MediAsia 2017

MediAsia-2017

Our presentation with the title “China Daily’s western type framing of the Egyptian Arab Spring” was accepted for “The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film 2017”, which is taking place in Kobe (Japan) from 27 to 29 October.

The following IAFOR partners organize this conference:

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Thessaloniki’s Pandora

Pandora

By Minos-Athanasios Karyotakis

The last few years Greece has attracted the attention of the globe due to its financial difficulties and the unending negotiations of its bailout programmes. The loss of hope and the future that seems to be miserable are some of the reasons why this Mediterranean country is facing one of the most crucial brain drain of its recent history. However, there are still young people in the country that try to cope with the unbearable daily Greek life and realise their dreams. This specific story talks about the struggle of success and the students of the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki that in 2005 decided to take their fate into their hands by creating PANDORA (Program for the Advancement of Non Directed Operating Robotic Agents). Nowadays, their inventions have competed in the RoboCup Rescue competition four times and hold a second place in autonomy category in 2013 in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

The beginning

According to a former student of the first team of Pandora, about eight students gathered in the canteen of the School in order to find a way to apply the theoretical knowledge to a project that could provide them a more practical aspect of their field of expertise. The project had to be in close relationship with the field of robotics, as the majority of the students were interested in exploring this kind of technology. In addition, they all knew that they had to devote themselves in this new-born project and to spend a lot of their free time with the hope of producing something worthy. The initial goal of the team was the construction of a robotic four-degree arm of freedom, which made the students to get on top of the relevant national competition of the country. Moreover, the robotic arm had the ability to recognize, to catch and to move objects that were within its field of action.

Some of the professors of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki rushed to help with the creation of Pandora’s project and tried to guide the students concerning the insight of robotics and the search of the material, as the parts of the project have a high cost and it is almost impossible for the University to acquire them. Pandora then overcame the aforementioned difficulties and proceeded in the development of a robotic vehicle that with or without the human intervention is capable of detecting victims, after the occurrence of large-scale disasters (natural and non-physical). This vehicle has a length of about 50 centimetre and uses sensors of ultrasound, infrared, sound, heat, carbon dioxide to navigate itself and find the victims. Also, it has electronic and computing systems, which process the data that the robot collects. The purpose of the vehicle is (a) to be able to move comfortably on the uneven field that is caused by a natural disaster, (b) to identify the victims and (c) to inform the rescue teams in a timely and effective manner. Lastly, another key function of Pandora is that during its navigation, it has the ability to map the field and create a map, in which it is depicted, besides the obstacles, the locations of the identified victims as well as the course followed for approaching them.

In the international robotics competition of RoboCup 2008 (RoboRescue category) in the Chinese city of Suzhou, the Greek team managed to be placed at the 9th position among the overall 18 participants of the final stage.

On top of the world

After the successful participation at Suzhou the Pandora team wanted to become more innovative with improving the robotic vehicle and creating two new robots. The improvements were related to the movement of the original vehicle as well as the way the robotic arm used to approach the victims. Moreover, new sensors were incorporated into its mechanical rescuers for more accurate mapping of the field. From the new robots, the first one was intended to be independent and to navigate itself to the site of the disaster by using also its new abilities that were provided by the algorithms of the artificial intelligence of its. The second one was given the capability of moving in a far more complex environment and its control was done by the use of a remote control. These new improvements and creations did not help Pandora in gaining a better position in the same competition that took place in Austria (Graz, 2009). However, the tenth place brought broad smiles, as Pandora was ranked first among the European teams. At this point, it should be mentioned that the construction of a robot/robotic platform that is capable of moving in a devastated environment remains still at a research level.

The Greek team did not give in to the financial difficulties and the challenges that it faced. Also, in every competition it had to compete teams that had more resources in order to construct their projects. In 2011 in Istanbul, Pandora qualified for Best in Class Manipulation and two years after RoboCup in the Turkish city it achieved to be on top of the world with the win of the second place in the Robocup Rescue 2013 World Rally in the category of autonomous robotic vehicles. The competition was held from 24 to 30 June 2013 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and aimed at developing one or more robotic vehicles that can navigate in places that have been destroyed (e.g. by an earthquake) and detect victims. 20 teams from all over the world were selected and competed on various sloping sites under actual disaster conditions. This accomplishment paved the way for winning again the second place in the Robocup Rescue 2015 World Rally in Hefei, China. It was the second consecutive time that Pandora was getting the second place, as it was unable to participate at the 2014 Robocup Rescue in Brazil due to a lack of funding.

