Hiding In Your Cupboard

Hiding In Your Cupboard
Banksy's desecration of the Palestinian wall

Sunday, 31 August 2008

UK's International Shame

The International Express (alongside the International Guardian) is one of the few UK newspapers readily available in New Zealand and should be a source of shame for expats living here.

Published weekly with a selection of the Express and Sunday Express's 'best' stories, the paper is aimed squarely at expats. Some strange breed of jingoistic expat that left the UK because it was getting too full of darkies - if the front page is to believed.

Not a week goes by without the International Express making us English out to be a bunch of racist twats. This week the front page headline reads something like "1,650 immigrants move to the UK each day as more real British people leave'. Never have I seen a newspaper so fond of using arbitrary statistics to beat up news stories.

So... to the International Express - bugger off home where you belong.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Ethnicity - It don't matter if you're white or black

AUT University recently hosted a media diversity forum hosting talkers from programmes such as Tagata Pasifika and Asia Downunder among others.

The event was interesting and there was some positive outlooks for the future of minority culture programming as well as some more gloomy moments.

It seems that budgets are being slashed just as attitudes are changing. Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin, of Tagata Pasifika, said there had been a "marketing change" at TVNZ and suddenly Pacific Island faces are everywhere.

In the real world though these programmes struggle on very tight budgets in very poor time slots. Tagata Pasifika is broadcast when the majority of its audience are asleep or at church and Asia Downunder gets shunted to tomorrow if there is a rugby match worth watching (or even not worth watching) on.

The producers of both programmes spoke of being under pressure from TVNZ to increase viewers, to run less positive stories and bizarrely to make sure their content wasn't "too worthy".

Programmes such as these need more support and more editorial control. Journalists are supposed to tell the stories of people who do not have a voice and the stories of the Asian and Pacific Island community are rarely told in mainstream media unless one has robbed and murdered the other.

This is akin to reporting on a general election but only writing stories about Labour's successes or National's failings. It is cock-eyed and short-sighted and ignores the needs of the viewing public.


A second point to make. Stop using the word 'ethnic'. It drives me nuts.

'We were eating out at an ethnic restaurant.'

'He wore ethnic clothes.'

To some people that food isn't ethnic it is just food. And the clothes... well a pair of trousers is always a pair of trousers.

Just because something is different to your culture doesn't mean it should attain the alien status of 'ethnic'.

The word is divisive - we should all stop being so astounded at our differences and instead take a convivial interest in them.

From paper to pixels

By James Murray August 22, 2008

As news moves online, print is forced to evolve. Jamie Melbourne-Hayward and James Murray investigate how this will affect the industry and the way we use news. Illustration by Jamie Melbourne-Hayward, additional reporting by Carly Tawhiao.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

-Dylan Thomas

The newspaper is under threat. The newsprint has been on the wall since the spread of high-speed broadband and the decision by several UK papers to break news on their websites first in 2006. The media industry is at a tipping point and must evolve to survive.

Just recently APN, which owns the New Zealand Herald, announced an annual drop in advertising revenue of about eight to 10 per cent. A result of the recent credit crunch, perhaps, but across the pond in the USA, where new media is far more prevalent, newspapers are losing money hand over fist. For example, the Capital Times in Wisconsin is no longer a hard copy paper at all. In April this year the presses stopped and now the paper publishes exclusively online.

The only places where newspaper advertising revenue is increasing are emerging economies such as India and China. Advertising revenue on the internet is rapidly increasing. In the UK, internet advertising is poised to overtake TV advertising and will make up one fifth of the total revenue from advertising by the end of the year.

It’s ironic that a medium which was used to advertise hard copy newspapers is now replacing it. The Wisconsin Capital Times now issues a free-sheet twice a week that acts as an advert for the website.

So should the newspaper ‘rage’ against this death or are we actually seeing a reincarnation? Should newspapers go ‘gentle into that good night’ or bite back and move with the times?

Democracy is about knowledgeable citizens making informed decisions for the greater good of mankind. Power within democracies is supposed to be watched over by the fourth estate: the media. However, citizens can start to lose faith in the integrity of their media if they perceive it becoming the fourth branch of government or a vehicle of business interests.

In countries where human rights are in question, information is often biased by a polarised media. State run papers such as the the China Daily, which faces daily censorship are a good example.
People are increasingly turning to the internet to find what is seen as unfiltered information.

Newspapers have previously been complacent about the digital revolution, with an over reliance on reader loyalty to their brands. But recently the internet is proving a catalyst for the reinvigoration of newsprint.
Many UK newspapers have changed their format to a tabloid, and moved to a magazine look.

News was once dispensed in a ‘top-down’ format, where Murdoch-style management and editors decided upon content and direction. Now citizen journalism, blogging and discussion boards have become popular avenues for a population disconnected from the “national debate”.People can dictate which content they are interested in, and are able to access varying viewpoints and “twitter” to their hearts delight.

The Independent in London has picked up on this trend and is now unafraid to break the taboo of printing opinion on its front page. It has successfully rebranded itself as a ‘viewspaper’ with its most popular content coming from columnists such as Robert Fisk. But the digital revolution has not improved the content of newspapers entirely for the good.

Newspapers are being drawn into television sensationalism, and dependence upon flashy news cycles to sell copies. The 24-hour news cycle has also been duplicated online, with stories breaking as they would on television, but with more immediacy. This could have an affect on the accuracy and depth of stories.

