Thursday, December 6, 2012

Two National Government Inquiries - regulation

Two National Government Inquiries into press and media behavior with one response – regulation. 

The UK and Australian Governments conducted broad ranging investigations into the performance of news organizations and journalists in their respective nations. The final reports are now out: An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press (Leveson Report, 29 November 2012 levesoninquiry) and the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation (Finkelstein Report, 28 February 2012 Australian Finkelstein). The Australian report showed its colors by subtitling itself, Report to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. It was arguably forward looking, while the UK inquiry was reviewing history. 
Indeed, on 13 July 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron told the UK Parliament the reasons why the inquiry was being held. It was impossible to avoid the role News International and the now defunct News of the World played in bringing about the inquiry.  Leveson’s report started with the PM’speech. In republishing the speech to Parliament Leveson allowed Cameron’s words to repeat the allegation. The first line of Leveson reads, as did the first line of Cameron’s speech to Parliament:
“In recent days, the whole country has been shocked by the revelations of the phone
hacking scandal.” (page 1). Or as they say in Coventry, ‘Hello Rupert!’

 Leveson was directed by the Terms of Reference. And while the case was generated by the straw that broke the camel’s back, phone hacking, the peppering of the report with direct references to News International makes for a sorry tale of journalistic failure at an institutional level. The first part of the report Terms of Reference became its title:
1.       To inquire into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press… (page 4)

It is impossible to miss the point that the target was News International.

The second part of the inquiry will examine the extent of unlawful or improper conduct
at the News of the World and other newspapers… (page 4) …
(c) the extent to which the current policy and regulatory framework has failed
including in relation to data protection; (page 5)…
3. To inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International,
other newspaper organisations and, as appropriate, other organisations within the
media, and by those responsible for holding personal data. (Page 5)

It’s easy to criticise an institution with poor professional practices like News International. It is much more difficult to reform an entire system.
As I have noted previously on the Uprising blog, the challenge for newspaper journalism is digitization. Newspapers and the journalists who work in them are not in a happy place these days. It is pretty easy to see how the phone hacking scandal took place: digital technologies allowed reasonably smart people to gain information that had previously been private and then use that private information to sell newspapers, in public. 
How can a newspaper system be reformed when it is based on sixteenth century technology? 
The response to that question has multiple levels.
The first is that criminal acts have been determined to be just that and the editors and journalists from the News of the World will have to explain their phone hacking behaviour in court. That will be significant because the laws that apply to data in the digital era are not clearly transferable.
Criminals are redefined in the new digital context.  Historical antecedents for criminal redefinitions associated with new technology: when the printing press emerged, when radio started playing popular music and pirate radio stations went offshore…
Here is a hypothetical question: How long will it be before cell phone hacking is legal?
Second, philosophically the challenge is how to deploy jurisprudence in a situation where it is still in formation. The answer is that no one should be treated in the way people were treated in the UK phone hacking scandal. Jurisprudence is a low level solution to the social problems that emerge from the unregulated Internet.  
Third, elsewhere I have written about the way wilful neglect plays out.  Predator Drones, Wilful Neglect 
This is a bigger issue than what we can ever hope to cover, although it may be helpful to assess traditional media in the light of new media and see how wilful neglect is always part of the dilemma of liberalism – what types of human action will civil society tolerate? The challenge of the Internet is that it allows users to overlook previously unacceptable forms of human behaviour because they appear in the Internet context, not the print media context. The Internet offers new opportunities for predatory and pecuniary action, including redefinitions of privacy and publicness. It magnifies and redefines these terms and the concepts associated with them. 
It is hardly surprising then that the UK and Australian inquiries both opted for regulation, as a statutory system of public interest concerns.
Leveson recommended an independent self regulator for the UK…but as I write that is in the process of becoming a system of non statutory regulation. guardian leveson comment1
It is also no surprise that the majority of media owners, practitioners and many journalists have opposed regulation.
In contrast there are those who know the system from the inside and recognise the need for a new method. Please see my blog November 17, 2011 about Eric Beecher’s call for a public press funding system in Australia.Beecher See also Lachlan Murdoch on his grandfather, Keith, Rupert’s father. Lachlan
 In Australia the call was for a system ‘To rectify existing and emerging weaknesses in the current regulatory structures it is recommended that there be established an independent statutory body which may be called the ‘News Media Council’, to oversee the enforcement of standards of the news media…’ (p. 290).
The Australian recommendation set the cat amongst the pigeons as well. This inquiry set out to make sense of new media. In contrast Leveson set out to understand what happened in the phone hacking scandal and where possible offer a political solution to the view that News international has unreasonable influence in the UK. These were two very different inquiries.
 In sharing outcomes that recommended regulation as a solution both inquiries reinforced my view that we need an expanded public education campaign about regulation.      