The future

The story of Pandora highlights the incompetence of Greece in benefiting from the young generation of the country that despite the difficulties is bringing knowledge and power that can transform once and for all the current miserable condition. The bitter remarks of the team leader of Pandora, Associate Professor of the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Petrou Loukas, after the outstanding year of 2015 can underline the need of the officials to try to actively help this generation: “These achievements, which for years have been unexploited by the state, could be further developed and exploited in civil protection systems, in environmental and transport applications. For example they can help to control the arteries and tunnels in the road network and, in general, with systems of exploration, monitoring and security at national and /or international level”.

Nonetheless, the accomplishments of Pandora Robotics Team are recognised in a global scale: “Some of our programs are used in robotic applications all over the world, as we are active members and contributors of the open source community. Proof of the quality of our work are the old members of the team, who are currently distinguished scientists working in Greece or abroad. We are one of the few teams in the world, and the first in Greece to develop an autonomous robotic vehicle”.

In conclusion, Greece is going to struggle with its creditors in favour of the bailout programmes for a long time, though in its land live and grow a lot of scientist that can make the difference. This is the case also for the members of Pandora, as they have already learned that there’s no time like the present in order to work hard and realize the dream for a better future.

This article was one of my assignments for completing the course of Science Journalism.

Yemen’s Cholera Outbreak

Punch-A_Court_for_King_Cholera

By Minos-Athanasios Karyotakis

In nearly a month, about 1,000 people have died in Yemen because of cholera and humanitarian organizations are talking about an uncontrollable epidemic due to the civil war that broke out in the country over the past two years. “The cholera outbreak in Yemen continues to spread at an alarming speed. Over 124,000 cases have been recorded – almost half of them are children”, explained Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

The civil war in Yemen broke out around mid-2015 and continues to this day. The conflict arose because of the two factions, who, together with their allies, want to take over the government of the country. On the one side there are the Southern Autonomists and those who remain loyal to the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi government, while Ansar Allah or Houthis and those who are loyal to the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, are on the opposite side. At the same time, al-Qaeda, which alongside with the Islamic State has launched attacks, is also involved in the conflict.

The aforementioned conflict resulted in confirming the outbreak of cholera by the country’s health authorities on October 6, 2016. The Ministry of Public Health and Population had announced that of the 25 suspected cases of diarrhea, 11 were indeed cholera cases, with UNICEF requesting additional funding of US $3.2 million to address this difficult situation. Over the years, the cholera cases began to rise. Subsequently from April 27 to June 4, 2017, there were 84,422 suspected cases of cholera and 681 deaths in 19 of the country’s 23 governorates. Nowadays, according to the international non-governmental organization, Save the Children, at least one child is infected every minute, and more than 30 people die every day. “The cholera outbreak is overwhelming what remains of Yemen’s conflict-battered health system. Hospitals and treatment centres are struggling to cope with the large number of patients coming in from across the country. Medicines and intravenous fluids are quickly running out”, said Meritxell Relaño.

The organizations that are acting in the region are considering launching a mass vaccination campaign because they do not believe that health conditions and water purity, which are the major causes for the spread of cholera, can be improved in short term. However, there is a huge debate about the effectiveness of this effort due to Yemen’s prevailing disastrous conditions and the extent of the spread of the disease, as it is believed that the current situation in the country is one of the worst outbreaks of cholera reminding the one that erupted after the earthquake of Haiti in 2010.

This article was published in the weekly newspaper of Greece “Η Εποχή”.

Seminar Critique: “Data Journalism Hackathon: Red Flags in the NSRF Programs”

hackathon

By Minos-Athanasios Karyotakis

“Data Journalism Hackathon: Red Flags in the NSRF Programs” was successfully held on 31 March and 10 April by the Open Knowledge Foundation of Greece, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) and the Journalists’ Union of Macedonia and Thrace Daily Newspapers.

This workshop was one of the initiatives that the Open Knowledge Foundation of Greece takes yearly in order to train journalists in the field of data journalism via using or testing brand new tools for helping the professional of the field to narrate news stories with the usage of data, graphs, infographics etc. According to Eva Constantaras: “Data journalism enables journalists to go deeper into issues to find out the root causes for why people are getting sick or well, getting an education or not, finding jobs or not and put this information into context for citizens. With better information about the root problems facing society, the audience can make better, more informed decisions for their families, communities, and government”.

