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Archive for the category “television”

Brands and mavericks

I’ve read several articles claiming that the word most people hate most is “moist”. The word I hate most is “brands”. Well, one of the words, anyway.

Consider this, for example, 10 Journalism Brands Where You Find Real Facts Rather Than Alternative Facts:

Realizing that millions more people are scratching their heads, wondering what to read and where to spend their subscription dollars, here are my top 10 large journalistic brands where I believe you can most often find real, reported facts:

The use of “brand” in that article is the main reason that I don’t trust it. Yes, I agree with the criteria mentioned in the article, but I’m not looking for reliable brands, I’m looking for reliable news.

Do you go into a shop and say “I’m looking for a brand?” or “What brand should I buy?”

And the shopkeeper might say “Brand of what? Screwdrivers, sticky tape or light bulbs?”

The use of “brands” in that article inclines me not to trust it, because it betrays the mentality of the profit motive.

Take a newspaper.

What is the primary purpose of a newspaper?

  1. To make a profit?
  2. To publish and disseminate news?

“Brand” is a marker word for those who take the first attitude — the primary purpose of a newspaper is to make a profit. So when considering whether to publish a story and how much space to give it, the main criterion for the editor is not whether it is true, or whether it will inform, but “How many papers will it sell?”

So when people talk about “brands” instead of newspapers, journals, magazines or broadcast news programmes, I really don’t trust what they are saying, because they are using marketing speak rather than English. “Brands” suggests smoke and mirrors, a con job, all image and no substance. The important thing about brands is always to be polishing their brand image, rather than improving the product.

Which brand do you prefer? Sunlight, Volkswagen, Dulux or All Gold?

Branding cattle

Doesn’t that depend on whether you are buying soap, cars, paint or jam?

Which brand do you recommend?
Try this one sir, it has seven cupholders.
But how well does it spread when you take it out of the fridge?

The word “brand” comes from cattle ranching in unfenced territory.

Cattle keepers would mark their cattle with distinctive brands to show which belonged to them and which to someone else.

An unbranded beast was called a “maverick“, because no one knew who it belonged to.

So which news outlet do I prefer?

The Daily Maverick, of course.

Why I’ve stopped buying newspapers

Twenty years ago I used to buy newspapers quite a lot. Now I may buy a Sunday newspaper once a month or so. Sometimes the newspaper publishers run surveys to find out why people buy or don’t buy their newspapers, but they usually ask all the wrong questions.

I suppose the main reason I don’t buy as many newspapers as I used to is that since I retired I don’t get out much. Going out usually costs money. We do go out to church on Sundays, and on the way home stop at shops, and so for a while bought the Sunday newspapers most Sundays, but even that has dropped off, partly because of financial constraints, but also because of this — What is the Labour Party for? On the mystery of Jeremy Corbyn:

There is a preference in the media’s political coverage – and in political campaigning altogether – for symbol and personality over policy and fact. The media coverage of Corbyn, who despite being an MP and unusually active campaigner for over thirty years had not much figured in the press until the leadership contest, has been by any measure persistently negative.

Of course South African Sunday newspapers only rarely refer to Jeremy Corbyn, but in their coverage of South African politicians, the same general principle applies: The emphasis is on image rather than substance, personality rather than policy.

Almost every Sunday there will be a full-page article on some politician, and the article will usually be about some political rival threatening to take over their position. I rarely read beyond the first paragraph, because I know from experience that if there are no facts in the first paragraph there will be none on the rest of the page. The policies of the politician in question are not important. What’s important is that there is conflict, and that increases circulation, or so they say.

Jeremy Corbyn

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn is that he has no ambition, and it ambition that fuels the conflict that journalists like to write about. Corbyn talks too much about principles and policies, and not enough about his rivals or their voters. If he started calling Tory voters “a basket of deplorables” he’d probably get a better press, though whether it would get him more votes from Labour supporters is a moot point.

So where do we get our news nowadays?

A few days ago our TV was on all day on the channel showing the Constitutional Court hearings about the crisis in social grants payments. When it comes to the judges of the Constitutional Court, they are not interested in the fluff about personalities, they want the facts. And if they don’t get the facts, they ask. They don’t concern themselves with speculations about who might get Bathabile Dlamini’s job because she messed up, or how much sushi was consumed at her last birthday party. They want to know what she has done and what she hasn’t done about the payments of pensions and other social grants.

Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development

Even the Daily Maverick, which is usually better an more insightful than most, writes, Sassa grant crisis: In this game of thrones, can Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini survive? | Daily Maverick. The important question, you see, is not whether 17 million social grant recipients will get paid. The important question is the personality-cult one: the political survival of one celebrity politician, rather than 17 million people who might have no food on the table in April.

When it comes to the media and their predilection for personality cults, one wonders which came first, the chicken or the egg. The scramble for power of ambitious politicians makes great copy, at least in the opinion of journalists, and so if politicians want the publicity they crave, they must spend more time on polishing their images than on fine-tuning their policies. It’s a vicious cycle, the one feeds off the other.

And politicians like Jeremy Corbyn break that mould. That’s why the media hate him, and why I rather like him.

Technology addiction?

This morning at TGIF Dr Marlena Kruger spoke on the impact of our technology addiction.

I think she made some useful points, for example that young children learn more from playing with hands-on toys that from playing with simulations of them on a computer screen.

Shape sorting toy

Shape sorting toy

When our kids were small, they had one of these shape sorting toys. It would be possible to design a computer app to match the same shapes to spaces on the screen, but kids learn a lot more by handling the shapes, coordinating their sense of sight with the sense of touch by feeling it, and yes, putting it in their mouths.

So playing with computer apps is no substitute for playing with actual things in the real world.

But the problem with this kind of talk about “technology” is that people seem to get locked into a narrow two-dimensional world like a computer screen. What do we mean by words like “technology”?

Consider, for example, this article, which seems to be making a similar point to that made by Dr Kruger — 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 | The Huffington Post:

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012).

Think about it for a while, especially the heading, because it is an example of tunnel vision — like limiting yourself to the number of pixels on a computer screen, and seeing nothing outside that.

What is a “handheld device”? A pen, a pencil, a crayon, a pair of scissors — all these are handheld devices. All these are technology. Specialists in early childhood education have been saying that children should learn to handle such things long before they start school.

Ah, you say, but those are mechanical devices, and we are talking about electronic devices.

But experts in early childhood education say that listening to music is important for the development of young children. Does that mean you are going to take your toddlers to symphony concerts? No recordings, because playing recordings nowadays usually requires electronic devices — when last did you hear a wind-up gramophone played? No discos, because there they use electronic devices to amplify the music.

I’m not simply being pedantic here. Before making huge generalisations about “technology” and “hand-held devices” we need to see the three-dimensio0nal world beyond the computer screen. When you dig in a garden you are using a hand-held device and a spade is technology. Technology is part of what makes us human. Saying that children under 2 should have no exposure to technology is insane. No cooked food, because cooking uses technology.

huntgathEven hunter-gatherer societies use technology, at least for the “hunter” part. Without technology we would just be gatherers.

So when we talk about being “addicted” to technology, we need to think about the wider meaning of technology, and the extent to which technology has made us human.

And when we speak of a remedy for addiction to technology, we need to think about whether the addiction is to technology, or to something else that the technology is used for.

When television was invented, people learnt how to send images to a cathode-ray screen (later LCD) in a remote location. At first, in television, the image was controlled by the sender. The receivers were passive. They could perhaps choose between images sent by different senders, but they had no control over the content of the images received.

Technophobes lamented the bad influence on children — “the flickering blue parent” was one phrase bandied about.

But it was not the TV that was generating the images. They were being sent by people who decided on what was sent, to serve their own purposes. It was one-way communication, yes, but it was one-communication from one group of people to another. The technology facilitated the communication, and to some extent determined it (yes, I’m old enough to have been influenced by Marshall McLuhan, and maybe I’ll say more about him some other time) but it was still communication from people to people.

For me it was a huge liberation when personal computers came along.

Yes, there I was looking at images on a cathode ray tube (CRT), but they were images that I put there. They were things I could control. For a while the rest of the family thought I was opting out of family life. I was “playing with the computer” instead of being sociable and watching TV with the family. That was tantamount to being accused of being addicted to technology. But it wasn’t. If I wrote a letter on the computer, I was no more addicted to the computer as technology than I was addicted to the typewriter before I had a computer, or addicted to a fountain pen before I had a typewriter.

In every case I was “using technology” to communicate with other people, and what I was doing was not “playing with the computer” any more than a handwritten letter is “playing with a pen”. Yes, I do sometimes play with a pen. I twiddle it, I idly click a ballpoint pen so the tip comes in and out.  But using it for a task is not “playing with it”. Is doodling “playing with” a pen? Idly and absentmindedly drawing little pictures? Is sketching fellow participants at a meeting playing with a pen? Perhaps great art exists because some people were addicted to playing with the technology of paint and paintbrushes.

