June 30 - July 20, 2024: Issue 630

Fibre to the premises delivers most reliable broadband connection: ACCC

June 26 2024
Australians that have a fibre to the premises broadband connection experience less outages than any other NBN connection type, the ACCC’s latest Measuring Broadband Australia report has found. 

The latest report compares the performance of each of the NBN fixed-line technologies for outage frequency, latency and packet loss.

The report found that Australians with fibre to the node (FTTN) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) connections are more likely to experience frequent outages compared to those on fibre to the premises (FTTP) connections.

During the testing, FTTN connections accounted for almost half (48 per cent) of the services that experienced an outage on most days, despite representing 34 per cent of all NBN fixed-line connections in the Measuring Broadband Australia program. By comparison, FTTP connections, which represent 36 per cent of the connections in the program, accounted for only 12 per cent of services that experienced an outage on most days.

“While all NBN fixed-line connection types experience some outages, there is a noticeable increase in the frequency of these outages if you have a FTTN or HFC connection,” ACCC Commissioner Anna Brakey said.

“If a consumer is experiencing frequent outages, we encourage them to contact their broadband provider for assistance. They may be able to access a fibre to the premises upgrade at their address or obtain a mobile backup to provide service continuity during outages.”

Figure 1. Distribution of NBN fixed-line access technologies per outage frequency
In addition to outages, a consumer’s broadband connection quality is also impacted by latency and packet loss.

Latency refers to the time it takes to send data from a user’s device to a server and back. Packet loss is when a user does not receive all the data that they requested when using online applications.

Higher latency means there are delays in sending and receiving data. Both high latency and high packet loss can cause significant disruptions to a consumers experience when using online applications.

The report found that the average latency for NBN fixed-line connections was 10.7 milliseconds and the average packet loss was 0.16 per cent, neither of which is likely to disrupt a consumer’s experience when using common online applications.

Compared to other NBN connection types, FTTP connections recorded the lowest average latency and packet loss with less variation between results across different households. This suggests that FTTP connections are more capable of delivering a reliable experience for consumers when using online applications that require very low latency or packet loss.

Figure 2. Average latency per NBN fixed-line access technology

Figure 3. Average packet loss per NBN fixed-line access technology

Consumers continue to receive close to advertised download speed
Broadband retailers continued to deliver download speeds to consumers close to their maximum plan speeds during March 2024.

This report was the first in the Measuring Broadband Australia program’s history where Telstra recorded the highest average download speed during the busy hours (7-11pm) of the retail service providers featured. NBN fixed-line connections on the Telstra network recorded an average busy hour download speed of 102.3 per cent of plan speed.

The average busy download speed across all retail service providers on NBN fixed-line connections was 99.8 per cent of plan speed, compared to 99.3 per cent last quarter.

Underperforming services represented 4.1 per cent of the NBN fixed-line services tested in this report, the lowest figure in the program’s history. The number of underperforming services with a FTTN connection remains higher than other connection types.

“We will continue to monitor underperforming services as they can have a big impact on consumers who rightly expect to receive the speeds they are paying for,” Ms Brakey said.

The ACCC welcomes the inclusion of additional retail service providers and emerging broadband technologies to reflect the increasing broadband offerings in the market.

The ACCC is currently examining whether the performance of satellite services, such as those provided over NBN SkyMuster and Starlink, could be monitored as part of the Measuring Broadband Australia program. Consumers who use satellite services can sign up to volunteer via the Measuring Broadband Australia website.

Data for Measuring Broadband Australia is provided by UK-based firm SamKnows using methodology based on speed testing programs delivered in the UK, US, Canada and New Zealand.

Graphs: ACCC

Muddled answers and outright lies: what the Biden-Trump debate says about the dire state of US politics

Emma Shortis, RMIT University

There are no parallels for the first debate of the 2024 US presidential election cycle.

From the moment Joe Biden walked across the stage, stiff-backed and straight-armed, disaster unfolded for the sitting president.

The bar Biden had to clear as he squared off against former president Donald Trump was always unfairly high. The election had already been framed as one largely about age, rather than, as Biden himself has argued, an existential fight for American democracy.

The debate was no different. Trump, supportive right-wing media and even much of the mainstream coverage focused overwhelmingly on Biden’s ability to just get through the 90 minutes coherently and strongly.

A generous interpretation – and one Biden supporters will no doubt push – is that he did get through it. Some have been saying that he did so with a cold.

But that messaging is unlikely to be successful.

From the moment the president coughed and gasped his way through his first answer, he likely confirmed the worst fears of even his staunchest supporters that he is simply too old to run again.

It is very difficult to see how Biden recovers from here.

Lack of fact-checking

The current president struggled to find his feet from the beginning.

One of the first questions from the CNN moderators focused on reproductive rights, a subject that should have been a clear winner for Biden.

Both his campaign and his administration have made this issue a big focus of the 2024 election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade two years ago. That decision was a clear mobiliser for voters in the 2022 midterm elections, in which Democrats performed much better than many analysts had expected.

Today, one in three American women live under total abortion bans. Democrats have been working hard to lay the blame for that squarely with Trump, who had repeatedly bragged about his role in upending reproductive rights in America.

After Trump told egregious lies about late-term and even “after birth” abortions during the debate, however, Biden stumbled in his response, failing to land on a clear message.

From there, Trump knew he had him.

Biden’s performance meant the actual policy substance of the debate, alongside the real stakes of this election, will be completely overshadowed. But the blame for that does not lie entirely at Biden’s feet.

The format of the debate saw the two CNN moderators reel off thematic questions one after the other without fact-checking the responses, or in some (but not all) cases, pushing the candidates to respond directly to the questions.

Shockingly, it was not until half an hour into the debate – once Biden had already lost – that the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol and Trump’s threats to American democracy were raised.

The choice not to fact-check the candidates – and not to prioritise democracy as a central issue for the election – had the effect of placing the January 6 insurrection and Trump’s authoritarian tendencies on equal footing with the two men’s golf handicaps (which came up later in the debate).

That was a disaster for Biden’s attempts to frame this election on his terms. More importantly, it’s a potential disaster for American democracy.

Trump’s lies about the insurrection – such as his suggestion it was a false flag operation or that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was somehow to blame – were allowed to stand because neither the moderators nor Biden were able to effectively push back.