The concept of data journalism is new and it owes its origins to the technological breakthroughs of the last decade and the expanding of Internet. Open Knowledge Foundation had created a lot of tools for data journalists and tested all of them via holding workshops for journalists. This time it wanted to examine the procedure of creating news stories with the tool ‘Red Flags’.  The ‘Red Flags’ application uses data from Development.gov.gr (Ανάπτυξη), the official website of the Greek Ministry of Development and Competitiveness, which provides detailed information on the process of implementing the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) programs and analyses them for identifying potential red flags. Red flags are defined as sets of cases that exhibit unusual behaviour (values) compared to other cases. It is emphasized that red flags do not indicate the ‘guilty’ or the ‘innocence’ of a project. They simply provide warning signs. Also, the application provides the user with the ability to retrieve the decisions made on the Diaugeia (Διαύγεια) site for a project.

On the first day of the programme there was the presentation of the application and some members of the team of the Foundation showed to the participants their efforts in using ‘Red Flags’ and trying to figure out if the red flag of a specific project could lead to illegal activities and corruption. However, they argued that it was difficult for them to find out what is really happening due to the everlasting problem of Greek bureaucracy. The data that are provided are not always correct. They come from the official website of the Greek Ministry of Development and Competitiveness, as a result there is always the chance of misinformation. It rests on journalists’ shoulder to understand the meaning of the indication of ‘Red Flags’.

Subsequently the participants of the workshop were divided into pairs in order to find a problematic project with the ‘Red Flags’ application and create a news story. The findings and the news story was presented on the second and last day of the workshop (10 April, 2017). However, the limited number of the participants along with their weak willingness of providing a final piece of a news story could not help for drawing final conclusions. One thing is for sure though, that ‘Red Flags’ is a useful tool for journalists and can help them to detect easier cases that are related to illegal activities. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that “the media today can be seen as having four major responsibilities or functions.  These are to persuade or present opinion, to inform, to entertain, and to regulate.  Not least among these is the regulatory function of the media.  The practice of this function, called watchdog journalism, is a style of writing or broadcast aimed at identifying a current societal problem, either hidden or overt, and offering opinion on necessary action” (Eisenman). The aforementioned application and the field of data journalism gives journalists the ability of fulfilling their role and becoming once again powerful watchdogs.

This article was one of my assignments for completing the course of Science Journalism.

The crime in Greece: The prejudice against the foreigners

By Minos-Athanasios Karyotakis

On Wednesday on June 7th a 30-year-old foreign perpetrator attacked and killed with his knife the 52-year-old owner of a grill tavern in Corfu, Greece.

“Crime on Corfu: The Albanian asked the 52-year-old baker “You’re the one?” and killed him with five knife stabs…With five knife stabs, the three of which proved fatal, the 30-year-old Albanian murdered the 52-year-old grill owner in Corfu”, wrote on his website one of the most popular news organization in Greece wanting to highlight the origins of the perpetrator, as in Greece the Albanian nationality is often related to criminality.

The Greek Mass Media Organizations are keen on publishing crime news stories, especially during the summer holidays, when there are not a lot of other hard news that can attract the reader’s attention. According to some professionals of the field, sometimes they somewhat invent news stories by focusing on the nationality of the perpetrator in order to be accepted by the editorial team and get published on the medium. In the contemporary media history of the country there are a lot of criminal cases that got a lot of publicity not because of the type of crime, but because of the perpetrator’s nationality. Moreover, there existed many cases of even more violent and dreadful crimes that were committed by Greeks, but could not make it in the front pages of the countries national newspapers for a long time.

As reported by Hellenic Police the most prominent criminal cases are those that are linked with ‘Thefts-burglaries ‘, ‘Thefts of wheeled vehicles’ and ‘Drugs’, in which the native perpetrators are about three times higher than the alien ones.

Click on the link below to see the first interactive graphic “The crime in Greece”:

//e.infogr.am/the_crime_in_greece?src=embed

In addition, Greece’s financial difficulties and its bailout programmes were supposed to raise up criminality, as the country faces a high rate of unemployment, wage adjustments and cut in the salaries of the public and private sector that exceed, in some cases, even the 40% of the overall income. Despite these facts there were only a serious increase in the cases of mendacity, in which the foreigners are more than the natives.

Click on the link to see the second interactive graphic “Native perpetrators”:

//e.infogr.am/native_perpetrators?src=embed

Click on the link below to see the third interactive graphic “Foreign perpetrators”:

//e.infogr.am/foreign_perpetrators?src=embed

Furthermore, the entrance of the neo-Nazi political party, Golden Dawn, in the Greek Parliament in the elections of 2012 brought to the fore more footage and news stories that were against the people of different origins. Golden Dawn has attacked verbally and physically many immigrants by using the excuse of their criminal behaviour until today.