One of the things Marlena Kruger said was coming home and putting your cell phone down and not touching it. Abstain from using the cellphone, because people are more important than the device.

But on Wednesday night we went to church in Brixton, Johannesburg. On the way home at 9:30 pm, on a badly lit road, with cars with bright lights coming the other way, we hit a pothole which dented the wheel rim so the tyre went flat. It was the first time in 11 years and 250000 km that we had had a flat tyre. Where is the jack? We’ve never had to use it before.

So I phone my son, who is a Toyota mechanic and knows these things. And ask where is the jack (it’s dark, you see). It’s under a plastic cover under the front passenger seat. You’d never find it by feeling for it. And how do you remove the cover, and how do you get it out?

But if he switches off his phone, because he’s not going to be addicted to it, it’s not a mere device. There is a person at the other end of the device. So by switching off the phone, you are switching off the person.

So speaking of “technology addiction” can be a bit simplistic. Your addiction can be to the device, like a cell phone, but more often it is addiction to what you do with the device. A cell phone is mainly used to communicate with other people. And you have the stereotype of a group of people all sitting together, all using their cell phones. Are they addicted to their phones? Not necessarily. What it means is that they prefer to communicate with people elsewhere than communicate with the people they are close to at that moment. The problem is not so much with the device used to communicate, but with human relations, that you would rather communicate with someone other than the people you happen to be with.

I said personal computers were a liberation, and its true. I can store information on my computer and find it much more quickly than if I had written it down on bits of paper. I’m writing an essay or an academic paper or even a blog post, and I need to verify the date of a historical event. Google leads me to that information much more quickly than trying to see if I have a reference book that has it.

E-mail was a liberation too.

I used to hate phoning people, and still do. I don’t know if I will be interrupting them when they are doing something important. If I send them e-mail, then they can read it and reply to it at their convenience.

But the people who liked the one-way, one-to-many model of broadcasting did not like this liberation. They wanted their captive audience. And Microsoft developed Windows 98 which was the first version of Windows to be integrated with the Internet, and the developed “push” technology for it. It was an attempt to re-enslave people that personal computers had liberated — by networking those computers and then pushing stuff at them.

And now cell phones use “push” technology too. My smartphone had “push” notifications for Facebook and Twitter, which drove me mad until I found how to switch them off (they don’t give you a manual, so it’s not easy to find out how to do that). So yes, cell phones are useful, but they can drive you mad. And there’s even a cell phone advertising itself with the slogan “Never miss a moment” — you’ll be so busy not missing moments that you’ll never have a moment to do anything.

But even though this is labelled “push technology”, it is not the technology that is doing the pushing. It is people doing the pushing. Yesterday I downloaded 90 emails and 85 of them were spam, sent to my “junk and suspicious mail” folder and deleted in bulk. They may have been sent by bots, but it was people who programmed the bots to send them.

Then back to TGIF, where technology, even electronic technology, was not absent.

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

I’m not against using educational technology. At one time I used some quite complicated gadgets to improve students’ reading skills, or at least show them how they could improve their won reading skills. But there is also this: Universities should ban PowerPoint — It makes students stupid and professors boring – Business Insider:

Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that expecting and requiring students to read books, attend classes, take notes and do homework is unreasonable.

Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles and thousands of problems.

I’m not sure I agree with that article either. A lot depends on the content of what is being taught. Some topics can be enhanced by the use of slides, and others not. I must say that in this morning’s presentation I paid very little attention to the slides, and can remember little of what was on them

SABC: Sport and Faith

A few months ago there was an intense public debate about the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and its former head, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. I don’t know if the SABC has a new head yet, or if it is still drifting along flapping its wings like a headless chicken, but yesterday we were made acutely aware of two things that the new head, who ever that many be, should look into.

Sport

Yesterday there was a cricket match where the South African national team was playing against New Zealand. But only the rich could watch it on TV, and it wasn’t broadcast on steam radio at all.

Now this might not matter if you think that sport is a luxury, especially for spectators. No one actually needs to watch other people playing, and there’s nothing to stop them getting out and playing themselves — they could probably do with the exercise.

