Stiletto by Max Kolbe – April, 2008

Britney Outshines Iraq as Playboy Hits The Philippines

Five years after the invasion of Iraq and the US death toll has passed 4,000, but less and less people are noticing as the conflict is being relegated on the list of most important stories.

The number one daily stories are now more likely to be oil or dollar reports as America tries to avert a recession.

“People see gas going up and the price of their house going down …. It’s more immediate than the Iraq war,” Bob Stover, managing editor of Florida Today in Melbourne, Florida was recently reported as saying.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), which measures news content weekly in a mix of US newspapers, websites, television and radio also declared a shift away from the violence in Iraq.

It says in all of 2007 the Iraq war occupied an average 15.5 percent of the “newshole” in the media, in the last quarter it fell to nine percent, and then to 3.9 percent in the first quarter of 2008.

The PEJ’s Paul Hitlin said stories about the US economy filled 1.9 percent of the newshole last year, according to Hitlin, but hit 8.2 percent between January 1 and March 23 this year.

Not surprisingly the perils of troubled pop star Britney Spears overshadowed Iraq while Ron Nessen, a former NBC television correspondent and White House press secretary at the end of the Vietnam War, attributed the falloff in interest to US successes in quelling violence in Iraq.

As the Olympic torch winds its way around the planet and Tibetan activists plot their next move, spare a thought for journalists in Nepal who were all but hogtied and flogged during the recent protests.

While noone wants to compare events in Nepal with the extent of the crackdown in Tibet, One American photographer on assignment for the New York Times was punched in the head by a policeman while taking photos.

Then, in the days after that, as freelancer Liam Cochrane recalled: “There were more scuffles with photographers. I had a cop raise both his fist in front of my face and when I took his photo like that he grabbed another copper’s ‘lathi’ (inch-thick, 1.5m long bamboo baton) and raised it above his head as if he was going to clobber me. His colleagues restrained him.

“Photographers were repeatedly pushed away from scenes of police beating monks and other protesters. During one such scuffle, one Nepali freelance photographer was punched and another (AFP snapper) hit in the back of the legs with a lathi.

“This caused heated scenes as the two Nepali snappers confronted the cops involved and wanted to go at it.”

“The commanding officer intervened on several occasions to calm his men down, but problem seems to be that individual guys get so worked up and aggressive they just want to fight with everyone.”

In Dushanbe, Tajikistan police have seized three suspects in the murder of Russian television reporter Ilyas Shurpayev, who was found stabbed in his Moscow apartment last month.

Shurpayev worked for Russia’s state-owned television and reported on unrest in the Caucasus. His body was found to have multiple knife wounds and he had a belt wrapped around his neck.

Shurpayev was the author of numerous reports about the mostly Muslim North Caucasus mountain region in southern Russia, where there are frequent clashes between security forces and local rebels.

In Cairo, outspoken Egyptian editor Ibrahim Eissa was sentenced to six months in jail for writing rumours about President Hosni Mubarak’s health. Human rights groups are demanding the laws be changed.

Eissa, editor-in-chief of Al-Dustur, was charged with spreading “false information… damaging the public interest and national stability”. He was facing up to three years in prison.

He had been due to be tried before a state security court where he would have had no right of appeal, but eventually the trial took place in an ordinary court after what the journalists’ union called regime backpedalling.

“This verdict is against all international human rights conventions,” Eissa told the AFP newsagency after judge Sherif Kamel Mustapha handed down the sentence in a Cairo court.

He said the verdict showed the regime’s hostility to the press and “affirms the holiness of President Mubarak and the rejection of any criticism of him or his policies. I don’t know if this is a judicial decision or a political one.

“The regime is trying to defend itself because it knows it has plunged the country into successive crises and, if my imprisonment will make bread reach the people who are queuing for it, then I am ready to go to prison,” he said.

On a lighter, as The Correspondent goes to bed in Hong Kong so does Playboy in The Philippines where the first edition of Playboy magazine, minus the nudity, is getting ready to hit the streets.

Veteran journalist Beting Laygo Dolor says The Philippine edition to be launched in April would be a “mature lifestyle magazine” with serious articles and fiction by some of the country’s best-known writers.

Still the stapled “playmate of the month” will appear.

While the magazine will offer pictorials of beautiful women, it will not include nudity. “It will be tamer than the US edition but not as tame as the Indonesian edition,” Lagyo Dolor said in a television interview.

He said it would be aimed at a more mature, affluent readership than “lad magazines” such as FHM and Maxim which already have Philippine editions.

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Luke Hunt is a foreign correspondent, author and occasional photographer who has covered much of Asia fr the last 30 years.

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