Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

Interested parties are invited to comment.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Security Men at New Scotland Yard are Sporting Some Interesting Apparel

I was invited in on my own to meet with a Commander in New Scotland Yard, HQ of the Metropolitan Police, today. I was extremely taken with some items that the security gentlemen were wearing.

Along with the black and white uniforms of the Met Police, that is; white shirts, black trousers, as I went through the metal detector and my bag went through the X-ray machine, I noticed that the strong, burly security guys were wearing....... skintight purple gloves.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

President Obama Can't Live Without...Mike Lazaridis's Invention

Yup, I didn't know it, but the BlackBerry was invented by a Canadian! Interviewing Research In Motion's MD EMEA, he told me that he delights in observing how children and others enjoy using the BlackBerry, and yet they were not the initial target customers.

Mike Lazaridis founded RIM while at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. I found fascinating the fact that Lazaridis set up the Perimeter Institute , now one of the world's leading research establishments for quantum physics.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Security at the Indian Elections for SkyNews.com

The scale and scope of the Indian elections this year is so huge that security is top of the agenda for the authorities. One of the most interesting facts that I discovered while researching this article in my series for Sky News.com, was about the weaponry ordinary policemen use: often they are issued with Lee-Enfield .303 single-bolt rifles which pre-date the First World War.

Typically, the rifles will only have been fired ten times during training.

And of course, in the wake of Mumbai 26/11, security is also a political issue for the BJP/NDA opposition and a top worry for voters, especially those living in urban areas.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Sri Lankan conflict

If the current war on Sri Lanka had been subject to anything like the camera scrutiny, citizen and pofessional journalism which the latest G20 clashes between the public and police experienced, I wonder what the outcome would have been.

Friday, 24 April 2009

And off to the BBC News Channel

While finishing interviewing at the India Business Forum in the London Business School where the news channel of choice appears to be CNN, I get a call to come into the BBC Newsroom for a story I worked on earlier in the year, the Taliban domination of certain areas of Pakistan. They have Swat, now they're into Buner.

Things are getting very serious now and it is not at all surprising that the US is making direct and bold statements.

India Business Forum followed by Pakistan for BBC News

The London Business School, where the India Business Forum was held today, seems pleased with itself for knocking Harvard Business School off the top spot and taking joint first place (according to the Financial Times) with Wharton, Pennsylvania.

I had a great time interviewing an interesting bunch of CEOs including a Tata principal, and there were a few thought-provoking moments, but my standout speaker was Constantinos Markides, who featured in the Times's top 50 management thinkers list a couple of years ago. He was funny and engaging.

My one-on-one interviews were conducted on wide wooden seats on a patio while delegates nibbled and networked. Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Dr Rakesh Mohan was one such interviewee.

After the equipment was switched off, I was feeling relaxed in the manicured gardens of the London Business School with the quiet hum of the delegates and their cocktail party emanating from inside the building, so I began to ask some off the record questions to Dr Mohan.

My face was inches from a central banker who was handling the world's second largest growing economy. Given the rarified world of these gentlemen, it felt a bit surreal.

Dr Mohan answered politely, and then got up quickly to return to the safety of the conference group.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Media Partnering alongside the Wall Street Journal for the 2009 India Business Forum London

While the second phase of voting commences in India in some hours, the country’s deputy central banker is in London to give the keynote speech at the India Business Forum at the London Business School.

The economy, along with security, has been listed as a prime concern for the Indian electorate.

Dr. Rakesh Mohan, Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India is scheduled to talk for fifty minutes. This will be a unique opportunity to hear first-hand how the RBI views its role in what is generally accepted as the world's second fastest growing economy.

Some leading business thinkers like Colvyn Harris, CEO, JWT India and Madhukar Dev, MD, Tata Elxsi will also be speaking.

My client is media partner for the conference with the Wall Street Journal and I will be covering the event.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Islamist Militant Chief Officially 'Missing?'

Something is not quite right here.

On April 13th, stories started to emerge about Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar who is wanted by India for alleged terror attacks, and who was under house arrest in Pakistan, having gone 'missing'. One of the first to carry the news was The Daily Times.

How does an alleged terror chief under house arrest in Pakistan officially go missing? How do the Pakistani authorities know? When did they find out that he was officially missing? If they have found out that he is officially missing, perhaps they could officially tell us where he might be? If it is official that he is missing, did they arrange it officially?

Today NDTV is carrying the report too. There is much more about this in the Indian press and netscape than there is in the Pakistani media.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Do You Have Problems with Hyperlinking Sometimes, Too?

