Hockey Gear: More Harm than Help?

Hockey Gear: More Harm than Help?

New York – Underwear, jock strap, shin pads, socks, skates, shoulder pads, elbow pads, jersey, helmet and gloves—it can take pro hockey players 15 minutes or more to put on all their gear. That’s a far cry from the equipment worn 70 years ago when the original six national Hockey League teams took to the ice. Back then, athletes didn’t wear protective equipment so every puck or slapshot had the potential to leave a bruise. Helmets were made of soft leather instead of plastic and foam, primarily protecting against heat loss rather than injury. Since then, companies have added layers of plastic and even bulletproof kevlar to the equipment. Elbow pads, once made of leather and strapped on the outside of a player’s sweater, are now made of dense pipe-like plastic. 

Click the hyperlink above to read the full article published in the Winter edition of the Coaches of Canada Magazine. 

Hockey Gear: More Harm than Help?


Peaceful solution between Arabs and Israelis is unlikely

For an eighth-generation Israeli, a former soldier and now a shopkeeper in the teeming heart of Jerusalem’s busiest market, the outlook for the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a positive one. David Boneh sits in his small corner store in Mahane Yehuda selling freshly squeezed juice and sliced meats amidst the tumult and hubbub of the market while vendors out shout each other offering prices to passersby. The 54-year old said the noise can be overwhelming, but for him it is home.

Boneh working

Boneh’s family has owned an apartment in the market, more commonly known as the Shuk, for three generations. “It’s right there,” said Boneh, pointing to yellow building directing across the street from his shop. The apartment Boneh grew up in and sees from every angle from his shop now houses three American students. The noise in the market, said Boneh, was too much for his wife, so they decided to rent out the property. “She refuses to live there,” he said. “I don’t feel the noise.”


But Boneh has not always called Jerusalem his home. For 20 years the soft-spoken electronics graduate from the Holon College of Technology lived in Rimonim, an Israeli settlement 20 minutes away from East Jerusalem on the West Bank. The settlement, like others in the West Bank, is controversial in the international community, where many view building in Palestinian territory illegal. Rimonim, named for the pomegranate trees in the area, was built in 1977 as a temporary com plex for Nahal military personnel, a group that combines military service and farming. By the time Boneh left in 2004, the temporary settlement had grown from five families to hundreds of residents. Living on the West Bank, said Boneh, gave him a new outlook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meeting and interacting with Palestinians on a daily basis helped him develop friendships and collegial relationships with Arabs, but more importantly it provided an insight into the difficulties of life on the other side of the wall. Despite taking several vacations with Arab friends, Boneh said he remains guarded and wary. “I don’t trust them,” he said, turning to the left to look at his male Arab colleague selling meat to a group of foreigners. More than two decades ago his family moved out of the Jewish Quarter after his great-grandfather’s butcher shop was taken over by Arabs. Now, he said he often feels uncomfortable taking his four kids, and wife through Damascus Gate. For now, Boneh is content working and living side-by-side with Arabs, so long as he doesn’t have to venture inside the gigantic limestone walls of the Old City.


Paulson decries PTSD sufferers in tape of speech

Published on iPolitics 

In a rare glimpse into the RCMP’s inner circle, an audio tape posted to an RCMP watchdog blog appears to show Commissioner Bob Paulson referring to members with PTSD in a derogatory manner.

During an off-the-cuff speech to an RCMP town hall in Edmonton last April, the commissioner seems to reference sufferers by whistling to describe officers with a psychological disorder.

“I want you to hear it from me that if you get hurt on the job, and that includes ‘whistles,’ we are going to look after you.”

In his comments, Paulson underlined the need to get back to work as soon as possible. The veteran Mountie repeatedly assured the audience the RCMP wants to help injured officers get better, but the department cannot do it alone. The onus, said Paulson, is on the individual to come back to work when they are ready.

“The objective is not to get a regimental number and cha ching, cha ching we are looking after you for the rest of your life and into your grave.”

According to the RCMP’s website, more than 2,200 Mounties are receiving full or partial disability pensions from Veterans Affairs for PTSD. It’s a diagnosis that Paulson told the Mounties is not well understood and may be “overused” by some members of the force. It is becoming a “huge liability,” said the Commissioner on the tape.

British Columbia-based Cpl. Roland Beaulieu, one of the first officers to go public about harassment in the force, said PTSD is a growing problem that affects nearly 10 per cent of the departments’ staff.

“They say that’s not systemic, but I would say it is systemic.”

In his talk, Paulson said that the emergence of PTSD in the police force is a byproduct of their stressful work.

The culture of the RCMP has come under scrutiny in recent months for hiding and downplaying harassment and bullying cases. Paulson told a Senate committee yesterday that he’s making real gains in fighting that atmosphere despite difficulties with some members who “will not get on board.”

The Commissioner also took direct aim at Cpl. Beaulieu accusing him of seeking a payoff.

The RCMP, said Paulson, needs to do more to help officers. The current policies don’t do enough. Rather than create a national strategy, Paulson told the Mounties he would prefer local detachments focus on early interventions. The stigma around the anxiety disorder often dissuades people from coming forward and seeking help.

The Commissioner later confessed that he too fought the anxiety disorder.

“… I’ve had it myself,” said Paulson. “I understand how tough it is, um, so we have to get a little more thoughtful there and i’m committed to helping the organization figure that out.”

