Thursday, August 21, 2014

How newspapers wither - News Corp in Australia, in two parts

On August 20  Crikey an independent on-line news source based in Melbourne, Australia released a confidential set of financial figures about News Corporation newspapers in Australia. News financial report The performance indicates a consistently steady reduction in the sales of the group, prompting layoffs. Surely in the future, some of these publications will have little value at all to Murdoch, except to keep up the political pressure in states and regions where he has an ongoing interest that he wants to protect and support.

In several regions and cities of Australia - Brisbane, Gold Coast, Darwin, Adelaide - News is the only paper publication, where Fox News has a presence on cable. The News argument has been that this is not a problem to have a monopoly on news because there is always the Internet as an alternative. That's like saying, "We have run out of water, but it's OK because you can drink your urine." (OK, so that's not the finest analogy).

Given a couple of years, loss leaders like many of the News organs may not be sustained.  

On a closer examination, the performance of the suburban newspapers is strong,  as is Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper. I once worked in both these organizations for News.

The confidential financial report is valuable for researchers and their students, as well as critics of News. It can throw light on the internal operations of the organization as the print media (non Fox) side of the business moves into sunset territory.

The second part of this story is also remarkable. Crikey reported the following:

Crikey owner Private Media and News Corp have reached a legal agreement that prevents Crikey from hosting or further distributing the News Corporation Australia Weekly Operating Statement for the week ended June 30, 2013.
As part of the agreement, Private Media has promised to destroy by 5pm today any hard and electronic copies in its possession.
I beg you pardon!? Crikey caves
Good journalism relies on public interest aspects of everyday life being exposed. Exciting secrets being revealed make journalism the fifth estate. Is Crikey a case study of great journalism turning to jelly? 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Murdoch and News debate ramp up

The headline says it all: "Clive Palmer takes media potshot at Rupert Murdoch with rival publication plan." News challenge Reported in The Age newspaper from Melbourne, the story has a couple of notable points for analysts and critics of the News organization(s).

Clive Palmer is a very wealthy, idiosyncratic mining magnate from the state of Queensland. He gained his wealth from early claims to massive coal fields in that state, which matured with investments from Chinese sources who liked an uninterrupted stream of coal for their growing economy. (He is the guy who is building the Titanic 2. Only in Queensland?!).

Palmer launched his own political party, The Palmer United Party (PUP) in 2013, on the back of a sordid history of anti-Labor Australian nationalists, taking over the United Australia Party. Of course, being a client state - first of England and more recently of the US - there is a role for a healthy nationalist perspective that seeks to preserve national wealth and identity in and for the country and its citizens. This should be more pertinent than it is, given that Australia is an island continent, where it should have been able to develop a unique political economy... but that died out with World War 1.

Indeed, the oeuvre of cultural studies is informed by the idea that ideology (core values) is located in the way people live their lives. Ideology needs to be identified and where necessary contested: that is cultural studies defining characteristic. For example, we don't all live in Los Angeles nor should we imagine ourselves only as west coast Americans.

The nationalist argument is a long and complex one. For example, Lenin's opinions are still debated. Lenin and nationalism-culture questions  In the contemporary scene, the nationalist matter sits awkwardly against questions about globalization.

Meanwhile Clive Palmer has announced that he is setting up a newspaper or a news site that seeks to challenge Rupert Murdoch's The Australian newspaper. This paper is influential - a long-time maker and destroyed of politicians and progressive reform in Australia, as well as an active leader in climate denialism opinion ans pseudo-science.

Its coverage of Palmer and PUP is directly critical to the point of vitriolic. Palmer's response has been to increasingly face opponents like The Australian head-on.

Here's the thing: Palmer and PUP, both as politician and political party are funded by Clive Palmer himself, a mining magnate, who wants positive news about himself and the party. As well as Clive Palmer in the House of Representatives since November 2013, PUP has since June 2014 had three senators in the Australian Senate holding the balance of power. They reject the negative stories, along with the portrayal of the political challenge they have made to the established order of Australian political life. So start a newspaper!

Here is my first point: it you want to enter public life and have massive wealth, should you start your own vanity publication? When is it propaganda?

Here is the point that caught my eye from The Age report. Palmer has asked journalists to report on their work and the editorial decision making at The Australian newspaper, anonymously if necessary.

This is invited whistleblowerdom. Such an approach to journalism marks a significant twist in the Murdoch and News world, perhaps even in the history of Australian journalism. PUP indeed!



Friday, August 8, 2014

Social media, antisemitism, EU, Internet

Disturbing reports on antisemitism in The Guardian. antisemitism in EU  

There are indicators reported in the article that reflect the relationship between difficult social conditions and Jews as a target. Truly horrible historical tremors here as the article points out echos of the 1930's.

However, the anti-semitic incidents should not be essentialized to the detriment of a broader analysis about inequality and prejudice against all minorities in the EU - Roma, Turks, Africans... what a mess.  

