Friday, November 29, 2013

Totalized Information and liberalism

The Economist, 16 November, 2013 editorialised on the rise and rise of surveillance, drawing attention to the remorseless rush toward “ubiquitous recording” of pretty well everything. editorial Video cameras everywhere, defines the emergence of visual culture on a massive scale.
The magazine noted in “Every Step You Make,” that the “perfect digital memory” will become a commonplace, as will surveillance on grand and granular scales. It cited Google’s Glass computer, a mini smart-phone, worn on the wearer’s nose, as just one of many digital tools being developed. And so it goes, in the totalized information world. 

There are two points to reflect on:
1.       1. A fascist tendency towards the control society. If the totalization factor becomes inescapable, there is every reason to be concerned about the closure of the public interest. Without fail, every effort at totalizing control is operationalized by private corporations with privatizing intent. Interestingly, Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with creating the World Wide Web, is on the record expressing concerns about this trend, suggesting that governments should do more. Berners-Lee  Ultimately, private interests have difficulty expressing any concern for the public interest. That is often the preferred definition of private concerns as they play out. 
2.      2.  The promoters of Liberal politics are not always prepared to identify the ideology at play in their value system. However, The Economist made the case about the totalized information world in a manner that should be welcomed. In fact, the magazine made the point about the “deeper impulse” of liberty; “freedom has to include some right to privacy: if every move you make is being chronicled, liberty is curtailed.”

     This is where the discussion moves to an important register, namely the legal banning of devices. The use of dashboard cameras is forbidden in Austria, notes the magazine. Yes, and so is most texting and phone use while driving, and mobile phones in public swimming pool change rooms because of their video making capacity. Google has banned the use of face-recognition applications on Glass, while Japanese camera-makers, says The Economist, ensure their products make a sound when they take a photograph.

Governments, added The Economist, “should be granted the right to use face-recognition technology only where there is a clear public good.”  Facebook and Google “should be forced to establish high default settings for privacy.”
Then this:”…the new cameras and recognition technologies should be regulated so as to let you decide whether you remain anonymous or not.”
What is The Economist on about? Here in the late stages of neo-liberalism, in an era that has seen calls from this same magazine for free trade and the opening up of markets, is a major U-turn. Is there a sudden rethink? Has a boundary line been reached in the liberal imagination? Has the internet with its promise of the freedom of unregulated communication and media led to this? It appears that The Economist has a renewed interest in a politics that demarcates boundaries around the private and the public.
Here is the context: All of a sudden, what an individual does can be totally scrutinized. This becomes worrying, yet it is perhaps typical of  a particular brand of Liberalism, that only when the freedom of the individual is at risk, do the advocates of individual freedom speak up. The particular type of freedom that is being defended by The Economist needs critical evaluation, because it may well be that the freedom being defended is that of the previously privileged individual who is now, at last, under threat of surveillance. The King, the Man and the Woman can no longer hide securely and privately in his and her castle, planning privately to orchestrate economic and social advantage to others' disadvantage.
“Liberal politicians, says The Economist, “have been lazy about defending the idea of personal space, especially online. The fight should start now. Otherwise, in the blink of an eye, privacy should be gone.” 

With the exception of the final sentence (privacy is already over, as Wikileaks, Edward Snowden and all the files they have leaked suggest) this paragraph marks an end point in the short political history of the Internet. 
 “The fight” will not start with an editorial. It will start when the loss of privacy in the new totalized information world becomes painful, when the damage that has already been done is obvious – when good people, progressive people, sensible people, are subjected to all manner of actions by those acting according to private interests. It will be a fight unlike any other and has been given a start date in the history of liberalism by The Economist.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Vacuum cleaner approach" - NSA electroninc eavesdropping and the public interest

New York Times coverage of the National Security Administration (NSA) files leaked by contractor Edward J. Snowden, has allowed that newspaper to ask consistently pointed questions about government intrusions into communication. The coverage has been pretty modest in the way it has channelled public outrage, yet mindful of the obligations of public media. More significantly, the Times has offered helpful insights into the operations of government in the digital era.

The license it has taken to describe some of the actions of the US Government agencies - especially the NSA - has met some of the key requirements of public interest theory. The Guardian has been more pointed still. The NSA Files

Describing the collection of French data as a matter of national sovereignty for France (20 October 2013), the Times has raised the public interest bar. Reporting that the NSA recorded 70 million digital communications between December 10, 21012 and January 8, 2013, the Times has opened up questions about the US approach to international relations in the digital era. Everything is being impacted by digital communications, even national sovereignty. Some academics have suggested that sovereignty is no longer a useful category. Try running that proposition past any national leader, against the background of the US vacuum cleaning private data outside the US.

Everything is sucked into the digital vortex. vacuum cleaning data The French, the Germans, the Brazilians are right to complain. Any complaints from the Australian Government? The  history of Australia is that there are few if any complaints, as Australian Governments go out of their way to be compliant with super power wishes. The words "Australia" and "national autonomy" are unlikely to appear in the same sentence. Most critics would describe this as a rather pathetic track record on Australia's part.

Edward J, Snowden (the NSA files leaker) and Wikileaks security files offer insights into the normalised world of US "electronic eavesdropping" in a way that confirms fears that Big Brother is everywhere. Securitization - scrutiny of all communication, private and public under the umbrella of national security interests - can be assumed. It is the culture.

I am suggesting that new questions have emerged because of the scrutiny of digital communications by the NSA and the securitization vortex into which we have all been drawn. I am asking how the public interest can be defined in the current context, a context where security has redefined everyday life.      


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Weak media regulation - questions worth asking

For those of us who follow News Corporation and its chairperson Rupert Murdoch, this article by The University of Melbourne political scientist Sally Young in Melbourne's Age newspaper is instructive. The headline itself was a prompt to read more. "How will the government reward News Ltd for its wholehearted poll support?"

Here is the link
Murdoch influence on media policy?

The history included in the article is testament to a weak national regulatory environment, where the big boys appear to be on the record for always getting their media way. It's an unlucky country! Small population, a few wealthy scions and a limited supply of oxygen (OK that last one is meant as a metaphor to suggest that the absence of diversity in media ownership in Australia produces some remarkably shallow and callow news coverage. As for analysis, it could be more diverse and critical.).

Another point to identify here is Sally Young's provenance: political science. What she offers is an interdisciplinary viewing of media history, political economy together with regulation theory and economics. All worthy elements of a critical discussion about weak governments who cower before self interested media and communications institutions and the men who run them.  

Is democracy supposed to look like this?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Feudal media organizations - Michael Wolff on News Corporation journalism

Any student of the television soap opera genre knows the importance of the family structure. Every step of that structure is negotiated with the patriarch as the centrally challenged focus of the domestic structure. The social relations are always somewhat subtle, even while power is the central matter under examination. Keeping or giving up control is what is being negotiated in those daily TV shows.

