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.