The nature of policing puts officers at a greater risk for developing PTSD, said trauma Psychotherapist Lori Gill. Crime scene visits, photographs, audio and even second-hand stories from coworkers or victims expose officers to traumatic experiences every day.

The five-minute tape of the Commissioner appeared on a website used by critics from within the force who say the RCMP is in crisis.

The department confirmed the Commissioner’s appearance at K Division in Edmonton, adding that his talk focused on issues related to changes in the RCMP. Sources say the meeting lasted between 30 minutes and an hour.

Media Relations for the RCMP detachment in Edmonton confirmed that the Commissioner spoke at their headquarters in April. Another senior K Division Mountie confirmed to iPolitics that that key portions of the tape correspond with Paulson’s talk in Edmonton including that he whistled during the talk.

Toews vetting RCMP Commissioner’s travel

Published on iPolitics 

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews may have interfered in the independent workings of Canada’s national police force in an effort to reduce unnecessary departmental spending.

iPolitics has learned that as of February 2012, all RCMP executives are required to get the minister’s approval for all executive retreats, meetings and conferences, including travel, over $5,000 dollars.

Access to information documents show that RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has asked Minister Toews on multiple occasions for permission to attend meetings with National and International Police Associations. In his letters, Paulson justifies his attendance at these meetings, alongside a list of other participants, key outcomes of the conference, and financial costs. The bottom of each letter prompts the Minister to check ‘accept or decline’ the Commissioner’s request.

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In a letter dated July 16th, 2012, Paulson states that travel to a gathering of Canadian Police Chiefs would help strengthen relationships. The Commissioner requested over $84,000 dollars to send 28 RCMP executives, including himself, to a conference in Nova Scotia. The Minister approved this request.

Whether it’s a national gathering of police organizations or department staff, the government should not be interfering in the affairs of Canada’s national police force, said Ron Lewis, a former RCMP officer and member of the Canadian Mounted Police Veteran’s Association. Although events like the annual meeting of Canadian Police Chiefs appear insignificant, Lewis said they are a major part of the Commissioner’s job.

Toews’ director of communications, Julie Carmichael, justified her minister’s directive as a way to eliminate wasteful spending and return the government to a balanced budget. “In that climate it is important that senior public servants show leadership,” she wrote in an email.

Regardless of the government’s intent, the NDP’s Public Safety critic Randall Garrison said the Minister should have enough confidence in the RCMP Commissioner to make decisions about the department independently. Instead of ordering the RCMP to report spending to the Minister, the government should simply tell the department how much money they need to save.

“The decisions on how to do (save money) that in operations must remain with the Commissioner,” he said.

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The Minister of Public Safety appears to be tightening the government’s grip on Canada’s national police force and threatening its independence. By law, the RCMP is supposed to be at arms-length from the federal government, but their arms seem to be shortening. While former Conservative Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day would not confirm whether approving travel expenses and meetings for senior RCMP officers was a new procedure, Day told iPolitics that generally, his office did not approve expenses.

This revelation comes less than a month after Minister Toews was accused of muzzling the RCMP after ordering senior officers to get approval from his office before meeting with parliamentarians. In 2011, Toews told MPs they could not meet the newly appointed head of the RCMP without notifying the department of Public Safety. The Minister’s latest attempt to interfere with the RCMP does not come as a surprise, said Garrison.

“We’re seeing a pattern for a lack of respect for these agencies that need to be free of political interference,” he said.

Being tied to the federal government can create problems down the road, said Rae Banwarie, the National President of British Columbia’s Mounted Professional Association. To maintain their credibility, RCMP officers must operate in isolation from political parties. The RCMP is often called in to investigate MPs, Senators and issues within government departments; the RCMP is currently probing the Senate expense scandal.

“If there is a need for investigations,we must appear and we must be independent from government,” he said .

It’s unknown whether there are any penalties associated with failure to comply with Minister Toews’ directive.

The RCMP did not respond by press time.

Government takes another kick at limiting safe injection sites

Published on iPolitics

New legislation tabled this morning by the Harper government will make it more difficult to establish new supervised injection sites.

The bill, titled the Respect for Communities Act, will create guidelines to obtain exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act. The decision of whether a safe site can open is left to the Minister of Health’s discretion.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the changes will help keep illegal drugs from getting into the wrong hands.

“Our government believes that creating a location for sanctioned use of drugs obtained from illicit sources has the potential for great harm in a community,” Aglukkaq said in a press release. “Accordingly, we believe that the application process needs to be changed to create formal opportunities for local voices to be heard, and their views considered before an exemption would be considered.”

In a press conference Thursday morning, Aglukkaq said the proposed changes to the act will give communities a louder voice in deciding whether a supervised injection site is given the green light. The new rules will require applicants to consult with local police, leaders and residents.

“I’m confident the proposed legislation will bring much needed clarity to the way future applications are made, and show a real respect for community input,” she said in a press conference.

The changes will also give the federal health minister authority to issue a public Notice of Application.

“We all have a voice when it comes to our health and safety,” she added. “I encourage Canadians to make theirs heard when it comes to supervised consumption sites.”

But giving communities more input and raising the threshold could stop new injection sites from opening. Health Canada officials admit tougher rules could potentially translate into fewer sites. Only one exemption has been filed and granted for a new site in the last ten years.