The most excessive view on family business is the ancient idea that the patriarch  - the alpha male - is unchallengeable. This perspective is the foundation of feudalism.

Somewhat surprisingly, last week New York media analyst Michael Wolff referred to News Corporation as well as the New York Times Company as "feudal" organizations.

In fact, Wolff is unusually well placed to comment on News Corporation after writing The Man Who owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch (2010), an authorised biography of Rupert Murdoch. Wolff refers to News Corporation and the New York Times as institutions run by a single male. Their structure mirrors the old family model: "dynastic and feudal."

This claim is at once breathtaking in its accusatory energy, while on closer examination it seems that the evidence for Wolff's claim is in place to support this view. Wolff on News feudalism

Of more moment may be the profile of the men who are employed as CEOs of both firms Mark Thompson (NYTimes) and  Robert Thomson (News). Indeed, an entire raft of men populate the higher echelons of these media firms, even though (last time I checked) 50%+ of the global population is female. What type of men become the CEOs, the editors in chief, the editors of these publications?

Unfortunately we cannot say with any certainty what the character types are and I am not aware of any academic studies of a sample of former lieutenants that indicate the type of person who works immediately down the line of command from a patriarch like Rupert Murdoch. (Former editors would be  good place to start). It is an important question for media analysts, because the critique of New Corporation news media is that it has been beholden to the political interests of Rupert Murdoch, who dictates the editorial line in state and federal elections in territories around the world where he owns news outlets - US, Australia, UK.

In other words, what kinds of people, what kinds of journalists agree to do what they are instructed in order to advance their careers? From a gender perspective, the question can be refined as, what kind of men?

This question seems especially relevant these days when so many journalism students are taught ethics, social responsibility and research methods in an effort to help guide their pursuit of the truth. What happens to the principles of reporting when an angle is called for by the boss? Should journalists merely cave? The feudal model would suggest that there is no choice, no room for debate and no questions to ask. It may be the explanation for the malaise of journalism as a profession, with apologies to all those faithfully practising their craft.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ganging up on Rupert? - News Corporation becomes the news

With the Australian Federal election firmly decided in favour of the conservative Liberal-National Party Coalition it is time for those of us in media studies to engage in some analysis of the reporting across the media. The approach News Corporation has taken to reporting in its original home base, Australia, is an example of election influencing. Media critics are well aware of News Corporation's interest in boosting conservative causes.

It is fair to say that the defeat of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) government led by Kevin Rudd on September 7 was in the sights of the Murdoch-owned press for many months, and yet in seeking a change of government, Mr Murdoch himself became the news. Even his tweets were reported. Tweets by Murdoch New media such as Twitter, has moved the public into a relationship with media owners as opinion makers, generally unmediated by gatekeepers. In Mr Murdoch's case he can and do say whatever he likes, without editors telling him what to say or moderating his commentary.

The narrative from the News Corporation bunker was one sided: remove the ALP by reporting on the party and their leadership in antagonistic and negative ways, while reporting on the conservatives in supportive and positive ways. It is a well tried path, as Fox News support of the Republican Party and President George W. Bush played out in the 2004 US election. The election coverage in support of the conservatives and against the ALP in the News Corporation Sydney Telegraph tabloid was calculated by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Watch, a weekly 15 minute television commentary at around 134 anti-Labor articles and headlines out of 293. Media Watch  It hardly proves much except that it distracts from detailed journalism.  

Peter Botsman put it as follows:
"The media portrayal of the Rudd campaign has been beyond belief. It was a true 1950s ‘we will tell you what is good for you’ exercise. The Murdoch press effectively acted as a storm anchor that pulled back any positive news about Labor in any other media source...." Botsman Working Papers

But the importance of all this is elsewhere. Australian Labor Party supporters - the True Believers as they are called - could have spent more time devising policies that make significant contributions to public welfare, instead of counting the coverage. The media as the story is a function of a narrowing band of policy options. There are distractions everywhere, with little progress made on progressive policies, perhaps importantly on media and public communication debates, that would entail broadening the circulation of ideas through multiple sources. (The News Corporation argument is that the everyone has the Internet, so there's plenty of diversity. Do not be concerned...).    

It's business as usual.  At least the global aspects of media kicked in to the Australian election to add some stringent colour. There are two examples to this part of the story: the first is an unfounded yet public accusation from a mining tycoon and leader and funder of Palmer United Party (PUP - woof woof!), Clive Palmer, that Rupert Murdoch's estranged wife Wendy Deng was a Chinese spy Litigation central - Clive Palmer; the second that the UK Levenson inquiry followed Mr Murdoch to Australia, in the form of his chief British Labour Party antagonist Tom Watson.Tom Watson Sydney Morning Herald coverage

Both of these "events" put the Australian activities of News Corporation into the global context. In the former case, perversely, in the latter case, critically. No progressive public policy ideas made the light of day in this whirl of media wind.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Uprising in Egypt - Connecting the Internet and muscular liberalism in the mess of global political economy

The theory I proposed in Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences, was that proletarianization is characterized by the unregulated circulation of information on the Internet. This was and is somewhat naive, given what is now known about Internet security thanks to leaks from Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Wikileaks, Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian newspaper and the United States Government's National Security Agency (NSA). NSA Home Page

Everything we submit and see is surveilled, regulated and monitored. The NSA makes this its goal as an institution of the US Government.

The NSA's mission is to "protect US national security systems and to produce foreign signals intelligence information." It has been doing this since Cyber War was first put on the public policy agenda, back in the mid-1990s. I was first alerted to the concept of cyber war by a colleague at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who worked closely with the US military.

Since that time my assumption has been that my work, my movements as an alien and US resident and my communication is surveilled as a matter of course. No surprises there.

Putting more detail into the theory of unregulated information circulation means that while on one hand the Internet offered a public interest kind of freedom to see everything, as long as it could be digitized, on the other hand the Internet offered government and its institutions ways to keep track of everyone through their electronic communication. This "freedom" is now obvious, while earlier it was in an opaque, "black" or unknown public territory - of which there are many. The current context is simply this:  the Internet operates strictly within the domain of US national security.

This is and was the freedom of the Internet - the dystopian present's answer to the utopian past of emancipation through the information cornucopia. The ubiquity of total surveillance in the US and beyond, brings to mind the 2006 German film, The Lives of Others, because that film portrayed everyday surveillance in the last years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as a totalizing invasion of every human action, Everyone was an enemy of the state, or at least suspicious. With minor legal adjustments, everyone using the Internet is now a suspect. Indeed, the case can be made that even curiosity will result in punishment - this is the argument from The Who's guitarist Pete Townend, who was arrested and charged with child pornography use. He was curious. (The end of curiosity is a subject for another time).