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Australian Cultural Digital Facilitation: Position Paper

Position Paper
 Australian Cultural Digital Facilitation (ACDF)
National Questions of Culture-Commerce-Convergence

The Australian Federal Government’s Convergence Review together with the National Cultural Policy Review have provoked questions about funding and continued public support for the cultural sector. Australian national interest is reflected in cross-party funding over many years for cultural institutions – Australian Film and Television / Screen Australia, Triple J, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and more recently support for new media and creative industries. (See for example It is a growing and complex set of demands that combines culture with commerce and convergence.
Traditional support for national cultural institutions is coming under pressure and must change in the electronic (that is Internet / digital) environment. Increasing numbers of Australians receive their cultural artefacts – cinema, music, television programming (sport and entertainment) and information services through the Internet.
The digital sector, or Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is the growth sector of the economy, and severely at risk from foreign content (note especially the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement). Australian cultural producers are disadvantaged. Most content now moves through the ICT network direct to consumers.
Telecommunication firms manage the network, with Telstra as the “incumbent” infrastructure owner dominating and given special treatment by the Federal Government to the tune of $11 bn to support its business.  Telstra is the digital gatekeeper and does not operate in a genuine marketplace, but as a protected (subsidised) provider.
The emergence of the National Broadband Network (NBN), to which Telstra connects along with all telecommunication companies (Optus, Vodaphone and others) will generate massive turnover. (Over and above the estimated current annual $40 bn turnover of the telecom companies).
The NBN growth projections suggest increased costs for consumers as Telstra and the NBN maximise profits. Most of the pressure for content will be from global, read US sources. This will ultimately challenge then undermine local content and creative industry producers.
The question is how to maximise support for Australian culture in this new context. Old and established approaches to funding support are unlikely to be effective as they will be costly, while freighted with traditional appeals from powerful interests.
Australian Cultural Digital Facilitation (ACDF) is the answer –a levy on all telecommunications (arts and culture) content transactions over the network. Just as the telecommunications firms charge consumers for downloads over the Internet, so the Australian Government charge the profit making firms for facilitating the flow of culture over the network.
It is a matter of justice.
The ACDF would levy a 2-5% fee on all telecom providers (not Internet Service Providers). This would include all cultural content transported by all operators using the Australian national telecommunications infrastructure / NBN: rate of levy is equal to 2-5% of gross revenues for wholesale and retail business. The levy would operate on all network traffic – terrestrial, fibre or cloud based digital transport (no exceptions) flowing through the national network. The fee would be only levied once per algorhythmic datum. For example, if a film was stored on a Hollywood server, transported to Australia, moved to a server in Melbourne to be downloaded on to a mobile phone in Broken Hill, the cost of that transaction would be levied one time – at the point it was downloaded by the user. The subscriber’s telecommunication provider would calculate the value of the transaction and pay that fee into an account, to be distributed quarterly to the collection agency.  
 The ACDF will produce the following results:
·      progressively engage the marketplace with culture in Australia;

  • guarantee financial support for cultural industries;
  • reduce and possibly remove cultural funding demands from Federal and State budgets;
  • engage telecoms and ICTs with nation building, but not on their self-interested terms;
  • offer an innovative approach to social provisioning;
  • connect the telecommunication companies with the Australian public.   
The telecos would pay the fee to an ACDF Authority / Australia Council. Mandated distribution to all sectors of the creative community would be managed by this independent institution.

Marcus Breen

Monday, September 17, 2012

Banning YouTube in Pakistan

Resistance to digital media and its previously unfettered circulation is moving apace.
Lat week the US Government reportedly asked Google to take down clips from Innocence of Muslims, the film that has generated riots in the Muslim world - that includes Sydney, Australia, not quite an Islamic stronghold!

"...In Pakistan, the prime minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, ordered the suspension of YouTube over the "blasphemous" Muhammad film."
Call to Ban You Tube

Escalation of this fury should be expected. The film offers a pretext for anti-US sentiment. Proving that media is much more powerful as a mobilizing tool than almost any other force.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Anti-Muslim film, the Internet = riots and revolt

This week the cultural collisions continue apace, as theocrats on one side of a religious argument prompt outrage from theocrats on the other. One side is racist, the other outraged. Fundamentalism always ends like this: bloody murder. The unfortunate aspect of this particular event is the inevitable hardening of positions. The more we are on line the harder the positions get! The Internet is the era of the new fundamentalism.

What started as an as yet unknown plan by US based media producers who were spoken of as Iraeli-American (!who come up with this identifier and who in news rooms lets it into public circulation?) to make a film mocking the prophet Mohammad was more than a joke. It was probably intended as an affront to Islam. From the Moslem perspective it is blasphemy.

The US ambassador and embassy staff - US citizens - killed in Libya, burning of KFC and other US businesses destroyed late in the week as the matter escalates in intensity. And the film or extracts of it continue to circulate on the Internet. Here is an unintended consequence that I predicted within the jihad approach to resistance. In Uprising the jihad case study offered a view of the way this particular religious and social movement would be unassailable as the unique characteristics of ideological grooming played out. Fundamentalist excess has an inevitability about it.  Here it is, another step towards a conflagration that is motivated by the circulation of offensive media on the Internet. (It is worth reflecting on the alternative: has any one ever killed a US representative, burned down a KFC or sacked an American government compound because of pornography. If anyone knows of a case please share your knowledge).

On 13 September 2012 the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was reported in her usual high handed lecture mode berating everyone who might not like the US! It's a big list. Why does Hilary Clinton not back down on this? The film is a disgrace and she said as much - thank you Hilary! Then went on to her preferred position - referring to "reasonsable people" and "responsible leaders" who need to do something to defend the good and the great - that is the US and its citizens and representatives.

