A Surprisingly Fragrant Way To Save The Newspaper Business

In Sri Lanka, take a whiff of that newspaper. Its ink can help shoo away deadly mosquito-borne diseases, one of the more improbable ways to save the printed press in our digital era.

Approved by Bill Gates
Approved by Bill Gates
Julien Bouissou

COLOMBO In markets stalls in the Sri Lankan capital, and elsewhere in the world, they are used to wrap fish. But that is just one daily use for newspapers beyond reading them, there are others.

Saranga Wijeyarathne, chief of marketing of the Sinhalese-language dailies Mawbima and Ceylon Today, had been thinking for months about the possibility of adding a special "scent" to the day's news pages to help increase circulation.

Wijeyarathne was waiting for the perfect opportunity, which came on April 7 with annual World Health Day. That day, the first-ever citronella-scented newspapers rolled off the presses, with the aim of protecting readers from mosquitoes. It is a new way to fight the spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever, which can be fatal and affects up to 30,000 people every year in Sri Lanka.

The time of day when newspapers are typically read — in the morning and evening — coincides with when mosquitoes are the most threatening. In the first days of this trial, newsstands around the country sold out a special printing of 200,000 copies, 30% more than ordinary days.

The Ministry of Health welcomed the initiative, as did Bill Gates, who praised the project on Twitter.

I like the ingenuity… mosquito-repellent newspaper helps fight dengue in Sri Lanka: via @ozy

— Bill Gates (@BillGates) July 11, 2014

The first mosquito-repellent newspaper in the history of press was not easy to develop, starting with the choice of repellent. Citronella oil, which is extracted from the leaves and stems of lemongrass, was chosen for its scent, considered pleasant and easily identifiable. Instead of spraying it onto the newspapers, it was decided that it would be mixed with the ink to make the scent more persistent. A chemist was hired to set the dosage, while mechanics made sure the liters of citronella would not damage the printing presses.

At the beginning of the operation, citronella-vaporized posters showing insects stuck in the Sinhalese letters were installed at busstops.

"Daily newspapers are not dead, as long as we innovate and believe in the future of this format," says Wijeyarathne. "Since newspapers across the country started innovating to modernize the image of this medium and make it attractive, sales stopped declining."

The first 3D newspaper, or one that could be used as a flag, published on the National Day of Sri Lanka, were also launched in the country. In Ecuador, a daily printed on laminated paper, to provide shelter from rain, also came off the presses.

It's not the paper

Although it was successful, the mosquito-repellent newspaper cannot be published every day because of its high cost. “Above all, the newspaper wanted to raise awareness among the general public about dengue fever, and we wanted to generalize the use of citronella, which is a natural insect repellent, but less and less used,” explains Ranil de Silva, the head of the advertising agency Leo Burnett in Sri Lanka, which took part in the operation.

Wijeyarathne is thrilled that his mosquito-repellent newspaper got noticed in big places abroad. "The problem with newspapers is not paper, but the lack of ideas," he says.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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