But the government also keeps banging on about “transformation” in sport, by which they mean that the demographic groups represented in national sports teams should reflect the demographic make-up of the country. But if only the rich can watch those sports on TV or radio, then only the rich will tend to play those sports. Those who can afford to pay to watch those sports on TV will also be the ones who can afford to send their children to the fee-paying schools where those sports are played and effectively coached. If you want to level the playing fields (pun intended) then you must make it possible for the widest range of people see our national teams play. And the government, which controls the SABC, needs to make sure that the SABC encourages this transformation by broadcasting matches where the national teams are playing, both home and away.

Faith

For the last few months, on Sundays when we go to church in Atteridgeville, we’ve caught the second part of a radio programme on SAfm called Facts of Faith. The first few times we heard it, it sounded like a paid denominational broadcast. There was a group of people drawn from various religious traditions who were asked to challenge the views of a very fundamentalist speaker, who then demolished their objections to his point of view in a rather condescending manner.

For a while we wondered which denomination was sponsoring the show. Was it Seventh-Day Adventists? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or some new fundamentalist sect from the USA trying to gain a foothold in South Africa?

We listened to the end of the programme, but they never said which denomination was sponsoring it. It was followed, at 11:00 am by the Sunday morning church service, where one was told which church the service was in, so at least one knew what one was getting.

Eventually we looked up Facts of Faith on the web, and found that it apparently was not intended to be a paid denominational broadcast, however much it sounded like it. Instead it was

Facts of Faith is a platform for religious and faith communities to have a say in social, political, cultural, sexual and general issues. Facts of Faith affords the country and the general SAfm audience’s the benefit of hearing what faith communities have to say about the issues of the day.

Now that sounded as though it could be interesting, except that one wonders why they would broadcast it at a time when most Christians in the country would be in church, and so would not be able to hear it. That too seems a very sectarian thing to do. Nevertheless we continued to listen to the second half on the way home just because we found the main speaker so overbearing and annoying.

But yesterday’s one took the cake.

They were talking about women’s leadership in church, and there was a Muslim, and a bishop of something or other, and someone from the ACDP. We didn’t catch the names because we only started hearing it halfway through.

solascripAt one point they took phone callers from outside, and one caller said he could offer an interesting instance of something in African history that could illustrate women’s leadership from the point of view of Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion. He was quickly ruled out of order by the boss of the show (he was the boss, not a chairman or moderator or anything impartial like that). The name of the show, he said, was Facts of Faith, and that meant that they did not accept anything from history, or culture or tradition. It had to be from Scripture and Scripture only. Well that certainly confirmed the fundamentalist bias of the programme, and I was sad, because I would like to hear what the caller had to say.

And I wonder which “scriptures” are used by African traditional religions.

 

 

The war drums beat louder and louder

The media — print, broadcast and social — seem to be filled with war propaganda these days, so much so that other things seem to be getting crowded out.

And I see more and more of my friends being sucked in to it and by it.

In the US election campaign, there seems to be a “more Russophobic than thou” contest, and some have been saying, apparently in all seriousness, that one of the things against Donald Trump as a US presidential candidate is that he isn’t as Russophobic as Hillary Clinton. I can think of plenty of reasons why Donald Trump would not be a good person to be president of the USA, but not being Russophobic enough isn’t one of them. Yet a lot of people do seem to think that is a serious obstacle.

Hillary Clinton has herself declared that her Number One Priority is to remove President Bashir al Assad of Syria. That calls to mind the fulminations of Alfred Lord Milner against President Paul Kruger of the ZAR, at the height of Jingoism in the 1890s. Jingoism seemed to go out of fashion briefly in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a few decades thereafter took the surreptitious form of neocolonialism, but now it is out of the closet with a vengeance.

A few of my friends on social media have been urging me, in all seriousness, to sign petitions calling for “no-fly zones” in Syria. They are people whom I have always regarded as being not without a degree of common sense, but the war drums seem to have driven the common sense right out of their heads. A few years ago a “no-fly zone” was declared over Libya, and the last state of that country is worse than the first.

My question to my friends who think “no-fly zones” are the answer is: why do those calling for a “no-fly zone in Syria not also call for one in Yemen too?

And secondly, who should enforce such a “no-fly zone”? Preferably a neutral party that doesn’t have a dog in that fight, like Uruguay, say, or Botswana. Do you think Russia, or the USA, or France, or the UK, or ISIS or any of the other groups muscling in on the Syrian civil war and the Yemen civil war would pay the slightest attention to even the combined air forces of Uruguay and Botswana?

