From Gideon Rachman’s blog

On an earlier version of this article, posted late last night (see below), I expressed some scepticism about the Nobel Peace Prize, even suggesting that it might be pointless. Now that Barack Obama has been awarded the peace prize, I would like to withdraw this criticism.  The prize is clearly an award of huge significance, awarded after only the deepest reflection, and won only by demi-Gods.

By Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

The free ride is coming to an end. Owners of media content, squeezed by a shrinking advertising market, piracy and aggregators building audiences from their stories, programmes and films, are looking for new ways to get paid for their efforts. In a week-long series starting today, the FT is looking a new at a sector many have left for dead. Amid the wreckage of an industry beset by a steep cyclical downturn and fundamental structural problems, answers are beginning to emerge about where media companies might find new opportunities for growth.
As publishers, broadcasters, games groups and social media upstarts alike redefine their businesses, common questions run through the sector: How can content re-establish its value? Will subscription, membership, e-commerce or micropayment models restore revenues or send consumers elsewhere? Should media owners charge for their content online, and how can they?

How can media companies best get paid for their content online? Leave your comments below and follow the series at www.ft.com/mediachallenge

By Vincent Bevins and agencies

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called for a doubling of Afghan security forces to 400,000 to allow them to take over for Western troops, according to Reuters. “We should develop the capacity of the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, so they can take care of their own security,” he said.

In Germany, as Reuters also reports, the government today has been attempting to avoid a debate about pulling troops out of Afghanistan that has intensified after the violence of the elections there.

By Vincent Bevins and agencies

Counting has begun in Afghanistan amid further evidence that turnout was uneven and claims of fraud may need to be investigated.

Election officials have confirmed earlier reports that turnout was low, especially in the south, where incumbent Hamid Karzai’s support is stronger. AP reported that voting in Kandahar, the south’s largest city and the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace, appeared to be 40% lower than in 2004. Abdullah Abdullah, who is more popular with the Tajik communities in the North, may benefit enough from this imbalance to force a run-off.

Scattered violence and clear threats of violence closed at least 800 poll stations (12% of total) and kept many voters from those that were open.

The Guardian reported that Ashraf Ghani, another presidential candidate, acknowledged widespread claims of fraud and hoped they could be resolved through official channels.

Barring hold-ups, some preliminary results may be released as early as Saturday and the final results should be announced 17 September.

The return of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord, to Afghanistan only days ahead of the country’s presidential and provincial elections, was “appalling”, Richard Holbrooke, US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said on Thursday.

Mr Holbrooke, who was visiting some of Kabul’s polling stations on election day, said he was “moved” by the sight of Afghans going to the polls to chose their leaders, defying threats of violence by Taliban militants.

“What we have seen is what you want to see,” Mr Holbrooke told the Financial Times. “Many predicted that these [elections] wouldn’t be held.”

Read the full story from James Lamont in Kabul here: US envoy hits out at Karzai deal

Follow the day’s events so far on the blog below.

By Vincent Bevins

The credible threat of violence from Afghan militants appears to have been effective in keeping many voters away from the polls. Various reports claim more than two-thirds of polling stations in Afghanistan appear empty when compared to the last presidential elections five years ago.

Correspondents and officials have indicated turnout is better in the more secure north of Afghanistan, where presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah has stronger support. A strong performance by Mr Abdullah would force a second round.

Violence has not been absent, however, with reports of suicide and mortar attacks in various locations throughout Afghanistan.

The supposedly indelible ink which has been used to mark the fingers of voters seems to be removable. Despite this, insurgents have made good on the promise to kill people marked with it in at least one case.

The opening of polling stations has been extended until 6pm local time.

Below are some of the day’s main updates so far.

The economic crisis has prompted governments across the world to re-evaluate their financial regulatory framework, to try to tackle the causes of, and fallout from, the global downturn. The next 12 months could bring the most dramatic change in financial services regulation in decades.

Our graphic explains the existing framework and proposed changes to financial regulation in the EU, US and UK. Will these changes prevent another financial crisis? Leave your comments below.

