Mike McRoberts: our man in the middle while Haiti rots

January 20, 2010

Donate to Haiti relief at the grassroots level, not through the pockets of dubious religious charities.

You can make a donation to the Haiti aid effort via:

TUC Aid-Haiti Appeal The British trade Union Council is sending aid to the trade union movement for emergency relief in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation.  » www.tuc.org.uk

In Australia: APHEDA-ACTU Haiti appeal Any funds raised in this appeal for Haiti will be directed to the relief efforts being undertaken by the Canadian Auto Workers and other Canadian unions.

Haiti Emergency Relief Fund: organised by Haiti Action, an organisation which directs resources to grassroots organisations in Haiti. Donate at » www.haitiaction.net

It’s interesting that when there’s a gut-wrenching, heart-string tugging, tear-jerking human interest story of tragic proportions that the network’s star reporters can safely own up to having a heart of their own and to becoming emotionally and physically involved in a story.

So it is with TV3’s Mike McRoberts who’s in Haiti covering a real tragedy. He explained his involvement in the story on his Mediaworks/TV3 blog:

Whether or not journalists should be part of a story or not is one of those issues that surface from time to time.

I was reminded of it again today when I “stepped in” to a story. We found a five year old girl at a relief camp who had a badly broken arm and a gaping infected wound in her leg. She hadn’t been treated since the earthquake and medics at the camp were concerned she may lose her leg if she wasn’t operated on that day.

Trouble was neither they or anyone else at the camp had a vehicle. We did and we stepped in.

I carried her around the hospital grounds as we sought the right treatment for her and after the best part of the day waiting she had her operation.

Clearly I have no problem with journalists stepping into a story. The whole “a journalist must stay detached” stuff is just crap.

I’ve always said that I’m a human being first and a journalist second, and if I’m in a position to help someone I will.

In saying that I don’t think a journalist should be the story either. Unfortunately too many reporters these days seem to get the two things confused?

Yes, the question mark is there in the original.

But, Mike’s been upstaged by the BBC’s Matt Price. He and his crew were able to save two lives… Read the rest of this entry »


Newspeak in the 21st century – Media Lens and angry analysis

November 19, 2009

I’m currently reading a great book on the British media by the two guys behind Media Lens, David Edwards and David Cromwell.

Newspeak in the 21st Century is an angry, but analytical, and very damning report about the state of the British media and the soft-left, liberal veneer that coats the ugly conservative heart of the mainstream press and, it has to be said, the BBC.

The take-away message and one that I’m going to come back to in some detail when I’ve finished the book and have the time to write a good review is a simple one that’s going to offend some people, perhaps even some of my friends, but it has to be said.

Journalists like to invoke the mantra and the ideal belief that their job is to serve the public interest and that they best do this by holding the powerful to account. However, despite the best intentions of the best and the brightest, this rarely, if ever, really happens.

It is a powerful myth that liberal news outlets like The Guardian and the BBC are fighting the establishment. They’re not. Rather, the establishment media is all about propping up the establishment and propogating the lies that keep the system going. Like the lie that Israel is under attack and only acts in self-defence; or like the lie that Iraq had WMDs.

Newspeak in the 21st Century makes this very clear through a thorough content analysis of many of the key stories of the past 10 years or so; from the NATO bombing of Serbia in retaliation for alleged human rights abuses in Kosovo; through the whole lying and deceitful charade of the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to Israel’s continuing aggression in Gaza to the beat up of Iranian nuclear weapons programmes.

The unfortunate truth is that the news media is complicit in keeping the truth from us, rather than exposing the lies at the heart of the system.

Two brief quotes for now:

Journalists have been demonising other countries for so long, it seems they cannot stop. Always it is the 1930s; always Hitler is plotting our destruction always we need to recoil in fear, disgust and horror. Is this the real world? Or is it journalism as pathology? (p.160)

This is the perfect link between Newspeak in the 21st Century and Orwell’s 1984.