Here we are again with an example of the standard language of the Enlightenment ("reasonable" and "responsible"). It is thrown around as if the use of this language is followed by the kind of behavior nice people prefer and practice. (Me too, by the way!) I would prefer not to have the film made and for it not to circulate and for everyone to live together in peace. That is not about to happen. The Internet has accentuated the identity politics of every religious and other group who seeks reinforcement of their prejudices. The new fundamentalism is here now.     

Overlay this with the US insistence on free speech. As Cass Sunstein argued (and as I said in Uprising) there is a moment in the Internet era when the question of free speech must be visited, explored anew and if necessary rewritten. Purist perspectives on this ideal are a derivation of Enlightenment, pre-internet communication. The new media of the Internet is free in a contradictory way that cannot be sustained in line with US Constitutional ideas.

The US Government itself has moved to stop the circulation of the anti-Islam film, thereby making the case that it too recognizes that there is a limit to what can circulate (we know that already with Government sanctioned limits on some extremes of pornography, especially involving children.)

Google has other ideas as The Guardian reported:

"The search engine Google on Friday night rejected a request by the Obama administration to reconsider a decision to keep a clip from Innocence of Muslims online, Reuters reported."Guardian - read last paragraph

The response to the film as it circulated on the Internet offers another perspective on the relationship between media and social action, revolt and dissent. For media theorists, there's a lot of hard thinking to be done.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

News Corporation again - change in digital

News Corp.’s Chief Digital Officer to Step Down as Company Prepares to Split

New York Times 24 August, 2012

Here is the first paragraph of the story:
"News Corporation’s chief digital officer, Jonathan Miller, will step down, the company announced on Thursday, in the latest example of an executive departing since News Corporation said it would split the publishing business from the rest of the company."

I have held off commenting or blogging about News for a while because I wanted to see what played out. Here we can see the beginnings of the end of the old News organization, as the digital flails. And it will continue to flail, perhaps ending the News Corporation, News International era in newspapers.

I have some interest in this story from a professional and personal perspective that stretches back to the days when I was a consultant with the Victorian Government's Department of State Development (1994-1996). Along with John Rimmer and Terry Dyson and a host of bureaucrats we set up Multimedai Victoria, after undertaking a research project at CIRCIT (Centre for International Research on Communication and Information Technologies), where I was the director of the cultural industries research program. As a consultant I had the good fortune to meet dozens of entrepreneurs from around the state, the country and the world working in the early start up days of the Internet.

One of the people I already knew - we had been on an invited panel to discuss Intellectual Property and Australian cultural industries at Film Australia - was Greg Clark. Greg had been an IBM executive and a physicist with a PhD. I liked him a lot. Urbane, easy to talk with and confident with the ability to self deprecate, as well as blow his own trumpet. He sounded very Australian.

In the mid-1990s he became the head of News Corporations digital initiatives and ended up working out of the Fox studio lot in Hollywood. I visited him there in 1995. It was clear that he had all the technical skill in the world to manage new media. In those days it was satellite and digital signaling for television - all of which worked out quite well for News with Fox News and Sky in Europe, the UK especially and the US. After doing the policy work for News to consolidate that side of the business Greg left News Corporation. He had a wonderful place over looking Central Park in New York City: at least that's what he told me. We spoke on occasion until 2003 after which I lost contact with him.

The reason I mention Greg Clark is as follows. There was a clear impression that News was determined to take the early mover advantage that the Internet offered. It did not know what it was doing but it knew it had to do something. Greg Clark was a scientist who knew a lot about signaling and satellites. He like all the rest of us knew very little about what would work - the creative destruction that the Internet would render to established media.

Incredibly, this is still the case. Jonathan Miller's departure is another in a long line of executives who do not know what to do about the twists and turns of the Internet.

When the Levenson Inquiry hands down its findings, there will be more challenges for News, as we are reminded that News had no idea that the behaviour of their journalists was criminal, uncivilized and brutalizing. More flailing which in the phone hacking case was about letting wild horses run free until someone or something caught up. The law and the British Prime Minister did just that. And the findings, like the criminal charges against former News Corporation (News of the World) editors and journalists will come during a Tory administration! Go figure?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Moslem Brotherood rules in Egypt