Trump was also allowed to say he will only accept the results of the election in November if it suits him, without being challenged directly by the moderators.

What does the debate mean?

A significant portion of the debate focused on the world beyond American shores, making clear how much this election matters globally.

As in domestic issues, the two candidates stand far apart in their policy positions on issues from climate action to Ukraine. Questions about Biden’s ceasefire plan for Gaza, for example, brought forth one of the more astounding moments in an already astounding debate – Trump suggested that Biden had “become like a Palestinian”, but a “bad” one.

At one point, attempting to recover and get ahead of Trump, Biden pushed back on what he sees as Trump’s overwhelming negativity about his own country.

The United States is, Biden said, the “most admired country in the history of the world”. Like the rest of the debate, the assertion wasn’t fact checked, either.

And after this showing, it’s very hard to argue that it is true.

Biden’s reputation, too, has likely taken a disastrous hit. His poor performance already has Democrats scrambling.

Former Obama administration official Julian Castro, for example, posted on X (formerly Twitter):

Biden had a very low bar going into the debate and failed to clear even that bar. He seemed unprepared, lost, and not strong enough to parry effectively with Trump, who lies constantly.

Other Democrats have already begun discussing whether Biden needs to drop out of the race. An open convention would be an enormous, and surprising, risk for the Democratic Party to take.

But the pressure on Biden’s candidacy will now be immense. And whether he can turn it around is much less clear now than it was before the debate.

There are no real parallels for what unfolded in Atlanta today. And there are likely none for what comes next.The Conversation

Emma Shortis, Adjunct Senior Fellow, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Regulation of the mobile terminating access service to continue following ACCC inquiry

June 21, 2024
The ACCC has released its final report outlining the findings of its inquiry into whether the domestic mobile terminating access service should continue to be regulated.

Access to telecommunications services in Australia is usually unregulated unless the services are declared. In deciding whether to declare a service, the ACCC must be satisfied that declaration will promote the long-term interests of Australians.

The ACCC has decided that it will extend the declaration of the mobile terminating access service until 30 June 2029 with no variations to the service description.

The mobile terminating access service is an essential wholesale telecommunications service that allows consumers to call people that are subscribed to a different mobile network. The service requires mobile network operators to connect, or ‘terminate’, calls that are received from a different network.

“Our inquiry found that some consumers continue to rely on traditional voice services, such as phone calls via mobile phones and landlines, despite increasing adoption of alternative app-based calling services,” ACCC Commissioner Anna Brakey said.

“Given this, the regulation of the mobile terminating access service remains essential to promoting the competitive supply of traditional voice services to consumers.”

ACCC decides to not regulate business messaging but will monitor market
The inquiry also considered whether the ACCC should regulate the connection, or ‘termination’, of application-to-person SMS by mobile network operators.

Application-to-person SMS are messaging services commonly used by businesses and governments to communicate with their customers or clients for purposes such as multi-factor authentication, appointment reminders and marketing. They are different to SMS sent between consumers, which are primarily for personal purposes.

While the use of personal SMS has declined due to the popularity of messaging apps, the use of application-to-person SMS has grown significantly in recent years and is likely to continue.

The inquiry found that while businesses have other means to communicate with their customers such as email and dedicated mobile apps, there is a strong reliance on application-to-person SMS for some communications such as multi-factor authentication.

The ACCC has decided to not regulate application-to-person SMS services at this point but will continue to closely monitor movements in wholesale and retail prices for the foreseeable future.

“At this point in time, we are not satisfied the regulation of application-to-person SMS services is in the long-term interest of Australians as it is unclear whether regulation is likely to promote competition and efficiency,” Ms Brakey said.

“While the prices that mobile network operators charge each other for terminating application-to-person SMS has risen significantly in recent years, wholesale and retail prices more broadly have not increased, meaning that, to date, there has not been an adverse impact on businesses that use these services.”

“We remain concerned about the potential for prices to go up, which could cause significant impacts for businesses and their customers that rely on these services.”

“We will closely monitor these prices and should there be significant price increases in the future, then we will consider regulatory intervention,” Ms Brakey said.

Access determination inquiries
Today’s publication of the final report for the mobile terminating access service declaration concludes the ACCC’s combined inquiry into the declarations of nine telecommunications services.

The ACCC has now commenced three final access determination inquiries to consider the terms and conditions of access to the seven services that remain declared. These include:

  1. The domestic transmission capacity service
  2. Voice interconnection services (the domestic mobile terminating access service, the fixed terminating access service and the fixed originating service)
  3. Resale fixed line services provided over Telstra’s legacy copper network (wholesale line rental, local carriage service and wholesale asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) services)
The ACCC will soon publish discussion papers seeking views on the price and non-price terms and conditions to be included in any access determinations for the seven declared services.

In May 2023, the ACCC commenced a combined public inquiry into whether nine wholesale telecommunications services that support the provision of broadband, voice and data transmission services should continue to be regulated.

In March 2024, the ACCC released a final report for all services except the domestic mobile terminating access service.

The seven services that will continue to be regulated as a result of the inquiry are:
  1. Domestic transmission capacity service
  2. Wholesale line rental
  3. Local carriage service
  4. Wholesale Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) service
  5. Fixed originating access service
  6. Fixed terminating access service 
  7. Domestic mobile terminating access service
The two services that will be deregulated after 30 June 2024 are:
  1. Unconditioned local loop service
  2. Line sharing service
The ACCC is required to hold a public inquiry in the 18-month period before the expiry of a declaration under 152ALA(7)(a) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

A full list of the service descriptions relevant to this inquiry are available on the ACCC website: s.152AQ declared services register.

Olam Agri Holding's proposed acquisition of Namoi Cotton raises concerns

The ACCC has published a Statement of Issues outlining preliminary competition concerns with Olam Agri Holding’s proposed acquisition of Namoi Cotton Ltd (ASX: NAM).

Olam, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Queensland Cotton, and Namoi both supply cotton ginning, cotton lint classing, logistics and warehousing services in Australia. Both Olam and Namoi also engage in the acquisition and marketing of cotton lint and cottonseed.

The ACCC is concerned that the proposed acquisition would be likely to substantially lessen competition in the supply of cotton ginning services in the Lower Namoi Valley in New South Wales and the supply of cotton lint classing services.