Which brings me to the current and ongoing crisis in Egypt. The Arab Spring has been sprung because the Moslem Brotherhood and their allies in Hamas and elsewhere - democratically elected governments by the way - are obvious and known through surveillance of their communications. Of course, I can only follow press reports on how the NSA and other security organizations capture Internet traffic and assume that the righteous determination of the US to oppose non-Western political forces has run its own race, outside the jurisdiction of the US Government and the republic's legal institutions, such as the courts.  

This leads into the messy business of tolerance in political theory. What will the west, primarily the US, accept in elected governments? There are thresholds. These thresholds are ill defined, until such time as they matter. In the 1930s little was done to stop the Nazis and the Spanish fascists headed by Franco. Yet much was done to stop the communist movement in Russia from 1917. Why stop communism but not fascism? Recall that the US entered World War 2 after it was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and claimed the victory over the Nazis while in the three years prior, it stood by as millions were sent to their deaths. (Imagine the difference in discourse if we conflated those Jews, Gypsies, trade unionists, socialists and gays killed in Nazi concentration camps with the Russians killed by the Germans? We know that Churchill and the British Government were not too worried about the Nazis attacking the Soviets... )

More recently the Rwandan genocide, or the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia - took a month of Sundays to prompt interventions by the west. Does religion and skin color determine the response of liberalism? If Muslims and communists are being killed and if black Africans are being killed, don't worry about it. Is that how our government's think?

Our government's still think in ways that are at best predetermined. Today, the Internet provides total information that feeds that predetermination. In the past, an action may have been deniable, as diplomats and spies on the ground were relied  upon to find out an opponent's position or intention. Then report back with some nuance, time for rumination. Internet time is real time, but the decisions seem eerily in line with earlier history.

Who has come to the defense of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt? Enter more messiness in global politics and the challenges facing liberalism, the hegemon of political economy. The roots of liberalism as a political force are not without their contradictions. Using surveillance to snoop on the world's Internet population, on governments and any institution deemed worthy of interest is an action considered to be acceptable in defense of liberalism. Think about it! This is a paradox that needs a lot more thought. Internet surveillance then military interventions against elected governments by the west take place in defense of tolerance - liberalism's key philosophical claim.

Look at this comment from Joshua Hersh in a piece from The New Yorker 17 August 2013.

"...Mohammed Aboul-Ghar, a seventy-three-year-old academic and politician who has been a leading figure in Egypt’s liberal establishment, and now represents one of the most confounding elements of the country’s current crisis: the wholesale alignment of old-guard liberals with the military."
Portrait of a Cairo liberal as a military backer

The key paradox of liberalism: interests that close down liberalism as practiced at the ballot box.The Internet will give the west more and more information, offering more opportunities for muscular liberalism that is sclerotic in the way it embodies tolerance. There is something wrong with this picture... will the flow of information help us understand what to make of global political economy and act accordingly? Or is that moment beyond us? If surveillance is the only game in town and drones - another Internet tool - are the preferred option, who dares stand up to this liberalism? 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Amazon arrival - new media anxieties

Amazon dot com owner Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million USD on August 5, 2013. There is a constructive commentary by Lexington in The Economist about the purchase and the future of newspapers, especially when opinion leaders like the Post end up owned by someone like Bezos, someone unkindly described as the billionaire owner of a large warehouse business.What right has a non-communications person to move into newspaper ownership?

(see The New Yorker, August 16 for more pics of this era, scroll down the page)

Of more importance - and a real question as opposed to the faux one above is:  what happens to news when it is given the digital  treatment by new economy entrepreneurs?

Here are some Lexington suggestions as answers to that question from The Economist, August 10, 2013.

"With luck high-tech types such as Mr Bezos can dream up digital wheezes that attract new readers, while preserving the best of general interest newspapers - their breadth, and the serendipity of stumbling on unexpected articles or opinions. If new proprietors merely finance niche outlets with ever-tinier circulations, their money might do more good elsewhere. Mr Bezos has invested in space travel for instance..."

"Digital wheezes"?! What exactly would that be?  I suspect that any connotative analysis of the phrase would suggest that digital innovations are some inferior tool used by the illiterate global hordes. Semiotic analysis has its place. And in this case Lexington's intention appears to be an attempt to wind back the digital in favour of the quality broadsheets, the real deal newspapers of the nineteenth century, or the pre-Internet era. But wheezes?

The endless harping about the end of various print media traditions has two sides:
1. the traditional-literary culturalist always believes in the supremacy of Anglicised knowledge accumulation. The Tory by any other name believes in the good, the just, the right and the entitled: in short, queen and country.
2. the revolutionary visual culturalist for whom the screen is the embodiment of all human achievement, where the eye is the gateway to the ineffable soul of the masses, wherever they are.

Visual Culture is unmaking established sensibilities. Perhaps Bezos knows this and will take the Post to a place that reinvents news within a communication dimension that cannot be recognised at this time. Even Bezos does not know, he intuits. He sees the Arab Spring, the remaking of the police state in Egypt, the fragmentation of existing nations, the vicious movement of totalizing control by limited interests. The perfect conflict that is always visually engaging. The essentialism of visual culture/

Everything feeds the visual desire. This may be the $250 million investment.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

News Corporation - the journalism of silence

Traveling on the San Francisco highway listening to KQED, the National Public Radio station. Too many cars. There's talk back, with articulate, well informed Americans calling in about the President.

Then a caller catches my ear unlike others. Last week President Obama visited Phoenix, Arizona and made some major policy announcement about Freddie and Fannie Mae, including reforms to the housing and loan industry. Not everyone likes the changes, which are seen as privatizing the the loan industry more than it currently is. Obama puts "private capital" at center of housing plan

Housing policies aside, the KQED story was more important for what it suggests about News Corporation journalism. This is Fox News offering coverage to the population of Phoenix to a local Presidential visit, plus a policy announcement.

There was NO live coverage on Fox News in Phoenix.

In all of journalism, silence has rarely been considered a hallmark of the profession. Surely journalism has always been about utterance, presence, presentism, discourse, annunciation, "the record," knowledge, information and entertainment.

What is a journalism of silence?

Absence of coverage raises all manner of questions about journalism and it is generating a position that may be considered new in the field. Not reporting a story as a major event for the local population offers a new strategy in news coverage.

Interestingly, it is not too far removed from the arguments put by News Corporation Australia editors and managers, when they verbally rampaged against the public interest reforms in Australia. Their come-back to critics for why their organisation should not be overseen by a Public Interest Advocate, was that the Internet offered countervailing information to balance any misrepresentations of their news.

Providing no coverage is a deft, yet troubling move. It assumes active listeners and news consumers who will find other sources. It is a position that conveniently does not appear to hold up to journalistic standards, like the ideals of telling the truth - you can't get near the truth if you say nothing.