The arrival of Mahomad Morsi as President of Egypt is an unanticipated outcome of the convergence of digital technology with  a long standing social movement. Reading between the lines of the reports from the mainstream western media over the past few days, it looks as if no one really wants to talk too much about a US educated engineer with a PhD leading the most radical political movement on the planet. No surprises there because no one knows what to do!
On July 1, Al Jazeera news carried reports suggesting that this would be a pretty normal presidency, given Mori's commitment to democracy. Al Jazeera also carried live and in full on TV the Egyptian presidential inauguration and related speeches. Long sections of sung sections of the Koran set the meaning of this event far away from US Capitol prayers by chaplains, or the fundamentalist Christian crazies who populate western democratic politics almost everywhere. 
The point is that this is a major story with no end point. Plus, no country or government can invade to stop this shift.
Al Jazeera noted - actually one of their commentators noted - that Israel had not been able to stop the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. That too is a major shift. Israel as the bully of the Middle East, backed up by the US, is increasingly friendless and lacking influence. It's credibility is in tatters, with internal political opposition to its beligerant approach to the region gaining traction. Force will not resolve Israel's position in the region or the world, but some semblance of common sense diplomacy might.
Israel's will be forced to rethink it place against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why?
The fact is that the brotherhood is the parent of Hamas. This is the big picture. Now in two cases - the West Bank of Palestine and Egypt - political parties closely associated with Islamic social movements have been elected to government. While Israel was able to literally corral Hamas on the West Bank it cannot do the same thing to Egypt.
Everyone will need to be prepared to understand what this means. In terms of my theory of proletarianization, it may mean that non-western styles of legislation, law and policy will come into play to become part of the flow of information. This will be as difficult to comprehend, just like any  shift away from established patterns of knowledge.
If it involves a reworking of the Taliban's feudalism, the Internet will offer a means for exposing that backwardness for what it is. It may be impossible to comprehend: what can be done? There will be major shifts in how all manner of issues are addressed - listening to Arabic language and long sections of the Koran in a semi-theocratic copnvention removes any separation between religion and the state. That aspect of change will for example, take a lot of getting used to.
This will be transgressive knowledge.
The potential linkage between Egypt, Hamas in the West Bank and the rising tide of Islamists in Africa especially will be quick and clear. This will be due to the exhaustion of the dislocated and abandoned, the subaltern and the abject. The hopeless cases of contemporary life have nowhere else to go - unless you buy into the endless and increasingly shrill claims (some people call this Public Relations) by charities and Non Government Organizations to solve the problems of the oppressed... No wonder millions voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, which as I understand it, have some of the best social and development programs in the region. This was the same reason Hamas was elected in the West Bank.       
These programs running alongside well conducted political campaigns will be mobilized by the Internet and related resources. The US Government will not be able to limit the circulation of the information from a duly elected government such as that in Egypt. The big news is that Egypt has a Muslim Brotherhood President which changes everything.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Radio National broadcast - AEST 8-9 pm, Wednesday

Please note that Wednesday 27 June, 2012, at 8-9 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time a recent public lecture I presented will be broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Big Ideas program.

ALSO availabe on line

The lecture is a selective description of Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences.
The lecture was presented at The University of Queensland Centre for Cultural and Critical Studies. The center's Director, Professor Graeme Turner arranged and organized the event. My thanks to him, to the centre and all the people who attended the event.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Digital dung heap - News Corporation vs The Guardian

It is difficult to resist the phrase in the May 26, 2012 editorial from The Guardian: DIGITAL DUNG HEAP!   I didn't intend to put that in capitals as if I am exclaiming at volume, but the impression is that this is the bottom line for respectable types. (I  do not know if The Guardian is respectable.)

Here is the link.

Uprising's thesis is that the Internet has made it possible to not be regulated. Thus there should be no surprises about mobile phone hacking, no WTFs? about security and surveillance, not even a little blanch when we learn that our children see pornography. It is to be expected in the unregulated environment of the Internet.

The question is whether "digital dung heap" explains anything? Apart from corporate behaviour at a global firm like News International, there is no need to characterize everything as excrement, although it is tempting to seek to claw back the certainties of the past. As if there was a time when we were not swimming in it... 

A somewhat semiotic reading of the digital dung heap accusation leads to the conclusion that The Guardian believes it is the defender of values that reflect pre-internet moral certainties. It is as if The Guardian editorial writers want to back track up the lower intenstine to a place where all nutrients are structured according to known categories: proteins, carbohydrates, fats. Somewhere a long way down the intestine a sphincter occassionally lets out the shit.

Enough of semiotics. The intestine analogy as a controlled space does not work in the Internet era. There is no clarity, even though that is what we have been led to believe and frankly still want to believe: that life is a series of controlled procedures. The Levenson Inquiry in the UK in response to the phone hacking scandal shows that if there's a shit place to go in civil society there are always willing candidates, criminalized minds ready to operate without the bourgeois rule book.

There is no digital dung heap. There is unhinged, deconstructed society.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

News Corporation undone by the digital

"The investigation into the Murdoch organisation has slowly exposed a network of suspected influence peddling, bribery and general criminality stretching way beyond the News International HQ in Wapping."

Read more:
This may be a quote from a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, but who would have ever believed that this kind of statement would appear in a quality daily anywhere?  
The Internet is entirely undoing News Corporation and News International. Incredibly by their own hand, allowing reckless behaviour to define their journalism, their business practices and their ethics.
Speaking of ethics Michael Wolff, the recent biographer of Rupert Murdoch suggested that News Corp-Inter's behaviour in the hacking scandal works on a continuum. Writing a column in The Guardian today (27 April 2012): At one end is the ethical, then the civil then the criminal. Simple as that. 
Or is it more a case of living then dying by the sword? In other words, if the culture of News Corp-Inter has been to always push the boundaries of accepted behaviour, sooner or later etc.  This may be a reason to support public funding of news and current affairs organizations.
To refer to "general criminality" (above) is to say News is no longer an organization worthy of public trust.
This is a bitter day for many journalists who believed they were working for a company that pursued journalistic standards. Surely that claim is in ruins?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

News Corporation hacking for pay TV business benefit

The story from Neil Chenoworth in the Australian Financial Review and also played on UK television late in March suggested major computer hacking of codes to undermine pay TV competitors of News Corp. Denials all round from News, including an extraordinary front page article in The Weekend Australian's opinion section denying pretty well everything. It brings to mind Shakespeare's Hamlet maxim about "protesting too much methinks" (and too early).