There was I thinking that all my little links were working fine, and then I find that that is not the case. Oh, the internet can be so temperamental!

Sky.com has published my written introduction to the main political event on the Sub-Continent entitled 'Face Off: Who's Who in the Indian Elections' which you can access by going to the site and then to 'World News' but being the kind of persistent person that I am, I am going to attempt a hyperlink...here.

Nothing to do with the Elections...India Launches her Second Satellite Within a Month

Stepping through the first phase of elections in India and into the second, I anticipate that there may well be more 'incidents' even though there has been much more security consciousness by the government this session.

And, with amazing timing, another satellite happens to get launched. Many Indians cite security as a high priority in their voting decisions, the BJP/NDA use it as a political stick to beat the government with, and the issue of security itself is now politicised.

Indian Express.com reports;

'India on Monday successfully launched an all-weather Israeli-built spy satellite that will help security agencies keep a vigil on the country's borders.'

Apparently the Indian Space Agency's Chairman Chairman G Madhavan Nair got quite excited.

'The year 2009 has started off well. The final moments of the launch were more thrilling than a cricket match as we hit a few boundaries and bowled some googlies.' He said.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Off the Starting Block on the Indian Elections with Sky News

I hadn't even left my house this morning when I heard that six Border Security Force paramilitaries had been killed in Naxalite/Maoist attacks on the first day of election voting in India; a salutary reminder of the hinterland to this election cycle; the fourth I am reporting on.

The death toll looks likely to rise.

I was once given permission to embed with the BSF for an investigation into high-altitude warfare wireless communication. The BSF is deployed along India's porous borders and works alongside other military units of varying hues. I was given access to its control rooms, signals areas and mountainous outposts. I observed some interesting charts and maps along the way.

For Sky Active I recorded an Indian election primer for viewers, for Sky News I spoke about security and the different parties and possible outcomes, and I also recorded an interview for Sky News Radio - they supply the news for many commercial stations all over the UK now.

I like the fact that at this point in the game, none of us can predict anything except for the unlikelihood of a clear majority- the magic number of 272 seats needs to be reached by one party for that to happen- in a 543-seat scenario.

Great fun, and its only tea-time. And on no sleep, after monitoring the news from India through the night.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Update on John Kerry's Visit to Pakistan

I had no idea Rani's Report was so widely read....after I last posted, news came out that Senator John Kerry was paying visits to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and 'other concerned officials' on his most recent visit to Pakistan.

So in the interests of accuracy, I have updated, though I still stand by the theory that I put forward in my last blog.

Here is the reported gist of Kerry's discussions.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Pakistan Seems to be the Most Popular Destination for US Officials These Days

And...following on from visits to Pakistan by the new CIA Chief, Panetta, and the new Special Envoy to the region, Holbrooke, now the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, has called on the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani.

There have been many American officials arriving to admire the scenery in Pakistan since Obama became US President.

This shows how much importance is now being attached to the country's strategic location in the fight to try and keep some sort of grip on the country's increasingly fragile stability.

And the fact that it is the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, not the President, Asif Ali Zardari, who is often in important international as well as domestic meetings demonstrates perhaps that some are keeping their options open while considering who is likely to pulling the strings of power in future.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

While India Elects in 2009, Who Were the First Indians in the Palace of Westminster?

This year I wrote a presentation at the suggestion of Mohamed Sheikh, a member of the House of Lords who has a special interest in Indian politicians. His team had been searching for information on the first Indians to sit in Parliament, which in some instances, was quite sparse. From archives and libraries at Westminster, illustrations and data were collated and I began to piece together a jigsaw about the first four Indian Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom. To the best of my knowledge, no-one has juxtaposed this quartet before.

Three of the four were from the Parsee community. Perhaps the best known is the first, Dadabhai Naoroji, who was elected as a Member of the Liberal Party to the House of Commons in 1892. His portrait is displayed in the Central Lobby. Naoroji was raised by a widowed mother from the age of four. He is described as the founding father of Indian Nationalism, the Indian National Congress; and was a mentor to Gandhi.

Sir Mancherjee Bhownagree, pro-British and a Conservative, took a working-class area from the Liberals in 1895. He donated money to build part of Imperial College, London University.

Lord Sinha of Raipur, President of the Indian National Congress, was the first Indian in the House of Lords. He was elevated in 1919. There he navigated a bill transferring administrative power from the Governor-General to an Indian legislature.

Perhaps the most interesting of the four was Shapurji Saklatvala, who was born into the wealthy Tata family. Bubonic plague was rife during that period in Bombay, and the young Saklatvala spent much time in plague hospitals and slums caring for the needy. He was heavily influenced by a Russian bacteriologist whom he worked with, and decided that communism was the solution to the poverty, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions he found around him. In Britain, he joined the Labour Party and was elected to Westminster in 1922.

