Sunday, February 15, 2009

RTM may turn out to be a white elephant after 2015 - Malaysiakini

Once you are into broadcasting, it would be hard to leave the industry. When I joined Tv3 in 1992, it was like going to be my life time career. I love broadcasting world, not for its glamour but technological advancements.

I recall years before joining TV3, my foster mother in Wainuiomata who was a radio script drama writer brought me to TV New Zealand headquarters in Lower Hutt. My first trip to a TV station and I was excited. The trip had a big impact on me since I was still a teenager back then but I had never really dreamed to be in broadcasting industry.

During my TV3 years, I had the opportunities to visit several overseas TV stations including Media Corporation of Singapore (MediaCorp) (which I got to see Phua Chu Kang in early stage of shooting), BBC, Thames and of course RTM.

Later while in Dubai Media City, I was involved in relocating Middle east Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) from London to Dubai, as well as establishing technical infrastructure for several international news players like CNN, Reuters and other new TV set-ups in Dubai Media City.

The ultimate achievement was to be involved from the planning, development to mobilisation of earth station or teleport in Dubai - samacom. Including satellite connections, broadcasting deployment, product development and marketing.

Then again, for those who had lived years before TV3 came into our homes, RTM was the only choice we had to endure with endless government propagandas. Last but not least, we will continue to endure the poor quality of programmes (and its not-so-clever ministers) for the rest of our life...even with Astro around!

Going digital but will RTM face same woes?

RTM is excited about the prospect of having superior visual and audio quality with its digital transmission starting in 2012. But experts and local industry players are less than thrilled
GOING into digital broadcasting is long overdue for Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM). Other countries such as China and the United States are switching off their analogue transmission by 2012, at the time RTM plans to roll out digital broadcast. We are already three years late.

Technology, like the tide, waits for no man, and by the time RTM switches off its analogue transmission in 2015, other countries will be moving on to something already imminent, like the convergence of Internet and television.

Lifestyles will be permanently altered from passively watching a plasma screen, with astounding sound and visuals, to interactive audience participation.

With a hefty RM2 billion in its wallet to spend in phases on digital broadcasting, RTM should mull over and devise a broadcasting concept and strategy based on how people will watch television in 2015, which is most likely to be a convergence of digital broadcasting and surfing the Internet on the television set.

Consoles for this purpose made by electronic giants such as Sony, Apple, Microsoft and Nintendo are already on sale, while plasma television manufacturers are developing integrated televisions with built-in digital decoders.

In six years, digital highways will be efficient enough to transfer data from one point to another via broadband, offering uninterrupted service. That will convert the television set in the living room into a virtual global village. Now, where will RTM digital broadcasting be by then?

Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, fresh from his visits to television stations with digital broadcasting in Morocco and Britain last month, is brimming with ideas and ideals for getting 98 per cent of the population to be updated, informed and entertained via 19 digital channels by 2012.

RTM, he says, will be optimising its manpower and facilities to churn out round-the-clock news, in-depth news reporting, documentaries and other in-house productions.

"With digital transmission, we will be able to broadcast live reports from our studios in Sabah and Sarawak on the same channel and the viewers can split the television screen to watch the reports simultaneously."

The buzzword here is narrow-casting. Ahmad Shabery wants RTM to target and tailor its programme to specific demographic profiles, leaving no one out. Whether they are urban pensioners, young kampung kids or high-tech housewives, there will be a channel for them.

But splitting screens and 19 channels are not the only things that digital broadcasting can do.

"Why not 100 channels?" says Datuk Khalid Ahmad, pointing out that a transmitter can broadcast up to 100 channels at no added cost.

The former TV3 managing director redefined programming when helming the television station in the 1990s by introducing on-the-hour news reports, live shows and talent shows with juries and voting audiences -- a good decade before American Idol debuted.

Now, he says, a sports event can be broadcast over 10 channels based on different camera angles.

For instance, he says, during a football match, the viewers can select their preferred shots -- from the supporters' seats, the coach bench, the top field view or the side lines -- and alternate these angles by switching channels or splitting the screen.

