One tweet does not a revolution make: Technological determinism, media and social change

May 11, 2013

This is my recently published piece on technological determinism and revolution – case study of the Arab Spring.

Reprinted from Global Media Journal

Abstract

This paper discusses the problematic influence of technological determinism in popular news media coverage and analysis of the Arab Spring events of 2010-11.

The purpose is to develop insights into how and why elements of a ‘soft’ technological determinism inflect both journalistic practice and news discourse in relation to the Arab Spring. In particular it discusses how the ‘bias of convenience’ and a journalistic obsession with the ‘continuous present’ connect with this determinist inflection to create a potential distortion in the journalists’ ‘first rough draft’ of history in relation to significant and complex events such as social revolution.

Debates about the significance of social media and communications technologies more broadly in generating mass outbursts of protest and even violence have raged in the popular news media for the past decade at least. A wave of interest in ‘theories’ about how and why new services like Facebook and Twitter may create or enable mass protest was generated by the revolutionary events in Iran following the June 2009 elections (Hirst, 2011). Many of the arguments then and now, in coverage of the Arab Spring, are suggestive of a form of technological determinism that is coupled with other underlying and little-investigated assumptions inherent in most forms of news practice and discourse.

The question of the influence of technological determinism within journalism studies is a far from settled debate and this paper follows Mosco’s argument and suggests that the idea of a social media revolution is a myth of the ‘digital sublime’ (Mosco, 2004). At best social media is a new battleground in the struggle for information control. At worst it can blind activists and commentators to reality (Morozov, 2011).

Read the rest of this entry »


Naive DimPost editorialist up in arms …Who rights [sic] this drivel?

September 14, 2011

This post deserves a subtitle:

“Kick’em when they’re up; kick’em when they’re down” Don Henley (see below)

My concern this evening is a weird little editorial in today’s Dominion Post concerning the reportorial credentialing of one N Hager Esq.

To wit, in evidence I copy and paste the following:

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

What? Can I just take a moment to let this sink in.

Nicky Hager’s not a journalist, at least as you [DomPost editorialist 13.9.2011] choose to define it.

How do you define it by the way?

Nicky’s not a journalist, but he might be an author though.

Is that good or bad?

Is that what you’re saying here?

I must have missed something, run that par by me again…

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

I don’t think “ferreter” is a word in the context you’re trying to shoehorn it into.

But, leaving aside your poor composition skills, what you’re trying to say is that Nicky Hager is good at his job — ferreting out information that some people would wish to keep secret — but that’s not journalism as you define it. How do you define journalism by the way? That last bit sounds suspiciously like what journalism is. Or at least, what it should be.

I must be stupid, but I still don’t get it…tell me more.

The flaw in Hager’s modus operandi is that he amasses what he has learned and then presents it to the public through the prism that best suits his world view, without allowing for the possibility that there might be a plausible explanation for what he has “uncovered”. The case he builds is thus rarely troubled by opposing opinions and inconvenient facts, realities that journalists in the mainstream media are morally obliged to take into account, and present.

[Seeing Afghanistan through naive prism]

Excuse me, even the headline on this piece doesn’t stand up to lexical scrutiny.

OK, you can call me a media studies poser if you like. You won’t be the first. The fact remains, we have to deconstruct this argument to make sense of the DomPo’s position.

First of all, a disclaimer. I know and admire Nicky Hager. I consider him a friend and I’ve defended him before here at EM on similar charges from Fran O’sullivan.

I haven’t yet read Nicky’s latest book Other People’s Wars — the centre of this controversy — but I am told by reliable sources that it is brilliant and you should all read it. I’m picking up my copy from Unity Books in the morning and will read it on the plane home this weekend.

I think his work in Hollow Men is exemplary investigative journalism, despite this mean-spirited and misleading line in the DumPoo’s rite [sic] of reply.

Take his earlier book, The Hollow Men, for example, which – though not news to political junkies – made uncomfortable reading for some associated with the Don Brash-led National Party.

Not even faint praise in this damning dismissal from the Dismal Poke.

Speaking of definitions of journalism didn’t Lord Harmsworth once say that it was about “afflicting the comfortable”?

