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Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Could Mobile Phones Save Millions From Illiteracy?
According to UNESCO, the answer is yes. Or at least, they could help. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization periodically publishes detailed report about mobile phones usage in some of the poorest regions of the world. This time, for the study Reading in the Mobile Age, the organization tried to understand not only if people in developing countries use mobiles at all, but also, if they use them in a way that could help fight illiteracy. The research found out that, while mobile phones are still used primarily for basic communication, they are also, increasingly, a gateway to long-form text. Often, for millions, the only chance of reading a text where books are almost unknown.

Press Freedom at the Lowest Level in a Decade
Freedom House
While there were positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, the dominant trends were reflected in setbacks in a range of settings. The year’s declines were driven by the desire of governments— articularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments—to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media. In addition, press freedom in a number of countries was threatened by private owners—especially those with close connections to governments or ruling parties—who altered editorial lines or dismissed key staff after acquiring previously independent outlets.

Caught in the crossfire: indigenous people in conflict zones
The Guardian
Although no authoritative definition of 'indigenous peoples' exists, one of the most cited descriptions is outlined in José Martínez Cobo's study on the problem of discrimination against indigenous populations, as follows: "Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system." There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 6% of the world's population, but speak an overwhelming majority of the world's estimated 7,000 languages, occupy 20% of the earth's territory and represent 5,000 different cultures. They account for most of the world's cultural diversity, despite being a numerical minority. Indigenous cultures face dual threats of discrimination and commodification, arising from the perception that they are inferior to non-indigenous communities and their culture is a hindrance to development.

The mobile industry is fighting the wrong war in emerging markets
Mobile is counting on the developing world (and its estimated 5 billion mobile subscriptions) in a big way. As Mozilla demonstrates a $25 smartphone, undercutting on price has long been the industry’s strategy to wooing emerging market consumers. However, content also matters significantly. On smartphones, content manifests in apps, meaning mobile providers and companies must ask: Is the battle for cheaper smartphones a worthwhile fight, or does the real war lie in making their content accessible? There are considerable obstacles to actively reaching consumers in emerging markets. More than a third of these consumers, for example, find content too expensive to access, while 32% are not aware of any kind of incentives or promotions to drive purchases. The Trojan horse in the room is that a majority of app stores require access to credit payment methods, while more than one in five (21%) emerging market consumers do not have access to credit or bank facilities. In addition, a majority of potential smartphone users in emerging markets do not have access to banking or credit card accounts, and as such cannot use the Apple App Store or Google Play, even if they wanted to.

Spread of Polio Is World Health Emergency, WHO Says
Wall Street Journal
The World Health Organization declared a recent spread of polio to new countries to be an international public-health emergency, warning that it could undermine a lengthy and expensive eradication effort. The United Nations public-health agency called polio's spread so far this year an "extraordinary event," with illnesses or the virus alone found in 10 countries in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Three nations in particular—Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon—are exporting the virus beyond their borders, it said, and should intensify their measures to control it. The agency singled out Pakistan as the biggest source of the spreading disease. The WHO also said that residents of those countries should be vaccinated before traveling abroad and should be issued and carry an internationally recognized certificate as proof. Residents of all countries with polio cases should do the same, the agency said.

Emerging markets await equity culture
Financial Times
There is much excitement about the rise of a global middle class, yet emerging economies are still a long way from developing a mass investment culture. A look at some of the common definitions of middle class should be enough to sound a note of caution to anyone hoping to see a rapid growth in the investing classes. The loosest definition includes all those who have exceeded the World Bank’s poverty line of $2 a day (adjusted for purchasing power differences), while a more demanding one puts the poverty threshold at $10 a day. According to FT research, there were 2.8bn people living between these two levels in the developing world in 2010.

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