Bashir al-Assad is not my idea of an admirable ruler, but in the last 20 years or so we have had a lot of propaganda about the need to remove people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and those attempts turned out pretty disastrously, because even if they were villains, those who replaced them were worse villains. And still people like Hillary Clinton are promising to apply the same quack remedy to yet another country. It seems to be the policy of “The West” in general to replace secular rulers in the Middle East with militant Islamist groups, one of whose aims is to drive out all Christians and those who don’t adhere to their own peculiar brand of Islam.

Syrian Civil War. Syria - Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels - Green.

Syrian Civil War. Syria – Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels – Green.

Russia for a while acted with some restraint in Syria, but is now bombing with as much abandon as the rest of the belligerents, so has come down from the high moral ground and entered pot-and-kettle territory.

Half the countries of Western Europe are bombing and shelling Syria (or supporting those who do), and yet get all uptight when Syrian refugees arrive at their borders trying to get away from their bombs.

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, along comes this exceptionally nasty piece of war-mongering journalism Queen in row over Putin ally’s visit | News | The Times & The Sunday Times:

The Queen is to host an audience for one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and a key supporter of Russia’s actions in Syria, prompting protests from MPs.

The royal reception is for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, who arrives for his first UK visit next Saturday. MPs and a former senior government adviser have called it a “propaganda” trip from a churchman who has described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God”.

In July Kirill, 69, an alleged former KGB agent, also described Russia’s operations in Syria as “noble and honest”. Last month Britain’s UN representative accused…

Not that this is not one of those fake news sits. It’s not even The Sun. This is The Times, part of the “mainstream” media, one of the self-styled “quality” papers. And here they are trying to turn the church into a political football, wanting to treat the Patriarch of Moscow as badly, if not worse than President Zuma and the South African government treated the Dalai Lama.

What they don’t mention (but I learned from a priest who receuived an invitation to the event) is that the Patriarch was going to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Church in London. The article seems calculated to stir up hatred against the church. I think there are laws in Britain against “hate speech”, and wonder if this kind or article is perhaps in breach of such laws. But whether or not that is the case, ity does seem that it is being used to beat the war drums louder.

My concern in all this is that people seem to be increasingly sucked into to war propaganda, and to swallow it quite uncritically. I’m not a fundi on Mioddle Eastern affairs, and I’ve never been to Syria, but in my no-doubt over simplifiend and even simplistic understanding, one thing stands out: the Western media, the Russian media and the Middle Eastern media all have vested interests in the conflict, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and if possible verified independently.

But it seems to be that there are two main scenarios, and perhaps both are operating at the same time.

  1. There is a Sunni Shia conflict
  2. There is a conflict over gas and petroleum products.

President Bashir al Assad of Syria has the support of Shia groups in Syria, and those who support him, both locally and internationally, are either supporting Shia interests, or are perceived by otghers as doing so. These include such groups as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The West, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states support Sunni Islam, and and so the conflict can be described, simplistically, as a Sunni-Shia conflict, with the West o9n  the Sunni side and Russia on the Shia side, and if the conflict keeps escalating there is a danger that it could end up as World War 3.

Tjhere are also economic interests involved, especially as they relate to gas pipelines between the Middle East and Europe, which pass, or are planned to pass, through Syria. Those opposed to Bashir al Assad may have mixed motives, but among them could be that he leans towards Shia and he may oppose their favourite pipeline project. And those who prop him up may have motives that include his support for their pipeline project, and oppiosition to rival projects that may threaten theirs. For more on this, see here: Syrian war explainer: Is it all about a gas pipeline?. And no, I din’t believe it’s all about the pipelines, but I do believe that some of it may be. Take this article with just as big a pinch of salt as any other.

And as a reminder, here’s a kind of timeline of the conflict: Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News:

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

And it too needs to be filtered for bias.

Freedom of Expression: lip-service to a Western idol

The murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris this week has sparked off the biggest orgy of hypocritical handwringing about “freedom of expression” from Western politicians, journalists and other pontificators since the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial was announced two years ago.

I’m not trying to condone or justify the murders in any way. The murders were horrible, and I hope the killers are caught and brought to justice.

But the reaction I am talking about there is not a reaction to human beings being killed. It is rather that it was seen by many of the pontificators as an attack on “freedom of expression”, which was the same spin that the put on the Pussy Riot affair.

I have commented elsewhere that this seems to indicate that there are two fundamentalisms confronting each other here — Islamic fundamentalism, and a Western fundamentalism of “freedom of expression”. The almost identical reactions to the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Pussy Riot affair makes this quite clear.