Like many a determined investigator, some of whom have worked at the DomPost and done brilliant work of journalism, Nicky takes excellent care of his sources and his facts. He does, in other words, exactly what those imbued with, and accountable to, the spirit of excellence in reporting, should do.

The sputtering [sic] rage of the Dim’s editorialist — whether real or feigned for 13 sovereigns — is best expressed in this nonsense:

In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not.

Did that make your eyes water? Ferfucksake! Is this grammatic and syntactic outrage the result of outsourced subbing? Is there nobody in the office to tell the editorialist they’ve written gibberish; up with which we will not put.

[Ahhem, so to speak]

Can we just look, for a brief indulgent moment, at the definition of a journalist that is common today.

Actually, we might need a few, here’s one to be going on with.

“Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.”

That’s from Marguerite Duras, it is echoed by many; including George Orwell. Regular readers of EM will know my line Orwell and Trotsky.

I’ll be back. In the meantime…

Read the rest of this entry »


Academic, Media & Religious Freedom ~ Not ~ in Fiji

August 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

Update, September 4, 2011 ~ This Post started out as something else, but, over the last week of August, 2011, it morphed into a major, running, UpDate on developments in Fiji, several currents of which seemed to coalesce with very worrying speed and intensity. Most of it was written over August 27 – 31, with some tweaking and a few extra links added, until September 4.

I also know this Post has been read in Fiji, as well as more widely.

I won’t update this Post again, but will link to it as relevant in any future Posts on the general topic of Fiji, of which there will be more when events there suggest it and I decide I have something useful to contribute.

Of course, the Comments section remains active and I welcome any comments, which will not be censored (aside from normal, journalistic, editing as to clarity, legals, and taste).

Original Post continues –

I started to compile a more comprehensive wrap on recent developments in Fiji – more attacks on unions, the media, the Methodist Church – but then things started moving so fast on several fronts that I gave up, and will get to the bits and pieces, with much more context, in due course.

Scroll down for material on More Fantasy and Nastiness in Fiji, traversing the latest round on the Fiji regime throttling the Methodist Church, more on how media freedom is also throttled in Fiji, how the University of the South Pacific throttles academic freedom, continuing raids on the Fiji National Provident Fund, and insights into Fiji’s justice system under the military dictatorship.

Why Civil Resistance Works

A long anticipated and exceptionally valuable study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by American scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, has landed on my desk. This is formidable and very thorough scholarship of the very first order which assembles and analyses a vast amount of historical and contemporary data to show, about as conclusively as this kind of research can do, that nonviolent direct action is much more effective at removing dictators, supporting democracies, and challenging domination than armed resistance or terrorism. That’s a huge claim, to be sure, and their work deserves a very close read, which I’m doing now.

You can get a feel for the book from this article, published in Foreign Affairs by Erica Chenoweth on August 24, 2011, and this earlier article, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33, no. 1 (Summer 2008): 7-44 (172 k PDF).

As well, I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on the impacts of global warming on Kiribati, The Hungry Tide, which has added to my collection of material on this crucial issue, has been doing the rounds of Australia’s film festivals recently, and brought back acute memories of my trips to Tuvalu where I’ve seen, and reported upon, the same kinds of effects.

More recently, Australia Network Television’s Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, has been to Kiribati to report on frustrations experienced from global warming’s front lines as they try to access mitigation funding and assistance pledged after the Copenhagen conference. His reports, including one on Radio National’s Correspondent’s Report for August 20, 2011, have been outstanding.

Sean Dorney’s Australia Network Television News Kiribati story ~ August 8, 2011

But, Memo to the always terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) – Please come for Correspondent’s Report presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, for two broadcasting sins. Firstly, she mispronounced the name of the place ~ Kiri-bas ~ and not Kiri-bati. Secondly, she did so twice, in the introduction to the story, and again in the backannounce, clearly demonstrating she didn’t listen to the story she was presenting, in which the reporter pronounced the name correctly. Back in my days at the ABC, we’d be flogged in the car park for such gross violations of SCOSE directives!