The Controlled Substance Abuse Act subjects supervised injection sites to the same application process as medical professionals obtaining exemptions for clinical trials, or doctors looking to treat patients with opioids like methadone. The exemption prevents individuals from facing drug possession charges. Veteran Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said the illegal drugs covered by the act threaten the health of Canadians.

“Substances obtained from illegal sources affect public safety and may fuel organized crime, and exemptions for illicit substances must be carefully assessed,” he said in a press release.

Critics have voiced concern about supervised injection sites. Many believe the sites legitimize the use of illegal drugs, do not help curb drug abuse and can act as a meeting ground for drug dealers.

Matt Skof, the President of the Ottawa Police Association, told reporters Ottawa’s police force has backed the government’s bill. The scholarly research supporting injection sites, he said, is inaccurate.  Communities will actually suffer from having a safe drug consumption site in their neighbourhood.

Richard Chenery rests after injecting heroin he bought on the street at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday May 11, 2011. CP/Darryl Dyck

“That peer-reviewed research, you will not find me saying that is an accurate portrayal of what actually happens,” said Skof. ” You cannot convince me that an Insite program is going to be something that will be beneficial to both them, anybody who has ever been an addict in an anti-social situation or to the community.”

The Conservative government, too, has been critical of safe injection sites. In 2008, then-health minister Tony Clement said the exemption from Canada’s drug laws that allowed Insite, Canada’s lone safe injection site, should not be continued. The position received a sharp rebuke from Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in 2011 when the top court unanimously voted to keep Insite open.

“This limit is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice,” McLachlin wrote on behalf of the unanimous court, adding that it was “arbitrary” and “grossly disproportionate.”

The court decided that closing the Vancouver site, which had legally obtained an exemption from Canada’s drug laws, would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The judges also said closing the site could come at the detriment of drug users’ health and well-being.

The government’s new bill responds to suggestions made in the Supreme Court’s ruling that said grants for exemptions must consider the site’s impact on crime rates, and community support or opposition. The Respecting Communities Act will require applicants to meet stricter guidelines, which could make opening a new site that much harder.

Insite was opened in 2003. The B.C. program provides drug users a sterile environment to inject drugs, and connects visitors with health care professionals and counsellors. It now attracts nearly 500,000 people every year. The Minister said the new legislation will not effect the Vancouver drug consumption site.

Children’s Fitness Tax Credit has cost more than half a billion

Published on iPolitics 

A federal government initiative to increase physical activity among Canada’s youth has cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars.

According to a response to an Order Paper question, the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit cost $90 million in 2007,  $105 million in 2008, $110 million in 2009, $115 million in 2010, $115 million in 2011 and $120 million in 2012.

Despite the millions of dollars spent, experts say the program’s success is debatable.

“We haven’t seen increases in population levels of physical activity among kids since the program started, but maybe there would be fewer kids active if the program wasn’t in place,” says University of Alberta Professor John Spence.

Canada is facing an obesity epidemic that isn’t going away any time soon. One in four Canadian children and youth are overweight or obese, and kids are increasingly being diagnosed with adult diseases including type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure. And according to Statistics Canada, participation in sport and physical activity has dropped from 45 per cent in 1992 to 28 per cent in 2005.

Queens University Professor Ian Janssen says the money going towards the Children’s Tax Credit last year was misspent. The program, he says, doesn’t help the people who need it most.

“This is just something the government holds up as their physical activity flag saying this is something we are doing to combat obesity in children,” he said.

The credit, first introduced in 2006, is designed to encourage parents to enroll their children in sport and decrease childhood obesity. The initiative allows families to claim fitness related costs up to $500 per child under age 16; parents with disabled children can claim an addition $500 for kids under age 18.

But NDP sport critic Matthew Dube says the credit doesn’t do enough to get kids moving. It’s a program he believes the government should abandon.

“When you consider the increasing cost, I think it is really important to consider whether this is really the most cost-efficient way to get people more involved, and not just those whose families have a decent amount of income,” he said.

The program has repeatedly come under fire for failing to help low-income families offset the costs associated with participation in organized sport and recreation programs. Parents who claim the maximum amount for a non-disabled child get just $75 back, which experts including Janssen say gives parents no incentive to put their kids in sport.

“It made the difference of a trip to Starbucks for a cup of coffee in our annual budget,” he said about his run-in with the tax credit. “It was actual more effort collecting all the information, tax forms and receipts than it was worth.”

In the last three years the program has seen fewer than 60,000 new claimants. More than 1.56 million Canadians claimed the tax credit in 2011, compared with nearly 1.3 million in 2007.

Despite advertising campaigns, research suggests a large number of citizens’ are unaware of the tax credit, especially families in lower income brackets. A 2010 study conducted by Dr. Spence found only about a 38 per cent low-income families compared to 72 per cent of high income households knew the credit existed.

“We found they (low-income families) are less aware, and much less likely to plan to claim it than families in the higher quartiles,” says Spence.

Documents show the largest number of people claiming the credit earn $40,000 to $60,000 dollars annually, with another large clump earning $60,000 to $80,000 and $100,000 to $125,000. The credit, says Spence, assumes families have the money to pay for registration fees upfront. It also excludes people who don’t earn enough to pay taxes.