Friday, August 9, 2013

News Corporation, an Australian election, discourse

Media scholars and their colleagues in political economy have often considered the behaviour of the owners  media to be one of the most fundamental tests of democracy. In the dominant western model of representative democracy, the prevailing view is that journalists have been entrusted with a level of objectivity in reporting that embodies open tolerance for diverse views of society. Of course, there is a limit to the tolerance which reflects the ideals of the Enlightenment - civility, maturity (of debate), individual self realisation, emancipation, rationality, respect for the law. All of which are open to negotiation. Media scholars, sociologists, philosophers, in fact pretty-well everyone refers to this as social discourse.

When media owners allow their privately held beliefs to overstep the bounds of that discourse and to directly control it, then the discourse is no longer characterised by tolerance. It becomes a directed channel to a limited, (immature) conversation.  As I noted in Uprising and elsewhere, the Internet serves to reinforce immaturity - that is the narrowing of public discussion, in some cases facilitating "ideological grooming." If you have one set of values reiterated over and over on an appealing delivery system (all the bells and whistles of the Internet) why bother with tolerance?

This is where fundamentalism finds its richest nourishment.

Following this logic, media ownership has been freighted with unique responsibilities in democracies. These "responsibilities" emerged with the liberalism of the Enlightenment and despite protestations from pedants, are the values that underpin tolerance and about which there is always active debate. What should de tolerated?

What happens when a media proprietor in the Internet era sees his responsibilities as being about the defence of his empire, not about the discourse? To complicate matters, what happens when that mogul's business interests are primarily shifting to new media, even while he has established near-dominance over old media?

Enter stage right - Rupert Murdoch.

These and similar questions have moved into sharp relief with the announcement by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of a Federal Election, September 4, 2013. Indeed, Rudd accused Murdoch of collusion with the liberal (conservative) leader Tony Abbott. Collusion quote, comment 

Suggestions that Murdoch is a serial government-influencer have been well established in media history. His support for Margaret Thatcher was the first major international move by News Corporation and Murdoch to influence the outcome of an election. He had previously supported the Australian Labor Party's Gough Whitlam in 1972, and later turned on him in 1975.

After two weeks of the official election campaign, Kim Williams CEO of News Corporation, Australia resigned. This followed the appointment by Mr Murdoch of Col Allan to oversee the election coverage by News Corporation in Australia.

Williams is the person who made the strongest possible case against media reforms in Australia, arguing against the Public Interest Advocate. (See my blog March 2013 Australian hysteric). Chief of News Corporation Robert Thomson thanked Williams for his efforts - especially on this front:

"He has been a powerful, eloquent and effective advocate for media freedom and freedom of speech in Australia. His leadership against hastily conceived 'reforms' ensured that the vigorous and vital debate that has characterised our country will endure.We all owe him a debt of gratitude for that strong and principled stand." Regulation fight

Taking a principled stand against Public Interest ideals is what Robert Thomson means. He also means that taking one side in a debate, where News Corporation is often the only source of news in Australia, is acceptable and can be defined as "debate."

Media scholars would probably agree that the Enlightenment includes the quest for emancipation from oppression. Oversight of Public Interest ideals is not an offence against freedom, nor a type of oppression, which is what Thomson seems to be suggesting. What he and News Corporation want is freedom to do and say whatever is in their own interests. That hardly rises to the level of responsible media ownership in a democracy.


Friday, May 31, 2013

IT tax mess - the carbon tax solution

There is plenty of discussion about the tax rates for IT companies. Since the Congressional Inquiry on May 21, 2013 when Apple boss Tim Cook acknowledged the company's $100 billion untaxable money pot to US Senators, there's plenty to think about for American innovators. 

Here are notes on Senator Carl Levin according to The New York Times blogger:

Mr. Cook repeats that all profits made in United States are taxed in the United States. But Senator Levin says Apple made a decision and signed an agreement in 2008 and 2009 to shift most of its profit so that it was not taxed. The result is most of the profit is in Ireland. Senator Levin says “in order to change it, we need to understand it, not deny it.” He says the committee needs to recognize that what is going on is “a huge loss of revenue.”  Senate hearing blog - record     

The tax rate in Ireland for the sweetheart IT deals is anywhere from 1% to 12.5%. See The Guardian story for some excellent journalism - Apple's low tax hub: Knocknaheeny, Ireland Inside Ireland

Chris Farrell on Bloomberg (On Tax Reform: It's Time To Change the Debate) has come up with a fantastic idea: a carbon tax. For this to work it would need to be made the equivalent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights! Why not some UN action on this idea?

I would like to see the carbon tax for Information and Communication Technologies attached to my Cultural Digital Facilitation for telecommunication firms so there are no loop holes and it is applied across the board by all nations - no exceptions, a universal human preservation code. (ACDF post)

Add an International Court of Carbon Justice...

Here is Chris Farrell, May 24, Bloomberg Business Week.

The second strategy is far more ambitious and intriguing: Change the terms of debate. Drive the corporate tax rate down to single digits with dramatic simplification. Then, to avoid starving the U.S. Treasury of money, substitute a carbon tax. The corporate rate should be low enough that loopholes would no longer be worth spending political capital defending. The substitution of a carbon tax would also ensure that the federal government isn’t in need of revenue, the pitfall of supply-side calls for simply cutting corporate income taxes. Federal fiscal conservatism is a critical long-term budgeting goal. Why not raise government revenue by taxing something we agree isn’t good—environmental damage—and tax less something we like, corporate profits? Worth a try, no?


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ethical IT business - The Gartner approach and a Harvard Business School story

The headline might suggest an oxymoron. Ethics and IT business do not sit well together. This is the conclusion to be drawn from the shenanigans of Apple in its tax evading, virtual non-state status. What a crock of a company.

You could say there are Americans and there are Americans. There are two categories.

Type 1: Apple Americans. Their business is always business. They embody the phrases US President Calvin Coolidge is alleged to have said in the 1920s: "The business of America is business."  Their specialization is to cut corners, crush competitors, take no prisoners, act as a monopoly whenever possible... that is the story from Standard Oil / Rockefeller to Microsoft / Gates. (It is not only an American story, but if you claim righteousness and world leadership, you are going to suffer intense scrutiny.)

Type 2: Innovative Americans. In most cases they share the same ethic as the Apple folk with clear provisos.They accept the rules. The primary one being that as Americans they gain benefits from society, such as the governance the Government provides in the form of contract law, intellectual property protections, investment in universities for research purposes, and development of civil society through productive employment.

The second type are a class above. Why? Because they act in more than their own self interest. They do that because they know that to act only in their own interest is to unleash barbarian instincts that they have been taught to suppress, redirect and regulate. Of course this is not to suggest that they are soft when it comes to business. This is often misunderstood about innovators. Toughness - intellectual and personal. Probably always flawed.

So why Gartner? As a former employee who had two+ wonderful years as a consultant and researcher in the Raleigh, North Carolina office, I follow the company's plus progress with affection and some pride. It was at Gartner I learned to defer to genuine brilliance in work colleagues who knew American business inside out, but were never bullies, bigots or bastards. Not all the employees were like this, not at all. Some of them were Apples and then some.