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#londonriots Looking for answers in the wrong places

August 10, 2011

If you want to know what’s really behind the rioting of the last few days in London and half a dozen other UK cities, all you need to do is understand the social dislocations, anger and cynicism that tell the real story of the numbers:

Unemployment statistics in Britain are sadly vague, but a reasonable estimate of youth unemployment just in Hackney is 33 percent.

The figure is from Michael Goldfarb an NPR correspondent who lives in the Hackney area. He goes on:

What happens after the rioting subsides is difficult to predict. Entry level jobs are in short supply these days, and as the government’s austerity measures begin to bite here, it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

Why London exploded last night

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard many commentators (liberal or conservative) talk about this. Instead we get lines like this

This type of coverage is not helpful

[anchorstooge] Many commentators say youth unemployment is behind the riots but [insert name of expert] from [insert name of rightwing thinktank] believes its just a bunch of sodding criminals who’ve been pampered too long by the nanny state

[expert, speaking in posh condesending tone that fits his double-barrel moniker] These young people come from intergenerationally dysfunctional families and they have a hand-out mentality. They don’t have to work, they just get pregnant or go on the dole. They are work-shy gangsters and by-the-way most of them are black, but we won’t mention that.

That type of commentary – criminalising the young rioters and blaming them for their existence – is underpinned superficial coverage (like in a warzone) by anxious-looking mainly white correspondents standing alongside police barricades in the early afternoon and vox-popping the gawking public.

It is stenographic churnalism of the worst order. It’s not good, but it’s understandable. The black, brown and poor white communities of the UK and elsewhere get almost no coverage of their daily lives. They live in estates surrounded by poverty, only able to secure low-wage jobs (if they can get work) and they live hand-to-mouth, day-to-day.

But then I found this little gem, recorded straight from the TV, but it’s brilliant.

I was pretty gobsmacked that Piers Morgan tweeted that the rioters should be treated like terrorists and shot, but it isn’t really that surprising. I guess it is his gall, under fire for phone hacking, and trying to rehabilitate his dusty image.

Then Darcus Howe pops up and gives the clearest and most eloquent defence of young people in the UK today. It is shocking when he mentions that Mark Duggan’s head was blown off by the police bullets. That’s yet to be tested, but the BBC anchordrone is clearly rattled and she should be.

Howe has a grand dignity and he let’s her know well and truly.

Fantastic remedy to the wall of BS.

Howe is right, it’s time to start listening to these young voices, but more importantly give them a future without random and constant police harrassment and give them work or education. Sure, many of these youngsters may be unemployed, but some are not. Some are also probably students who took part in other recent protests in the UK. They are not terrorists. But the Daily Star‘s front page is typical of what the British press is saying up and down the country.

The point is that the reasons behind what’s happening are complex and the broadcast media in general and TV in particular has so far not done a great job of analysing the causes. Instead it seems that large sections of the British media have fallen in behind David Cameron’s dangerous police-state rhetoric.

I’ve only heard one black voice on the radio (in Australia admittedly) making the absolutely valid point that all reporters need to consider. He said something along the lines of:

If the media is going to call this “mindless” violence, then it also has to ask the question: What makes these young people mindless?

He’s absolutely right. Part of the problem here is the news value of proximity. I don’t just mean physical proximity to the riots, but also social and cultural proximity and affinity between the reporters (mainly middle class and educated) and the ruling class. That’s why the very same correspondents who were four months ago covering riots and large protests in Cairo were telling a very different story to they one they’re telling about London.

In Egypt the media dismissed Mubarek’s ravings about rioting gangsters and focused on making the young people in Tahir square into revolutionary heroes and martyrs.

The lives of young men and women in Hackney is not that different to those of the same young people who so bravely chased off the (now) evil Mubarek regime.

The same root causes underlie both situations. The difference is that in Hackney the local political culture is completely flattened under media-driven consumer lust. The same issues and desires motivate the youth, their expression takes a different form.

Two other young black voices I heard on the radio this morning sum this up very well. Two women (17 and 18) were vox-popped. They had taken part in the night’s rampage and at 9.30 in the morning (Tuesday in London) were still in the street drinking from a bottle of wine they had looted. They’d been drinking all night and described what they’d been doing as fun.