The pertinence of this to things digital is that the case has been made by Chenoworth and others that in the 1990s when hacking was used by News hackers it was not illegal. Here is another instance where digital technology was well ahead of the law. Writing in the AFR Laura Pringle suggested that there was nothing illegal at the time, in the practice of hacking cable and satellite pay TV video. I happen to disagree strongly with that view. From a civil society perspective, there should be some self-regulation, otherwise we start from the level of barbarity. I suspect that News Corporation would prefer not to be measured at that level.

More importantly, Pringle makes the point that there has been no strong response from the Australian Government to the AFR allegations.

"...have you noticed a slight difference in approach to the one the government took last year in the midst of the News of the World phone hacking scandal?
That was enough to prompt an inquiry into the regulation of the media, the Finkelstein inquiry.
Now, allegations that a major media player may have skewed the competitiveness of the pay television industry are something the government will rely on regulators to investigate. In fact, it was hard to see anyone from the government through the large dust cloud on the horizon when this story broke on Wednesday.
One also sensed a certain sluggishness among government lawyers, who seemed to be of the view that it was all probably OK since some of the emails had featured in unsuccessful court cases in the past.
Sluggishness, or a lack of political will to further provoke a media giant from a government in deep political trouble? Take your pick."

This is serious. It must be assumed that there's silence about these latest allegations because they are so serious that some things are not talked about and acted upon. Then of course there is the small ocean of News lawyers working at the push back against the allegations. See a letters that the AFR has published from NDS the company that News set up that did the hacking.

NDS letter to  the AFR

Perhaps "the public" as observed in the Leveson Inquiry in the UK will shine some sunlight on this grubby matter.

Here is The Financial Times
"[Allegations made by The Australian Financial Review, BBC and PBS] come at a sensitive time, when Mr Murdoch’s company faces police investigations and an assessment of whether it is a “fit and proper” media owner in the UK; inquiries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other US agencies; and an Australian review of a bid for Austar by Foxtel, in which News Corp owns a stake."

Talk about piling on!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Internet and hate crimes - continued redefinition of social life

Here is more in the continuing realignment of social life due to the Internet.

New York Times report headline:
"Jury Finds Spying in Rutgers Dorm Was a Hate Crime"

First paragraph:
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A former Rutgers University student was convicted on Friday on all 15 charges he had faced for using a webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man, a verdict poised to broaden the definition of hate crimes in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.

Please read the rest here:

This was a closely watched event after the story emerged in 2010-2011. It is more evidence of the changes due to the emergence of the everyday surveillance society. It shows the redefinition of actions associated with everyday invasions of privacy and bullying due to the Internet. 

It is possible to see proletariainzation as I have redefined it: the Internet made it possible to surveil and "broadcast" someone's private behaviour. It is also possible to see the push back against the Internet's unregulated space of proletarianization. Theories that explore this territory are necessary now as the claw back to pre-Internet or civil society Enlightenment standards moves ahead in the US courts, as this case suggests.

The irony here is that an Indian student - as a member of a community frequently subjected to racist prejudice - has been successfully prosecuted for prejudice against a gay student for a hate crime. 

The people bleating in protest about the Nanny State should think hard about what it means to not be able to resort to the courts or public institutions for restitution in cases such as this. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Academics and journalism

Having spent 15 years in and around US universities where journalism is taught I have some thoughts on the so-called split between academic training and in-j-house training. (This follows my blog March 12 about News Corporation's opposition to the recommendation of the Australian Media Inquiry, aka Finkelstein Inquiry for a News Media Council and News's arguments that there is a split between media studies academics and working journalists. The writer stifles a yawn, then perks up on realizing that this is serious stuff! After all I am Head of School that includes a successful journalism program.

My experience in the academy from the US perspective is geographically grounded: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communication was across the quadrangle from my office at UNC, the JSchool at Northeastern University in Boston was in the same building I was in in Communication Studies.

1. US journalists are better educated than Australian and UK journalists. This is surprising to me. After 20-30 years of university level education in journalism in Australia, News Corporation journalists still wheel out the old claim that education generates ignorance about how to do journalism. Only journalists educated on the job are to be either trusted or considered capable of real journalism. (How about another beer then?)

As a graduate of the University of Queensland Journalism program (1979 no less) this is a spurious claim by the uneducated intentionally slanted towards an ideological perspective.

Journalism education needs to be taught in the broadest possible terms, not only as technical craft. It needs to incorporate all the nuances, challenges and variety of a top quality liberal arts education so that its practitioners practice the investigation of the range of human experience. This approach will also incorporate the key concerns of critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Furthermore, journalism education needs to be incorporated into progressive institutional contexts, because journalism is probably one of the bastions of progressivism  - the perspective that includes the values of equity, tolerance and fraternity, liberalism by any other name - and involves a forward thinking commitment. The antonym is backwards looking ill-liberalism. 