‘Ginning’ involves receiving raw cotton from growers and separating the cotton lint from cottonseed. Cotton gins are generally located in the cotton growing regions and serve the growers in those regions.

“The proposed acquisition would reduce the number of competing ginning suppliers in the Lower Namoi Valley from three to two, with Olam operating four of the five cotton gins if the acquisition proceeds,” ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.

“Post-acquisition, there would only be one alternative cotton gin in the Lower Namoi Valley region operated by Australian Food and Fibre."

“Olam may be able to significantly reduce competition for cotton ginning services, resulting in higher prices for cotton growers in the Lower Namoi Valley who are unlikely to transport their cotton to gins outside of the Lower Namoi Valley due to transport costs,” Mr Ridgeway said.

The ACCC is also concerned about the impact on the supply of cotton lint classing services in Australia.

‘Classing’ occurs at the conclusion of the cotton ginning process when a sample is collected from each bale of cotton lint and sent for grading.

The acquisition would result in Olam having ownership interests in both ProClass and Australian Classing Services, which together class more than 80 per cent of all cotton lint in Australia,” Mr Ridgeway said.

The ACCC is also concerned that the proposed acquisition would provide Olam with the ability to negatively impact competing cotton merchants from acquiring and marketing cotton lint and cottonseed. This may occur due to Olam’s increased ginning presence in certain cotton regions of Australia, including the Lower Namoi Valley.

“This acquisition may give Olam the ability to tie cotton lint and cottonseed purchasing contracts to cotton ginning contracts, as well as limit competing merchants’ access to cotton lint and cottonseed from Olam’s gins,” Mr Ridgeway said.

“If competing merchants struggle to compete against Olam, the proposed acquisition may result in growers being paid less for their cotton.”

The ACCC is also investigating the impact of the proposed acquisition on competition for the supply of cotton lint marketing and cotton warehousing services, as well as the risk of coordination in the cotton lint marketing market through Olam and Louis Dreyfus Company’s common involvement in the Namoi Cotton Alliance and Namoi Cotton Marketing Alliance.

A further issue being examined is whether the acquisition would enable Olam to increase prices for warehousing services for the export of cotton out of the Port of Brisbane or ports in Sydney.

The Statement of Issues can be found on the ACCC’s public register: Olam Agri Holdings Limited - Namoi Cotton Limited.

The ACCC invites submissions in response to the Statement of Issues by 4 July 2024.

Olam is listed in Singapore (SGX: OGL) and operates an integrated supply chain for cotton and pulse crops in Australia. Its cotton business is run by its wholly owned subsidiary, Queensland Cotton Corporation Pty Ltd (Queensland Cotton).

Queensland Cotton supplies ginning services and acquires and markets cotton lint and cottonseed.

Queensland Cotton operates six cotton gins across Queensland and NSW. It also operates its own warehousing facilities in Queensland and NSW for cotton to be exported out of the Port of Brisbane or Port of Sydney.

Olam holds a 20 per cent interest in ProClass, which supplies cotton lint classing services.

Namoi is an ASX-listed company with its business comprising ginning, cotton lint classing through Australian Classing Services, cottonseed and cotton lint marketing as well as warehousing and logistics services.

Namoi operates 10 cotton gins at 9 sites across NSW and Queensland. It is also involved in a joint venture with the Wathagar Ginning Company, with a cotton gin located in the Gwydir Valley (NSW).

Namoi has around 17 per cent interest in the Kimberley Cotton Company, which will operate a cotton gin in Kununurra (WA). This cotton gin’s construction is due to be completed in July 2025.

Namoi has two joint venture arrangements in place with the Louis Dreyfus Company - the Namoi Cotton Alliance (NCA), and the Namoi Cotton Marketing Alliance (NCMA).

The NCA stores and transports cotton lint bales through its warehousing facilities. It has warehouse facilities in Wee Waa, Warren and Goondiwindi. The NCMA is involved in the trading and marketing of cotton lint.

Namoi exclusively supplies all cotton lint bales acquired by it to the NCMA and the NCMA exclusively supplies its services to Namoi.

The ACCC is concurrently conducting a review of the Louis Dreyfus Company’s proposed acquisition of Namoi. The ACCC’s preliminary competition concerns in relation to the Louis Dreyfus Company’s proposed acquisition are addressed in a Statement of Issues published on 16 May 2024.

The good news is the Australian economy is about to turn up. Here’s why

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Right now things feel awful.

Tuesday’s Westpac Melbourne Institute survey shows three times as many Australians say their finances have worsened than say they’ve got better, and twice as many think the economy is getting worse as think it is getting better.

The national accounts show real income per Australian (adjusted for inflation) has been sliding for a year.

We are buying less per person online and in shops than at any time in the past two and a half years.

And Commonwealth Bank transaction data shows even our spending on essentials is failing to keep pace, except for older (mostly unmortgaged) Australians who are actually spending more on essentials than they were, as well as more on luxuries.

But – and I am sure you’ll find this hard to believe – things are nowhere near as bad right now, in the middle of 2024, as they were expected to be.

Nowhere near as bad as predicted

A year ago, at the start of the financial year that’s about to end, the panel of expert forecasters assembled by The Conversation expected inflation and interest rates to be much higher than they are today.

Inflation was going to be 3.9%, not the present 3.6% and headed down, and the Reserve Bank’s cash rate was going to climb two times in the second half of 2023 from 4.1% to 4.5%. Instead it climbed once, to 4.35%, and hasn’t climbed since.

That’s something worth remembering when people tell you inflation is stubbornly high. It isn’t as stubbornly high as it was expected to be.

And a recession looks much less likely.

Back in mid-2023, when asked about the probability of a recession in the next two years, the expert panel’s average answer was 42%.

Asked when that recession was most likely to start, the panel’s average answer was December 2023.

So worried was the government over Christmas that it asked the treasury to come up with extra cost of living relief. What the treasury produced was a reworking of the Stage 3 cuts due to start in July.

The rejig doubled the tax cut set to go to Australians on average earnings and halved the tax cut set to go to Australians on more than A$200,000.

By the time The Conversation’s panel next assembled to examine the probability of a recession, in February, it had cut the likelihood to 20%, which is about the lowest average probability a recession ever gets in these sorts of surveys.