But the telling comment they made was that the real target of their anger was “all the rich people”. That’s a pretty good gut instinct and it’s ultimately right. Unfortunately, these two women saw the local shopkeepers as representatives of these rich people. That’s a mistake, but it really only masks a deeper sentiment that does go toward explaining their anger and their sense of joy at the destruction they had helped to cause.

It was, in their view, no doubt an attack on the system that oppresses them.

That’s why the politics of this are so important.

Now the backlash will begin and it will be fuelled by racism. The Milwall fans who were supposedly defending their turf were all white and most likely target recruits for the English Defence League which recruits off the terraces (if not already members).

If the media continues to swallow and promote the spin from Downing street and the political establishment it will give the racists heart and the situation will get worse – a lot worse – before it gets any better.

The heavy police presence and aggressive pattern of arrests that will now rain down on Hackney and the other suburbs where disturbances occurred will only add fuel to the fire.


Eye candy: where’s the real target, Janet?

July 18, 2010

The opinions of bloggers make news. Welcome to News 2.0.

Former TV reporter, now media trainer, Janet Wilson, caused a small fuss when her blog post Eye Candy was reported in Saturday’s New Zealand Herald by James Ihaka. Of course one could observe (a tad cynically) that the story made it onto page 2 only because it could legitimately get the phrase ‘tits and teeth’ into the headline.

While the Herald story is not entirely sympathetic, no doubt Janet Wilson will be pleased, working on the principle that being talked about is better than not being talked about.

I for one made some effort to track down Janet’s blog; which incidentally doesn’t appear in the results of the Google search I conducted using ‘Janet Wilson Adjust your set’. I found it thanks to  Ele Ludemann  at homepaddock who had thoughtfully linked from her blog because the ‘adjust your set’ search term takes you to this post.

Anyway, in a round-about way that brings me to the point: Janet gives a spray and takes exception to the young, female faces on television because – in her opinion – they are all ‘tits and teeth’ and know nothing  much about journalism.

The implication is that they’re hired by middle-aged men who merely want ‘eye candy’ to a) decorate the newsroom and b) attract viewers to the evening news broadcast who share their taste in nubile wenchy-things who are ‘loved’ by the camera.

I’m not sure who the target of this diatribe is, but there’s plenty who can take offence. Read the rest of this entry »


Keeping journos safe: more than a code of practice

May 30, 2010

About a year ago a 16 point code aimed at keeping Australian journalists safe in war zones and other areas of trauma reporting was released at a war reporting conference in Sydney. Last week in Auckland several New Zealand journalists suggested it was about time a similar code was established here.

Award-winning freelancer and producer, Jon Stephenson said that he hadn’t seen any progress in New Zealand in the year since the first Red Cross-sponsored conference on war reporting in Wellington; which coincided with the 2009 Sydney event.

Stephenson made his comments during a panel discussion at a follow-up event held at AUT in Auckland on the 24th of May.

TV3’s experienced correspondent and news anchor, Mike McRoberts, agreed with Stephenson, as did TV1’s Campbell Bennett.

The keynote speaker at the AUT event was former ABC correspondent and now journalism educator Tony Maniaty. It was a great speech in which Maniaty talked about the outsourcing of danger now that most large news organisations in Australia and New Zealand no longer have fully staffed bureaux in many places and tend to only send reporters into hot spots when a story is breaking. He also noted that smaller, lighter digital cameras mean that the safety net of a larger, tightly-knit group no longer exists. Heavy gear and complex camera-audio set ups required three or four people to manage, creating camraderie and support networks:

Today, my students can – and some do – circumvent all that rigmarole by walking around the corner, buying a laptop and HD camera and a cheap air ticket to Kabul, and two days later be filming – alone, unsupported – on the frontline. And in this increasingly prevalent scenario are two more challenges facing us. One, we need to inject compulsory safety training modules into our media courses; and two, we need to address more carefully the vexed issue of freelancers, and what I call ‘the outsourcing of danger’. If networks are not prepared to send staff reporters into hot zones, do they have any right to send others there – for far lower pay, without training or insurance or training, without safety gear?