Both the US institutions I taught at expected their students to embody these kinds of values and approaches. To argue that there is a split between the academy and journalism is to argue for the wrong thing.

2. On the question of journalism education and politics I have some comments.

The sense that education incorporates left or progressive politics should be neither here or there. In liberal democracies, social democracies or their derivations the purpose opf the media is to reflect on and influence the democratic opportunities available to citizens. This should be an open ended commitment, reflected through the lens of journalists educated to make decisions and judgements about what is socially good in civil society. It may be a surprise for some journalists to realize that educated people do not think of money and wealth as an end in itself.   

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Australian Finkelstein Media Inquiry, Levenson Inquiry, News Corporation, Academics

Sometimes it helps to wait. A week. In this case the Finkelstein Australian media inquiry analysis that was prompted by the UK phone hacking scandal got the full treatment in The Weekend Australian, the flagship publication of News Corporation on Saturday March 10-11, 2012. It was a long week in some ways - kind of like waiting for the weekend so that there's enough time and energy for quality sex.

In this case there was a lot of sex but the quality left a lot to be desired. Furthermore, the sex was a little rough, but that's the Australian way. (Cultural Studies scholar John Frow has referred to the entire nation as one defined by "rape culture.") The sex was all about making a play for quality journalism, based on the idea that consenting adults know exactly what to do and when and the state has no place in the bedroom of media production. This fanciful suggestion struggles to make sense of the human condition, namely that people try to get it however they can, but they are frequently motivated by ignorance, stupidity and prejudice. This is where the state steps in. Some things cannot be handled by anything but the combined knowledge and analytical power of the state and it's bureaucracy. (Michel Foucault called this 'governmentality.')

The statist perspective (or pro-state line) drove the News Corporation mavens into paroxysms of fear, anger, anxiety and paranoia. The Finkelstein media inquiry in Australia proposed a News Media Council that to quote the Murdoch press would "sit in judgment of media reporting." Apocalyptic imagery aside, this from an organization that is fighting for it's survival in the UK, has a reputation as a "family business" run on questionable ethical and business lines (Class B shares anyone?) - the old trope of "it's just business" - and a commitment to elitism that means that it's standard operating procedure is almost always against labour and Labour Parties, progressive politics and forward thinking. (Supporting Tony Blair was not an act of support for Labor or working people.)

Some of The Australian's commentary last weekend about Finkelstein's report read like a poorly researched undergraduate essay. It wasn't just the anti-state tone, it was knowing the history of the organization making the anti-state claims. The commentary by News journalists as well as the comments by journalists who support their party line offer an insight into the challenge faced by the public in the face of domination of News International and News Corporation.

The Australian newspaper's Associate Editor Cameron Stewart drew attention to "a widening rift in Australia between those who practice journalism and those who teach it." For academics this is a red rag to a bull - unless you live in Australia, then it's just more of the anti-intellectual, bash-an-academic lifestyle. The article, given major exposure on the front of the Inquirer section of the paper paraded itself like a virtuous child in front of the village parson. In making the case for real journalism, Stewart merely asserted the old line conservative conspiracy approach, which is that education is dangerous. Real knowledge can only be found in hard work and experience and only we know. ("We" being working journalists).

More disturbing were the quotes from various Australian journalists. The editor-in-chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell (being quoted by the Associate Editor) made the following claim: "The media studies academic class is far removed from the concerns of viewers and readers and is engaged in a sociological project to change the world in its image. That is, to infect people with progressive left ideology."

The agenda here is two fold: one is to get me and others like me to blog about News Corporation and News International, thereby taking up valuable space; the second its to argue that the academy is irrelevant to the media because of the politics of those attracted to universities.

At another level News Corporation adopts an anti-regulation pitch in relation to news and social issues. The libertarian approach is great for News because it offers a way of constructing a free-for-all from which they as the dominant player have most to gain. Darwinian ideology is always a winner when you are a winner yourself. Of course, having no regulations about digital media got them into this hole in the first place, but News journalists are not intellectuals. They do not make logical and creative connections between various phenomena. They make assertions aimed at upholding the status quo which is this case is the supremacy of their employer.

Another News Corporation commentator last weekend was Brendan O'Neill. His argument was not about "bad" academics in media studies, but the end of press freedom! No really... He used terms like "witch hunt" and "vengence against the media." Reading this guy you'd think brown shirts just dragged him out of his bed. He was apparently writing about a recommendation from a public inquiry for a News Media Council in Australia. His article bore the headline of, on second thoughts, forget it.

The point is monopoly powers do not seem to have any trouble finding people to promote their monopoly practices. It's disappointing and shameful that journalists working for an organization like News Corporation that is in all sorts of hot water about its behaviour in the UK and possibly the US, is able to run pages of commentary attacking academics and public recommendations for regulation. Their behavior and those of their colleagues might be a whole lot more dignified if they actually had university educations and were not merely products of the old school tie set. 

It might be of interest for readers to know that News Corporation's biggest opponent and the Melbourne liberal and publisher Eric Beacher was pleased with the Finkelstein media inquiry recommendations.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

James Murdoch leaves the UK - News goes for TV and Rupert Tweets

Whoever said the world is a simple place has been disconnected. Following the continuing unravelling of News International / Corporation in the UK, it is a challenge to get one's head around the entire enterprise of this "family business."

