UPDATED: The Seven Wonders of Hype
Seven countries are joyously celebrating their inclusion on the new list of “Seven Natural Wonders” of the world. But is this anything more than hype? And is the organization that put it all together out for anything more than making a buck?
UPDATE: The accusations of jamming the phone banks and voting irregularities for Jeju to be on the New Seven Wonders list are now coming to light. According to the Korea Times:
"Jeju Special Self-Governing Province has not paid for hundreds of millions of international phone calls its employees made over the past few years to ensure the country’s southern resort island was selected as one of the New7Wonders of Nature in a worldwide poll.
A senior official overseeing the finances of the provincial government said Tuesday that it has asked KT, the country’s largest landline phone operator, to defer its phone bill indefinitely. He said the municipal administration is currently unable to make payments estimated to be about 20 billion won ($17 million).
Over the past four years, millions of Koreans and non-Koreans at home and abroad were encouraged by the central and Jeju provincial governments to make phone calls to vote and help the island win the designation.
Those who voted for Jeju did so online at (www.new7wonders.com) or by making a phone call to 1588-7715. Each call cost 180 won."
After the countless headlines heralding Jeju's spot on the list, the media is not putting this on the front page, but thankfully, they are at least reporting it.
BUSAN, South Korea -- While people living in the seven countries recently deemed as having one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of Nature have every right to be excited, we must first remember that the list is only provisional, and that the final results will not be announced until next year – so cork the champagne and go a little easy on that headline ink, no one is an official winner yet.
Even if those “Chosen Seven” end up on the final list, what do we know about the methodology of the vote itself and the motivations of the organization behind it, New7Wonders.com? It is a question largely absent in the media (especially in recipient countries) as the mass wave of back-patting circles the globe.
The quandary is not whether the seven finalists are worthy, but rather is there any measure of scientific validity or democratic ethics involved in the voting results? Or is it all just an elaborate money making scheme by New7Wonders?
I should first mention that I lived on one of the seven provisional finalists, Jeju Island, for two months. It is a fantastic place. And while it is has incredible natural beauty and you really should go, it is not – in my opinion – more of a wonder than say... The Galapagos Islands, The Grand Canyon, The Great Barrier Reef, Angel Falls, Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Aurora Borealis – just a few which were all noticeably absent from the list.
No offense to the provisional winners and the countries they call home, but it looks to me that the biggest 'Wonder' to come out of all this is the abundance of hype in the seven provisional finalist's media and governments – spoon-fed and some money-bled by the group New7Wonders.
The Aurora Borealis. Sorry, not worthy.
Who is New7Wonders.com?
The four-year-old project is the brainchild of Bernard Weber, a Canadian-Swiss marketing expert. According to Weber's group, over 400 images were submitted from 220 countries, which were eventually shortlisted by a panel led by Prof. Federico Zaragoza, the former head of UNESCO.
Having Zaragoza on staff was a nice touch and added some weight to the legitmacy of the organization, but everything turns a bit shady right about there.
First of all, each country on the list was asked to cough up a $199 entrance fee. While that seems reasonable, considering the administration costs (no word on the size of the New7Wonders.com staff) the ethics of the organization quickly gets dicey.
This past May, the Maldives government withdrew from the competition after New7Wonders.com demanded a half million dollars in compensation for further promotion in the "contest."
This coming on the heels of reports in the Jakarta Globe in March that the Indonesian government was being badgered by New7Wonders.com to pay $10 million in licensing fees, and another $47 million to host the closing ceremony. Keep in mind this is before the short list was even announced.
Todung Mulya Lubis, a lawyer representing the ministry, said the Indonesian government was considering a lawsuit against New7Wonders.
“We want to give them a lesson that as a foundation that attracts worldwide attention, they need to be fair with participants of the competition,” Todung told the Jakarta Globe. “That the Ministry was removed after we refused to pay the millions of dollars must be questioned."
And according to email correspondence obtained by Maldives' media, New7Wonders wrote to a Maldives' official that he could enjoy a “protocol visit to your capital city, lasting one day. This visit includes the presentation of a certificate to the appropriate authority and a short press conference. The N7W team arrives in the morning and leaves the same day.”
Awesome deal, huh? A one day visit from the company rep and a spot on the list for the low price of a half-million or, if you are the wealthier nation of Indonesia, only $57 million.
At the onset of the venture, New7Wonders.com was said to initially be offering countries various promotion packages, such as the ‘Platinum Package’ for $350,000, or the ‘Gold Package’ for $210,000.
Venezuela's Angel Falls. No grace bestowed upon them as a top wonder?
New7Wonder's spokesman, Eammon Fitzgerald, called the accusations ‘baseless,’ yet told the Guardian that indeed there were varying fees for using the foundation's branding, but he would not disclose figures.
"The figures vary by country. As a rule we do not comment on business and commercial aspects, which is standard practice in the business world."
And the two magic words come forth from the muck: “business world.” No mention of scientific validity or democratic ethics from dear Eammon.