I learned lessons about independent perspectives, about keeping your nerve and being supported by the corporation because they believed in their employees. I participated in analyst and researcher meetings where software specialists would crucify Microsoft, describing it as the worst thing that had ever happened to computer software because it held innovation back... oh and it was a monopoly, and thus undermined the aspirations of contemporary capitalism to offer opportunities for innovators. The advent of Google and the rapid shift in computing since Google has shown my colleagues to be correct. They'd say in 2001 that Microsoft has held back innovative software computing by 15-20 years!  

This represented independent thinking and business acumen rolled into the best brains in the business.

The second example that comes to mind also highlights the difference between Apple and Innovative Americans.  This was an anecdote told to me when I was chairing the Melbourne-Boston Sister City Association. In 2009 the chair of that organization Rob Trenberth went to a Harvard reunion. The global financial collapse was well advanced. According to Rob, the Professoriate at Harvard were in crisis, perhaps even horrified by the realisation that much of the illicit activity undertaken on Wall Street that caused the crash was due to the actions of Harvard Business School graduates. As a result ethics became a key part of the curricula and training at Harvard Business School. (They already had the envious reputation of having had Enron's Jeffrey Skilling graduate from HBS - it doesn't get much worse than that!)  

It's a fine line between Apple Americans and Innovation Americans. The concepts that makes Innovation appealing are those where the angels of a better business nature are inscribed in the American belief in redemption through renewal and reinvention.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Australia moves on IT business-as-unusual: "shifting profits into the ether"

Thank goodness for US leadership on corporate malfeasance, because without the US lead it is unlikely that anyone in any government elsewhere would ask the hard questions. What has happened in Australia this week is evidence for this incredible claim for US public interest exceptionalism in Congress. (Wow, did I just write that?)

The link Closing in? indicates that Apple has not told the entire story about its financial arrangements, its corporate structure, its unpublic culture or its active duplicity in poisoning civil society ideals.

As they say on the streets: pay your taxes you bastards! As they do not say enough in university political science departments, this is the time when interdisciplinary political theory is needed - bringing together IT business, industry policy, cultural policy and convergence-technology theory, with organisational theory, accounting, finance, ethics, history and criminal justice. "Secrecy jurisdictions" used by Apple and other IT firms, according to the article, include research on subsets of all these disciplines.  

There is no kind way to discuss Apple. It has been engaged in tax avoidance within an illegal corporate structure for years. Will we get a story about how Steve Jobs was part of this scam? He has been sainted by true believer fantasists on technology as part of the blind spot associated with technology promotion. For an uncompromising view on corporatisation through technology see Michael Adas Dominance by Design.
Furthermore, theorists of neo-liberalism will recognise the long tail unmaking social democracy in the actions of Apple and according to Adas, the role of the technology industry in diminishing public social life in favor of private interests.

On the same continuum, charity promotion by technology mavens who spend their massive wealth deciding on their pet projects - often freighted with emotion by appealing to suffering children, which makes their opponents seem mean spirited - is part of the larger picture of corporate malfeasance.  Billionaire IT gurus avoid discussion of privilege, poverty at home or the matters that should be dealt with in everyday life in the US or elsewhere, as they promote private choice as superior to public decisions making. It is degrading public culture by any other name.  

The culture of deceit that accompanies Information Technology is an unfortunate part of global corporate business culture. As I note in my recent article about drones, there is a distressing default  of wilful neglect in the culture.Killing The Thing You Love As long as we are not directly impacted by events, we are encouraged not to care.

Life mediated by digital devices constructs disinterest in participating in the lives of others, even while we "observe" with more intensity than ever before. We are more interested then ever.

The is the key philosophical move that the internet has produced. The contradiction extraodinaire, if you like.

The Internet allows pixilated people to populate the everyday. The visual turn that manifests every human attribute on the computer monitor, allows us to see with intense detail. Yet what we do is diminished. Those who have benefited most from the rise of the industry decide who gets a share in their riches - it's bye bye to the state as IT funded charities step in. Should the term charitiers be invented if it does not already exist?  

It is a mirror of the worst of Corporate America. It has taken the public for a ride. Corporate acolytes, sycophants and business school copy cats around the world follow suit. They offer computer users the "luxury" of more intense pixiliation in digital technology, then take the money and refuse to contribute to governance. Apple is just another corporation, cut from the same cloth as the rest of the double talkers, scam agents and monopoly players. (Hi, Bill Gates).

Banana republics are made of this. It would be correct to assume some US politicians do not like that option. Curiously, some Australians politicians and politicians elsewhere are pleased to follow the US lead in asking questions about the rotten apple.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

IT companies and tax evasion - what can be said?

A stunning story about the Information Technology industry. Those of us who have followed the industry, indeed been a part of it, are right to feel cheated and sullied by knowing that the corporations we have assisted and in some cases developed from the ground up, are not paying their way. Apple has $100billion USD stored outside the US with no plans to repatriate it for taxation purposes. This article Apple is non-tax indicates that this non-taxed revenue kept by Apple in Irish tax havens will not be going anywhere near the US or countries that apply standard economic policy settings.

This is a major challenge to civil society. It may also prove to be a major consideration to all those holier than-thou people using Apple in the belief that it was a virtuous enterprise. Clearly it is not.

One fascinating complication is the suggestion in the article by Rand Paul, the libertarian Republican, that the US Senators opposing the Apple strategy were somehow unreasonable in their challenges to Apple's tax avoidance scheme.As more  is understood about the political theory driving libertarianism, it is possible to gain insights into the ideals of freedom that informs this philosophy. In particular, the belief that the state should not have a role in financial transactions, indeed the strong view that the state should not tax profits or revenue, suggests a world turned upside down.

Information Technology has been an engine for advanced economies and the global economy for a couple of generations now. That it has generated the parallel universe of non-statism as a default position is its business problem. Much more work is required to hold the light of democratic interests on the IT industry, as the US Senate has done this week.

That David Cameron the Tory Prime Minister of Great Britain has also spoken out about the impoverishment of national accounts because of non-tax paying corporations says something about the impact of avoidance.  At Davos in January 2013, Cameron said tax avoidance is "not appropriate." Cameron video He has a way to go, but raising what he calls "moral questions," was not a bad start for a Tory.

The IT industry was never pristine. Now it is known as sleezy for not contributing to the public good. An appropriate public response is difficult to imagine.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Public Interest and Architecture - Contest in Sydney

Discussions about The Public Interest usually revolve around communication and media policy and rightly so, as I have noted on this blog on a number of occasions. In Uprising I made the following points:

As liberal democratic governments around the world stepped away from their
claims to represent “the public interest,” private interests came to dominate
the Internet in a broad ranging social and economic discourse that was and
is new, driven by the forces of unregulated economic interests and entrepreneurial
ideology, largely sponsored by business innovators and their promoters
in political parties of all persuasions. (8)

later in the book I suggested that:

The public interest became a sort of de facto ideological system of meaning
for citizen idealism in the US. (121) 

The application of Public Interest principles was given another helpful iteration recently when Joe Agius the New South Wales President of the Australian Institute of Architects criticised a proposed Sydney casino building  at Barangroo. According to Joe Agius, the casino would amount to "an assault on the public interest."

