Bitcoin naysayers could not have hoped for a better week.
The global media frenzy is perhaps unsurprising given our love of extremes. In this case, the magnitude of the losses (approximately $350m of customer funds) also made the story a winner in the eyes of editors.
Although this week’s news cycle was mostly negative as a result, some journalists preferred to focus on more positive yet arguably more unimportant news.
Mt Gox stirs Japanese media
The fact that Mt Gox was based domestically, coupled with the magnitude of its financial losses, resulted in a mass-coverage of the arrest by local Japanese media outlets.
Sankei published a piece following Karpeles’ arrest which sought to assess bitcoin’s viability and credibility, highlighting its negative connotations.
A loosely translated excerpt read:
“But unlike the general currency that is backed by the country’s credit, the question mark is attached to the safety and reliability. In particular, anonymity is high, crime successfully exploits the difficult features …. in April, a man who was smuggling drugs from China using the bitcoin has been arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department.”
The piece called out for regulation, noting how bitcoin, like other payment methods, can be used for money laundering and financing terrorist activity. “To hurry the actual situation, it’s time to consider the specific laws and regulations.”
Mainichi Shimbun‘s piece, emphasized how the value of bitcoin fluctuates against fiat currencies, but also noted its potential in the remittance market and stated that its current market capitalisation amounts to approximately ¥500bn.
More complicated were the reporter’s interpretations of developments within the bitcoin industry, which sometimes drew correlations between arguably unrelated events.
“On the other hand, transactions on the Internet because of the center are also associated with the risk of cyberattack. Immediately after Mt Gox bankruptcy, Canadian exchanges closed and a large amount of bitcoin has been drawn in the unauthorised access,” the piece read.
Mark Karpeles’ arrest equally captured the Western media’s attention, which should come as no surprise to those who have been following the case since Mt Gox collapsed in early 2014.
A quick Google news search with the words “Mark Karpeles”, “bitcoin” and “arrest” brought up over 300 news articles, roughly equalling that of what was produced by Japanese outlets.
The volume of coverage resulted in articles from a wide range of mainstream outlets including the BBC, The Guardian, Time, Business Insider an CNN. Similarly to some Japanese outlets, most like the Daily Mail also touched upon the need for regulation in the industry.
The piece noted:
“Japanese authorities have previously acknowledged they were baffled by the Mt Gox case because they had never dealt with possible crime dealing with bitcoin. Experts also said it might be difficult to take action because of the absence of laws over virtual currencies.”
Breath of fresh air
There was a time when bitcoin merchant adoption was actually news, but times are changing. If 2014 was the year of merchant bitcoin adoption, 2015 has seen major entities emphasize the capabilities of bitcion as a distributed database system.
According to CoinDesk’s State of Bitcoin Q2 2015, the rate of growth in the number of bitcoin-accepting merchants continues to lag below that of previous quarters.
The fundamental challenge for bitcoin as a medium of exchange, the report said, is the lack of compelling reasons for mainstream consumers to use the digital currency, something that was not lost on the press even as they widely covered such a story this week.
Writing for TechCrunch, John Biggs, said:
“I’m not a big fan of ‘X accepts bitcoin’ type of post but this one is near and dear to my heart – and actually interesting. LOT Polish airlines, the official Polish air carrier, is now accepting bitcoin. What does that mean? It means that you’ll soon be able to pay BTC to go KRK.”
Despite seeming unenthused by the bitcoin integration, Biggs continued to note that Poland was a leader in payments with a number of clever smaller banks offering more near-field communication (NFC) and bitcoin payment options than elsewhere in Europe.
With every nascent industry comes progress. Take the Internet for example – an overdone comparison albeit a useful one – and its decentralised, open-source code, state of development and disruptive potential and how far it has come since its days of early inception in the 1950s.
Now consider how far bitcoin has come since it first burst on to the scene. Still think an airline in Poland accepting bitcoin payments is that interesting?
USA Today did, noting that LOT Polish Airlines joined a small, but growing group of airlines that list “the software-based currency” alongside other payment options.
The piece added:
“Don’t be surprised if most airlines begin offering you the option to pay for your flight with bitcoins.”