Online activist media: decentralising or co opting political power, or both?
Topic: independent media
The ‘Big Media’ as this blogger in the ‘5th estate’ likes to refer to, being the old established print tv and radio establishment, is a “cartel” say the new online media experts. Of course they are right.
The corporations with their big wages have fixed power in Big Politics and Big Media in a well worn revolving door. Naysayers, contrarians and downshifters pointing out the economic growth model has whiskers, that the emperor has no clothes, need not apply. The gate keepers will spot you a hundred miles away …. protect their big fat wage… their family well being … indeed the spoils of ecological warfare at the peak of the industrial/ technological/ information revolutions, right now in 2007.
One hopes the online activist media will not travel the same path as it's power grows.
Online activism at least will ameliorate this fix on democracy surely? The new breed of inheritors of 60ies radicalism free of the madness of legal and illegal drug cultures will seek to not only tune in, but also take over our media to implement progressive idealism, surely? Well maybe. Or maybe that in fact is a naive view of human nature.
Brett Solomon founder of Get Up (pictured inset at right above) says the goal of his “movement” of some 175,000 (?) email/web subscribers is a “progressive Australia … economic fairness, environmentally sustainable”. Just call Brett a Green or ALP Left I guess and amen to that.
"But what will he and Get Up do about the ALP support for expansion of uranium mining?", asked one older cynical questioner at this forum held today
The Impacts and History of Internet Activism
Free lunchtime talk in Sydney CBD, On Wednesday 4th April from 12.30pm join Dr Matthew Arnison (www.active.org.au & www.indymedia.org co-founder) in conversation with Brett Solomon (Executive Director, www.GetUp.org.au ) & Tom Dawkins (Founder of www.vibewire.net) as they discuss the internet and its use as a tool to create a more democratic society.
From online activist planning, e-petitions and emails to MPs to citizen journalism this discussion will look at the effects of the internet on the Australian political landscape.
Brett Solomon states “New technology has given Australians a whole new way to influence the political and social landscape they operate in. Now it’s up to us all to use it to best effect.”
Dr Matthew Arnison sees online collaborations “like Wikipedia, YouTube and MySpace bubbling over with stories from the trivial to the profound. Yet Australian politics and government is still a top-down broadcast.” He asks “How do online activists affect mainstream politics?”
Tom Dawkins sees the internet as a space “with enormous democratic potential. By its very nature it’s a conversational rather than broadcast medium, and this opens up the opportunity for citizens to participate in this public space, express themselves on the issues that matter to them, tell stories and uncover issues ignored by the mainstream media, collaborate on campaigns, share information and better scrutinize political decision-makers.'
Media contact: Brett Solomon 9264 4037 or 0407 419 320 email@example.com
Tom Dawkins 0416 099 534 firstname.lastname@example.org Colleen Woods 9262 7300 or 0410 325 913 email@example.com
So getting back to the question what will Brett do about the Labor Party embrace of uranium mining at their April Conference despite the clear problems with proliferation, waste, historical accidents and no doubt others? Well Brett answered by turning the question around JFK like – what are you going to do mate? I didn’t quite see his jaw jutting out but it might have been. And the clue to the real answer is here anyway:
To give Solomon his due he is a great speaker, diplomatic and strong. No doubt idealistic. But he appears captured too – he concedes he relies on rich folks specifically people like Evan Thornley – rich entrepreneur and Upper House MP Victorian Parliament for the ALP. Also refer Evan Thornley - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
So Get Up literally today are promoting this worthy campaign and staying quite clear of nuke expansion issues so far:
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2007 10:37 AM
Subject: Don't let them stop you from voting
It beggars belief, but this federal election tens of thousands of eligible Australians will be stopped from voting. Will you be one of them?
The Federal Government has passed extraordinary legislation that will close the rolls for new voters at 8pm, on the very night the election is officially called. In the last election, 83,000 first-time voters enrolled in the first week after the election was called. Hundreds of thousands more registered at their new address. But this time they won't get that chance - unless we act urgently.
That's why whether you're enroled to vote or not, there's a crucial role for you to play right now. Click on the link below to demand this law be revoked, and help friends and family enrol correctly in the next two weeks - before new changes and extra red tape come into effect on April 16 making it even harder!
In Australia we never know what date to expect the federal election; it's up to the party in power to decide. Typically, the big announcement prompts tens of thousands of people, especially young, newly-eligible voters, to enrol that week. Hundreds of thousands more remember to register at their new address. It's been that way since Federation with no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
But this time if you're too busy or don't hear about the election in time, and you're not already correctly enrolled, you can't vote. Even if you're organised enough to get in early, new forms and ID requirements are about to come into effect on April 16 - making it that much harder for many Australians overseas or in rural areas to register. And if you've been overseas for more than 3 years and you're not on the roll, you're still not allowed to enrol from abroad.