Why? Because according to Agius, the proposed new buildings were "unconscious of their context." They had no claim to be like the Sydney Opera House, "a public cultural building that is highly responsive to its context."  Sydney Opera House reference

The complete comments from Agius offer a strong statement on this topic. Agius Statement

For those of us who have a stake in theory around this subject, it is reassuring to see ideals from The Public Interest being contested - at least.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Boston Bombing - Amy Osborne, a 23 year old on Social Media

Amy Osborne is a former student of mine in Boston. Here are some thoughts from her on the Bombing and Social Media.

April 18, 2013

We Stand Strong Generation
I am a 23 year old young professional. I was in 7th grade when two planes struck the Twin Towers in September of 2001 and have been a Boston resident since 2007. Despite this fact, I am not na├»ve enough to say I’m a Bostonian, or to believe I ever will be.
I am not a product of the 1960’s – an era synonymous with peace, love, and tolerance.  I did not protest the Vietnam War beside young, like-minded activists, and I will not recall to my children where I was when one of our most beloved President’s – John F. Kennedy - was assassinated. I often wish that these memories marked my youth; because, however marred by their own misfortune, most fondly recall these as much simpler times.
Four days after what is now called the “Marathon Bombing”, I continue to process feelings of grief, anger, confusion and anxiety. In the early mornings, as the city lays silent under the cover of darkness, I feel vulnerable and the loss suffered by so many following Monday’s tragedy hangs heavy on my heart. As I go about my day, I suppress these unwelcome emotions as they arise in erratic succession. Boston Strong. I may not be a Bostonian, but this week “we are all Boston” and I stand proudly with my city.
For me, processing “the Marathon Bombings” involves a lot of talking. Spontaneous and unfiltered discussion with coworkers, friends, family, even the woman sitting next to me on the T. I realize this is not an original response and it is largely necessary as we come to terms with reality, cope with our grief and begin to envision how our world – how our everyday lives – has changed.
But through these conversations, I am surprised by a new awareness of myself and of my generation. I recount my experience on Monday as a series of real-time tweets, incessant text messages and startlingly graphic photographs taken from every angle of the bomb site. Immediately following the news, I called my parents to assuage their fears for my safety – but newscasters had not yet arrived at the scene, and so, they were completely unaware.
Since Marathon Monday, I have vented my frustration at the media’s relentless use of unapproved and unconfirmed Facebook photos, tweets and bystander reports as the basis of their newscast. The result has been repeated, erroneous reports and an embarrassingly public display of widespread chaos; none more telling than 1,000 reporters besieging the Moakley courthouse in hopes of being among the first to capture the suspect who would never emerge.
As much of the nation turns on their television to learn “what happens next”, I shut it off. I’ve fallen silent on Twitter and Facebook for fear of glimpsing ‘trending’ photos of victims’ wounds and hate statuses proclaiming America’s supremacy. I realize the resulting chaos from this tragedy is homegrown. Our generation demands graphic imagery, real-time reports and live-stream videos recounting and replaying every detail, theory and ‘clue’. And we pride ourselves on personally submitting photos and relayingnupdates because we believe we are key players in this evolving saga. But our demands for immediacy and inclusion have very real consequences, and can ultimately detract from the honor and integrity of those most impacted by this tragedy.
In explaining my frustration to my father, I tried to appeal to empathy: “Imagine I had died in this bombing, and they went on my Facebook and broadcasted my face all over the globe!” Although I believed this justified my outrage, his reaction was less poignant. And I realized, perhaps he couldn’t understand - He just watches the news, he doesn’t participate.
Growing up in the post-9/11 era, I know I am not the only 20-something who has considered what picture might be used if I’m ever a victim of a tragedy like this - or of a university shooting, a movie theatre massacre or even a stray glass fragment at my favorite bar. “Times were simpler then,” my parents remind me in their sweet, however futile efforts to empathize.
What is it like to grow up knowing that my city, my university, my hometown or my happy hour might be next? Are our demands for immediacy and inclusion through social media really surprising, as a generation plagued by constant, underlying fear and responsibility for our own vigilance?
I am a 23 year old young professional. I believe in the value of social media to connect, enlighten and empower, and also in the power of print and broadcast media to challenge, inform, and engage. I acknowledge the world is a dangerous place, but I refuse to succumb to fear. I believe in the prevailing good of people and that as long as we believe they will never win. I am a product of the “We Stand Strong” generation. And I am both grief-stricken and proud knowing that today, we are all Boston Strong.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dynamics of Virtual Work - European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST)

April 8-10, Darmstadt, Germany, first COST Action. Invited as a non-EU COST member, funded by the Australian Academy of Science.

23 years after Arjun Appadurai's essay Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy appeared this COST Action offers a concerted way forward for the discussion of work and labour. Article link While Appadurai's five dimensions of global cultural flows are still relevant -  ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, ideoscapes - the context has changed. The European Union and the US are counterbalanced by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Multipolar economies operate at a ridiculously rapid speed, offering less rather than more space for comprehending how the systems fit together. That has produced rather less comfort for regulators and the public interest, as private interests sometimes with the active support of national governments have aggressively encouraged wage / labour arbitrage. Massive profits have become typical of this new context, while government oversight has been minimal.

One thing we know for certain is that labour is under stress and in desperate need of new theory, better insights and public policies that address the challenges of the connected world.

This meeting in Darmstadt marked the start of four years of deliberations. About 50 people attended the discussion. Ursula Huws, Professor of Labour and Globalisation from University of Hertforshire Business School and Christian Fuchs from Communication and Media at The University of Westminster are the chair and deputy chair of the Action.

Below are some of the key issues from the EU agreed Memorandum of Understanding.


ICTs have had a major impact on the content and location of work. Digitisation of information has

transformed labour processes whilst telecommunications have enabled jobs to be relocated globally.

But ICTs have also enabled the creation of entirely new types of 'digital' or 'virtual' labour, both

paid and unpaid, shifting the borderline between 'play' and 'work' and creating new types of unpaid

labour connected with consumption and co-creation of services. This affects private life as well as

transforming the nature of work. Because of the gender division of labour, this affects women and

men differently.

The changing geography of virtual work and the emergence of new value-generating virtual

activities have major implications for economic development, skills and innovation policies.

However these are poorly understood because they have been studied in a highly fragmentary way

by isolated researchers.

This Action will distil knowledge to enable policymakers to separate facts from hype and develop

effective strategies to generate new employment and economic development in Europe. It will bring

together experts in the fields of communications, innovation, management, digital media, creative

industries, technology, employment, economics, sociology, geography, gender studies and cultural

studies to consolidate theory, map this emerging field, support early stage researchers and develop

new research agendas.

