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Monthly ArchiveAugust 2011

Society newlight on 14 Aug 2011

Rioting without a cause

Like in many other countries, people in China are fascinated and confused by the sudden riots on the street of London. My comments on the breakout of the violence have been translated into English by Global Voice (although they got my name wrong).

What directly led to these riots was that London police shot and killed the young black man, Mark Duggan. On Saturday, the parents of the deceased held a peaceful protest outside the doors of the Tottenham Hale police station, which by evening turned into incidents of smashing and looting. At the same time, police only formed a human blockade on the street to stop people from getting through, incapable of stopping the criminal activity taking place dozens of meters away. A shot of this played on television the entire night, inevitably encouraging others to join in the following day.
Police were not active in stopping the criminal activity; on one hand, police forces were weak, and on the other, indecisive. London’s police force currently has no-one leading it. Both the chief of police and the deputy chief for anti-terrorism resigned recently in the cellphone voicemail eavesdropping scandal, and the rest of the leadership are on summer vacation. At the same time, London’s mayor, the minister for home affairs, the deputy prime minister and the prime minister himself were also all overseas on summer holiday. There was no preparedness for a sudden incident such as this, and once it did break out, nobody unfortunately moved to deal with it quickly, instead people just hoped that the rioters would disperse by themselves.
The opposite happened, and riots began to spread by the second day. Police were caught off guard and fumbled around, leaving them even more incapable of dealing with the rioters, contributing to even more people taking part in the looting, and then the situation fell apart.
Given the nature of England’s political climate, riots such as this ought to be the strong suit of a conservative government, but the riots instead caught the current coalition government by surprise, and Cameron was a day late in returning to the country, something which has greatly affected his reputation. If he can’t put the riots down and quickly, I’m afraid Cameron won’t remain prime minister for much longer.

Media &Society newlight on 01 Aug 2011

The empire strikes back

Last week I wrote here that China’s twitter equivalent, Weiboc.om, won a small victory over the censors in reporting the high speed train crash at Wenzhou, Zhejiang. Many factors such as the location and time of the crash contributed to the fast-moving reporting from eyewitnesses and the slow response of the censors. In the process Weibo.com became the media of choice for eyewitnesses as well as journalists. One statistics says in the six and half hours after the train crash, over one million mini-posts related to the accident had been posted to Weibo.com. That’s over forty mini-posts every second.

The attention was quickly moved on to the rescue mission. The crash site is in a reasonably populated area, only about 4 kilometres outside the Wenzhou South train station. Besides rescue workers, local residents (many joined the initial rescue) and journalists reached the site fairly quickly. The fiasco of the rescue operation was on full view, live to many eyewitnesses and many many more Weibo users sitting in front of the screen waiting for latest update.

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