“The government’s being disingenuous by saying it will help reduce the financial burden for low-income families,” he says.

The tax credit model requires families to spend money before receiving money, which disproportionally benefits families in high income brackets. Hockey equipment alone can range from $300 to several thousand dollars, while registration fees for sports including soccer can range from $100 dollars to $300 dollars per season.

The high price of sports, combined with a shift in focus from active play to organized sport is hurting activity level among youth. Government implemented policies and tax credits can only go so far, says Janssen. The notion that only structured activities led by adults are beneficial for children needs to change. Just last month, an annual report released by Active Healthy Kids gave Canada a D- for physical activity levels, and an F for sedentary behaviour.

“It’s the unstructured things like walking to your neighbourhood destinations, active play in your backyard  or in your neighbourhood, that’s the stuff that has really changed for the bad and where we don’t think of putting a lot of investment into,” adds Janssen.

According to Active Healthy Kids, 95 per cent of children are not meeting national activity guidelines that recommend youth aged 12-17 spend at least 60 minutes doing moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity.

To make Canadian children healthier, the Canadian Nurses Association recommends the government place greater emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention. While the credit is an important “federal lever to promote health”, the CNA says investing in school-based exercise programs or community sports clubs could make the program more accessible and affordable.

NDP, RCMP members decry muzzling, inaction on oversight bill

Published on iPolitics

Rolly Beaulieu’s willingness to speak up about violence and harassment in the workforce could abruptly end his nearly 30-year career as an RCMP officer.

Beaulieu was invited to appear before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence Monday night. Three days before the hearing, he received a directive from the RCMP saying that if he was “physically and cognitively able to participate in these hearings,” he was “fit” for work. Beaulieu has been on off-duty sick leave since 2011 following repeated incidences of harassment.

In an interview, the veteran RCMP officer said he felt “targeted” by his employer in order to prevent his appearance before the Senate committee. Beaulieu said the RCMP created a new policy just days after he informed his superiors of his pending trip to Ottawa.

RCMP media relations said they were not familiar with the case.

But Beaulieu is not alone. Speaking to the media, and meeting politicians without written approval can put an officer’s job at risk, said Rae Banwarie, Vice President of the British Columbia Mounted Police Professional Association.

“The fact that I am speaking here to you, I am placing my own career in peril,” he said during a news a joint news conference with the NDP Monday afternoon. Banwarie, like Beaulieu, believes he will face consequences for speaking to reporters and parliamentarians.

Just last week, senior RCMP officers were told by Commissioner Rob Paulson that they could not speak to politicians without approval from both his office and the federal government. The moved was viewed as another attempt by the Conservative government to muzzle RCMP officers. Last year, MPs were told they could not speak to the newly appointed commissioner without informing Public Safety Minister Vic Towes.

During Monday’s news conference, the NDP and several RCMP members’ associations accused the Harper government of continuing to muzzle mounties by refusing to make changes to the Enhancing RCMP Accountability Act.

“We tried to work with the government to address these problems through amendments, but they refused,” NDP Public Safety Critic Randall Garrison said. “RCMP officers deserve a minister that instead of muzzle them, will listen to them and address the deep challenges that have undermined both morale among force members and public confidence in the RCMP.”

Bill C-42 seeks to streamline grievance and internal disciplinary processes, create a Civilian Review and Complaints Commission and establish a framework for handling criminal investigations. It will also give significant powers to RCMP Commissioner Rob Paulson, including the ability to dismiss officers for non-disciplinary reasons like poor performance, and to suspend them without pay. The additional powers will lead to a more “efficient and effective approach” to harassment, said Paulson to a Senate committee meeting on April 22nd.

“…they they are fostering and encouraging the early resolution of these workplace conflict issues that give rise to harassment,” he told the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence.

The RCMP has complained for years that disciplinary procedures take too long. Other than the lengthy process of dismissing an officer, the current RCMP Act does not allow mounties to be punished for longer than a week and a half. One RCMP officer said he’s heard of grievance cases taking nearly a decade before they are heard and resolved.

The NDP voted against the bill during its final vote in the House of Commons in early March. They said it placed too much power in the hands of Canada’s top cop, and failed to present a framework to hold Commissioner Rob Paulson accountable for his decisions. Recommendations by the Civilian Complaints Commission will be non-binding, granting the final say to the Commissioner. Both the Conservatives and the Liberals voted in favor of the bill.

While the bill is not perfect, Liberal Public Safety Critic Francis Scarpaleggia says it is a step in the right direction. The Commissioner needs to be able dismiss employees, especially in cases of sexual harassment or assault.

“[The NDP] want to constrain the powers of the commissioners as much as possible, but we feel that if we are going to change the culture in the RCMP, if we are going to make any progress, we have to allow the commisonner to exercise some leadership,” said Scarpaleggia.”If he has no latitude to act, then we think the problems will persist.”

Bill C-42 was proposed last June after a string of sexual harassment and abuse cases went public. The Opposition party said it doesn’t go far enough to prevent cases of sexual harassment and abuse. They want to see the term “harassment” included in the 29 page bill.

The Act went before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence Monday, and will likely become law before the Parliamentary session ends in June. The government estimates it will cost $10 million to implement, with another $5 million going towards the Complaints Commissioner.

The RCMP refused to comment for this story.