Here are some comments I made before the meeting that were included in a Press Release from Bond University.

"A Bond University expert on the impact of the internet on society has been invited to take part in a newly established European Union policy group looking at how the virtual workplace will impact the labour market and in the future.

Marcus Breen, Professor of Communication and Creative Media in Bond's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, will travel to Darmstadt, Germany next month to participate in a high level European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Concerted Research Action, looking at the emerging field of the virtual workplace.

The invitation is a significant accomplishment for Bond University, not only involving one of its academics in a major international collaborative discussion on an important global issue, but also establishing a formal connection between Bond and the European Union. Professor Breen’s participation is funded by the Australian Academy of Science under a special non-member agreement with the COST Secretariat in Brussels.

Professor Breen said the first meeting of the action group would be defining how it planned to operate and which areas of the international workplace it would cover.

"It will be trying to recommend effective strategies to harness the power of technology and communication businesses to generate new employment and economic development in Europe," he said.

"But we may also be looking at aspects related to the cost of labour and questions which arise about where low cost centres are located.

"It will be making a contribution to the development of policies for the European Union on what governments can and should be doing to regulate the virtual movement of labour from one country to another or one economy to another.

"It will look at how struggling economies are affected by the virtual movement of labour internationally and across borders."

The EU COST group has been formed to consider the impact technology has had on the content and location of the workplace, with digital information transforming labour processes and telecommunications enabling jobs to be relocated globally.

Professor Breen said the deliberations of the action group would have a major impact on government policies in Europe and the rest of the world within the next decade.

He said it had particular implications for the future of the workplace, the future of education, and for economic development, skills and innovation policies.

"These issues have not been studied in a cohesive way, and this group will distil knowledge to enable policymakers to establish facts and develop effective strategies to generate new employment and economic activity," said Pro Breen..

"The public debate has already started on questions about taxation that should be paid by major transnational technology firms and service providers such as Google and Yahoo and the impact of the virtual players on the real, material economies.

"Regional and national governments are already trying to work out how to regulate and manage labour and employment opportunities for working people.

"The objective of this project is to begin the process of delivering recommendations and ideas to the governments of Europe and other parts of the world about the best way to manage the impacts of virtual work."

Professor Breen is about to embark on his own virtual workplace, having been invited to be the editor of the International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, a US based publication which examines innovative theories and practices relating technology to society.

The journal provides a meeting point for technology researchers with a concern for social issues. Professor Breen's involvement as editor will complement his participation in the EU research group."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Public Interest - a crucial discussion

The Public Interest is NOT what the public is interested in!

What is The Public Interest?

During the heated discussions about media regulation and a proposed Public interest Advocate in Australia over the weeks of March 12 - 21, 2013, the point has been made that there should not be a public interest test for Australian media, in part because no one knows what the public interest is.

The conservative Liberal Party shadow minister for communication Malcolm Turnbull made statements to that effect, while claiming to be a lawyer.

 What is the public interest? (Minister) Conroy couldn’t even tell us what the criteria for public interest was. (ABC Radio Interview)

One would have to suggest that Malcolm Turnbull is not a very good lawyer because the law is driven by the concept of the public interest. All media regulation is driven by the concept that there is a public interest, and it needs to be defended by legally sanctioned institutions lest the excesses of the market be teh only game in town. No one really wants the market to only act in its own self interest.

Here is what Turnbull said in a different place:

... Every single person will have a different view about what is in the public interest. Everyone’s got a different view. Having media mergers dependent on such a subjective, highly political view is really bad law, it’s bad practice and when it’s produced by this Government who’s commitment to media freedom is very very questionable to say the least, it obviously has to be seen for what it is. It is an attempt to regulate the media because they don’t like what you’ve been saying and writing about them.
Is this a basic philosophical issue for you Mr Turnbull and does that mean that if this does get through in the next fortnight that a Coalition government would repeal it?
Well I have no doubt that we would seek to repeal any sort of public interest test on media takeovers. I think this is a bad idea at every level. It’s a bad idea from the point of view of freedom of speech. It’s a bad idea from the point of view of keeping governments out of regulating the media. We want the media to be as free as possible and I can say as a former lawyer who used to practice in the area of broadcasting law these sort of generally worded tests, whether you call it public interest or fit and proper person, are impossible to define. And all they do is end up creating very handsome incomes for the legal profession. So it doesn’t tick any box and it is a classic Stephen Conroy thought bubble. (emphasis added)

To argue this case is to enter the world of the knowingly ignorant. As Malcolm Turnbull surely knows, the public interest is the basis not only for the law, it is also the basis for the entire regulatory apparatus of the state in liberal/social democracies. If it is not the basis for regulation the public interest is purely a theoretical smoke screen that does nothing. If that was to be the case, systems of law and regulation, including policing and justice in general would be inoperable. It is a dangerous game to suggest the public interest cannot be defined and that regulation should be denied because it might inhibit business, or "media freedom."

The Public Interest is not what the public is interested in. Unregulated media in a country such as Australia would give even more of this latter category of what the public is interested in- more socially irrelevant "news", more titillation, more opinion pretending to be news, less reporting...

Everyone benefits from a discussion of The Public Interest. To pretend it is too difficult, undefinable, irrelevant, is to leave everyday life to the cowboys, the criminals and the corrupt.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Define The Public Interest - Australian hysteric

Blandishments, blather and bombast emanates from conservative politicians in Australia and their megaphone media organisation News Corporation.

As noted in my blog 13 March 2013:  "The evidence is clear from this coverage why a Public Interest Test is needed in Australia. Surely the coverage by the News Corporation press proves how the public interest is rejected in favour of the status quo."

The opposition to The Public Interest Test proves the need for the test. There is every reason to believe that News Corporation wants to kill off the concept of the public interest. Maybe their extreme opposition arises from the knowledge that in their heart of hearts they know they are manifestly wrong, that they do not serve the public and as such fail to meet some of the standards that journalism seeks to uphold.

The Australian newspaper and the CEO of News Corporation (Australia) Kim Williams have proved themselves to be unregulated libertarian protagonists. They are seeking to maximise neo-classical economic essentialism: the market resolves everything, seems to be their mantra. They refuse to be held accountable. They should think about where this libertarianism got the News of the World, not to mention the unregulated mavens in the UK who are now facing criminal charges for hacking cell phones, allegedly paying off the police and pretending that they could behave without reference to professional standards of journalism,  Oh and News International closed down the newspaper!

What happened to  principles like accountability, public trust and responsibility in media ownership? Jettisoned by a self-serving over reaching colonial media pack, who operate in an uncompetitive marketplace, where there are entire Australian cities with only News Corporation newspapers (Brisbane for example) or in cities dominated by News Corporation (Adelaide).

