach, after billionaire founder Jack Ma alluded to Tencent being ahead in the messaging race at a Credit Suisse conference in March 2013.

“We also invested heavily, but we are not that lucky and not creative, so creative like Tencent, which has WeChat, such a powerful thing,” Ma said at the conference.

Ma has vigorously tried to promote Laiwang and said the company wouldn’t pay bonuses to staff who didn’t get 100 clients for the app before Nov. 30 last year, according to a post on the company’s microblog.

In an attempt to generate revenue from Laiwang, Alibaba said in January it would offer games on the app. A month later Alibaba’s Ma said the company’s achievement on mobile applications wasn’t satisfactory.

Alibaba spokeswoman Florence Shih declined to comment on the company’s mobile strategies, citing pre-IPO restrictions.

Jin Yuan, a Shenzhen mobile phone user, underscores the lead that Tencent has in messaging. Jin has been a QQ subscriber for the past 13 years and says Tencent does a better job of making messaging apps that are easy to use.

“I use QQ to keep in touch with friends I’ve known since the PC age and I use it for a lot of group chats,” Jin said. “I like to use WeChat a lot for sharing information about good places for food.”

By Lulu Yilun Chen Bloomberg

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