There seems to be a huge reaction, quite out of proportion to the events themselves. Yes, it is horrible that 12 people were killed, but how many people were killed by Obama’s drones last week? Why doesn’t that stir more than a murmur of protest, and that only among those far from the centres of power in the West?

A ‘free speech’ machine. It looks for people who do not have enough free speech and then gives them some

A ‘free speech’ machine. It looks for people who do not have enough free speech and then gives them some

Here’s something that happened in the same week ‘Burned to the ground’: Boko Haram razes at least 16 Nigerian villages | Al Jazeera America:

Boko Haram razed at least 16 towns and villages in northern Nigeria and may have killed up to 2,000 people since the weekend, officials said Thursday.

After capturing a key military base in northeast Nigeria on Saturday, members of the feared armed group used crude bombs to level entire towns, according to local authorities.

But was it published in the Western media? No, it was published by Al Jazeera, a broadcaster with links to Islam. that great enemy of “freedom of expression”. The attack in Nigeria was probably intended to deprive those who were killed of their freedom of expression and their freedom of religion too. But in the scale of values of the Western media, the voice of the 1%, 12 white lives are enormously more valuable than 2000 black lives, and so deserve more column inches, and more talking heads. And they are just as dead as the French journalists.

The problem is that the “freedom of expression” angle is simply the spin put on the events by the Western politicians and media. Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech - It Was About War:

In less than an hour of the dreadful shooting of 12 people at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the politicians had already started to lie to their own public.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, declared that, “freedom of expression is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror.”
The media lapped it up — the attack was now spun as an attack on ‘Freedom of Speech’. That cherished value that the West holds so dear.

The British Government was so in love with it, that they were passing laws that demanded nursery school teachers spy on Muslim toddlers because they had too much of it. Toddlers were ‘free’ to speak their mind as long as it agreed with UK Government policy

For many people in the West, “freedom of expression” is a value that is held with religious, even fundamentalist fervour. But the politicans and media moguls who put this spin in it don’t really believe it themselves; they pay lip-service to it, but ignore it when it suits them. The people who are telling us that an attack on journalists is an attack on freedom of speech don’t seem to have had any love for freedom of speech 16 years ago.

How is this different from the Charlie Hebdo attack? Is it any less an attack on freedom of speech? Serb TV station was legitimate target, says Blair | World news | theguardian.com:

Nato leaders yesterday scrambled to justify the bombing of Serbia’s state television station in an attack which killed a number of civilian workers and marked a further widening in the scope of targets now considered legitimate.

The attack on the building in the centre of Belgrade – which contradicted an apparent assurance by Nato this month that only transmitters would be hit – was condemned by international journalists’ organisations, representing both employers and unions.

I see no difference.

If those who ordered and carried out one attack were criminals, so were those who ordered and carried out the other. If one was a “legitimate target”, then so was the other. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are no different from those anomymous marked gunmen. Why weren’t they arrested and charged with war crimes?

Je suis Charlie? Bah, humbug.

As the author of this article says Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech - It Was About War:

“to bring an end to this — we’ve got to do something differently, because what we are doing now — isn’t working”

Citizen journalism, traditional journalism and social media

Yesterday on the way to church we caught part of a radio discussion on SAFM hosted by Ashraf Garda, discussing the relationship between traditional journalism, citizen journalism and social media. Those taking part were mostly from traditional media, and one of the points they were making, quite validly, was that traditional journalists have a code — check sources, check facts, which is not always followed in citizen journalism, and is very rarely followed in social media.

WordleNewsOne participant, however, pointed out that in Zambia, where she had been working, traditional journalists often used social media as news sources, with little checking. A story breaks on Twitter, and it is in a remote part of the country. The journalist has a choice: write the story, and risk getting facts wrong, or drive for several hours to check, only to find that the story is old and no longer news. Younger journalists tend to think that social media are the main source of news, as reliable as any other.

Ono thing that was not mentioned, and perhaps traditional journalists would not think of it, is that citizen journalists are often more independent, and while they may not have as many sources available, their bullshit detectors are more sensitive.

One example from the last year has been the Ukraine crisis. In reporting on it, most of the Western media said very little about what has happening on the ground in Ukraine. What they reported, again and again, was what David Cameron or Barack Obama said about Vladimir Putin. If you wanted to know what was actually happening in Ukraine, you would need to go to blogs, and possibly social media, because what Cameron said about Putin was all the “mainstream” media were interested in.