Here is a smattering of news from this date: March 1, 2012. All the news embodies aspects of the digital -
  • James Murdoch resigns even as the UK Government inquiry continues into digital phone hacking News of the World (NOW, closed); 
  • moving from newspapers to TV, which is converged digital video / applications by any other name; 
  • Rupert Murdoch tweeting;
  • members of the Inquiry tweeting him!
A non-digital aspect to the story stream is the news that Rebecca Brooks, former NOW editor saved a horse from the glue factory.!/rupertmurdoch/status/174810157082091520  This was Rupert Murdoch tweeting, so back to the digital. (This is, I'd suggest, a perfect communicative strategy for dedicated conservatives like the Murdochs - talk about animals in distress.)

James Murdoch has resigned as executive chairperson of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of News Corporation.  At least one commentator - Michael Wolff, author of a recent Rupert Murdoch biography - suggested that James may face time in prison for his role in the hacking business. For such a possibility to play out, there will need to be a significant collapse of elite support for News - that may in fact be occuring.

Such an outcome would be the result of utilizing the Internet in the newspaper domain.

The standards for Internet behaviour in the un-regulated digital domain are or have been, unknown. You could do anything you wanted on the Internet - including hacking people's phones. The default is to rely on Enlightenment legalities about decency and civility - that is, allow people privacy on their telephones. (Frankly, you cannot blame the so-called journalists employed on English tabloids for doing anything but what their bosses instructed them to do or whatever was necessary to get the story. If I am correct, many of these "journalists" are uneducated well connected young people for whom the terms "critical thinking," "reflection" and "academics" are totally unfamiliar terms.  Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of  Evil offers a take on this. A reading of Arendt on Eichmann should let the implications of "I was just following orders" explain itself to this generation of the mindless).

In many ways the Leveson Inquiry is an attempt to claw back the idea of civility in the face of the digital. A similar claw back took place in the US after the commercialization of the Internet and the Telecommunication Act of 1996, with the Copyright Millenium Act, the Digital Decency Laws, Children protection laws and a multitude of other post-factum efforts to regulate the otherwise unreglated. (See Uprising for more on this).

 I want to draw attention to what is possible in the uncivilized twittersphere. I want to repeat here the tweet from the Levenson Inquiry Committee Member Tom Watson after Rupert Murdoch tweeted about the horse.!/tom_watson/status/174811123030298625
"@rupertmurdoch You comment on her horse but not on her insider knowledge of a criminal investigation into your company. Have you no shame?"
Then again, maybe this is more of the same: is the appeal to "shame" anything more than an appeal to the civility of Enlightened values?
News Corporation is planning to focus on television. This is understandable given that so much quality visual media is around. Given what I have seen in the 3D and games platforms dimensions, it is only going to become more engaging and immersive, perhaps even transformational. The size of the global market for Internet-based communication is vast.

Rupert Murdoch in his letter about James's resignation said:
"He has demonstrated leadership and continues to create great value at Star TV, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia, and BSkyB. Now that he has moved to New York, James will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations."

 It may as well say digital video.  Is it really possible for James Murdoch to end up in prison? If so he will have plenty of TV to watch, much of it very, very good! Complex indeed.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Proletarianization meets News Corporation

The end of journalism as an ethical practice continues. At least this could be the conclusion reached by the unravelling of News Corporation in the face of the UK government's Leveson Inquiry into the media. (I have blogged on this previously.) There is not much room to believe in the future of newspapers as established institutions for information, as the story continues to emerge about the way News Corporation journalists in the UK collected news.

They appeared to take two roads: they used whomever they could to hack into mobile phones to illicitly collect private information and secondly, they paid police and UK Ministry of Defence officials for secret information. Both sources were used to create news and sell papers.

According to old school moralists, this is not acceptable. The clear message from the moral gate keepers is that established standards of journalism should prevail even while the Internet makes that ideology obsolete. It's a case of attempting to reproduce nineteenth century reporting standards in the twenty first century of digital feeds. The two do not fit together. They cannot fit together.

Curiously, The Guardian newspapers persists with the idea that News Corporation is the embodiment of immorality. 

The story in The Guardian on 11 February 2012 - apart from its self-serving claims to holier-than-thou status - was instructive because of the sheer joy The Guardian appears to derive from seeing News Corporation in trouble.  With a headline like this, why bother asking readers to read on?

"Murdoch media empire engulfed in scandal as Scotland Yard net spreads."

The more significant comment was this line in the story:
 Following the first set of arrests, a News International source suggested it was intent on "draining the swamp", a comment that provoked fury among the company's journalists.

Draining the swamp of what? It would be correct to assume that the higher ups in News Corporation have determined that they can get back to old fashioned journalism if they can just rid themselves of the crooks in the organization.

More strident critics than me would suggest that the entire ediface of News Corporation is a swamp. A more accurate interpretation could be that the organization may be finished as a global newspaper player because the Murdoch model of newspapers cannot be sustained, not because a few toads got into the pond to mess up an obsolete moral universe.

The fact remains that cell phones and new technology make something of a mockery of print media and its journalistic standards, even though print media continues and in some parts of the world is growing. (Latin America and parts of Asia). Draining the swamp would mean some kind of effort to find lilly-white journalists who rely on ethics as it once was. The internet has made that approach impossible.