So, should newspapers die? On the one hand, the increase of “an open market place of ideas”, which the internet provides, is liberating to democracy. But does that freedom come at a cost?
Journalists are no longer just answerable to the letters page and there is a value in having a wider dialogue between the public and the media.

However, the freedom of the internet also allows the spread of bigotry and hatred: blogs and comment should be taken with a grain of salt – along with everything else for that matter.

While western newspapers service a wide-enough spectrum of views, the same cannot be said for Latin America, Africa and Asia. Citizen journalism in these parts is sometimes the only available balanced coverage - and investigative journalism occurs only online.

As more funds enter the internet-news market, a flow on to investigative journalism is needed. Furthermore, journalists are trained to be fair and balanced. As objectivity is only an ideal, the internet’s draw card is its ability to bring together opposing views from around the world, and allow them to be debated in the electronic halls of democracy.

What are the consequences for the world if newspapers disappear altogether or, at the very least, can only survive if targeting a niche market?
Leading US journalist John S Carroll believes the national conversation has already changed.

“Millions of people who previously had been excluded have now been allowed to join in. Whoever saw it coming? This is a First Amendment miracle,” he said in a lecture at the University of Kentucky this April.

He is referring to bloggers and the proliferation of opinion on the internet. But the gathering and dissemination of news is still largely done by traditional reporters who either work for newspapers or websites that are affiliated to newspapers.

According to professor of journalism Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine, a blog which analyses the progress and role of new media, traditional media networks such as newspapers or television stations now have to operate differently to survive.

“Networks were defined by control of content or distribution. But now, you can’t own all distribution and content is controlled where it’s created. So, I wonder, where’s the value and where’s the money in the fully networked world?”

Jarvis suggests that the way ahead is for media companies to aggregate content. A good example of this would be Yahoo Xtra.
Yahoo Xtra makes very little content itself. Instead it bundles news and entertainment sourced from other content providers in a way that is attractive to advertisers.
John Hagel, a US expert on the internet’s effect on business, agrees:

“The most powerful brands in the media business will be held by successful intermediaries that help to consistently improve return on attention for audiences.”

If there is more money to be made from simply aggregating news, the incentive to gather it decreases. The Catch 22 occurs when news aggregators realise profit depends on poorly paid content providers. For this system to work, an effective way of sharing advertising revenue through link networks needs to be devised – if news aggregators are too greedy their content supply will dry up.

If the media’s future lies in aggregating the most popular blogs and websites in attractive bundles the balanced viewpoint is going to struggle to be heard. The controversial will always get more hits than the accurate.

The danger to our ‘national conversation’ is our own thirst for sensationalism. Our national commentators will effectively be those we vote for with our mouse.

Barack Obama is all style and no substance. As are the Beijing Olympics.

Click on the story title to go to Te Waha Nui website - AUT students

By James Murray August 22, 2008 Post a comment

On your mark get set.

On your mark...get set... (Illustration: Sally Conor)

Winning is at the top of everyone’s agenda these days – winning with style and not necessarily substance.

The opening ceremony at the Olympics celebrated style over substance when event organisers chose aesthetics over reality. A little girl who couldn’t sing became an overnight superstar, miming in the place of another little girl who could sing delightfully but didn’t match up in the beauty stakes.

And superstars are the theme of this year’s ‘presidential’ elections. In the US the front runner is Barack Obama, a man who says little more than “America is ready for change” to a country passionate for change of any kind.
Obama may well bring change in America and it may well be change for the good, but it is the style of US election campaigns that grates: all fist-pumping razzamatazz and very little in the way of policy.

In New Zealand you could be forgiven for thinking we are going to elect a figurehead rather than a political party to run this country, especially if you are a member of our supposedly ignorant and apathetic youth.
According to the Electoral Commission, 107,500 of 18 to 24-year-olds are not enrolled to vote in this year’s election. It is clear young people are turned off by this cult of personality.

Clark, Key and Peters dominate the political hurdles, falling over each other in their Olympian efforts to get the media high-ground in the run-up to the election.
Where are the rest of our politicians and why are the issues being discussed so narrow? An outsider might mistakenly believe that the only things New Zealanders care about are taxes and the cost of living.
This presidential style of campaigning lets the electorate down. It is the fault of a lazy media and political spin machines that prefer to focus on personalities rather than issues such as domestic violence and a lack of affordable housing.

The focus must be less on personality and more on character; a politician of good character should never put their ego before their country.

The opportunity to improve China’s human rights record has been lost at the Olympic games.
Several athletes, such as the UK basketball player and Olympic ambassador for Amnesty International John Amaechi, spoke out before the games about the possibility of protests in light of China’s human rights record.

Amnesty International proudly announced that 40 competing athletes had signed a letter condemning China’s human rights record. Fair play to those athletes and take note that they have been able to compete at these games without hindrance.

However, there are 10,700 athletes at these games so 40 dissenters is a disappointing number.
It is a shame that many athletes are now toeing the party line that the Olympics is not the right arena for political protest or that politics and sport do not mix.

These statements are simply not true – sporting sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid system, notably anti-Springbok tour protesters in New Zealand, ably assisted the downfall of that cruel regime.

The brave actions of senior members of the Zimbabwe cricket squad, who wore black armbands mourning the death of democracy during the 2003 World Cup held in Africa, alerted a whole nation to the villainy of Robert Mugabe.

It is foolish to tar all of China with the same brush and short-sighted not to acknowledge the way in which it is slowly giving its citizens the rights they deserve.

But as long as human rights are not being satisfactorily met in China there is room for protest and this protest should have been visible on the biggest stage of all.