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?