"Imagine, producing your own television show with your remote control," says Khalid.

RTM, he says, must be aware of the power of the Internet which is fast developing into another broadcasting medium.

"We have entered an era where anyone can have his or her own channel that can be viewed not just in the country but worldwide.

"These alternative technologies will improve and will most likely be the mainstream technology in 2015."

The digital channels will offer local producers 7,000 hours a month, but content providers are sceptical. They are asking the station to look deep into the age-old issues since privatisation days.

One of them says that it is fine for RTM to be enthusiastic about upgraded studios and the installation of digital system from production to transmission, but the network should not sweep long-standing problems under the carpet and pretend everything is well.

"They can't even manage two channels. How are they going to programme more than a dozen?" asks an award-winning producer who has been supplying documentaries and drama series for the past two decades to RTM.

It would surely be a rosy picture if all of the 400 odd production houses registered with RTM get a piece of the pie but, asks the producer:

"Will RTM be fair in distributing the slots or will they continue to play favourites? Because cronyism will only lead to the death of the industry."

RTM used to produce its own content until the mid-1980s when the station began to privatise its drama slots to jumpstart the local creative industry. Gradually, more airtime was given to private production houses to produce children's programmes, weekly magazines and documentaries. RTM spent more than RM200 million annually for local content.

Besides unfairly distributing the hours, says the producer, RTM has also failed to review the programme-purchasing rate, which has remained the same for the past 20 years.

"Living expenses have doubled since the 1980s, but RTM has not reviewed its purchasing rates. How does this help develop the creative industry? The poor rate has forced the industry to cut corners and give sub-standard end products."

Ahmad Shabery rationalised the three-year deadline for national roll-out as necessary to prepare the local creative industry to further develop digital content.

But production house Les Copaque is indifferent towards the station's enthusiasm about the digital infrastructural upgrade.

"We'll produce for the highest bidder," says its managing director Burhanuddin Md Radzi.

The company, specialising in animation and computer-generated images for films such as award-winning children's series Upin and Ipin and the soon-to-be-released Geng: The Adventure Begins is among many local companies supplying animation programmes to the international market.

Burhanuddin says the local creative industry is not short of talented and skilful animators but severely lacks scriptwriters. It is unfortunate that most broadcasting and multimedia schools in the country do not train their students to create strong storylines, he says.

Due to this, Burhanuddin theorised, the young animators are largely influenced by foreign animation and video games and do not know how to assimilate their own unique cultural values into their work.

Khalid says the thick wad of RM2 billion should be used to improve broadband infrastructure and to further increase Internet-readiness for the country.

"I think the rakyat deserve a full explanation on what the programming intentions are since it is their money that RTM is spending," he stresses. "My fear is that this project by RTM may turn out to be a white elephant after 2015."

More Vacancies esp. for Malaysians in Saudi Arabia

The SABIC is looking especially Malaysian candidates for various vacancies in a new plant.

Read more details HERE

The Hero in the Middle East conflicts

The saying that politics makes for strange bedfellows has never been truer when it comes to Turkey’s prime minister and his latest inroads in the Arab world.

It is indeed rather ironic, but who would have ever imagined that a Turkish leader would be seen as a hero in the lands once ruled by the Ottoman Turks for more 
than 600 years.
And memories in this region linger long. But this is what happened to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, since the recent war between Israel and Hamas, has emerged as the only Middle Eastern leader to stand up and vociferously state his opinion regarding Israel and regarding Hamas.

As a result he has become even more popular in the Arab world where his popularity shot up and where his verbal support of Hamas was hailed by the Arab street, particularly given the lack of support extended to Hamas from traditional Arab leaders; at times it seemed as though the silence from Arab capitals was almost as deafening as the bombing itself.

According to a close aide to the Turkish prime minister, Erdogan was told while on a recent visit to Syria by President Bashar Assad that he was even more popular in Syria than Syria’s 
own president.