What’s gone right

What’s gone right is that inflation has proved easier to subdue than expected, and not only inflation in the price of goods, many of which are made overseas. Inflation in the price of services has been falling the entire financial year.

That good news has allowed the Reserve Bank to hold off on increasing interest rates all year. And it’s partly because of us.

Businesses attending the bank’s liaison meetings have told it they are “intensifying their focus on containing costs as they find it harder to increase prices”.

That’s because we are less likely to put up with higher prices. We have become “budget conscious” making it more difficult for firms to pass on cost increases.

So instead, firms are cutting costs. Examples include

reviewing staffing structures, converting contractors or casuals to permanent staff, changing working or opening hours, and considering offshoring.

And they are becoming less likely to offer pay rises, planning for slower wage growth in the year ahead.

All of this is bearing down on inflation.

Australia’s relatively-new monthly consumer price index is likely to show an increase when it is released on Wednesday. The annual rate of inflation might climb from 3.6% in April to 3.8% or even 4% in May.

Those are the headline AMP and Westpac forecasts. But they hide what the AMP and Westpac expect to happen beneath the surface.

The AMP expects prices to fall in the month of May, by 0.2%. Westpac expects no change, meaning a monthly inflation rate of zero.

The annual inflation rate is expected to climb because prices fell a year earlier in May 2023, not because they climbed in May 2024.

Lower inflation, and a tax cut

If the inflation rate does keep sinking when the official quarterly figures are released next month, it’ll be doubly good news for stretched households. It’ll mean slower price rises, and probably an end to talk of further interest rate rises.

Along with the Stage 3 tax cuts legislated by then treasurer Scott Morrison way back in 2018 and due to hit pay packets in an amended form next week, they are set to make us feel better about the future; perhaps better than we’ve felt in years.

The long-delayed tax cuts, which turn out to be timely in a way Morrison couldn’t have antipated, are worth about $2,200 per year for the average household according to calculations being circulated by Treasurer Jim Chalmers.

That’s $84 per fortnight, after tax. For a couple with two children, it’s almost $4,000, which is $150 per fortnight.

As bleak as it was, this month’s consumer survey recorded a slight uptick in confidence, of 1.7%.

On Monday The Conversation will publish the experts’ forecasts for the financial year that’s about to begin. It’s a fair bet they’ll be brighter than those for the financial year about to end.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Worried about PFAS in your drinking water? Here’s what the evidence says about home filters

New Africa/Shutterstock
Ian A. Wright, Western Sydney University

Recent news about PFAS “forever chemicals” in Australian drinking water supplies has been very confronting. Many people are asking how they can remove these contaminants from their home drinking water.

In short, it is difficult and expensive to do this effectively in your home.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides useful and clear advice about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and how they can be removed from drinking water.

One of the major challenges in removing PFAS chemicals from drinking water is the enormous number (more than 10,000) of individual chemicals in this group. US authorities warn these can cause cancer over a long period of time. No single filtration or treatment technology is 100% effective at removing them.

So, what are the options? And can you filter too much out of your drinking water?

Four treatment systems

US authorities have reviewed dozens of controlled studies on how to remove PFAS and other contaminants from drinking water. The costs involved in many of the treatment options that remove PFAS can be expensive. Many of the cheapest filters will not be effective.

There are four broad systems for treating drinking water to remove such contaminants in the home.

1. Activated carbon

The first two treatment systems use an adsorption process (rather than absorption) to attract and trap PFAS and other contaminants from water. Absorption is when one substance is absorbed into another, but adsorption is when particles stick onto the surface of another substance. Adsorption using “activated carbon” is a widely used industrial process for drinking water treatment to remove a range of substances.

Adsorption binds PFAS or other contaminants through ionic bonds using either negatively charged or positively charged particles. It can be used to filter water as “granular activated carbon” or as “carbon block filters”. These are two broad types of water filters that use activated carbon.

2. Ion exchange resins

This second adsorption treatment uses different formulations of resin (or polymers) to chemically attract and remove targeted contaminants in water. The ion exchange filters use very small “microbeads” that have a large surface area to attract and remove contaminants.

dirty water filter in close up with brown spots
Filtration components, such as reverse-osmosis membranes, require maintenance. damaradis/Shutterstock

3. Reverse-osmosis

This process uses electrical energy to build pressure to force water through semi-permeable filtration membranes usually made of layers of polyester material. The membrane has minute holes that only allow water molecules to pass through. This system creates a waste liquid often called “brine”. It contains the accumulated chemical and other matter that could not pass through the membrane.

Reverse-osmosis is a popular technology used on a very large scale to purify water. For example, desalination plants use this system to remove salt from sea water for drinking water supplies.

Such systems are also widely available at smaller scales for home water treatment. They are widely used across regional Australia where water supplies are often very saline or contain other impurities. They can be installed into home plumbing or smaller bench-top systems.

4. Distillation

A fourth treatment system is “distillation” of water. This process uses heat to boil water to produce steam. It then allows the steam to cool and condense, and then collects the resulting purified water.

It is not commonly used, although is one of the oldest water purification systems. It does not always reliably produce pure water as many chemicals have a lower boiling point than water. As a result, they can also be evaporated, condense and contaminate the processed water.

The process of boiling water will not remove PFAS chemicals on its own.

There is such a thing as too pure

A word of warning: drinking demineralised water produced by reverse-osmosis or distillation can have a number of adverse consequences.

People need minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, provided by drinking water. While many essential minerals come from food and a balanced diet, a lack of these in water can upset a person’s electrolyte balance and can also trigger a range of health issues. If you do drink demineralised water, it would be wise to seek medical advice.

Also, demineralised water can be aggressive to plumbing, increasing the rate of corrosion of household pipes and appliances. This can dissolve metals from the plumbing into the drinking water, as demonstrated on a very large scale when a new water supply caused corrosion and increased lead content in Flint, Michigan.

The bottom line

Searching for information on the best system for removal of PFAS chemicals from drinking water is difficult. Guidance from Australian government agencies and the water industry seems absent or inadequate. And finding impartial advice is tough.

My own recommendation, based on published studies, would probably be a reverse-osmosis, dual-stage filter installed “under the sink”.