He supported working people, the Miner’s Federation, and Indian Independence. The British Battalion which fought during the Spanish Civil War was known as the Saklatvala Battalion.

Friday, 10 April 2009

UK Counter-Terrorism Action Echoes Barack Obama on Pakistan at the G20 London Summit

In the ongoing counter-terrorism operation by UK police, out of 12 men arrested, eleven are Pakistani nationals. Though at this stage no charges have been brought, just one week ago I was at Barack Obama’s press conference at the G20 London Summit after he had met with the Indian Prime Minister and a question on this subject was put to him.

What wasn’t reported at the time was that both Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh, in a planned operation, were asked the same question by representatives of the same internet outlet, Timesnow.tv, in their separate press conferences. Each leader was asked about the meeting he had had with the other, and both Obama and Singh were asked about their conclusions specifically relating to terrorism ‘Emanating from Pakistan.’
Barack Obama gave an answer lasting just under four minutes, while Manmohan Singh’s was considerably shorter and delivered with less humour.

Unlike Gordon Brown, Barack Obama chose his own questioners apart from those who were already written down on a list he had. Chuck Todd sat at the front with other American reporters, and I noticed Justin Webb was deep in whispered conversation with Mark Austin for a while before Obama stepped on stage. From my seat in the front row, I observed that the President’s trousers were a bit crumpled; I guess he had been sitting down in meetings much of the day.

David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs watched from the side of the stage, they seemed like happy schoolboys, and both were scrolling on their Blackberry devices during the press conference.

The standout moment for me was when Barack Obama called out for Chip Reid to ask his question, and when Chip stood up, Obama said ‘Chip, my heart goes out to you.’ Very few of us knew why he said this. While Chip accepted the President’s condolences and got through his question, I noticed his voice breaking towards the end and concluded that he must have suffered a personal tragedy. After Obama left, a couple of the Americans gave Chip a hug, and later on I found out that Reid’s father had passed away that morning.

For an instant, Obama didn't appear to care whether the rest of the room knew what he was talking about, what seemed important to him was a personal and private moment shared between two men in a room filled with 800 international media people.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Observations From Inside the Gordon Brown Press Conference at the G20 London Summit

With urgent deadlines covered, I can return to my observations on the press briefing with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Once inside the press conference, I make a dash for the front row. Seating for the audience is divided into three sections, left, where I am, middle, and right. Stills cameramen are in front of us, television cameras are to the sides and at the back of the room. As many of them are quite burly I tap one, Ray, on the shoulder and remind him that he needs to stay down by the floor so that the helpless female behind him can see the Prime Minister. Ray doesn’t object, and immediately becomes my friend.

UK lobby television reporters, Adam Boulton, Nick Robinson, Tom Bradby, etc, sit in the front row of the middle section.

A veteran South Asian business correspondent friend sits next to me and we discuss questions we might ask the P.M.

‘Ask him if this is the end of capitalism,’ the correspondent suggests, only half-joking.

There is a lean, light-coloured suited official on stage staring out at the media and I tell him that I want to ask a question. He asks me what the question is. He reminds me of someone with a military background.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown steps onto the stage in front of me, walks to the lectern, and delivers a communiqué of London Summit decisions, after which his lean, light-coloured suited official starts calling out the questioners. He gets some of them from a list. I have shot my hand straight into the air, expecting to be given the chance to speak shortly.

The official opts for other journalists. He includes a few from British television and also a male reporter with a very trendy haircut from China Central Television.

The suited official is interesting. I learn that he is a senior Downing Street press person. When he gestures to one of the roving mic carriers, he mimes to show them where he wants them to go.

He holds up four fingers. This means fourth row. One finger means first row. I see him stroking his chin, and when the mic carrier looks at him blankly, clearly bemused, he gestures in a more animated fashion - his hand moves up and down from his chin to his chest - while mouthing ‘beard’ and holding up three fingers.

At one juncture, the mic carrier takes initiative and runs towards someone holding up his hand, without waiting for instructions from the stage. This seems to cause the Downing Street official to have an apoplectic fit and he jumps up and down noiselessly, makes a gesture of slitting his throat and shouts a silent ‘no!’

This is all going on while the PM is delivering serious answers to the attentive international press assembled. I'm surprised that I haven’t been asked to stand up and deliver my question yet, and my arm is beginning to ache badly. In fact this is the longest I’ve had to wait to make my point in any press conference, anywhere. But journalists must practise patience, so I become zen-like, knowing that my time will come.