For the mainstream media, an opinion barely exists if it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter if it is not voiced by people who matter. The full range of opinion, then, represents the full range of power. In that sense the mainstream media is balanced. (p.161)

Finally, Edwards and Cromwell talk about “state capitalism” and they don’t mean Russia and the USSR pre-1989. They’re talking about the system we inhabit today as a global economy. I will return to this as well, because I think they’re right about that too.


Philosophers and journalists – unlikely bedfellows? Bourdieu in the house!

November 19, 2009

[Thanks Jess for the link]

An interesting, if a little obtuse piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week about the fractious relationship between philosophy and journalism. I was struck most immediately by this paragraph, which IMHO sums up the situation reasonably well:

Still, broadly speaking, we need philosophers who understand how epistemology and the establishment of truth claims function in the real world outside seminars and journals—the role of recognized authorities, of decision, of conscious intersubjective setting of standards. And we need journalists who scrutinize and question not just government officials, PR releases, and leaked documents, but their own preconceptions about every aspect of their business. We need journalists who think about how many examples are required to assert a generalization, what the role of the press ought to be in the state, how the boundaries of words are fixed or indeterminate in Wittgensteinian ways, and how their daily practice does or does not resemble art or science.

Carlin Romano, We need ‘Philosophy of Journalism’

There’s another key statement in Carlin’s piece that I also identify with quite strongly. Here he’s talking about the insoluble and necessary link between journalistic and philosophical modes of thinking:

I’ve always insisted to the philosophy students that journalistic thinking enhances philosophical work by connecting it to a less artificial method of establishing truth claims than exists in philosophical literature. I’ve always stressed to journalism students that a philosophical angle of mind—strictness in relating evidence and argument to claims, respectful skepticism toward tradition and belief, sensitivity to tautology, synoptic judgment—makes one a better reporter.

There is no doubt for me that journalism is — at it’s core — an intellectual pursuit that has a high public interest attached to it. There is a necessary couplet between journalism as a practice and theories of democratic public discourse. It is an imperfect linkage — one that’s distorted by the ideological contortions of logic necessary to justify capitalism as a social formation and the dismal science of economics as some sort of rational explanation for human behaviour and human nature (both of which I utterly reject).

This is a long post, so you might want to print it off and read at your leisure. I am keen to discuss Carlin Romano’s timely essay, but also to further explore my own thinking in relation to what I regard as a core philosophical approach to journalism scholarship — the use of the dialectic as an organising and analytical tool to understand the social relations of news production in the widest sense.

Read the rest of this entry »


Old habitus die hard, diehards just get older. Goldfish bite back

May 29, 2009

For the record, I started on this post way back at the end of March. I last worked on it before today on the 2nd of April. I was hoping to wait till I had more time, but some things just can’t wait. I have broken my vow of silence, now it’s back to the garret.

I’m prodded into action this afternoon by an opinion piece Savaged by blogosphere goldfish from Fairfax columnist and avowed curmudgeon Karl du Fresne attacking left-wing academics in general and those engaged in critical media studies in particular.

The original post was a response to a piece by Karl attacking Massey University media studies lecturer, Sean Phelan for writing an academic journal article critiquing a culture of anti-intellectualism in the New Zealand media and commenting on the state of journalism education in this country. Both of these are areas of professional concern for me, so I eagerly read both pieces with some interest.

I have now ingested all of this material and, I intend to get my goldfish teeth into some serious chewing on some big ideas. This is actually a high stakes argument. Not on any personal level, but in terms of defining and debating some important issues about journalism in New Zealand and about the philosophy of journalism more generally.

I don’t think it’s a simple binary argument either. There are many nuanced positions, it’s just that Karl du Fresne has nailed his colours to a particular flag and let go a broadside at his perceived ideological foes.

I suppose he should expect some response and as he points out, mine has been a while coming. I haven’t been idle in that time, several plans are afoot to further the discussion, but I guess a more immediate response is necessary as my name and Sean Phelan’s have again been dragged through the mud on the bottom of Karl’s size nines.