The idea of running safety training modules in J-schools is an interesting one, but what do we leave out in order to include them? We constantly come up against this “pint pot” problem; I might also add that the news industry needs to take some responsibility here (and shoulder the cost). Though I think that having some sort of safety code is not a bad idea. Read the rest of this entry »


Haiti & parachute journalism – response: Guest blog by TVNZ’s Gordon Harcourt

February 11, 2010

This commentary was supplied by TVNZ’s Gordon Harcourt. He was upset by my comments on Mediawatch a couple of weekends ago about the coverage of the Haiti disaster.

You can remind yourself of what I said by re-visiting my earlier posts on Haiti.

You can listen to the full discussion between Colin Peacock, Mike McRoberts and myself at the Mediawatch site.

I am happy to publish Gordon’s response in full. I haven’t got time right now to answer his criticisms, but I will come back to this issue, perhaps over the weekend.

“Parachute journalism” and why journalists should ignore Dr Martin Hirst

As a former student (many, many years ago) of what is now AUT, I was genuinely shocked to hear Dr Martin Hirst’s comments on Radio NZ’s Mediawatch last month. Rather than silently fume, I think the responsible thing is to vent openly, so that Dr Hirst’s students – and readers of this blog – can get a different viewpoint.

In his criticism of TV3’s Mike McRoberts and his Haiti quake coverage, Dr Hirst dutifully trotted out the old ‘parachute journalist don’t have context’ line, as though it were some appalling sin for journalism companies to send their correspondents to do some journalism by covering the vast humanitarian disaster of the Haiti quake.

Then Dr Hirst took his argument to a startling new level:

“There are plenty of journalists in Haiti already who don’t have this parachute thing, they know what the story is on the ground and can give you the background and context and all that kind of stuff. And you could actually make a counter humanitarian argument and suggest that what TV3 could have done is actually pay the Haitian journalists on the ground to cover the story for them and thereby indirectly donating money back into that community.” [Emphasis added]

This is utterly fatuous on a purely practical level. More seriously, I argue it implies that not only is no journalist capable of doing their job in another country, but that it is somehow morally corrupt for them to try!

Hirst’s Law

Firstly, the practical: A journalist’s job is to supply material to his or her outlet. That’s why you send people to a story.

How does Dr Hirst know that this legion of broadcast-capable Haitian (or Haitian-based) journalists exists? And did they and their families and their staff and their equipment all miraculously survive the quake?

And do these surviving, broadcast-capable Haitian journalists all speak broadcast quality English? (Or should NZ broadcasters only hire Creole- or French-speaking journalists, for the correct “context”?)

And will these surviving, broadcast-capable, English-speaking Haitian journalists put New Zealand television at the top of their client list, despite the fact that – in deference to Hirst’s Law – no international media organisation has sent staff to Haiti?

While I paint an extreme scenario, every element of it is consistent with what I am calling Hirst’s Law. Genuflecting to “context”.

Secondly, and far more seriously, I find it repulsive to imply that journalists cannot and should not attempt to cover foreign stories like the Haiti quake. Instead, they should only sub-contract their trade to the ready and waiting locals, to ensure the correct “context”.

This is pernicious nonsense. How about trying to do your job better, understand the “context” and convey it to your audience? Genuflecting to “context” is an excuse for not doing your job. “Context” is what every Israeli foreign ministry official and Palestinian commentator demand every time they see a news report they don’t like.

Sorry, but you can’t give a history lesson in every news story! It’s just not practical to include a full account of Haiti’s catastrophic history of US-sponsored dictators and rapacious French reparations. In my book, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run the news story. I readily agree, however, that news outlets should provide context and background in their overall output.

Locals at risk

Thirdly, in many bits of the world it’s actually dangerous for journalists to do their job honestly. If I were commissioning coverage of events in Sri Lanka right now, I would not hire a Sri Lankan for commentary on the most loathsome excesses of the Rajapakse regime. He or she would risk arrest (or much, much worse) by telling the truth right now.

Local fixers

Fourthly – and I attribute this point to my colleague Tim Watkin of Q&A, even though he was not a fan of TV3’s despatch of Mike McRoberts – almost all foreign media do employ local “fixers”, so they are “donating money back into that economy”. Why do they not simply employ these people to do the job directly?