A detailed 2020 study investigated drinking water and PFAS in more than 60 US homes. It showed near-complete removal by reverse-osmosis, dual filtration systems for all PFAS chemicals. Carbon filters were less efficient, with a maximum of 70% effectiveness in removing these pollutants.

Householders will also need to ensure PFAS filtration systems are regularly maintained. Along with installation, this can be very expensive. The most simple bench-top carbon filter system will cost A$100–$200. All filters clog up and require cleaning or renewal. Replacement filters costs about $30 to $80.

Under-sink reverse-osmosis systems are more expensive, ranging from $400 to over $1,000. And you’ll need to hire a plumber for installation. Again, the system requires cleaning and maintenance.

Australian governments should require regular testing of all town water supplies across the country. Many water supplies probably already meet the US’s tough new PFAS standards.

Finally, seek information on PFAS in your drinking water from your water provider. Home filtration where you are might just be a waste of money!The Conversation

Ian A. Wright, Associate Professor in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Success in treating persistent pain now offers hope for those with Long COVID

Shutterstock/Anucha Naisuntorn
Hamish Wilson, University of Otago and John Douglas Dunbar, University of Otago

The emergence of Long COVID as a mysterious new illness has refocused attention on the incapacitating nature of persistent fatigue.

Around the world, this unexpected outcome of the pandemic is now a significant health issue causing considerable personal suffering, absences from work and high projected societal costs.

An added burden for Long COVID patients arises from medical scepticism and social stigma, which leads to self-doubt and shame.

So far, the focus has been on the lack of available treatments, implying there is no cure. But persistent fatigue also often accompanies chronic pain. Emerging understandings of the neurophysiology of pain and sensation now provide more optimism for people with Long COVID.

Similarities between Long COVID and chronic fatigue

The virus that causes COVID has infected 750 million people, many of whom died prior to mass vaccination. Most people fully recover from mild infections, but about 10% develop persistent and exhausting fatigue, including brain fog, as well as anxiety or breathlessness and a cluster of other symptoms.

Long COVID’s wide range of symptoms is similar to those in chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalitis. Known as CFS/ME, this illness gained prominence in the 1970s as a relapsing condition after glandular fever, though we now know it can be triggered by other infections.

Recent insights from the burgeoning field of neuroscience now guide clinical management of chronic pain and may offer hope for people living with persistent fatigue.

A person lying on a sofa, exhausted
Deep fatigue is also often a symptom for people living with chronic pain. Getty Images

The neuroscience of pain and sensation

Neuroscience is the study of the central and peripheral nervous system, a complex whole-body network that monitors and regulates all our internal functions, well below our conscious thought and control.

The fight-flight response in stressful situations is a useful example. Our attention becomes more focused, our heart beats faster and blood pressure increases to pump more blood to our muscles. We don’t need to think; it just happens.

The sensation of pain is now understood as a warning signal created by the nervous system in response to an actual or potential threat to our safety. The intensity of the pain signal depends not only on the physical injury but on our previous experiences and expectations.

Persistent pain often arises from a hyper-vigilant nervous system which perpetuates the warning signal. The underlying neurophysiology in persistent pain is known as “central sensitisation”. This term describes an overly sensitive warning system causing exaggerated pain signals even after damaged tissue has healed.

Central sensitisation depends on the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. Neurological pathways we use frequently become more established, efficient and dominant. In persisting pain and fatigue, the associated neural pathways become highly developed, even if this is counterproductive to normal functioning.

While neuroplasticity contributes to the development of unhelpful neurological pathways, the converse applies, too. Unhelpful pathways can be down regulated, improving symptoms.

Applying neuroscience to CFS/ME and Long COVID

These insights underpin the concept of pain neuroscience education. Pain clinics worldwide use it to teach patients about the nature of pain and its contributing factors, many of which are not under conscious control.

These explanations provide an essential framework for understanding how specific activities – including group education, physical retraining and identifying hidden beliefs – can facilitate recovery.

Research has shown how appropriately trained general practitioners can provide explanations that aid recovery for a wide variety of persistent symptoms, including fatigue and pain.

At normal levels, pain and fatigue are best viewed as adaptive responses. Just like pain, fatigue is a warning signal, implying the body needs to rest. The degree of fatigue is influenced by many factors, also at a subconscious level.

As in persistent pain, inflammation and dysfunction of the nervous system underpin the cluster of widespread problems in CFS/ME and in Long COVID. It follows that current approaches to chronic pain might also be applied to persistent fatigue syndromes.

Encouraging early results

Research shows promising early results. One study addressed subconsciously held beliefs about the nature of the illness, which reduced the fatigue of Long COVID, with sustained effects at six months.

A Scandinavian research group has also questioned current narratives describing persistent fatigue syndrome as an “incomprehensible and incurable disease without any available treatment”. Instead, they called for a more constructive narrative based on emerging insights about the nervous system and its role in creating, and at times inadvertently perpetuating, the debilitating sensation of fatigue.

These insights may allay current fears about Long COVID as a mysterious illness. While there is no magic bullet, supportive care supplemented with “fatigue neuroscience education” may provide patients with a better understanding of the mechanisms behind their symptoms and useful advice for recovery.

These concepts have yet to be integrated into medical training and clinical care for persisting fatigue syndromes. But ongoing neuroscience research and reports of encouraging clinical results now create some optimism for understanding and treating Long COVID.The Conversation

Hamish Wilson, Associate Professor in General Practice, University of Otago and John Douglas Dunbar, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Surgical Science, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria will begin pill testing this summer. Evidence shows it reduces harm (and won’t increase drug use)

Vishnu R Nair/Pexels
Nicole Lee, Curtin University

This week Victorian premier Jacinta Allan announced the state will trial a drug checking service beginning this summer festival season, describing it as a “simple and commonsense way to save lives”.

Allan has since confirmed the service will become permanent in Victoria following an 18-month trial.

Last week, the Australian Capital Territory government announced an extension to its successful drug-checking pilot, CanTEST, for the next three years. And earlier this year the Queensland government funded fixed site and festival drug-checking services for two years.

It’s good to see drug checking gaining more traction in Australia. This reflects evidence from Australia and internationally showing these services reduce harm for people who use illicit drugs.

What is drug checking?

Drug checking (sometimes called pill testing in Australia) is based on the principles of harm reduction. The primary aim is to reduce the individual and community harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs, without judgement about the drug use itself.