A Valid Vote?
The New7Wonders.com website claims that its “worldwide” vote came from 220 countries – fair enough, one guy votes in the Internet wasteland of Myanmar and they are on the list.
And yet, one wonders: Will New7Wonders.com release what countries voted the most out of the claimed 1,000,000 total votes? Obviously, the countries that won had the most votes originating from their shores, but I'd like to see how many citizens voted for a country other than their own.
Granted, I am no statistical sampling expert, but one million seems a paltry number considering there are 6.8 billion people on the planet and an estimated 2.1 billion global Internet users.
And surely, a million votes does not mean there were a million voters.
There is little or no chance that the anonymous vote was in-line with our most sacred democratic principle of “one man, one vote,” and a money-making enterprise, such as New7Wonders.com, is not about to mess with what is looking to be a healthy bottom line for both themselves and the seven provisional finalists who rallied their citizenry to click, click, click.
There is simply too much money, and too much national pride at stake for New7Wonders or the winning countries to even consider wading into that messy business of truth and fairness. Much less talk about other possible instances of extortion.
If the subject is not to be brought up, then I suggest that the whole "contest" might better be called: “The Seven Most Wired Citizenry Picks For Great Natural Places Where they Happen to Live Award.”
America's less than Grand Canyon.
In truth, first releasing the “provisional finalist” is another stroke of marketing genius on top of the one New7Wonders.com already accomplished – it leaves them another round of hype to build on leading up to final list early next year.
The Click Attack
Writer, Andrew Salmon, wrote in the Korea Times that getting an outcome to your liking, in an anonymous Internet-based poll, is not too difficult and any country could sway the outcome with little financial investment.
“A few years ago, someone showed me how to immediately move one’s website up the rankings. The method was: Hire a group of university students. Each is assigned half a dozen computers in a PC Bang (Internet cafe). They log on to the targeted website, on multiple PCs in multiple PC Bangs, then walk along the lines, hitting refresh, again and again, all day.”
But worry not dear readers! I trust that our diligent domestic and international media and the fine journalists they employ in the seven countries that provisionally won will be hard at work finding out the story behind the story after the love fest is over.
That would be yet another wonder.
Where is the Media Scrutiny?
The fact that most of the major media is not taking the results seriously speaks volumes. A quick search on news.google.com shows little mention of the provisional finalists in the major outlets other than a questioning of the results – or wondering why the their local favorites weren't on the list.
If journalists do a little digging, the next big story grabbing headlines will be that New7Wonders is nothing more than a marketing scheme playing on the nation-state level. And Federico Zaragoza, using the prestigious name of 'UNESCO,' was just out to make a shady buck.
Judging by Eammon Fitzgerald’s response that his organization is simply a business, I don’t see legitimacy as being their primary concern. As for the media in the seven winning countries, lets hope the hype hangover soon passes and they do the service of looking at the facts.
The seven are all worthy of praise, but shouldn't it be given in a legitimate manner from an organization that is not in all this just for the money?
Whether the final list is legit or not, the whole thing is inevitably subjective. Forget the fact that a great majority of our fellow earthlings don’t even have access to the Internet, much less money for airfare. And forget the fact that I think Ginnie Springs, back near my hometown in Florida, should be considered one of the ”Seven Natural Wonders.” Ever heard of it?
My pick: Ginnie Springs in north central Florida. If only I had clicked more!
Either way, congratulations are in order to Jeju Seven Wonders chairman, Yang Won-chan, on a great a job getting people to vote – another wonder within itself and worthy of grassroots legendary status.
And also, congratulations to soccer star Lionel Messi for firing up the Argentines to vote for Iguazu Falls – another on the provisional list. You’ve both done fine work and should consider running for political office for stirring the flames of national pride to such a roaring blaze. Isn't that what international politics is really all about?
Regardless of what further transgressions come to light about New7Wonders, it is great publicity for all, and will bring a boom in tourist dollars to their coffers. They all deserve to be considered "great," and yes, people should visit the top seven, but the questions and contentions will remain.
Let’s hope the fourth estate gets around to examining them soon – especially in the recipient countries.
Perhaps, the larger question is much more simplistic: Who of us is still foolish enough to believe that the Internet is a step-up in human evolution, and not just a digital projection of the same trusting, gullible creatures that we are and always were?
There is a P.T. Barnum quote begging to be used, but I’ll leave you to find that out for yourself on the illustrious World Wide Web.
Just don’t look to New7Wonders.com as a source of reliable information on the legendary – and wonderous – master salesman, Mr. Barnum.
Bobby McGill is the Editor in Chief of Busan Haps. To read more from him, go here.
In this news clip from Al Jazeera, the amount of money demanded by New7Wonders conflicts with those reported above by the Jakarta Globe. The Al Jazeera report says $35 million and the Jakarta Globe, $57 million.
|The Provisional New 7 Wonders of Nature|
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