Only a few years ago the Turks had seriously strained relations with the Syrians over territorial and water issues. What a difference a war makes! The recent conflict in Gaza revealed a number of unexpected twists and turns in Middle East politics.

First, it expanded the Middle East conflict beyond its traditional borders, which was until not too long ago limited to the Arab world (and more recently Iran) to now include Turkey. Is that a good or bad thing? Well, that depends on one’s point of view.

From Hamas’ point of view, that is of course a very positive development. To have a country with the prestige that Turkey carries defend its cause in the West is of course very advantageous. Indeed, if Hamas is ever to join the political process, it can only do so as a political party, and not as an armed militia. And that is one issue which the Turks have been pounding into Hamas every chance they get.

At every meeting that members of Turkey’s governing party, the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) held with the Palestinian Islamic Movement, the Turks emphasised to the Palestinians the urgency of giving up the gun in exchange for a peaceful dialogue.
Cuneyt Yuksel, a Turkish parliamentarian and vice president of the political and legal affairs department of Turkey’s ruling AK Party told this reporter during a recent visit in Washington, DC that Turkey’s interest is to promote a peaceful understanding in the region.

“Turkey only wants to ensure that there will be peace and prosperity in the Middle East,” said Yuksel.
Indeed, Prime Minister Erdogan’s message to the Palestinians in Hamas is that “they must forget the gun. They must abandon the gun.

“Second, from Israel’s perspective, and from the perspective of many Turks, they would have much preferred to see Turkey remain well away from the Middle East headaches.
Many Turks regard their country’s interference in the Middle East as deviation from Kemalist philosophy, that of moving away from the Arab world and assuming a greater European identity.
The Arab leaders, for their part, have decried the interference “of non-Arab countries in Arab affairs.”
And while this criticism was aimed primarily at Iran, it no doubt was also intended for the ears of the Turkish prime minister.

Third, from the Western perspective, Turkey’s getting involved in the Middle East issue should be received positively for the simple reason that Turkey, as a Muslim nation (although officially secularist) will have an easier time convincing Hamas to abandon 
the armed struggle in favour of politics and the ballot.

And as for the Arabs, who have not had much success in convincing Hamas, they should be glad to get all the help they can from Turkey.

As for Iran, who has been supplying weapons and funds to Hamas, it is an entirely different ballgame. Every rocket Hamas fires at Israel only serves to further delay the peace process.
Every delay in the peace process 
allows further developments of 
Israeli settlements.
Every development of new Israeli settlements further complicates the peace process. In essence, Erdogan’s entry onto the Middle East stage should be welcomed.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst based 
in Washington

The ethnic minorities in the UAE cabinet

There is a comparison table between Malaysian and Singaporean ministers on their academic backgrounds. Of course, we are far away, lagging behind even from the top. Not too proud to say that our PM's credentials are not outstanding and even his deputy is nothing much to shout about. They are political animals who are up there due to some divine reasons beside credibility and quality factors.

One of the current ministers in the UAE cabinet was my first big boss, Mohammed Al Gergawi. I can still remember the first time we met at Dubai Internet City (DIC) HQ when I was introduced to him, then the chairman of DIC by the CEO.

He came to me and shook my hand with most memorable quote, "Welcome to Dubai Internet City, been waiting for you and I know your name, as we have a same name...Mohammed!"

His smile was genuine with warm friendly manner. We had good times during the development of DIC. We love him for his approachable and open management style. About my age and workaholic down to earth guy. He is one of the 'Ajami' as mentioned in the below article.

The ‘Ajami’ of the Emirates: a celebrated history

In January 2006, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum ascended as the ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed immediately revolutionised some of the less active ministerial positions by pumping much needed new blood into these entities.

Before this event, each ministerial change meant more of the same, reminding me of the film, Groundhog Day.