There are different testing techniques using different types of equipment, but all drug checking services in Australia check drugs by chemically analysing a small sample of the drug.

Part of a typical drug-checking service is a discussion directly with the person to give them feedback on the contents of the sample. The trained drug-checking staff, who are usually health professionals or peer educators, will discuss the risks of consuming the drugs identified and any other concerns or questions the person has.

Drug checking in Australia is conducted from either a fixed-site or a mobile service. A fixed-site service is permanently located in a health organisation. Mobile services, sometimes called festival services, are set up in places where we know people are more likely to be taking drugs.

Why is drug checking important?

Although no psychoactive drug, including alcohol, is completely safe, some drugs are made more dangerous because they are illegal, without controls over who can make them, how they are made and what they can contain.

This means people who use illicit drugs can’t be sure of what they are taking and are unable to moderate the dose to reduce risks. So there’s a higher risk of adverse reactions and overdose than if these drugs were manufactured as pharmaceuticals under controlled conditions.

Data from Australia has found up to 43% of drugs tested in drug-checking services were not what people believed they had purchased.

Most people who use illicit drugs only use them a handful of times a year and are not addicted to them.

Whether you believe people should be taking these drugs or not, the reality is that they do. Some 47% of adults in Australia have tried an illicit drug some time in their lifetime. Thousands of years of history has taught us this is unlikely to change.

Acknowledging this, drug-checking services now operate in more than 20 countries including well-established services in New Zealand, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.

Does drug checking reduce harms?

Some opponents of drug checking are worried it will increase drug use. But the evidence is clear that it does not.

Several studies have shown drug checking doesn’t encourage those who do not already use drugs to start doing so. A study of a long-running service in The Netherlands found less than 1% of people who had their drugs tested had never used them before, so these services almost exclusively cater for people who already use drugs.

What’s more, research has shown people often reduce their drug use after receiving the results of their drug checking and discussing the results with staff. Multiple studies have shown a sizeable proportion of people discard or intend to discard their drugs or use less if they contain unexpected substances.

Data from ACT and Queensland services found 18% and 7% of people respectively decided they would not use the drug following testing.

Drug checking can also play a role in preventing drug-related hospitalisations and deaths. Research from The Loop drug checking service in the UK found a 95% reduction in drug-related transfers to hospital when drug checking was introduced at a festival, compared to the previous year where the festival operated without drug checking.

One person hands a bag of small white pills to another person.
Providing drug checking services doesn’t mean more people will use drugs. Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Additionally, these services provide important harm reduction information to people who may not otherwise get that information. In an evaluation of CanTEST, 70% of people who used the service had never previously spoken to a healthcare worker for information or advice about drug use.

Drug checking also impacts the quality of drugs on the market. Drug manufacturers and dealers are less likely to distribute highly dangerous substances when clients are able to check their drugs.

What do Australians think about drug checking?

There is significant support in the Australian community for harm reduction measures, including drug checking. Surveys of the Australian community have consistently shown drug checking is supported by the majority of Australians.

In a recent government survey of households across Australia, nearly 65% of people supported drug checking, a significant increase on the previous year. Younger people, women and those with higher education levels were more likely to support drug checking.

So this is a great move by Victoria to keep people safe.The Conversation

Nicole Lee, Adjunct Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne based), Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Julian Assange told Anthony Albanese he ‘saved his life’ after landing in Australia

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julian Assange told Anthony Albanese he had “saved his life” in his first phone conversation after his chartered plane’s wheels touched down at Canberra’s RAAF base soon after 7:30pm on Wednesday.

The prime minister, who has never met Assange, told a news conference at Parliament House immediately afterwards that Assange had described his Australian arrival as “a surreal and happy moment”.

Albanese said the conversation was “very warm” and that Assange was “very generous in his praise of the Australian government”. Assange described Australia’s ambassador to the United States, Kevin Rudd, and the high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Stephen Smith, who worked on his release, as the “diplomatic A-Team”.

At a later press conference, Assange’s senior lawyer Jennifer Robinson recounted that Assange told Albanese “he had saved his life – and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration,”.

A triumphant Assange emerged from the plane, fist in the air, to an excited crowd and an emotional reunion with his wife Stella and father John Shipton.

Earlier in the day, during a brief stopover in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a United States territory in the Pacific, US Federal Court Judge Ramona V Manglona accepted Assange’s guilty plea. Smith, who had accompanied him from the UK, and Rudd were both with him on the last leg of his journey to Canberra.

Hailing Assange’s freedom, Albanese said “we have got this done” and that the outcome was “the culmination of careful, patient and determined advocacy”.

Albanese acknowledged there was a range of views about Assange’s actions, but “there was no purpose to be served by this ongoing incarceration.

"Regardless of what you think of his activities, Mr Assange’s case had dragged on for far too long.”

Asked why he had chosen to stake so much and work so hard for the release of someone he admitted divided the population, Albanese said, “I believe in standing up for Australian citizens.

"As prime minister of Australia, you have an opportunity to make a difference,

"I’m not here to occupy the space.

"What we were doing was exactly the right thing to achieve an outcome - I’m an outcomes-based politician.”

He said “there were moments when this required a range of decisions to be made, by the Department of Justice in the United States, which of course, is not subject to political influence.”

Albanese said he always understood that due to the nature of the American system, “it wasn’t as simple as me sitting down with President [Joe] Biden or any other elected representative and achieving this outcome.

"Diplomacy is something that must be patient, something that must be built on trust, something that works through stages. We have done that.”

Assange did not appear at the news conference attended by his team. His wife, Stella, made an emotional appeal for people “to give us space, give us privacy, before he can speak again at a time of his choosing”.

“Julian needs time to recover – to get used to freedom.”

The Assange team’s press conference highlighted the issue of freedom of the press at stake. Robinson said: “It’s important that journalists all around the world understand the dangerous precedent that this prosecution has meant.”

Stella Assange also talked about how vulnerable the press had become since Assange was indicted under the US Espionage Act.

“That precedent now can – and will – be used in the future against the rest of the press. So it is in the interest of all of the press to seek for this current state of affairs to change through reform of the Espionage Act,” she said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Julian Assange plea deal: what does it mean for the WikiLeaks founder, and what happens now?