Want a Future in Journalism? Move to Kenya.

View the published article on the Huffington Post.

Global state-funded television news channels like Al Jazeera, China’s CCTV and RT (formerly Russia Today) have proliferated in recent years — and now they’re expanding, with a host of new services that tailor the news to local interests.

Al Jazeera, for example, has hired close to 200 people for an all-Turkish channel. RT now offers Spanish-language reports. And at CCTV, programs that debuted early this year include “Biz Asia America,” a daily business show targeted at the U.S., and “Americas Now,” a weekly newsmagazine for Latin America.

But one of the busiest new markets for the global channels is, perhaps, a surprising one: East Africa, where the new daily program, CCTV Africa, launched in January. Expected later this year is Al Jazeera Swahili, a 24-hour news channel as well as new East Africa-focused half-hour daily news television programs in Swahili and English from a more traditional international broadcaster, BBC.

Why East Africa? All of these new operations are based in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where the media business operates with relative freedom from government interference. And while many western countries are still suffering from economic slowdown, Kenya’s economy is on the rise — with growth of nine per cent in its GDP over the past decade, according to the World Bank.

That economic growth means more money for the advertising that global media hope will help sustain their new operations. Synovate, a Global Market Research Company, stated that the Kenyan media industry has experienced a tenfold increase in advertisers between 2006 and 2010.

China’s ambitious investments in Africa in recent years give it a particular incentive to target African media audiences, says Tom Rhodes, East African correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “They see Kenya as an economic hub for trading, where they can do business from there, take resources from the media hub and use it as a transaction point.”

As Kenya’s largest trading partner, China also has a substantial financial investment in Kenya’s infrastructure — including playing a major role in the country’s switch to broadband connection. “The Chinese companies are doing all this work,” says Cowan. In return, the government has “granted them prime slots on domestic stations, not surprising because they have invested billions in the country. They are hoping to make a lot of money out of Africa.”

Others note that Kenya and its neighbours — like Somalia, home to the Al Qaeda-linked insurgents called al-Shabab — are undercovered on the global news stage. Few international stations have permanent bureaus in Kenya and there are no regional TV news stations that cater to both an international and African audience.

The East Africa startups of Al Jazeera and CCTV are creating tensions within Kenyan television journalism. Of Kenya’s five major television stations, two are regarded as pro-government, one is owned by the state and two are viewed as more independent. KTV, a private station, was the most-watched until it lost senior staff to CCTV this past year.

At first glance, it might seem puzzling that a Chinese channel, owned and operated by the Chinese government, would try to compete in Kenya’s already fairly competitive TV market. Chinese censors keep tight control over what is reported by state media within China. But Rhodes says things seem to be looser at CCTV Kenya than at CCTV China. “The censorship isn’t quite as rough,” he says. “I get the impression that there is a lot more press freedom and allowance.”

When CCTV started hiring to launch its new Africa program, it scoured Kenyan TV staffs, scoping out the competition’s talent. One Kenyan online news station, Jackal News, reported the network was looking to hire roughly 200 local journalists. And since none of the local stations have large staffs, “When two or three people are removed, that creates unrest and openings,” says James Smart, a news anchor for NTV.

Smart says six of his channel’s journalists — including two top anchors and an editor — were all hired by CCTV. One of the biggest losses was at KTN, where Beatrice Marshal — who had worked as deputy managing editor and anchor — was lured away to become lead anchor at CCTV.

Up against the deep pockets of China’s state funding it was almost impossible for Kenyan stations to hold on to highly experienced and talented staff. After being offered salaries twice what they earned at the Kenyan station, John Mwendwa, head of news at K24, says his network “lost some of its best reporters.” Saida Swaleh, a reporter at KTN, said her colleagues ran towards the money. “They came with fat checks and everyone wanted to go where the money is,” she says.

In addition to the larger salaries, reporters who move to an international network often get greater television exposure and travel opportunities. Signing with CCTV means their reports may be seen globally, via the Chinese broadcaster’s satellite channel, and not just within Kenya. But Mwendwa says that CCTV’s programming doesn’t resonate well with all Kenyans. Many, he says, are skeptical of their biases and “The perception of Chinese media is as having the interests of their people at heart.”

Inside Kenyan TV newsrooms, changes to programming had to be made as a result of lost employees. K24 “pulled one show off air and a second had to find a new cohost,” says Mwendwa. Although vacancies have been filled by employees hired from other local radio and television stations, some channels have suffered a decline in their ratings. KTN “is slowly dying because people do not really ‘trust’ the ‘rookies'” who have replaced veteran journalists hired away by CCTV, says George Nyabuga, assistant director at the University of Nairobi School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

While scrambling to find replacements, Kenyan network executives worked to create and implement incentive programs to keep their best and brightest. At NTV, for instance, new incentives were offered based on employee “experience, expertise, performance and planned growth within the organization,” says Sharleen Samat, the channel’s head of TV. “It is a competitive package,” says Samat, though she declined to give details.

Despite the tempting offers from global channels, some journalists remained faithful to their local stations. “CCTV isn’t reaching the kind of audience I’m reaching now,” says James Smart, the NTV news anchor. Despite having a smaller staff, Smart says NTV covers local news — particularly breaking stories — more thoroughly than the Chinese-owned network. When a grenade attack killed several people in a Nairobi bus terminal last month, it was the top story on every local station throughout the day. CCTV, however, reserved only two minutes of its coverage of the attack, says Swaleh.