By Giulia Segreti in L’Aquila

After two days of peaceful and symbolic demonstrations by  its own citizen committees, the town of l’Aquila will become the focus of an anti-G8 Summit march on Friday, organized by independent trade unions.
Franco Gabrielli, prefect of the earthquake-hit town, says he is not too worried but does expect infiltration by violent “no-global” elements.

“There is no exacerbated fear nor a superficial underestimation of what will happen tomorrow. It will be, however, a demonstration against the G8 summit and there will be people who will come into l’Aquila with non-peaceful purposes,” says Mr Gabrielli.

The march is being organized by the Cub, Cobas and Sdl unions and starts from the quake-hit town of Paganica and intends to finish in L’Aquila’s central park.  Fifteen buses will bring marchers from Rome and more from Milan and the regions of Tuscany, Puglia and Campania. Cub expects about 2,000 to show up, while Cobas hopes for over  7,000 people, matched by similar numbers of local people.

Although the organisation committee had initially said that it would march up to the doors of the military barracks where the summit is being held, there is no intention of violating the “red zone”. “Violence is not part of our philosophy. We do not want to put on a clown show. our Prime Minister is already very active in this sector ,” says Alex Miozzi, spokesperson for Cub. “On our side, we guarantee 100 per cent no violence although in other countries red zones do not exist,”  says Vincenzo Miliucci for Cobas.

The demonstration has been authorized  but there are fears that the core group of participants will be joined by violent demonstrators. On Wednesday three Italian young men travelling towards l’Aquila were stopped by police for carrying metal bats and improvised weapons and rocks.

Since the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999, the unions have held rallies against the G8 system and campaigned for alternatives.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, told a news conference more than once after lunch at the G8 summit, expressing his concerns that world leaders had to start thinking seriously about their “exit strategy” after massive fiscal stimulus packages.

Asked by the FT who had paid for his lunch, Mr Strauss-Kahn replied: “Probably you”.

But he defended these ever more frequent gatherings of world leaders – in April in London, this week in L’Aquila and then next to Pittsburgh in September.

“Globalisation is not just a topic for  FT editorial  pages,” he added.

But he also expressed the view that the days of the G8 were numbered as it evolved into something bigger and broader.

Silvio Berlusconi was beaming by the  end of the day, clearly relieved  that the summit was going well and that world leaders had greeted him as an old friend. Gordon Brown even gave him a hug.

“This day has been payback for all the bitterness I have been through,” the prime minister said, cited by Agi news agency, referring to the “absurd attacks” on him in the media over his controversial private life of parties attended by call girls. “These days encourage me to go on,” he added.

“I am proud to have accomplished almost a miracle,” he was quoted as saying by Apicom.

Rumours were rife among Italian reporters that Mr Berlusconi would not deliver the press conference he had committed to because he was afraid of more questioning about his private life from the foreign media contingent. Aides suggested he might be too busy.

But in the end he spoke to a packed audience, delivering a resounding  speech on the accomplishments of the day. Finishing with a flourish, he looked down and said “Questions?” and before anyone could even mutter the world “scandal”, he thanked everyone and walked off.

Barack Obama has landed in Rome, as has Gordon Brown, before moving on to the summit venue in the Apennine mountains of the Abruzzo region. Germany’s Angela Merkel is the first to get a guided tour of some of L’Aquila’s quake-ruined settlements, accompanied by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister.
The US president immediately delivers what the embattled premier needs, a strong declaration of confidence in Italy’s leadership of the G8 summit.
Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, says it is “unthinkable” that Italy would lose its place in the rich nations club, contrary to what London’s Guardian newspaper would suggest.
But there is a last minute apology from President Hu Jintao, who has to rush back to China to deal with unrest among Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
Hundreds of journalists are gathering at the Aquilone shopping mall to go through security to board buses for the “media village” at the summit venue, the Finance Ministry police college campus. It is only about three or four km from the mall, but we are driven 20km so we can cruise past reconstruction projects and see a new road (at least according to the bus driver).
Impressive air-conditioned tents are set up, each holding 1,000 or so reporters. Computers and phonelines are in place, but firewalls are making it difficult to get into newspaper systems, and even Facebook.
A rocky start for the G8 which, in the alphabet soup of summitry, will meet later with the G5 plus one (Egypt) and the 16-nation Major Economies Forum to tackle climate change.
Late night talks among MEF “sherpas” failed to agree on setting a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.
A tent full of NGO activists are calling on Obama to “show leadership” by putting money and means on the table that will persuade India and China to get on board. There is still hope of a breakthrough when the MEF meets tomorrow.
Italian officials are happy that on the economic front the G8 leaders will on Wednesday embrace the “Lecce Framework”, what Rome calls the foundations and walls of a set of global standards to regulate globalisation. Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister and an ex-socialist, spearheaded the initiative that got backing from Germany and France but is still looked on sceptically by the Anglo-Saxons. Perhaps like past commitments that have been broken – most notably promises of aid to poor countries – they just think this is one more initiative that will wither on the wayside.