Holly Cullen, The University of Western Australia

After years of appeals and litigation, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has entered into a plea deal with the US government, according to court documents.

He was facing one count of computer misuse and multiple counts of espionage stemming from his work with WikiLeaks, publishing sensitive US government documents provided by Chelsea Manning. The US government had repeatedly claimed that Assange’s actions risked its national security.

Documents filed in the US Federal Court in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands, show Assange will plead guilty to one count under the US Espionage Act. The rest of the charges would be dropped and the request for his extradition to the US would be withdrawn. The US is yet to publicly confirm the deal.

The deal is subject to a hearing and sentencing in Saipan on Wednesday morning, where outlets are reporting Assange will appear in person. He’s been released from London’s Belmarsh prison, with WikiLeaks sharing vision of him en route to London’s Stanstead Airport.

What’s in the deal?

Assange has been granted bail by the UK High Court.

Upon his guilty plea, Assange will be sentenced to 62 months in prison: time he’s already served in Belmarsh. It puts an end to all the ongoing legal action, including the proceedings in the UK High Court and the extradition order from the UK Home Secretary.

The plea deal seems largely consistent with rumours circulating earlier this year. It was widely assumed Assange would plead guilty to one charge, which was expected to be a misdemeanour charge of mishandling documents rather than under the US Espionage Act. The initial rumours also indicated that he would be able to complete the process remotely, whereas he will appear in person before the court.

This is significant as it’s a national security offence for which he’s served more than five years behind bars. This will place limitations on his future travel, including to the US, which is unlikely to grant him a visa.

It also sets a practical precedent, if not necessarily a legal one, that a publisher can be convicted under the Espionage Act in the US. While the devil will be in the details of the deal, this is what many journalists were afraid of.

It means somebody who did nothing more than receive and publish information has been convicted under major US national security laws. If the deal had been about the Computer Misuse Act, this scenario wouldn’t have arisen. The concern may be that now it’s been done once, it could happen again.

Why is there a deal after all this time?

We may never know the US’ full reasoning, but there are several possibilities as to why it decided to go to a plea deal and not continue with litigation.

The Australian government has been pushing hard for a couple of years now for this case to end. The case for stopping prosecution has had bipartisan support here.

Although not confirming or denying the existence of a plea deal just yet, a spokesperson for the government reiterated Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s position that there was “nothing to be gained from his [Assange’s] continued incarceration”.

The fact the government has been consistent on this for about two years has changed the political environment for this prosecution.

There’s a growing consensus in the US, even among some Republicans, that it’s not in the public interest to continue.

The UK general election will be held next week, and given the anticipated change of government there, the extradition order may have been reconsidered anyway. All of this would likely have informed the US’ cost-benefit analysis to ultimately bring the Assange saga to an end.

What happens now?

Following the hearing in Saipan, Assange will be free to return to Australia. The court was chosen because of Assange’s opposition to travelling to the continental US, as well as its proximity to Australia.

Assange will likely find it difficult to travel in the future, given his serious criminal conviction. This may also apply in the UK, where he has also been convicted of absconding from bail, for which he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

Looking further ahead, it’s entirely possible he will be pardoned by the US president, whomever it ends up being after the US election in November. The US allows much more discretion than most in the use of pardons.

For now, Assange will face court in Saipan and come home to Australia, albeit with a serious criminal record.The Conversation

Holly Cullen, Adjunct Professor in Law, The University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

My own prison ordeal gave me a taste of what Assange may be feeling. He’s out – but the chilling effect on press freedom remains

Peter Greste, Macquarie University

Julian Assange is out of prison, after agreeing to plead guilty to violating the US Espionage Act. He is expected to be freed after appearing in a US courtroom on the Northern Mariana Islands this week.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider all that Assange has been through, and to pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate his release.

He spent 1,901 days in a small cell in Britain’s notorious Belmarsh Prison and, according to WikiLeaks, was “isolated 23 hours a day”.

I know – from first-hand experience – what imprisonment feels like. Make no mistake. Assange might not have been beaten up or had his fingernails ripped out, but extended confinement with an uncertain future is its own particular kind of excruciating torture.

The crushing burden of incarceration

Belmarsh came after Assange had already spent almost seven years seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

He went there to evade extradition to Sweden as part of a rape investigation he said was trumped up, and included the possibility of being sent on to the United States to face allegations of espionage.

When Ecuador eventually rescinded his asylum claim in 2019, he was dragged out of the embassy and arrested by UK police for absconding from bail.

The US wanted to extradite him for alleged conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, and then 17 counts of espionage. Those charges, his supporters said, included the possibility of life behind bars.

My own ordeal in Egypt, where I was imprisoned on terrorism charges in 2014–15, was nothing compared to Assange’s, but it was more than enough to understand the crushing mental and physical burden that incarceration imposes on inmates.

And I also understand the weird blend of elation, confusion and disorientation that sudden release brings. Assange’s journey home will be much longer than his flight back to Australia.

A serious chilling effect on public-interest journalism

But Assange’s release does not end the questions this whole saga raised in the first place.

It began when his company, WikiLeaks, published a series of documents exposing evidence of war crimes and abuses by the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks was doing what the First Amendment to the US Constitution was designed to achieve.

It guarantees freedom of speech and press freedom, and in the process it grants people the right to speak out against abuses of government authority.

That is a vitally important check on the awesome power that governments wield, and WikiLeaks should be celebrated for what it exposed.

Like many others, I believe Julian Assange should never have been charged with espionage.

The Obama administration was among the most aggressive in US history in going after journalists’ sources who leaked embarrassing government information.

Yet in 2013, Obama’s justice department decided against prosecuting Assange. Justice officials realised they couldn’t do it without setting a precedent that would force them to also go after established news organisations like the New York Times and Washington Post.

This case has undeniably had a serious chilling effect on public-interest journalism, and sends a terrifying message to any sources sitting on evidence of abuses by the government and its agencies.

While it is impossible to quantify the number of stories not told, it is hard to imagine it hasn’t frightened off potential whistleblowers and reporters.

It also leaves open the question of precedent. It is still not clear whether future governments might be able to use Assange’s guilty plea as a way of using the Espionage Act to go after uncomfortable journalism.

As we have seen in the past, leaders with an authoritarian streak tend to use every lever available to control the flow of information, and that must surely worry anyone who believes in the corrective power of a free press.