While managers wring their hands about how to replace veterans lured to the global channels, some Kenyan reporters think their arrival could actually be a boon for local journalism, by opening many new job opportunities.

Before, competition for the few jobs available was so fierce that “unless one is exceptional, they can hardly get a job, particularly in a good or established station,” says Nyabuga. He says the new competition has the potential to improve journalistic standards and improve coverage of events in Kenya.

Some journalists say the increased competition has also forced news networks to offer more competitive salaries. “Local journalists are beginning to tell more stories from the entire East Africa,” says Mutiga Murimi, a reporter at K24. “And local media houses have already begun opening bureaus everywhere in the entire region.”

But the competition is set to grow much more fierce. Right now, CCTV offers only one hour of African programming each day, but Kenyan reporters say that Al Jazeera has begun recruiting for a 24-hour Swahili channel. It is expected to poach top Swahili reporters, but the hope is that Al Jazeera Swahili will force networks to put more resources and focus on Swahili programming.

Follow Annie Claire Bergeron-Oliver on Twitter:

A Year of Firsts

Published on Columbia Journalism’s Centennial website 

The day I received my acceptance letter from Columbia Journalism is forever etched in my memory.

I was at school in Toronto, Canada, reading my final thesis draft to my roommates. Up popped the email notification on my laptop and I screamed. I called my astonished parents who were momentarily seized with fear that I had been attacked. It took me fifteen minutes to summon up the courage to open the email. When I finally did, it was an apparent disappointment. Tantalizingly, the page only said a decision had been made but with no details. Five pages later, with just one word, my dream of attending this great Ivy League school had come true It said “Accepted”

This past year has been the best and worst time of my life. I thought that being a student-athlete at the University of Toronto with almost 60 hours of training and class each week was tough. I was wrong. Columbia has stretched my intellectual horizons and physical limits, each time edging that boundary one step further. I’ve improved my craft by becoming a better storyteller, learning to ask tougher and more relevant questions, and more importantly solidifying my passion for reporting.

It’s been a year of firsts. My first all-nighter was spent producing a six-minute crime and consequence video for RW1. I fell asleep at 4am with a video camera on my lap as it imported files. I created videos and radio pieces, some better than others, which were published and subsequently spread across various social media platforms by proud friends, family and even the odd viewer. I ventured alone into a New York City Housing Project against police advice, travelled to the heart of the Bronx at 2am for an RW1 story, and attended my first professional National Hockey League game as a sports reporter. I have met incredible New Yorkers with powerful stories and rich histories that I’ve been honored to tell.

I feel privileged to have been trained at a school that has given many of the best journalists in the world the beginnings of their careers. Walking into the J-school building, aptly renamed Pulitzer Hall this year after the muckraking American publisher, is incredibly humbling and inspiring.

Syria: An Assignment Worse Than Hell

Published on the Huffington Post.

Syria’s 544-mile border with Turkey has long been a common path for illegal entry or exit. These days, that border has drawn a new group of illegal entrants to Syria: foreign correspondents covering a nearly year-old conflict that seems to grow bloodier by the week.

As the civil war in Syria intensifies, it has become the only pathway foreign journalists can use to sneak in under the nose of Syrian authorities who are determined to keep out foreign press. Very few visas are granted to the foreign correspondents — which is why reporters from the BBC, the New York
, CBS, and other news outlets have taken the clandestine route from Turkey this month.

“If I’m caught,” said CBS correspondent Clarissa Ward, “I’ll spend time in jail and be used as a political bargaining chip.”

Ward has made two sorties into Syria, the latest in early February. Trudging through mud canals created by a week of rain, in the dark of night, with a sprained ankle, was Ward’s only option to exit the country as unnoticed as she entered. Ward hired a professional smuggler to act as a guide and translator to make her safe escape.

To cover the uprising in Syria, reporters like Ward are willing to risk their lives by embedding with opposition forces and being smuggled back and forth across the borders. In light of the deaths of theSunday Times correspondent, Marie Colvin, and the New York Times correspondent, Anthony Shadid, the safety and working conditions for journalists in Syria have become increasingly hazardous.

Syria is now at the top of the Committee to Protect Journalist’s (CPJ) list of the most dangerous countries in the world for working journalists. In the last four months, seven other journalists have died in Syria. Last year according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, two were killed.

Last summer, as the uprising reached it’s six-month mark, the Syrian government ordered a media blackout. Visas for journalists had not been easy to obtain before, but now it became virtually impossible to get one. Soazig Dollet of Reporters Without Borders said that in July and August, fewer than a dozen European journalists were given visas.

Bashar Akbik, the Syrian ambassador to Canada, insists in an exclusive interview that his government bars journalists out of concern for their safety. But he also acknowledged that the Syrian government believes it’s version of events is not being fairly told by the western media.

“These media are trying all they can to distort the reputation of Syrian government initiatives to hinder insurgents,” he said.

One of those few journalists granted legal entry into Syria earlier this summer was Deborah Amos, National Public Radio’s Middle East correspondent. However her ability to report was restricted by the accompaniment of a full-time government monitor. Monitors or minders are the eyes and ears of the government. They dictated what events, cities, and individuals she could visit. The city of Homs, which has been under siege by Syrian tanks and artillery, was off limits to Amos, as were protests and funerals.