The effect of this law - the Orwellian-inspired "Electoral Integrity Act" - is to stop people from voting. Our purpose is to fight back. We've made it easy to spread the word to ensure your friends and family are correctly enrolled before the polls slam shut: just use the note below to share this essential campaign with everyone you know, including Australians overseas!
Thanks for taking urgent action to spread the word,
The GetUp team
PS: GetUp has taken your calls for climate action directly to decision makers, at the weekend's National Climate Summit. We told leaders from politics, industry, science and the business community they have a mandate for bold action to fight global warming, and presented Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett with our Action Agenda and 75,000-strong Climate Action Map petition. For details and photos, click here.
So if Get Up arguably is packaging of existing blocks of political capital roughly of the centre left ALP/Green kind more or less but in a new form, what about the other online activist organisers?
Are they decentralising power with this thing called the net? Or are they equally politically constrained gatekeepers too?
The thesis we found most impressive was from the Vibe Wire speaker Tom Dawkins that the internet grew out of democratic pressure to side step the Big Media/Politics cartel, allowing for suppressed stories, suppressed voices, keeping stories alive that Big Media then pick up. He said it with conviction and for his youthful constituency who are always given the leftovers from older generations.
Our understanding of the internet bares this thesis out: The US military industrial complex may have invented it but the Chinese had something going 17 years ago in the non western masses to sidestep the dictatorship there. My housemate in the suburb of chilly Downer, in Canberra in 1990 the year I lived on $4,500 dollars while doing my Legal Workshop solicitor's accreditation prior to moving to Sydney later that year, surprised me with printouts of data from off the phone via his computer.
Picture: Ironically, cartoon in The Australian same day of the forum alluding to Kevin Rudd (as pictured above receiving climate change petition), planning to visit China and negotiate the way forward for that 1 billion plus population on global warming, given he is a gifted Mandarin speaker. Good politics on climate change but silence on nuclear expansion under ALP policy, including uranium exports to ...China - where its citizens were using the internet in 1990 to avoid their own govt dictatorship. It's a worry ...
WTF, I thought to myself. How can he do that? It’s not a fax. That was in the 12 months following the Tianamen Square massacre. My guess he was a democracy activist or sympathetic academic.
But when I went to the online activism forum above, 17 years later, and then went on my way I spent the next hour thinking about why everyone in the room got to ask their question except me, sitting in the back row notwithstanding. Here was a mini cartel of another kind.
The explanations are deep and not that comfortable for the organisers or for me, which is of course why they didn't take my signal, the first hand up and the last one down, the clock run down on me. These net experts like their own comfort zone, just as Big Media do, not realising dissent is the essence of the democracy they are sworn to save.
[Not vexatious dissent, but considered rational concerns, as per the question in the postscript below which was censored from the forum.]
Online activism decentralising power? I wonder. It comes down to human nature, whatever the medium. In my old fashioned book learning English Literature course in year 12 high school I studied The Leopard by Giuseppe de Lampedusa and what a revelatory story it was. In one hallowed section it refers to the introduction of the new system of Parliamentary Democracy in Italy supposedly replacing the Royal system of nobless oblige but in reality opening the door to a nouveau rich who cared even less for the humble classes. There is a deeply disturbing section where 3 votes in the village to keep the Monarchy, out of 300 for change, are fraudulently altered. The essence of democracy namely dissent is murdered, in a seemingly trivial housekeeping way for the clean unanimity desired by the agents of change. The new powermongers.
So I was intrigued why I could not get to ask my question. The facilitator looked at me again and again but no banana. You see I have history with the online activist ‘establishment’: From Mike Carlton or Pred (RIP) who invented Sydney Indy Media (SIM) and fraudulently sought to co opt my share of a commercial lease at Turrella activist centre in 2003 after I gave them free rental space, forcing me into the NSW Supreme Court to get justice. And then the expose of one Stacy Scheff on the Sydney indymedia collective who tried in that same year to kill rival old community media Sydney City Hub that employed me, and spent the next 3 years or so it seemed doing her best to censor and smear me off the Sydney web news site. The whole grim power game is discussed here: Turrella centre
The irony was that my content was keeping that website alive until I finally generated my own www.sydneyalternativemedia.com/blog outlet here in January 2007 in frustration at their latest crash. Now I notice my post of 23rd March on the old SIM is still the 5th most recent local news story after 10 days.
4 new local stories in 10 days. No wonder I felt like I was keeping the thing alive with content. By comparison the Melbourne equivalent site www.melbourne.indymedia.org is much more vigorous. Seems others got the mesage too and have been skipping SIM. At least with my own blog I know my work is appreciated: Not in 10 years roughly of contributing to Sydney IMC as a writer or otherwise can I recall any encouragement or support. Must have been a slow learner or unrealistically idealistic, but I've learned good and proper now.
So the point is even in so called decentralised open publishing there is on the one hand mindless unedited blatherings and on the other hand edgy genuinely independent yet confronting voices that get oppressed. Incompetence is far more acceptable than weighty critique of a defensive IMC reviewer.