Proletarianization means that the dirt circulates without the kinds of controls News Corporation wants to put in place. It can drain the swamp all it likes. The circulation of the vicious, the vindictive and the venemous is already here. Pretending that some kind of swamp draining will work is a fools errand.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Killing the thing you love: Predator Drones and the Internet

The title of this post is not intended to be playful. It is intentionally provocative. It is the title of a plenary talk given today at the Technology, Knowledge and Society conference at UCLA.

The point to the paper was the discussion of the relationship between the communcation tool that most everybody loves - the Internet - and its dystopian manifestation, predator drones. My intention  in addressing this particular dystopian manisfestations of the Internet was to provide an opportunity to critique contemporary warfare ideology. This discussion can be set in the context of the Obama presidency, which many people hoped would mark the end of the warfare ideology that emerged during the Bush 2 presidency, the Bush Doctrine.

The hoped-for about face against the use of US military power to enforce liberalism did not diminish with Obama, in fact, it seemed to escalate. Hilary Clinton has made a habit of publicly stating in the nicest possible way that the US / NATO model of liberalism will succeed, by force if necessary. This is the weirdness of the current situation: members of the political elite appear to embody American liberalism, and have no compunction about using US military might to enforce it.

The point driving the paper is that the Internet is used to impose acceptable US standards of liberalism on the world. This is a complicated topic which I will not unpack here - Vincent Mosco has already undertaken much of that thinking. 

The use of the Internet for managing and controlling predator drones that can then launch missiles to kill purported enemies is the end point of US discipline. The French Philosopher Michel Foucault in his lengthy ruminations on human behavior surely would not have imagined that "discipline" could take such an extreme form.  But frankly, that's what drones are used for - to extend US discipline to anywhere in the world.

Predator drones (pilotless) are used by the US Air Force to kill militants, mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They do not get a court case, or a warning, as far as we know. The drones are controlled by Air Force personnel based in New York State and Nevada, who identify the target, then use the Internet and computer game-style devices to kill at will. No "boots on the ground" by US forces. Just the anonymous hum of a plane as it releases a missle over a desert somewhere.

The discussion needs to be around comprehending this shift in warfare ideology in everyday language. These two terms are taken from a 1963 essay by Hannah Arendt, "Symposium on Space," in which she talked about both of these topics as a challenge given the rise of space travel and computerization. Her comments are still applicable to the investigation of the Internet in its relationship with predator drones.

Of special note then is the way the technology of the Internet has moved beyond public interest, beyond jurisprudence and associated ideas of morality.  (These are ideas I explored in Uprising, where proletarianization is the unanticipated consequence of the unregluated Internet.)

This is where Arendt's concerns are helpful. How do we comprehend predator drones? How do we find everyday language witrh which to critique the use of the Internet to run these tools of war?

Perhaps an even better set of questions result from a conversation about warfare ideology.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Language and the Internet - new challenges

Today's Technology, Knowledge and Society Conference started at UCLA with a Plenary speech by Henry Jenkins. Formerly of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Henry now teaches and researches  in the Journalism School at the University of Southern California. He has, let's be honest, a mixed reputation and yet wonderful success as a person with a clear connection to what's going on. (To quote Marvin Gaye).

At one level his work is absolutely stellar in documenting trends and concerns about technology while at another level it has been criticised as being almost devoid on theory, knowledge of theory or critique. In fact, anything that would detract from Henry's style of technoboosterism has been seen as his Achilles Heel.

The surprise this morning was to hear Henry discuss the current situation with his forthcoming book - which will be out of date when it appears later this year. He referred to "rotting information:" That is the book versus the immediacy of the digital space: nice.

One of the points he made was that digital tools make information / knowledge "spreadable." He immediatley went ont to say that the word is not very good, and then to say: "We wanted to change the language and put the language in crisis." (by using the inprecision of the world "spreadable.")

I like this. Not only does it acknowledge something we know more clearly than ever as the Internet shifts and grows around us - that language is not helping to describe what is happening -  but that "the best language from cultural studies and critical studies" can help resolve this gap. Furthermore, Jenkins suggetsed that in the Web2.0 era, there is a reapproachment between cultural studies, critical studies and technology-Internet studies.

This is important - especially because in my own self serving way - Henry referred to E. P. Thompson's use of moral economy, in The Making of the English Working Class. Welll, I used this extensively in Uprising to describe the context in which we now live - a new moral economy, where proletarianization occurs. The unregulated space of the internet offers and creates a new moral economy.

It is always nice to see one's work ahead of the pack. We are egos after all... more importantly, it is exciting to see someone of Henry's stature referring to moral economy as a means of generating language that will make sense in our discussion of the Internet.

My plenary speech tomorrow talks about the limits on our language and how that impacts public ability to discuss the use of the Internet to mobilize predator drones to kill people who don't like us.

I'll blog that tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

At UCLA next week - Uprising Launch

Next week - 15 - 18 January 2012, I will be at the Technology and Society Conference in Los Angeles. It is being held at UCLA. Below is the link.

Feel free to attend the book launch / reception to introduce yourself or attend my talk about drones and the end of the internet on Tuesday morning.