“You understand that staying with a minder, you’ll see only what they want,” she says.

Travelling with a minder is one of the rules journalists agree to when receiving a rare journalist visa, said Alexander Marquardt, the ABC News foreign correspondent. In early December, Marquardt was denied travel authority to areas of violence and unrest, despite Syrian President Assad’s assurance that his team was free to do what they wanted and go wherever they wish. But shortly after landing in Syria, Marquardt was given a government minder and learned that eight undercover police cars were following them.

“They were taking us where they wanted us to go,” he said.

Sometimes getting a good story means sneaking away from a minder, but even then, both Amos and Marquardt think they were being followed by secret police.

That’s why some journalists try their luck with a tourist visa and don’t bother applying as journalists. The success rate for a work visa is too low, said Clarrisa Ward, and it puts you on the government’s radar.

“The minute you are in Syria as a journalist,” she said, “your view of Syria is different and you can never get in again.

Last December, Ward, looking as much as possible like a British tourist, complete with backpack and camera, went to a small town on the Turkish/Syrian border. Using her British passport free of immigration stamps from Israel or Iran she was granted a tourist visa. Her CBS producer, however, was denied entry, so she went alone.

To maintain the tourist identity, once inside the country Ward spent two days taking snapshots and visiting tourist haunts. “There is a real chance that you are being watched,” said Ward. Even after she felt confident that she was not being followed and could start reporting, she kept two separate memory cards, one containing her editorial material and the other her tourist pictures. Ward says she felt safer being in the country with legal authorization.

Without the constant presence of a government minder, she could attend events and visit cities other journalists had previously been shielded from.

Her most recent sojourn two months later presented a new set of challenges caused by the mushrooming of armed rebel groups in Syria. Ward embedded herself with opposition forces, living with them day in and day out. But other rebel groups and leaders running knew nothing about her.

That’s why she said she tried to avoid all checkpoints. There’s often a lack of communication amongst opposition forces, said Ward, and that makes reporting more dangerous.

“I felt that I needed armed protection,” she said. But during her trip in December, she added, “I didn’t think about that in Damascus.”

The strengthening of opposition forces is also giving reporters greater access.

Ward engaged in daily conversations with rebel forces. She lived with opposition fighters in the Syrian city of Idlib, where rebels controlled large sections of the land. She was given access to hospitals, protestors, and people shot by government snipers. The rebels responded by giving her their schedule and list of events.

“I needed them in a way I didn’t before,” she said.

On her first visit with official permission, people were fearful of speaking to her.

Ward says she never shot a single video frame containing the faces of activists she interviewed for fear they’d be retributed by the government.

But this time was different. “People were hugging me and thanking me. When you’re not on the government radar, activists and citizens appear less skittish,” Ward says.

However, Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the CPJ says now even tourist visas are being denied. He says: “[That] excuse is becoming less acceptable. The Syrian Government often assumes you are a journalist, or worse, a spy.”

Foreign reporting in Syria, especially without work authorization, is a dangerous and potentially deadly business. It can include arrest, material seizure, and possibly torture for reporters and their Syrian sources. These are the circumstances local journalists have faced in Syria long before the present crisis.

The CPJ says that eight Syrian journalists have been imprisoned since December and 27 more detained since the uprising began. While no international journalists have been arrested, Reporters without Borders urges them to be prepared. Dollet said that the punishments are unknown, especially for journalists who have entered the country illegally.

“Reporters should be ready for interrogation. They should clear their Facebook page
and have no Syrian contacts on it,” she added.

Devils on Fire With Fourth Consecutive Win

The Prudential Center was half full on Sunday but the Devils fans who opted to miss the Super Bowl pregame were treated to a show of their own by Illa Kovalchuck.  The flamboyant forward had a goal and two assists in New Jersey’s 5-2 win over the Penguins. Kovalchuck now has 10 points (three goals and seven assists) in his last four games, which coincides with a four-game winning streak for New Jersey.

The Devils are moving up in the Eastern Standings with four consecutive wins over the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and now the Penguins.

New Jersey forward Kovalchuk played another strong game against the Pens, scoring the game’s first goal at 2:21 in the first period. He later scored two assists in the first period and second additional assists in the second.

Kovalchuck’s 22nd goal of the season came off a diagonal pass from forward lineman Patrick Elias. Elias, followed a loose puck down the ice to where Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury met him behind the net in a race to the puck. Elias, kept tight to the boards until emerging on the right side of the goalie net and passed to an open Kovalchuk, who was positioned just above the left side of the goalie crease. Fleury was caught off guard. He was too far to his right. And Kovalchuck scored between Fleury’s legs.

Devils head coach DeBoer said Kovalchuk had been playing well since training camp last summer. “For him and Zach Parise, they have brought that consistent effort right through day one, DeBoer said. “We need them to,” he added.

After sitting out the last two games against the New York Rangers and Flyers, New Jersey goalie star goalie, Martin Brodeur, had a commanding performance on Sunday“I haven’t played a lot in the first part of the season, so definitely practice was something that I keyed on to get myself ready,” said Brodeur.

The second period was a new game. Players had energy and renewed motivation.