Bluntly, they are extraordinarily unlikely to be capable of doing all the things a staff correspondent can do, under extreme pressure. I was a fixer/producer for the BBC’s Australia correspondent Nick Bryant, in his coverage of the Hillary funeral two years ago. Why didn’t the BBC just hire me directly, given my six year service with the BBC? That’s easy – I’m not as good a correspondent as Nick Bryant.

I would probably not be capable of filing numerous radio and TV packages, and World Service despatches, and BBC Online stories. That’s Nick Bryant’s job. He’s got the kit, he knows how to use it, he knows the multitude of outlets he must serve, and those outlets trust him to deliver. But mostly, the bulletin producers – and, more importantly the BBC viewers and listeners – know and trust Nick Bryant as a journalist. They know he operates within BBC editorial principles. And I think they trust him to understand the “context”.

Journalists and the injured in Haiti

Finally, Dr Hirst made his comments in a discussion that began with looking at the many instances of journalists making a story of treating or helping an injured Haitian. Mike McRoberts delivered a quite compelling report about a young woman with a broken leg. I thought TV3’s treatment of that story – including “context” – was exemplary, and working journalists should completely ignore Hirst’s comments.

Gordon Harcourt Reporter – TVNZ Fair Go 10th February 2010

Gordon Harcourt has been a journalist for 20 years. He was there when TV3 first went to air in November 1989, and since then has worked for every major broadcaster in New Zealand. From 1998 to 2000 he was Producer of backchat, TVNZ’s arts and media commentary programme, presented by Bill Ralston. Following its demise he left New Zealand, and worked as a news producer for BBC World Television till 2007, based in London. He is now a reporter for TVNZ’s Fair Go, and has recently filled in for Kathryn Ryan on Radio NZ’s Nine till Noon, and for Kim Hill on Saturday morning.


What would you do?

February 2, 2010

Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.

When the media is the disaster [hat tip, Mr T]

What would you do?

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Haiti: history and the shock doctrine

January 31, 2010

I made a welcome appearance on National Radio’s MediaWatch programme this morning to discuss the recent coverage of Haiti with TV3’s Mike McRoberts and MW host, Colin Peacock.

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti – MP3

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti MediaPlayer

The initial prompt for the chat was the rash of stories about TV reporters rescuing survivors and getting them to medical aid – without which they faced an uncertain, if not shortly to be fatal future.

But I also was keen to make the point that, for me a real problem with the coverage was context.

Why is Haiti one of the poorest nation’s on earth? Why did the TV reporters keep referring to Haiti as “doomed” and “blighted”?

My argument is that without this context, it just seems like the reason is the “foreignness” of the Haitians. They’re black and they don’t speak English and when we see them on television they are either “victims”, or they’re criminalised into some large, organic faceless mob that has to be kept in line by the blue-helmeted UN troops wielding riot shields and pepper-spray.

UN blue helmets pepper spray hungry Haitians

This leads to a situation in which the Haitians are seen as “animals”, as this report from the Australian ABC suggests, quoting a UN soldier:

A UN trooper, who declined to be named, struggled to hold back the jostling crowd with a hard plastic shield.

“Whatever we do, it doesn’t matter – they are animals,” he cried in Spanish, when asked why the peacekeepers were not trying to explain anything in French or Creole.

Troops waved pepper spray into the queue’s front line. Others standing atop a grubby white UN armoured vehicle fired off steady rounds of rubber bullets into the air.

Well actually, the hungry people demanding food and shelter are not animals. They are human beings whose dignity has been stripped away from them in the aftermath of an awful tragedy. An earthquake is a natural disaster, but the humanitarian disaster that is now affecting Haiti so badly is of human design.

What we are seeing today in Haiti is the application of what Naomi Klein has christened the “shock doctrine”. This is the policy of taking advantage of natural disasters in order to impose some kind of austerity programme, or other unpopular measure, on a civilian population that is too traumatised to resist. Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine devastatingly demonstrates how this has been done time and time again-particularly by the Americans-in Latin and Central America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Most recently we’ve seen it used internally in Burma and in China.

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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.

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