Among the appointees was Dr Anwar Gargash, the composed Cambridge educated university professor and Emirati businessman who would bring some practical knowledge and experience to the cabinet, Mohammed al Gergawi, the eloquent workaholic, and Dr Hanif Hassan Al Qassemi, the man in charge of reforming what is possibly the most challenging ministry, that of Education.

These fine gentlemen complimented their colleagues in forming a cabinet of Emirati technocrats by adding a missing dimension – for the first time Emirati ethnic minorities known as Ajam or Ajmis were finally represented.

In the Gulf Arab monarchies the term Ajam is used as a reference to Persians who emmigrated to the southern shores of the Gulf in the turn of the last century, and others who had done so decades and even centuries earlier. The Ajam have been instrumental in advancing commerce, culture and even architecture where they have settled.

The modern history of the Ajam emigration to the Trucial States, as the UAE was known, extends from the mid 19th century to 1971. At the peak of the Al Qassemi empire in 1819, the family rule extended to the southern shores of Qajari Persia, mainly to the Bandars or ports of Charak, Mughu, and Lingah as well as the islands of Kish and Qeshm. The port of Lingah had developed into a trade and commerce hub due to its nominal taxation.

When Sheikh Khalifa Bin Said Al Qassemi died unexpectedly in 1874, internal fighting ensued within the family, and the Persian government saw it as an opportunity to extend their influence and to appoint their own director of customs in Lingah.

According to the book, Father of Dubai, a biography of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum by Graeme Wilson, the Persian authorities repeatedly raised taxes and new charges were levied for basic services, resulting in a once thriving port falling into disarray. The Trucial Emirates and especially Dubai were in prime position to lure these merchants and offered them a zero-tax environment, free land and personal protection.

When I visited the various museums in Sharjah’s heritage area, in Dubai’s Bastakiya neighbourhood and the traditional homes in other emirates with my mother and late father a decade ago I learnt of the various contributions of these merchants. Herbs and spices that they imported added flavour to the Arab cuisine that before consisted of a grilled fish on a good day.

The Barjeel, or traditional wind-tower that created a system of natural ventilation in houses, a name that I adopted in 2001 when I founded my brokerage firm in Dubai, is an example of an architectural heritage whose roots were found in southern Persia. Such advances became more prevalent with the arrival of the Ajami merchants at the end of the 19th century. I still remember my father emphasising the “a”, “Sultan,” he’d say, “it’s pronounced Baarjeel”. I later learnt that the name was an Arabic version of the Persian word Badgeer, which loosely means “wind trap”.

These immigrants consisted of Shia and Sunna, Persian and Arab peoples and yet since they arrived from the northern shores of the Gulf, the term Ajami was used to refer to them all. Some of these families had previously emmigrated to the northern shores of the Gulf from the Arab coast only to return a century or so later but yet some continue to regard them with suspicion.

I was prompted to write this article because of a text message that I received upon the accession of Sheikh Mohammed who had taken the brave step, albeit one full century after the arrival of many of these merchant families, and appointed a number of Ajami ministers to the UAE cabinet. The text message I received stated that: “the Iranian government thanks the UAE for the gesture of goodwill in appointing the ministers.”

I was offended to say the least and my only solace was that unlike other invasive text messages that I am constantly bombarded with especially on Islamic holidays, this one was only sent a couple of times to me. Did Algeria thank France for appointing the footballer Zinedine Zidane as captain of the French football team? These ministers have worked diligently and hand in hand with their colleagues to advance the interests of the UAE in the international arena.

This country is only made whole through such bold steps; it is high time that we recognise the contributions of the mosaic that forms this young nation. The Emiratis of Asian, Baluch, Zanzibari, Arab and Persian origin make this country what it is today. The appointments and success of these ministers is proof that the UAE is in fact a meritocracy in which the most deserving and capable candidates are promoted to key positions, irrespective of their origins.

This makes the UAE the country that it is; the country that I love; and the ones who are thankful to Sheikh Mohammed should be the citizens of the UAE.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a Sharjah-based businessman and graduate of the American University of Paris. He is the founder of Barjeel Securities in Dubai.