Despite Devils’ defenseman, Kurtis Foster, receiving a two-minute penalty, a short-handed goal by Devils Zubrus at 2:28 into the second period. That goal prompted the Penguins to change goalies.

 Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said his forwards took chances and looked for opportunities that didn’t pan out on the shorthanded goal.  “We took a little bit of a chance at the blue line and a tight play, and it turned up being a goal,” said Blysma.  

Then with 47 seconds left in the game, Brodeur stopped a shot on net and pushed the rebounding puck across the ice to the far blue line. It was the assist that David Clarkson, who was closely followed by two Pens players, needed to make an easy shot into an empty net to score the winning goal. The Penguins had pulled their backup goalie, Brent Johnson, in exchange for an extra offensive player. “Today we handed the third period much better,” said DeBoer.

Brodeur, arguably one of the all-time best goalies, with three Olympic gold medals and 1,165 NHL gamesunder his belt, said it’s been a tough weekend for hgim. “I didn’t get to start yesterday and I knew that I would be starting today, so I concentrated on getting a good start and just play well,” he said. Brodeur has only played 60 percent of the games so far this season, missing almost two weeks in October due to a shoulder injury. He was replaced by backup goalie, Johan Hedberg, on multiple occasions

To avoid a repeat of Saturday’s poor third performance against the Flyers, where they let in four goals in the third period. To avoid a repeat, Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said the team prepared to play the Pittsburg Penguins by watching and re-watching tape of the previous night’s game. “I think we recognized some of the mistakes we made,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you learn from your mistakes.”  

The Devils improved power play performance this season can be attributed to the new assistant coach, Dave Barr, who joined the team last July. “Dave Barr has been outstanding job there for us,” said DeBoer.  “He really pushes pressure and when you are pressuring the other team like Kovalchuk, Parise and Elias, they make turnovers into opportunities.”

Last season was the first time in 15 years the Devils failed to make the playoffs, and despite lineup changes, trades, and improvements in Brodeur’s performance, the Devils have only climbed into the playoff positions for 41 of the last 120 days. But DeBoer is not worried. It’s only the last 25 to 30 games really matter he said. “It has been as low build for us,” said DeBoer.  “New coaches and players, we dealt with some injuries. I’m confident that our best hockey is ahead of us.”  

There’s more to jockey uniforms than pretty colors

The colors are mesmerizing, overwhelming and confusing not to mention that they also represent more than a century of thoroughbred racing history.

And the master of all this is a man named Walter Arce who operated out of a subterranean room at Aqueduct racetrack, where he is responsible for out fitting more than a dozen jockeys every day from a selection of nearly 4,000 silks. These are the “uniforms” that identify the stables that own the horses the jockeys ride every day at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks that are open during the long racing year.

Included among the collection are old silks belonging to Manhattan socialites like the Vanderbilts, Hollywood starts like Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and George Clooney.

Inside the Color Room, as it is known, four men care for the silks locked inside. There aren’t enough gold hooks on the wall, so the jackets are jammed together three or four to a hook, two rows per wall. Ensuring that the silks are organized is part of Arce’s job as Color Coordinator. He takes the silks from the color room and puts them on a supersized drying rack. This process permits jockeys to grab the correct silk for their race. Every owner has his or her own silk design, so sought-after jockeys can wear up to eleven silks a day said Arce. In a busy day, he washes and hand dries up to 100 silks.

The jockeys and their horses form a rainbow of colors as they line up at the starting gate. Today’s silks, said jockey and former fashion design student, Jacqueline Davis, often combine unflattering colors. “I’ve worn some crazy colors. I’ve worn some that look like an early 90s tracksuit.” Her current silk is a white aerodynamic spandex jacket with a sky blue diamond and the letters LR, for owner Linda Rice, centered on her chest.

There are 38 different silk bodices, three types of materials, 19 sleeve patterns, and almost an unlimited number of colors to choose from said Lee Weil, who works for the Jockey Club of America, which catalogues each owner’s silks. Nowadays many riders prefer the aerodynamic silks made from spandex instead of nylon or silk said Davis: “It’s supposed to let the wind go off your back slick and make us a little faster.” The tight spandex acts as an insulator, a valuable feature at outdoor, winter racetracks like Aqueduct.

But details and material choices aren’t apparent to spectators in the stands. What they you can see, however, are the fluorescent colors whipping around the track. To help audience members differentiate competitors in 624 B.C, Greek riders wore colored drapes into the stadium. But it wasn’t until 1894 that the Jockey Club of America required owners to register their silks said Weil. Silks were an easy way for horse owners to identify their thoroughbred as they galloped around the track. “There wasn’t a big grandstand and it was harder for them to be able to see their silks,” Weil said.

Stables are known for their silks. Brookemeade Stable, a major thoroughbred establishment in the mid 1900s, had a white silk bodice with two blue sashes across the front. For a jockey, wearing those famous silks evoke a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Davis said it’s more than a uniform; it’s a connection to a specific trainer and a status symbol. “We want to be seen in the big owners silks,” she said, adding that “Whether or not it’s a big or little guy, if we win the race it’s a golden ticket.” Unfortunately for Davis, there was no golden ticket on Sunday.  Her mare, Crescent’s Moon, was spooked coming out of the starting gate and threw her to the track. And that meant a little extra work for Walter Arce who had to get Davis’s silks cleaned.