We recall the episode of the West Wing tv series where the CJ character recalls the Heisenberg Principle whereby the act of observing changes that being observed. This is true for example the presence of a tv camera eggs on people to be melodramatic. Similarly there should be a word for powermongering inherent in the creation of a new facility for decentralised democracy. There is always a gate keeper clique effect for who is and isn’t allowed through the door at the margins: Voltaire may have said he would give his life to defend his rival's right to free speech, but it’s a very rare creator of an online facility that eschews new found status and influence not to even a few scores or seek the odd perk.
There is always a clique and always a powermongering gate keeper in any medium. It’s human nature. Even in the non profit community sector. Indeed the currency there is not money but influence and emotional violence are usually the tools of trade not profit or meritocracy. All of this came to me as I travelled home from the online activist forum like some latter day brooding Cassandra. I was grateful that one insightful chap from www.projectaustralia.org.au also noticed the apparent snub and offered me his brochure. But it would have taken way too long to explain all of this above.
These are tricks of access and patronage the old media are most expert at, and which I spend a lot of time exposing like the story about Tony Koch earlier today from The Australian smearing The Wilderness Society.
Another recent example was James Woodford in the Sydney Magazine http://thesydneymagazine.smh.com.au/ published by Fairfax 29th March 2007 and oddly related to the Koch atrocity in Big Media.
The cover itself of Peter Garrett was free big media PR for his sellout to the ALP of the environment movement opposition to uranium mining and forest destruction. The road to hell paved with good intentions. But the Woodford article is more subtle. Woodford has been blacklisted by this writer and perhaps a majority of the really independent green campaigners in NSW for a vicious piece he did against the Wilderness Society some years ago, because they upset his then government employed wife at NSW State Forests. A clear case of undeclared conflict of interest. As a result he may only be able to access those on the NSW ALP govt drip in some way.
His story at p56 about “unsung heroes” of the green movement presents people who are already in the sphere of ALP govt or so wishy washy it doesn’t matter. Take John Connor now employed by the Climate Institute with Bob Carr ex ALP Premier with a big history of woodchipping behind him as their patron and aligned to the Australia Institute on the ALP patronage drip. There is a Taronga Zoo employee, an ACF loyalist (group that produced Peter Garret as ALP Shadow minister), a govt catchment body, govt funded environment education person, a fishing industry person in favour of refuges which government supports but recreationalists don’t, and national parks advocate trained up by a govt agency. The so called ‘guardians’ are all worthies to some degree but also lap puppies.My colleague Lynda Newnam of Botany Bay & Catchment Association, covering south/western half of Sydney, umbrella to 33 community groups opposing Port Botany expansion, and I laughed scornfully at the Woodford piece at the Fair Trade café in Glebe recently. Gary Blashke OAM and Bob Walsh come to mind as unsung heroes that Woodford should have looked at but they are ‘dangerous critics’ of the NSW ALP. We were there at the cafe to admire this grand wooden table in the form of a dangerous salty.
Yep, there sure are a lot of political crocodiles out there if you want to rock and roll online. Only today our former employer Lawrence Gibbons has threatened to contact our web server (copied fyi via Sydney Indymedia organiser Cameron Gregg) presumably to shut us down. Our server is based in the USA, ironically Gibbons also hails from, where they tend to believe in free speech. I hope they continue to do so.
Postscript #1: Oh, and what was the question I wanted to ask? I dreamt of flying last night (echo of the auto belay at the climbing gym last Sunday, and very groovy) then remembered this omission from the report:
Question: Gore Vidal and Bob Carr were asked by Phillip Adams if online activism was electorally relevant. This was about 12 months ago on one of his shows. Carr was categorical that it was not, Vidal a little surprised by his friend said in the USA it definitely was. Do you think the difference in answers is merely due to time lag here, and what about the 75% of the population who may use the net but don't have tertiary education and don't even care to, and would never attend a forum like this? Was Bob Carr referring to these Daily Telegraph readers when dismissing 'the online activist classes'?
My answer: It is time lag only. Get Up etc proves Carr is wrong and why he was losing it by 2005, but equally the anti intellectual ill educated classes most likely don't use the net for politiking just as they don't listen to the abc, don't read the SMH, don't go to uni, and often hate stuck up elites even as they still rely on doctors, lawyers, computer technicians and all the other professionals as little as possible.
And experts like PM John Howard know it. Indeed the forum confirmed my answer and this blind spot of self awareness in the audience, by sharing an open joke about Miranda Devine, right wing reporter. They didn't realise as they sledged Devine that she has successfully jumped from the Daily Terror to colonise a chunk of their preferred newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald just as Howard has partially colonised the working classes. So Evan Thornley MP (ALP), if ever you read this, have a good think about that electoral/technolgoical dynamic, (and thanks for the presentation by your 'gopher' Brett).
Posted by editor
at 8:08 PM NZT
Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007 3:10 PM NZT