Asia taking no chances with new China virus as WHO meeting looms

Enhanced screening in place from Taiwan to Singapore as countries trigger responses honed by SARS experience.

Published by Al Jazeera English, Jan. 22, 2020

Singapore was hit hard after an unassuming traveller from Hong Kong brought the SARS virus to the Southeast Asian island in 2003.

The threat caused widespread public panic, prompting school closures and inflicting economic damage to business and tourism. People rushed to buy face masks or remained indoors. Some 238 people were infected and 33 died. The WHO says SARS killed about 800 people globally.

Singapore has close ties with mainland China and Changi Airport is one of the world’s busiest for international traffic. Wuhan is just four and a half hours away on a daily direct flight.

After initially screening only passengers from Wuhan, Singaporean health authorities this week began screening all inbound passengers from China, issuing them health advisory notices. Continue reading …

Prolonged airspace ban over Iran, Iraq could cost airlines dearly

After US regulator banned country’s airlines from flying over Iran and Iraq, other carriers are also taking precautions.

By Tom Benner

Published by Al Jazeera English, Jan. 10, 2020

Singapore – Did a missile, or even missiles, bring down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in a Tehran suburb earlier this week, killing all 176 people on board, a few hours after Iranian forces launched attacks against military bases hosting United States forces in Iraq?

Western officials seem to be raising the possibility that a missile strike – whether intentional or not – did cause the tragedy. Iran has dismissed the comments by Canada and Ukraine suggesting a missile attack may have been responsible.

But if it was the cause, it would seem to vindicate the decision this week by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ban US carriers from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf of Oman, as well as the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The European Aviation Safety Agency also recommended that EU-based commercial airlines avoid Iraqi airspace, prompting many carriers to reroute or cancel operations through the region.

But those decisions, while prudent, could add to the commercial and operational problems of many Asian and European airlines whose planes have to pass over the Middle East while travelling between Asia and Europe, aviation analysts say.
Continue reading …

Volocopter takes to Singapore sky, but can air taxis take off?

German aviation start-up Volocopter conducts urban air taxi test flight, but questions abound over emerging technology.

volocopter-singapur-public-flight-01

By Tom Benner

Published by Al Jazeera English, Oct, 22, 2019

Singapore – Singaporeans got their first glimpse of a flying taxi on Tuesday, however fleeting, with a public demonstration of what its designers hope could become a new way to get around urban centres far above congested roads.

The air taxi’s maiden flight above Singapore’s Marina Bay lasted about two minutes – a minute short of the advertised three-minute test run – perhaps because the thunder had begun to rumble. It was manned by a pilot, although future flights are expected to be fully autonomous.

The air taxi’s maker, German aviation start-up Volocopter, has previously conducted public demonstration flights in Germany, Dubai and Finland.

“[This] is an important milestone for the introduction of urban air mobility, simply because we give people the image in their mind and the opportunity to see how the vehicle behaves in the air, and how quiet it is in full flight,” Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter told Al Jazeera after the test run. Continue reading …

Hong Kong’s losses may be Singapore’s gain, new survey shows

As the rivals compete to be Asia’s top financial hub, fallout from protests in Hong Kong is seen as helping Singapore.

Published by Al Jazeera English, Sept. 13, 2019

By Tom Benner

Singapore – Business confidence in Hong Kong is being hurt by ongoing protests in the Chinese city, and Singapore – Hong Kong’s long-time rival – stands to become Asia’s leading financial hub and is likely to see economic gains as a result.

That’s the finding of a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore released this week. But analysts say it’s too soon to write Hong Kong off as an important Asian business centre.

Enormous and sometimes violent protests, now in their 14th week, have at times paralysed Hong Kong’s streets, mass transit system and airport. That is prompting employers in sectors such as banking, financial services, and hospitality to weigh the costs of doing business in that city and to consider relocation to other Asian cities, business analysts say. Continue reading …

The challenges facing India’s media landscape: Shouting on TV news, a social media cesspit, and broken business models

Here’s a story I wrote for N3Magazine, an interview with James Crabtree, author of “The Billionaire Raj,” for the annual magazine of the Asian American Journalists Association’s Asia conference, held in May 2019 at Hong Kong University.

By Tom Benner

India’s media market remains strong, at least when compared to many other countries in Asia.

Yet James Crabtree, a former Financial Times journalist previously based in Mumbai, sees three large shifts affecting India’s vast media landscape — worrisome trends that will continue to have a coarsening effect on the state of the media in the world’s largest democracy.

The rising popularity of raucous television news, which comes at the expense of more civil discourse and public interest programming, combined with a lack of gatekeeping policies to prevent the spread of misinformation on social media, has contributed to a rise in nationalistic and anti-minority rhetoric in India. Similarly, the country’s shift from print to digital advertising signals a decline in print media’s influence on the general population. Continue reading …

Singapore’s answer to fake news: correction and takedown orders, fines and jail

Here’s a story I wrote for N3Magazine, the annual magazine of the Asian American Journalists Association’s Asia conference, held in May 2019 at Hong Kong University.

By Tom Benner

Singapore passed a far-reaching new law on May 9 to combat the problem of online falsehoods.

Singaporean lawmakers voted to grant government ministers broad powers such as the ability to demand corrections, order the removal of content, or block websites deemed to be propagating falsehoods contrary to the public interest.

Penalties for not complying with orders include steep fines and jail time.

While Germany has passed a law allowing for takedown orders on social media sites, that law is specifically focused on hate speech.

Singapore’s law goes further, allowing government ministers to singlehandedly decide if an online post is factually incorrect and contrary to the public interest. Read more …

New Singapore opposition party backed by PM’s brother launched

Tan Cheng Bock, a retired medical doctor, launches Progress Singapore Party amid speculation of early general election.

Published by Al Jazeera English, August 3, 2019.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock

Photo: Dr. Tan Cheng Bock, Aug, 3, 2019.

By Tom Benner

Singapore – A new opposition party seeking to challenge the government in Singapore has been launched amid speculation that a general election due by 2021 could be announced earlier.

Politician Tan Cheng Bock, a 79-year-old retired medical doctor, on Saturday launched the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), which is backed by the estranged brother of the country’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“The style of government has changed, the processes of government have gone astray, because there has been an erosion of the three pillars of good governance – transparency, independence, and accountability,” Tan told a group of supporters.

He said there was a lack of “open political discourse” and claimed people were “fearful of publicly criticising the government”. Continue reading …