By Guy Dinmore in Rome and Giulia Segreti in L’Aquila

Polemics are flying on the eve of the G8 summit with Italy being the host very much in the thick of it.

Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, was outraged by an article in London’s Guardian newspaper headlined “Calls grow within G8 to expel Italy as summit plans descend into chaos”, citing unnamed officials as saying the US had been forced to take control and organise “sherpa calls” between the main organisers.

Launching into Twitter and Facebook, Frattini spluttered from Bucharest that the Guardian had got confused with the G20 summit organised by the Brits in London in April. “This is a friendly fire case,” said the minister. “If only the Guardian could be honest to recognise it!”

The Guardian’s suggestion that Spain should replace Italy as a member of the G8 even had opposition newspaper editorialists reaching for their pens to vent their indignation.

On the streets of Rome, rocks and bottles were flying instead. But by all accounts the skirmishes between small groups of Italian and foreign anarchists with riot police were isolated and had little impact except to make traffic even worse than usual.

Slightly more sinister were eye-witness accounts that Italian ministry of finance riot police were reinforced by unidentified plainclothes men in white T-shirts wielding batons. Memories are strong in Italy of the mass no-global protests at their last G8 summit in Genoa in 2001 when one demonstrator was shot dead and many brutally assaulted by police in night attacks on their shelters.

A group of Belgian socialists who came all the way from Antwerp to protest peacefully were dismayed at how the no-global movement had disintegrated, in spite of the impact of the financial crisis on workers. “The Anarchists are so disorganised,” one complained, saying he could get no information on where and when their actions were planned.

Just a mile away in another state, Pope Benedict XVI launched his own personal protest in the form of his third encyclical issued since he assumed the papacy four years ago. Timed for the G8 summit and titled Charity in Truth, the German-born pontiff weighed in against unbridled capitalism and called for  a “true world political authority” to oversee and regulate a return to ethics in the global economy.

But he dashed any chance of winning the hearts of mainstream development agencies by also attacking NGOs that encouraged abortion, sterilisation and contraception.

As one Belgian socialist pointed out they shared in common the pope’s desire to change but not reject globalisation, but that their approach ended there. “He wants change to come from people, leading to material change. We want the conditions to change first,” said the socialist attending an authorised anti-G8 rally what was outnumbered by riot police, tourists and reporters.

In L’Aquila, where 39 or so heads of government and international institutions will meet from on Wednesday, security forces have imposed such a lockdown that many of those residents who managed to stay after the devastating April 6 earthquake, decided to head for the hills, leaving the town even more ghost-like.

Journalists taken in buses to the summit venue – the finance ministry police college – were pleasantly surprised to find a well equipped media centre with telephones and computers provided. Whether it can really take the 3,500 or so reporters applying for accreditation remains to be seen.

And diplomats with one European delegation told the FT they were impressed by arrangements, so far.

L’Aquila’s 22,000 people living like refugees in tents will be joined by one more though on a rather more glamorous scale. Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi, attending the summit as head of the African Union, will be pitching his inside the well guarded police compound, not very far from where Barack Obama’s mobile basketball hoop is parked.