The argument has been made by News Corporation and conservative politicians that there is a lot of media diversity due to the Internet where the public is served. So why have a Public Interest Test? This is a nice yet flawed legal manoeuvre. Because of its size and influence News Corporation sets the agenda for a considerable amount of discourse in Australia.

Then there is the former columnist Robert Mann's accusations that The Australian newspaper has a : "malign influence" and practices "intellectual dishonesty."  Mann vs The Australian - nice summation  

"First of all I would like to say how sorry I's a matter of great regret to everyone these actions do not live up to the standards that our company aspires to everywhere around the world and it is our determination to both put things right, make sure these things don't happen again... and to be the company that I know we've always aspired to be... I have no knowledge... " James Murdoch. "The most humble day of my life." Rupert Murdoch. Both appearing before the Levenson Inquiry in the UK. Murdoch's answers

Watching the Murdoch evidence it becomes clear that he was not aware of what happens in some of his papers. It seems clear he believes his media organs are well run and ethically run...

The fight by News Corporation against the proposed Public Interest Test is undignified, More importantly it may indicate that the News Corporation neophytes in Australia are overcompensating for their anxiety about pleasing the boss. They are so totally opposed to the Public Interest test that I am embarrassed for them.

I have seen this before by high level media executives in Australia. It happened during the  Prices Surveillance Authority (PSA)  inquiry into the prices of sound recordings in 1990-1991. I saw and heard executives in public meetings screaming, hurling tirades of abuse at the chairperson the the PSA Inquiry, Professor Alan Fells, all part of a performance that reflected what their far-away superiors wanted them to say.Talk about extreme - some of these guys give new meaning to the phrase "corporate shill."

(A full exploration of the PSA Inquiry is available in my book: Rock Dogs: Politics and the Australian Music IndustryRock Dogs).

The conservative political establishment in Australia is also railing against the Public Interest Test. News and conservative politician seem to be egging each other on. Who wants\the public interest when  you can have the free market?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Australian Media Regulation - Public Interest Test

On March 12, 2013 the Federal Government of Australia launched a new policy proposal for regulating the media. It is the official response to the two media inquiries covered previously on this blog: The Convergence Review and the Frankenstein Inquiry. (This mirrors some of the activities and debates now playing out in the UK, following the Levenson Inquiry).

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy put the proposals forward in a press conference, that to my mind at least, did not convey the level of intensity that is required for governments to launch major policy initiatives, especially ones centred around public interest theory.

Indeed, the biggest news in the policy proposal is the idea for a public interest media advocate. Here are some of the points highlighted in the Ministers Press Release:

These reforms include:
  • A press standards model which ensures strong self-regulation of the print and online news media.
  • The introduction of a Public Interest Test to ensure diversity considerations are taken into account for nationally significant media mergers and acquisitions.
  • Modernising the ABC and SBS charters to reflect their online and digital activities.
  • Supporting community television services following digital switchover by providing them a permanent allocation of a portion of Channel A.
  • Making permanent the 50% reduction in the licence fees paid by commercial television broadcasters, conditional on the broadcast of an additional 1460 hours of Australian content by 2015(Minister Conroy Press Release)

The micro-politics are of some interest because the current Australian parliament has seven members who are independent of the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) or the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition. If they support the ALP the legislation will succeed. (The Age coverage)The success of the policy initiative will result in more extreme "journalism" - what must surely be characterised as News Corporation executives embarrassing the profession with ideological tirades against an elected government.

As for News Corporation, what can one say? Sydney's Telegraph, a tabloid, and another News Corp publication, ran its report under the headline, "Julia Gillard's henchman attacks freedom of the press." Then the photo of Conroy dressed in what is generally regarded as the military clothing of Joseph Stalin.

The evidence is clear from this coverage why a Public Interest Test is needed in Australia. Surely the coverage by the News Corporation press proves how the public interest is rejected in favour of the status quo.

This is not to say the Fairfax press has been any better. The Age (Melbourne) and The Sydney Morning Herald are also opposed.    

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Prince Harry - a digital case in point

Those many millions of republicans who do not care about royalty and inherited privilege groaned a collective sigh of despair this week as news emerged of military exploits by England's Prince Harry. The reports prompted republicans to say, "What an idiot!"

There were two parts to the reports about his action as an Apache helicopter pilot in the British Army: He admitted to killing Afghans, possibly Taliban  from the safety of his airborne machine, plus he considered his expertise in the theatre of warfare to be informed by his heavy participation with PlayStation game consoles. Here is a case of  cause and effect - a player of computer video games offering a claim to killing skill due to playing computer games.

As readers of this blog and my 2011 book Uprising will know, I am disinclined to play the tired academic game of pretending that technological determinism is unproven. All the evidence suggests that human history is the result of knowledge that translates to innovation through the combined might of technology, industry and business. Cause and effect - albeit uneven.

As my friend and colleague Christian Fuchs has noted,  there is still plenty of debate about technological determinism.New Media and Society I suspect much of it is the result of a conservative  intention to assert the absence of a relationship between human agency and human impact because this would lead to critical engagement with innovation and technology itself. In turn, that would lead to suggestions that human beings generate pollutants which in turn create changed atmospheric conditions and global warming/climate change. Denialists are as they do: backed with major financial  support from the corporations who have a lot to lose from changes in human behavior. There's a nice piece by Robert Mann on denialist strategy in The Monthly magazine. The Monthly

Meanwhile Prince Harry puts the digital pieces together for everyone, perhaps unwittingly. After all, royals are not expected to be intellectuals. They are however expected to be circumspect. The following effort suggests that he knows enough to make sure everyone shares the blame for killing Taliban, Afghans and innocents - the casualties of war.
"If there's people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we'll take them out of the game, I suppose," he said. "Take a life to save a life … the squadron's been out here. Everyone's fired a certain amount."Guardian
It was the gaming mention that caught my eye.

The prince, who was in charge of firing the Apache's Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, rockets and 30mm gun, called his job a "joy" in interviews released on Monday.
"It's a joy for me because I'm one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I'm probably quite useful," he said. Guardian 
Here we are with a fresh definition of "joy."

I recently argued in "Killing the Thing You Love: Predator Drones, Wilful Neglect and the End of the Internet," that the Internet is rapidly becoming nothing like what it was envisioned. Breen article This is due to a number of forces at work, not least of which is that idiots rip the original meaning from language and redefine it for nefarious and ignorant purposes: Harry describing killing with high technology game-based digital technology as "joy."

Republicans -  at least defend the language!  

It is probably unwise to give the last word to the Taliban, but here goes. In an article in The Guardian headlined Taliban retaliate after Prince Harry compares fighting to a video game, a spokesperson (it's going to be a man!) said::
"I think he has a mental problem, that's why he is saying it is a game," he said. "These kind of people live like diplomats in Afghanistan, they can't risk themselves by standing against the mujahideen." The Guardian
Whatever we make of that - the voice is clear: this is not a game.