“Golden Dawn cried a few days ago in parliament that … Albanian criminals have introduced thousands of Kalashnikov to the country and are a public danger. The failed Ministry of Citizen Of Protection replied that it ignores the details of this issue. Yesterday, two compatriots were in danger of losing their lives from these rubbish that we have unaccountably left to kill in our country. The solution can be only one: Tough repression of all criminals who have turned Greece into jungle”, states of the press releases of the party that were shared with the public in order to highlight, according to their opinion, the importance of fighting the dangerous foreigners that threat the country.

The eruption of the refugee crisis gave the opportunity to focus more on the issues of prejudice, racism and the fight against diversity in Greek society. Initiatives and project from researchers, universities and trade unions are trying to attract people’s attention aiming to underline cases of violation of human rights and create new narratives that promote unity, understanding and respect. However, for a great part of Greeks, several citizens with origins from the Balkans or the African countries are going to be associated with a prejudice criminal behaviour for a long time to come, as bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow.

Click on the link below to see the fourth interactive graphic “Native vs Foreign perpetrators”:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1xJgmzI3Y75rK3H9azMB0jjjBBTG9C5paRWP4TwjLhdU/pubchart?oid=1086907107&format=interactive

This article was my optional project for the course Data Journalism Fundamentals (2017).

International food trade drains fast the global groundwater supplies

ABANDONED_WAREHOUSES_AND_DUMP_ON_HUDSON_RIVER_-_NARA

By Minos-Athanasios Karyotakis

According to recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations, international food trade causes groundwater depletion at alarming rates due to large consumption of wheat, rice and cotton.

“Of the world’s 37 major aquifers, about 20 are past sustainability tipping points and correspond to our major food-producing regions. Groundwater induced land subsidence is like the deflation of a tire and mainly occurs where clay minerals exist, which is about a quarter of the central valley in California. We are currently experiencing the fastest rates of groundwater depletion and subsidence ever,” said hydrologist Jay Famiglietti on March 28th at the 2017 South-eastern Conference (SEC) Academic Conference hosted by Mississippi State University.

Researchers at the University College London and NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City found out that 11 percent of the global non-renewable groundwater is depleting due to the large production and needs of international food trade. The greater part of humanity lives in societies that are relied almost exclusively on the imports from countries who exploit tremendous amounts of groundwater supplies to cultivate the land and to produce foodstuffs. Pakistan (29 percent), USA (27 percent) and India (12 percent) are the leaders in producing crops that depend on unsustainable water supplies. As a result, these countries alongside with China are already facing water shortage. Moreover, it is known that these kind of agricultural problems had contributed to the set off of serious events that affected the global community, such as the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

According to the British Academy postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Geography at Oxford University, Troy Sternberg (2013), the weather changing patterns in 2010 caused supply shortages. The wheat production was reduced in Russia (-32.7 percent), Ukraine (-19.3 percent), Canada (-13.7 percent), Australia (-8.7 percent), and China (-0.5 while the domestic consumption increased by 1.68 percent). The aforementioned crop reduction shoot up the bread prices in Egypt, the largest global wheat foreign buyer, where almost half of the income is spent on food. The wheat prices ascended from $157/metric ton in June 2010 to $326/metric ton in February 2011.

The contemporary overuse of non-renewable groundwater supplies is believed to increase the number of draughts in the near future and to provoke several socio-economic incidents that could hurt the daily life of mankind, especially the local communities that are heavily relied on groundwater for everyday use and for dealing with fires and other emergencies. For example, in Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the water pipes are running out of water even before summer and the local authorities are trying to overcome this dangerous situation by drilling the ground. However, these efforts cause more trouble as the groundwater level keeps dropping down. A study by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) revealed that the rate of the extraction is 185 percent. Chennai is on top of the ladder in the exploitation of groundwater supplies.

“We need to recognize groundwater as a critical element of national, international and regional water supplies. As a community, we need to work together to elevate critical water issues to the level of everyday understanding. Once people truly understand the sources of their water, they would really appreciate the need for better monitoring, management and stewardship,” mentioned Famiglietti during his speech at the SEC Academic Conference.

Nonetheless, the current scientific methods cannot provide clear quantified results about the amount of the remaining non-renewable water. Consequently, clear assumptions cannot be made even for the time that the world is about to run out of groundwater supplies. Researchers are trying to fill the scientific gap and create new methods and tools in order to provide accurate results. Furthermore, farmers, citizens, decision makers, food producers and food buyers need desperately to collaborate with each other and to plan new strategies that are supposed to preserve these sources and create a long-term sustainability. Finally, governments must act and take the lead in monitoring and organizing international initiatives that will highlight the consequences of the climate change and the importance of this specific topic.

This article was one of my assignments for completing the course of Science Journalism.