Eventually, another Downing Street official tells his colleague on stage to call me out. I jump up, ask my question and sit down, mightily relieved.

Tamils Demonstrate in London

Over the past three days, there have been demonstrations and protests by British Tamils, attempting to raise the profile of their civilian counterparts caught up in the ongoing battle between the Sri Lankan Government and the separatist Tamil Tigers, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who have been fighting for an independent homeland. The LTTE is banned in Britain, though its distinctive red and yellow flag has been very much in evidence on the marches which at their height numbered 3,000. In Melbourne and Sidney, Australia, 4,000 Tamils converged, and similar events have been taking place sporadically in other cities like Paris and Geneva.

Claiming discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese - dominated government, the LTTE began to fight for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s.

Thousands of Tamils have been displaced during this war. About 800,000 live outside Sri Lanka, with the largest groupings located in the UK and Canada. Talking to Tamil families in London, it is hard to find one without direct experience of a relative being caught up in the conflict. Does anyone ever actually ask them their reasons for forsaking their beautiful homeland?

An estimated 30-35,000 are being held in what Human Rights Watch describes as 'Detention Camps' with reportedly inadequate health and sanitation facilities. The United Nations says that there are still 150,000 Tamils trapped in the war zone in the north. In recent days, there have been unsubstantiated reports of poisonous nerve gas attacks by the Sri Lankan army on civilian Tamils.

The BBC says on its website; 'The United Nations estimates more than 2,800 civilians have been killed and 7,000 others injured in the fighting in the north-east of Sri Lanka in the last two months. The country's government disputes these figures.'

Despite regular statements by the UN's Ban Ki Moon, Britain's Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, other officials and well-meaning charities, a stringent veto on untrammelled media and visitor access applied by the Sri Lankan Government means that the war zones remain sealed off and the outside world has no idea about what is actually happening in the conflict areas.

When I have reported on Tamil areas in Sri Lanka, I have been given first-hand accounts of no electricity available, water in short supply, and a paucity of medicines and pain relief for hospitals. When there is no power for fridges and freezers, food preservation is difficult. With slow and inadequate transport, women told me about giving birth en route to hospital and then a lack of adequate care when they got there so that infections easily took hold-if the infants or their mothers survived. And, with so many husbands, sons and brothers occupied in fighting or lost to the war, there is a plethora of women-headed households now.

On the 1st April 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to US Congress members, 'The international community has started planning for the post-conflict period, I emphasized that the Sri Lanka Army should not fire into the areas where civilians are trapped in the conflict zone. I urged President Rajapaksa to devise a political solution to the ongoing conflict.'

Meanwhile, the shooting and the shelling continues. But how many of us really care?

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Observations from Inside the G20 Summit

While the black and silver limousine convoys were driving up to the Excel Centre to deliver their important cargo of world leaders to the London Summit, I noticed, riding along in the media bus, a white vehicle with TEAPOT 1 written on the front. On its side, the words 'catering van' were written.

Once off the bus, we were delivered into the security checkpoint with fairly friendly armed police asking us to divest ourselves of metal (watches, bracelets) and coats as we went through the detectors.

Inside the media centre, the serried ranks of international journalists were divided into print and broadcast; print sitting with their laptops at long tables divided by country, the television crews up on a wooden platform overlooking them, and little radio studio booths behind the TV area. I put my coat in one of the many free lockers. In the one information point, two or three Foreign and Commonwealth Office press officials were looking harassed.

Up on the screens, information was being displayed about various briefings due later on in the day along with footage from inside the plenaries. I needed information about certain countries, so the FCO official pointed me to an enclosed area where the delegations were supposed to be represented so I could go and find out more. I went in, and there on desks with phones were country placards; Brazil, European Commission, Republic of Indonesia, etc, computers and photocopiers. But no delegation personnel. I hurried back to the information point. They only seemed to know for sure about a Gordon Brown press briefing scheduled for 3.30pm GMT, and told us to ring the embassies to find out about any others. They did tell me that the Russians were holding one, but it was only open to the Russian press.

In the food area, sandwiches, flavoured yoghurts, soft drinks, tea, coffee and that journalist staple, crisps, were available, all free. British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson was moving around cheerfully, giving interviews, chatting and laughing. At one point he helped himself to a cup of tea and came and sat with some men he knew in the cafe area. The whole arena had a curiously safe atmosphere, the British politicians who visited seemed relaxed; when Mandelson was giving back-to back TV interviews around lunchtime his shiny red box was leaning casually by a wooden frame, unwatched. But then, the only folk around were known media, security, service providers, delegates and officials.