Read the rest of this entry »


Freedom for those who defend it: Journalists – a film from Belarus

May 14, 2009

The docmentary Journalists, by Belarusian film director Aleh Dashkevich, is screening twice on the programme of the Auckland Human Rights Film Festival.

Journalists tells about how freedom of expression was destroyed in Belarus over the 15 years of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule. 20081203_journalistLukashenka came to power in the 1994 election promising to allow freedom of the press. Unfortunately, like most politicians, he was lying at the time.

In most western nations journalists can operate within reasonable boundaries of freedom. It’s rare for a TV camerawo/man to be kidnapped and murdered; journalists don’t often get beaten up, arrested or threatened when covering protests. Not so in Belarus – nor, incidently, in many parts of the former Soviet Union, including Russia.

Belarus 1229920068Late last year Lukashenka’s regime signed into law further restrictions on media freedom. Among other provisions, the law equates the Internet with regular media, making sites subject to the same restrictions; bans local media from accepting foreign donations; allows local and state authorities to shutter independent publications for minor violations; and requires accreditation for all foreign journalists working in the country. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Journalists is showing on Friday (15 May) and Tuesday (19 May) at 6pm at the Rialto cinema in Newmarket. I will be making a few brief comments after the screening and leading a question and answer session. After that I’ll be available for a quite drink if you’re interested.

Read the rest of this entry »


Journalism – the dangerous business

April 22, 2009

I wrote recently about the moral purpose of journalism, in part I noted:

The bottom line is that, consciously or unconsciously, reporters and editors often concede their independence to political actors. Equally, states often go to extreme lengths to coerce or cajole the news media into toeing the line

There’s another deep philosophical argument: Is the conscience of the journalist easily equated with the broader public conscience?

In this context, one of journalism’s most important roles is that of awakening the public’s conscience. Journalists must decide when the alarm must be sounded and how best to do so.

(The Global Journalist, p.4)

I am still thinking about these issues, they’re not yet fully resolved in my own head, but I think it’s a debate that anyone with an interest in honest, truthful and insightful news media should engage in.

However, it’s never too late to sound the alarm: journalism is a dangerous business for courageous reporters who threaten powerful political and economic interests.

Read the rest of this entry »


Free Roxana Saberi

April 20, 2009

Freelance journalist, Roxana Saberi, was jailed for eight years in Iran this week on sham charges that she was engaged in espionage. Roxana is in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran where political prisoners are often held. [NPR Broadcast on notorious Evin Prison]

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Evin is a hellhole and inmates often subject to torture:

At least two journalists have died ‎there in the last six years amid circumstances that have not been fully explained, CPJ research shows.Omidreza Mirsayafi, a blogger serving a 30-month sentence on a charge of insulting religious figures, died at the prison in March under mysterious circumstances.In July 2003, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died from a brain hemorrhage that resulted from a beating at Evin Prison. An intelligence agent charged in the killing was acquitted after a flawed trial. Kazemi had been jailed because she took photographs outside the prison. [CPJ 18 April]

The CPJ [9 March] has launched a petition calling on Iranian authorities to release Roxana. Iran is also under mounting diplomatic pressure to free her. The petition is available for signature on Facebook Causes and so far has over 10,000 signatures.

Join the Facebook cause Protect Journalists

The BBC has an interesting profile of Roxana, who was born in America to an Iranian father and Japanese mother. In a weird little footnote, she is a former beauty queen and has a Masters degree from Cambridge. The Huffington Post has more coverage.

There’s a whole diplomatic “back story” to this incident that many are saying is linked to Iran’s attempts to push the United States into more concessions over its nuclear programme. Roxana is now a pawn, it seems, in this zero-sum game of brinkmanship.

The Asian-American Journalists Association has established a Free Roxana website that is being staffed by her friends and former colleagues at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

It is important to get Roxana out of Evin, but also to understand the brutality of the regime. The online Persian Journal – an outlet for dissident writings about Iran – has a first person account from a woman held in Ervin prison. It is not pretty.


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