The mainstream media operate under certain constraints, imposed by the capitalist system. The thing that puts most pressure on the editor, and the editorial staff, is the need for rising circulation and rising profits. If the editor fails to deliver that, the editor is history.

What sells papers?

To judge from the newspaper placards we see driving down Tsamaya Avenue in Mamelodi at 9:15 on a Sunday morning, the formula for success is sex, soccer and celebs.

When politial differences are presented, they are usually presented in terms of personalities — who is up and who is down? who is in and who is out? The issues are almost never presented in the mainstream media — for that you have to go to the bloggers, to those who are more concerned with what is happening than with who it is happening to, because the readers love a good fight, and so the pressure is on the mainstream media to present every difference of opinion as a major battle.

One of the points many of Ashraf Garda’s panel made was that blogs and social media were more opinion than news. And that is true. But to balance it, one needs to see that the same is often true of the mainstream media, though it is often better disguised. Cameron’s opinion of Putin was more important than anything that Putin did or didn’t do. And as neither of them was in Ukraine, it was pretty far removed from what was happening on the ground.

From the point of view of readers or viewers, the “consumers” of news, the news is a manufactured product, and independent sources, like blogs and social media, can be valuable in giving a balanced viewpoint.

If I want to know what is happening in Russia or Ukraine, I watch Al Jazeera — they don’t have a dog in that fight. When I want to know what is happening in the Middle East, I watch Russia Today. And when I want to know what is happening in South Africa, I check out the Daily Maverick. Yes, it’s biased as hell, but who isn’t, these days?

The official Mandela memorial: how embarrassing

I didn’t go to the official Mandela memorial service yesterday. I watched it on TV. I thought about going, but it was raining, and I had neither umbrella nor raincoat.

Many people said (on Twitter) that they were embarrassed by the booing of Jacob Zuma, but for me that was one of the few redeeming features of the event.

We organised a rugby world cup in 1995, and Nelson Mandela attended the final at the FNB stadium, and we won. The following year we organised the the soccer African Cup of Nations at the FNB stadium, with twice as many teams, and we won. We organised the cricket world cup, and we organised the soccer world cup in 2010, and the organisers did us proud.

But the memorial service for South Africa’s greatest president was chaotic, amateurish and embarrassing.  I watched it on eNCA news, and the broadcast was incompetent and disrespectful, with speakers being interrupted to show the presenters (Nikiwe Bikitsha and Jeremy Maggs) chatting to each other or to other random people. Sometimes they were telling us what was happening instead of showing us.

It didn’t start off too badly, though it did start an hour late. I didn’t notice that at the time, but I did notice that even though it started an hour late, US President Barack Obama arrived later still. That seems to be an American habit, because the start of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration was delayed by ten minutes because US Vice-President Al Gore was late. We make jokes about “African time”, but African-American time seems to be something else.

It was noticable that some people in the crowd booed and made the soccer substitution sign when President Jacob Zuma appeared, but former president Thabo Mbeki got much louder cheers. I’ve seen the booing and the substitution sign (rolling hands) at soccer matches when there is an unpopular player, or someone makes a stupid mistake, and probably quite a large part of the crowd were soccer fans, and were used to doing that kind of thing at that venue.

Was it an appropriate occasion?

Well after the Soweto massacre in 1976 funerals of political activists were also political demonstrations, and that became part of the culture of funerals in many parts of South Africa, In his first speech after his release from prison Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the efforts of the people, which had gone him released, and the political demonstrations at funerals were part of those efforts, so I think those who are complaining that it was “inappropriate” are forgetting our own recent history.

Another point is that the recent debacle over toll roads has shown, especially to the people of Gauteng, that the ANC leadership is not prepared to listen to the people, and forced e-tolls on Gauteng in the very week that Nelson Mandela died. The ANC provincial and national leadership was gathered as a captive audience, and such an opportunity might never arise again. It was simply too good to be missed.

Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that it was organised and orchestrated in advance. Perhaps it was a flashmob, gathered by tweets and SMS messages. If so, it would appear to have been better organised than the memorial service itself. But I think there is a simpler explanation. It was a soccer stadium, and people were used to going to it to watch football matches. Soccer fans knew what to do without having to be told.