Sherpas tonight are busy tweaking communiqués and filling the blanks. It remains to be seen how forthright there will be condemnation of Iran’s crackdown on opposition demonstrators and what will be said about China’s far bloodier suppression of ethnic unrest among Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang. Agreements on climate change and how much money will be put into a food security scheme also remain to be hammered out.

Any delegates looking forward to a bit of Silvio Berlusconi’s renowned hospitality and lavish parties might come away a little disappointed. The theme is rather un-Italian Spartan, supposed to be in keeping with a city recovering from its earthquake and the world from its financial crisis.

Still the surrounding Abruzzo region will be providing the best of its food and wine, while Autogrill, the motorway chain, does the catering.

“Everything is ready. I feel completely serene.”

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s three-time prime minister and billionaire media mogul, is confident in the success of the G8 summit he is hosting this week in the quake-ravaged city of L’Aquila.

For Berlusconi, 72, it will be the third G8 summit he has chaired, following Naples in 1994 and Genoa eight years ago. No other leader of the rich countries’ club has such a distinction and this summit will be the biggest to date, bringing together a total of 39 heads of government and international institutions.

The summit venue is the college compound of the Finance Ministry police, a cross between a military barracks and university campus about two km outside L’Aquila which was devastated by an earthquake on April 6. Nearly 300 people in the city and surrounding villages were killed and about 60,000 are still homeless, more than 22,000 living in government-provided tents.

The three-day summit starts on Wednesday but world leaders have already started arriving in Rome. China’s Hu Jintao attended a business conference on Monday where 38 agreements reported to total $2bn were signed between Italian and Chinese companies, including car-maker Fiat and Generali, Italy’s insurance giant breaking into the Chinese pensions market.

Whether everything is really ready in L’Aquila is not clear. The media centre for some 3,500 reporters was to open on Monday but has been put back a day. But sidewalks have been covered in green carpeting and approach roads resurfaced. A blanket security presence will keep away any disgruntled tent people or anti-global protesters.

Almost daily aftershocks have added to the logistics nightmare of shifting the venue to L’Aquila from the original site at La Maddalena, a small island off Sardinia that had presented its own serious accommodation problems.

Italian media report that under Plan B, world leaders could be evacuated and flown to Rome in the event of another major tremor measuring more than 4.0 on the Richter scale, but only if the summit complex showed signs of damage. The April 6 quake measured 6.3. A tremor of 4.1 shook the area last Friday, sending people back out into the streets.

“There is no risk,” Mr Berlusconi told Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by his brother. “Even if there was another shock, the guests would be completely safe.”

Mr Berlusconi is in serious need of a smooth and successful summit seen to produce concrete results. Communiques on climate change and food security could yield tangible progress. Italy is spearheading an effort, backed by Germany, that is intended to lead to a systematic working out of “global standards” for international business and finance. Ethics has become a buzz-word.

Iran could also come in for a tough verbal lashing although Mr Berlusconi has back-tracked since he earlier indicated he expected sanctions to be imposed, even though the G8 is not the right forum for such decisions.

At home and abroad, the prime minister’s standing has been seriously damaged by a series of scandals surrounding his private life that began when his wife, Veronica Lario, accused him of “frequenting minors” over his unclear relationship with an 18-year-old would-be model. Since then it has emerged that prosecutors are investigating whether a businessman in Bari suspected of corruption also procured prostitutes for the prime minister. Several women have gone public with their salacious tales.

Mr Berlusconi calls it all garbage and lies concocted by the left-wing “walking corpse” opposition. Despite repeated claims that he is completely unmoved by the media furore, his office has threatened to sue foreign newspapers, specifically those belonging to the Murdoch group, if they published photographs of his private parties.

Known for his attention to logistical detail, Mr Berlusconi has overseen preparations in L’Aquila led by Guido Bertolaso, the government’s Mr Fix-it who heads the civil protection agency which is also in charge of earthquake relief.

A basketball hoop has been specially installed for Barack Obama, US president, outside his accommodation block numbered P1.

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About the authors

Leyla Boulton is an editor on the FT's main newsdesk
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson is the FT's media editor
Robin Harding is an FT correspondent in Tokyo
George Parker is the FT's political editor
Sean Smith is an editor on the FT's international companies desk

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