My primary interest in this blog is in the role and impact of social media on attitudes and cultural life. In Uprising, I discussed how "ideological grooming" produces limited perspectives for users of the Internet by reducing a variety of counter-opinions. In the book I discussed how this grooming had enhanced jihadism. That helps explain how jihadists, now in the dozens, annihilate themselves by blowing themselves up and others alongside them.

I have discussed this in the light of the rise of fundamentalism more generally - fundamentalism among Christians, Jews, Tea Party members in the US for example - where one opinion is everything.

Liberalism - tolerance for others - can no longer be assumed.

In Uprising I theorized that the emergence of this singular perspective leads to proletarianization.

Here, unregulated speech circulating through media on the Internet generates values and ideas that are unmediated by Enlightenment values. Social advancement is no longer about European Enlightenment:  universal ideals of equality, liberty and fraternity (to take the French perspective). Social advancement in the fundamentalist system is now about a deep commitment to a narrow set of interests that are repeated over and over again through the Internet. Social advancement is seen as the realization of a community that is isolated from "the world," from evil and secularism, yet connected.  

Back to the EU and antisemitism.

The article includes this comment from Yonathan Arfi Crif, vice-president of Crif, an umbrella group for France's Jewish organizations:  
Almost every observer pointed to the unparalleled power of unfiltered social media to inflame and to mobilise. A stream of shocking images and Twitter hashtags, including #HitlerWasRight, amount, Arfi said, almost to indoctrination. "The logical conclusion, in fact, is radicalisation: on social media people self-select what they see, and what they see can be pure, unchecked propaganda. They may never be confronted with opinions that are not their own.".

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The jihad, public policy, public opinion nexus - effects theory

Jihadist use of the Internet is producing a reaction and that reaction is changing the Internet. Those changes are increasingly  public policy ones that are announced or discussed in public.

This is different to the ones that have been in private play through government security agencies for many years. In the US and the west, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden's release of National Security Authority (NSA) files indicated an advanced history of secrecy, typical of spy agencies for generations. The exception now is that the nature of spying on domestic populations in western democracies may be altogether at a different register thanks to the Internet.
Events that signify the way jihad is changing public policy settings are important indicators of change. Equally important are shifts in public opinion that make it possible for governments to change public policy. Combined, these two forces are maxims if you will, of public policy making: establish a public opinion shift and change policies accordingly. Every student of Institutional Economics understands this principle, as well as the principle of institution building and sustenance, as a central tenant of ideological considerations in society. (For more on Institutional Economics the initating document is John Commons, "Institutional Economics," 1936. Commons article link)

Two news items draw attention to the public opinion policy nexus and the Internet in the context of jihad.

1. "India Shaken by Case of Moslem Men Missing in Iraq" in the New York Times. India and Moslems
Here is part of the story:
Four young men from this city on the outskirts of Mumbai — well-educated children of a rising middle class — disappeared from their homes with no warning in late May, leaving behind a note about fighting to defend Islam. Investigators traced them to Mosul and have said they were recruited over the Internet by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — a process that, while relatively well-known in the West, has not been documented in India.
Mumbai is the technology and call centre capital of India... The connection with the computer network adds to the discussion about unintended consequences of the Internet. Government's believe technology is a solution to development. Public policies reflect that perspective, and rightly so. But in the layers of Mumbai's technology activity is a layer of jihadist recruitment. 

That the young men appear to have joined ISIS, the foundation for the Islamic Caliphate is pretty dramatic. Three of the four are qualified engineers, according to the New York Times report - which is incredible because in this case, the Internet jihad nexus appeals to highly educated people. As engineers, they can make a significant contribution to ISIS and the organization of the Caliphate using new technology.  

The report cites Indian authorities expressing concern about this connection between the Internet and jihad.
“This came as a shock to all of us, this incident,” said Deven Bharti, a senior official in the Mumbai police department. “Trying to join the global war, it is quite a new thing.”
Responses to this move will include - if they do not already - closer scrutiny of jihadist recruitment through the Internet. At present it appears that the Indian police are monitoring the situation - but that is merely the public record of this event.

Below is a public example of a national policy response to the recruitment of jihadists.

2. Australia announced that it will be monitoring nationals who become jihadi fighters and then return home.

The Guardian headline and subhead summarized the approach by the Prime Minister: "Tony Abbott plans extension to terrorism laws amid jihadi fears. Abbott government wants more power to ban organisations, permit arrests without a warrant and cancel passports."

Here is the strong public policy response. The change to public policy is influenced by the ill-defined relationship between public opinion and media reports. This is the way culture changes. We need  concentrated research and critique on this nexus. And we need it not from the dominant American position of "rights" to free speech and rights generally, but from an appreciation of the increasingly granulated mix of media, Internet, government and public policy.

In media studies the relationship between media and behavior is known as effects theory. It is somewhat controversial as the influence of media is difficult to measure. However, jihadi activism due to the Internet is making effects theory clearer, as the nexus of cloudy relationships between media and behavior makes way for conclusions that point to clear cause and effect. Call it technological determinism if you will.