The memorial service opened with prayers and tributes by Jewish, Hindu and Muslim clergy. So far so good.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma spoke, and could hardly be heard, even on TV, because the crowd were walking in and out, singing and dancing, or talking or tweeting on cell phones. The editor of City Press tweeted that it was a long walk to a woman president, if that was how much attention was being paid. Someone tweeted that a sound engineer would be fired. The eNCA cameras showed the speaker, but not the deaf interpreter, which was another piece of incompetence. But it seems that the incompetence was worse than I thought, because even though the deaf interpreter was there, he was so incompetent that no deaf people could understand him. The one redeeming feature was that the broadcasters managed to get the lip sync right, which DStv hardly ever manages to do.

By the time US president Barack Obama got up to speak (after he eventually arrived) many in the crowd were already leaving, and the singing and dancing continued for a while until people realised that he actually had something to say. That was perhaps where watching on TV was better. I knew from his first election campaign that he was a good orator, but a year into his second term I was also aware that many of the things he promised so earnestly have not come to pass. He spoke of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, and I was acutely aware of his unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo Bay.

As he continued speaking, the crowd began to quieten down, and fewer people moved to the exits. Whatever the gap between words and reality, the spoken words themselves wove a spell. He was followed by the Vice President of China, the President of Brazil, and of India. All of the BRICS were there. No, not quite. There was no sign of anyone from Russia, no one at all.

The crowd seemed to listen more attentively to the President of Brazil, even though she spoke Portuguese and it was interpreted. Perhaps it might not be such a long walk to a woman president after all. Perhaps we just need the right woman. I thought of Mamphela Ramphele, but we’ll be lucky just to get her into parliament, where she can perhaps be heard.

The move to the exits resumed. It looked as though the home team was losing, and so it was, as things went steadily downhill.

President Zuma spoke. The content of his speech was not bad, but his delivery, especially after Barack Obama, was atrocious. He barely looked at his audience, and read his speech painfully slowly. And even when he did look up there was no eye-contact, as there had been with Barack Obama, because he wore dark glasses which made him look like a Mafia gangster.

As usual, Zapiro gets it right

As usual, Zapiro gets it right

Then came a Bible reading, about Elijah going to heaven and leaving his mantle to Elisha, but Jacob Zuma made an unconvincing Elisha, and the delivery was as bad as Zuma’s, so the reading flopped too.

And then a bloke started to sing a Xhosa hymn, Lisalis’ idinga lakho. I recall it from my Anglican days as the only singable hymn in the Xhosa hymn book. All the others were translated from English, and in every single one the rhythm of the words classhed with the rhythm of the music, syncopation on steroids. Lisalis’ idinga lakho was written by a Xhosa speaker, and so the words and music fitted. Perhaps for that reason it was Nelson Mandela’s favourite hymn. But why, O why, could the organisers of the event not muster up a decent choir to lead the singing of it? It is a well-known hymn, and most of the people in the stadium would have joined in and it could have sounded magnificent, like a Welsh rugby match, perhaps, and not like a faded away old soldier’s funeral in a funeral parlour chapel with five old soldiers, and one of them playing the last post on a cell phone.

And then followed the sermon by Nikwe Bikisha and Jeremy Maggs Ivan Abrahams, which I didn’t hear, though those who did tell me I didn’t miss much.

Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu gave the final blessing, which was at least a little better. It really needed someone who knew a little about liturgy.

Some have said that the booing of Zuma spoiled the event, but nothing spoiled it as much as the bad organisation and dull speeches. As for the booing, I think the best comment is here It’s our party and we’ll boo if we want to | Daily Maverick

I’m glad I’m Orthodox, and I hope my funeral will be a little bit better than that. It really was embarrassingly badly organised, especially after we had successfully organised world cup matches in cricket, rugby and soccer.

We did have a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in church on Sunday, and that was much better too

Al-Jazeera TV news network

My wife was feeling ill and stayed home from work today. She was channel hopping on the TV, and came across the Al Jazeera TV news network, and was quite impressed, and called me to have a look.

I don’t watch much TV, but the programme I saw was quite impressively presented. It was about Russian journalists by didn’t follow the Putin line on Chechnya being assassinated. And I found it interesting that in showing the funeral of one of them, the camera lingered on the priest, and on the cross on a nearby grave. It impressed me, because Western secular journalism tends to ignore such religious symbolism, unless, of course, it is the domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, but for the average Westerner that is as much a symbol of communism as of Christianity.

In establishing shots, too, they showed street scenes as seen by the average Russian, with trams and trolleybuses, rather than shots of the Kremlin.

It may be misleading, of course, that was just one programme, but I found the different approach was quite striking. I think I’ll be watching it some more.

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