Eventually, the FCO guys gave us a printout of some briefings which they thought were actually happening, starting with Gordon Brown. Obama was due to speak at 5.45pm GMT, but no-one could tell us if that conference was going to be open or closed. In between Gordon Brown and Obama two others were scheduled, so I planned to attend the first, and remain in the room - until Obama would show up - in order to guarantee my place.

Looking at the schedule, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was due to speak at the same time as the US President in another, smaller room at 5.30pm . I told the FCO that this would be a clash, and those of us who wanted to listen to both would be faced with a hard choice, so he called the Indian Liaison Officer, Nitin, who arrived with a walkie-talkie and no further information. Eventually, the Indian Briefing was moved... to 5.45pm.

Meanwhile, the only folk who had arrived in the area set aside for international delegations were journalists using the computers who looked up at me guiltily when I came in. I composed myself, wandered outside to the river where some smokers and a few others were grabbing some sunshine, then I joined the queue for the British Prime Minister's briefing. A Swedish reporter who was behind me casually crept forward until he was parallel with me, and when we came to a corner he actually managed to slip in ahead of me. It's every man for himself at these events and the media didn't seem to have too much concern for the host country's predilection for politely standing in line.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

G20 in a Few Hours

My bag and notebook at the ready, I shall be starting my journey to the London Summit in just a few hours. I understand now that we will have two stages of travel by secure bus once we enter the sealed zone; one to the accreditation point, then we will take another to the Media Centre. The press office told me that the situation is still 'fluid' as far as personnel and press conferences are concerned, it could only confirm that Gordon Brown will attend the main presser post-conference scheduled for 15.30 though it will probably start late. So we are not sure of the indentities of the other guests at that party.

Many of the items on the itinery are followed by 'to be confirmed.' But the press office did say that Lord Malloch-Brown may give an on the record print media conference....though it doesn't know when.

There are 500 desks and 500 lockers for 2,000 international media personnel, and 800 seats at the 15.30 press conference. I enjoyed playing musical chairs when I was a young girl, so this isn't very different, now.

Colour Blind; a Page-Turning Film

An 11-minute short has just opened in London which fulfils the veteran director and theologian Peter Brook's definition of art; to animate the audience, to cause it to reflect, and to have it reconsider established ways of thinking. The film is on its way to Sundance, Cannes, Venice, London, Berlin and Raindance.

Colour Blind, British producer Paul Atherton's latest oeuvre, goes straight for the jugular and tackles racism in a way that no-one else has had the courage to do, to the best of my knowledge.

Two male characters, one white, one black, played by actors Robert Cavanah and Will Johnson, meet in a pub. As they talk and cultural references resonate during the conversation, the audience witnesses a comparable on-screen resonance through a visual technique of lightening and darkening.

I was intrigued by the method at which Atherton arrived at this technique, assuming that it involved many takes for the star of Waking the Dead, Will Johnson. Not so, said Atherton. He explained that it came about through

'An ingenious idea in Post Production by my editor Ralston Humble and my colour correction specialist...The solution came by layering three tracks of film one on top of another - 1. the original footage we shot on the day, 2. the Colour Corrected film allowing Will's skin to be the various colours but which meant the surrounding background looked unusual and then 3. the rotoscope layer which allowed just the colour changes of Will's face to be visible to the audience.

It was an incredibly labour intensive process. We shot in HD at 25 FPS (Frames per second) and it was taking our Rotoscope artists...with Ralston's help 3 hours to Rotoscope just 100 frames (4 seconds of film). In total 2000 Frames were rotoscoped.

( Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame.)

'Rotoscoping is extremely rare in short films and would be unheard of on our budget.
But to my knowledge (and we did considerable research into this) its the first time it has ever been used to create this effect.

Atherton, who owns and runs Simple (TV) Productions, funded the film and as is often the case, was able to make the film mainly because of his determination, skillful negotiation and by garnering goodwill. He told me Ralston Humble, based at Pinewood Studios,

'is the main reason why my films look so good. He's brought huge production values to all my projects from Silent Voices through to The Ballet of Change. He is one of the most generous individuals I know assisting many film-makers with their projects by fitting them around his higher paying ones.'

One of the remarkable aspects of the film industry is its collaborative nature. Serious practitioners support each other in maintaining the highest professional standards yet may often compromise on fees in a high-cost arena. This applies across the board, even in Hollywood.

When a piece of work like Colour Blind is produced, which moves debate forward, it is important to understand how the project is put together.