Activists have always argued the Assange case could have a chilling effect on press freedom. E Ozcan/Shutterstock

Questions about journalism

Assange has been hailed by his supporters as a “Walkley Award-winning journalist”. His gong is certainly prestigious and worth celebrating, but it is also important to recognise the award was for his “Outstanding Contribution to Journalism”.

I got the same award in 2014. I am very proud of that. I got it not for my journalism, but for my stand on press freedom while I was imprisoned. Assange rightly got his for the role WikiLeaks played in supplying journalists with a steady stream of incredibly valuable documents.

The distinction is important because of the particular role journalism plays in our democracy, elevating it beyond freedom of speech. Journalism comes with the responsibility to process and present information in line with a set of ethical and professional standards.

I don’t believe WikiLeaks met that standard; in releasing raw, unredacted and unprocessed information online, it posed enormous risks for people in the field, including sources.

This is not to diminish the importance or value of what WikiLeaks exposed. Australia’s union for journalists, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, has rightly described this case as “one of the darkest periods in the history of media freedom”.

And it will undoubtedly cast a long shadow across public-interest journalism. But for now, we should all celebrate the release of a man who has suffered enormously for exposing the truth of abuses of power.The Conversation

Peter Greste, Professor of Journalism and Communications, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Espionage trial of US reporter Evan Gershkovich signals a dangerous new era for journalism in Russia

James Rodgers, City, University of London and Dina Fainberg, City, University of London

The arrest and trial of US reporter Evan Gershkovich on spying charges would have prompted a range of emotions in any outsider who has been a reporter or researcher in Russia. At first, there’s the sense that you yourself may have escaped after running a similar risk of working in such a potentially dangerous environment. Then comes a sense of foreboding for Gerskovich’s future.

Gershkovich is the son of Russian Jewish emigres to the US. He had been living and working in Russia for six years when he was arrested on March 29 2023 in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city which lies in the Urals about 1,500kms east of Moscow. He’d been reporting on the Russian mercenary Wagner Group for his employer of two years, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The 33-year-old reporter was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on charges of espionage, something both Gershkovich and the WSJ have strenuously denied. The trial will be held in secret in Yekaterinburg. But it will still serve the Russian authorities’ cause.

First, to strengthen, for domestic political consumption, official narratives that all westerners are potential enemies. Second, to remind Russian and international journalists of the huge risks of just doing your job.

Putting the trial into historical context over the past century suggests that it represents a dangerous development. You have to go back to the 1980s, and the last, confrontational, phase of the cold war, to find a case of a Moscow correspondent being locked up on spying charges.

From the revolutionary year of 1917 all through the 20th century, the treatment of foreign correspondents in Russia mirrors the history of Russia’s relations with the west.

The Times’ implacable opposition to Bolshevism led to its correspondents being refused visas after the Soviets secured power. The Times covered the infamous show trials of the 1930s from neighbouring Latvia.

It foreshadowed today’s situation, when many journalists formerly based in Russia have fled to Riga.

Stalin’s “approach to western journalists” as the historian Shelia Fitzpatrick has written, “was that, while a few could be usefully manipulated, their real function was to discredit the Soviet Union, which made them essentially spies”.

In the 1940s, the wartime alliance against Nazi Germany briefly improved access for correspondents from Britain and the United States. Then the curtain fell once more. The cold war dominated the continent.

Convinced as they were that all western correspondents were agents of bourgeois governments, Soviet authorities subjected journalists to strict censorship rules. Entire dispatches and even direct quotes from “Pravda” could be blacked out.

Alongside strict information control, western journalists frequently met with harassment and intimidation. The dwindling foreign press corps operated in an atmosphere fraught with tension, apprehensive about potential Soviet entrapment. Their fears were often justified. In 1948, veteran reporter Robert Magidoff was accused of espionage and expelled from the Soviet Union.

After Stalin’s death, censorship of foreign correspondents was abolished and their working conditions improved a great deal. Still, intimidation, harassment and expulsions of journalists remained and intensified in the late 1960s, when many western correspondents mobilised to cover the Soviet rights defenders, making Andrei Sakharov, Larisa Bogoraz, or Nathan Shcharansky recognisable all over the world.

Foreign correspondents could become targets of Soviet entrapment regardless of what they actually reported on. In 1986, Nicholas Daniloff, the Moscow bureau chief of US News & World Report, was arrested on the street after meeting with a Russian acquaintance and receiving a package of, what he thought, were newspaper clippings.

Daniloff was rushed into Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo detention center, where it transpired that the package contained materials marked “secret”. Daniloff spent two weeks under arrest and spent two more weeks in the custody of US ambassador in Moscow. He returned home following Soviet-US agreement, exchanged for a Soviet spy arrested in New York.

Daniloff’s case was as a shock and surprise. He was an experienced reporter, who spoke fluent Russian and was just wrapping up his second five-year-long assignment in the Soviet Union. He was arrested one year after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, bringing a palpable atmosphere of change.

Contemporary observers largely concurred that Daniloff’s arrest was a ploy to secure his exchange for the detained Soviet spy.

Still a risky business

For Russian journalists, the late Soviet, and early post-Soviet, periods offered unprecedented freedom – but also fatal risk.

Our current research project looks at the violence – sometimes deadly – inflicted on journalists during Russia’s turbulent transition from communism to unbridled capitalism, and afterwards.

The fate of Anna Politkovskaya – an award-winning journalist and tenacious critic of Vladimir Putin and his conduct of the wars in Chechnya, who was shot dead in 2006 – exemplified both the excellent journalism produced in Russia, and its potential price.

As his trial begins, Gershkovich potentially faces a long prison sentence. It may be that he is part of what the Russian security experts Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan have called “a bank of hostages” – high-profile prisoners held for future exchange. If so, it could eventually lead to his release.

Such deals have previously happened, even during the current age of confrontation between Washington and Moscow. Yet, this is a world without the systems that existed during the cold war. Russia has shown itself to be a hostile environment for Russian journalists.

Gershkovich’s case shows that a foreign passport – even from the most powerful nation on earth – is no longer protection against some of those excesses.The Conversation

James Rodgers, Reader in International Journalism, City, University of London and Dina Fainberg, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, City, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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