The shadow of China

The U. S. subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 provoked a global discussion in academic and regulatory circles about the so-called “shadow banking”, the regulators of financial systems and the rapid financial liberalization and deregulation.

“Shadow banking exists alongside the formal banking system, offering similar kinds of services, but it is lightly or not regulated at all. Its institutions are therefore highly leveraged and more prone to failure or “bank runs” (for example, liquidity shocks)”, mentions Dawa Sherpa in her article in Economic & Political Weekly some years ago[1].

The very rapid economic growth of China caught by surprise the global community and researchers are wondering if the U.S. crisis of 2008, that shook the world, could be occurred again due to the lack of transparency in much off balance sheet or non-bank activity that characterizes China’s system. However, it should be mentioned that, generally, being outside the formal banking sector means there is a weaker lever of regulation, safety and, of course, financial stability and that’s the reason why shadow banking is inextricably linked to Liquidity Risk, Leverage Risk, Regulatory Arbitrage and Contagion Risks.

Shadow banking in China must be examined in a more complex system that takes into account the dominated banking system of the country, the crucial role of the state that largely controls the banks and provides directions and its sufficient restrictions[2]. According to “Global Shadow Banking Monitoring Report 2015” of Financial Stability Board (FSB), United States of America (USA), United Kingdom and China have the biggest shadow system in the world.

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Moreover, the Brookings Institution claims that two-thirds of shadow banking in China is characterized as bank loans in disguise and there can be named two categories of shadow banking instruments: (a) wealth management products and (b) entrusted loans. Banks create Wealth Management Products (WMPs) that lure investors, who are searching for higher returns than interests paid on traditional savings. Also, it is well – known that the issuers can deploy the funds as loans, or can channel them into trust companies that don’t have to play by loan-to-deposit rules[3]. The WMPs are classified by the recent press release of Fitch Ratings as “a key source of credit and liquidity risk for certain financial institutions”[4]. As for Entrusted loans, according to researchers, still represent the 15% of the country’s total financing needs and the major portion of China’s shadow banking system[5].

Another issue about the economy of People’s Republic of China is Hong Kong that hosts a significant number of trust, leasing and offshore companies, underground banks etc. The former British colony gives the opportunity to some of the shops that are labeled as “financial services” to bring to Hong Kong funds that were deposited in an associate agency in mainland China. Once they enter the famous port, are free to move on with their journey, even if there is no evidence about their break out from mainland China. This is one of the reasons why they are named “underground channels”. And, of course, there is always the option of converting yuan to Hong Kong dollar[6], one of the most traded currencies in the world[7].

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The growing shadow banking system of the second largest economy of the world is the reason why a lot of people are observing with curiosity the Chinese economy. Along with that, there is always the fear of the unknown, as shadow banking and underground economy are new phenomena, and the belief that China can be only the tip of the iceberg of a new global crisis[8]. However, the last evidence showed us a slowdown of the growth of Chinese shadow banking and revealed the two most likely future scenarios: The banks (a) to undertake shadow system or (b) to leave shadows and come to light. Furthermore, it is expected a change in the shape of the Chinese shadow banking system and an adoption of more sophisticated western practices[9]. Only time will tell what will be the future of the world economy.

This article was my optional project for the course Data Journalism Fundamentals .


[1] Dawa Sherpa, (October 26, 2013), “Shadow Banking in India and China Causes and Consequences”, Economic & Political Weekly (VOL XLVIII NO 43), pp. 113.

[2] Douglas E., Arthur K., Yu Q., (March 2015), “Shadow banking in China: A primer”, The Brookings Institution, pp. 1.

[3] Wei Jiang, (2015), “The Future of Shadow Banking in China”, Jerome A. Chazen School of International Business (white paper), pp. 6.

[4] FitchRatings, (March 7, 2016),“Fitch: Boom in WMPs a Key Risk for Some Chinese Banks”, Retrieved from https://www.fitchratings.com/site/pressrelease?id=1000589 .

[5] Wei Jiang, pp. 7.

[6] Marc Roche, (November 2011), Kapitalismos ektos nomou: H oikonomia tou paraskiniou [Le capitalisme hors la loi], Athens, Metaixmio, pp. 95 – 96.

[7] Triennial Central Bank Survey. (September 2013 ), “Foreign exchange turnover in April 2013: preliminary global results” pp. 5, Retrieved from http://www.bis.org/publ/rpfx13fx.pdf .

[8] Marc Roche, (January 2015), Oi Banksters [Les Banksters: Voyage chez mes amis capitalistes], Athens, Metaixmio, pp. 247.

[9] Wei Jiang, (2015), pp. 10 – 11.