Last night the Frontline Club hosted a talk on “Blogging and the Citizen Journalist” which provoked some impassioned debate.
The line up of speakers seemed premeditated to fuel a healthy discussion. Monitored by John Owen from NewsXchange, the panel included participants in blogging from the full spectrum of journalism today. Owen began by summarising a brief history of blogging and highlighting some of the influence that it has had on world events. Sites included were Wonkette, which had a large following during the American elections (and which seems to be doing quite nicely out of advertising revenue as a result – does this now make it part of the mainstream?) and Rocketboom, a videolog run out of New York that spoofs broadcasting news.
Elizabeth Lee, co-founder of iTalkNews, spoke about her new “citizen journalism site” run out of San Francisco. The premise is that anyone can send in a blog. The articles are then edited by a professional team of journalists and members get to vote on which pieces should be elevated to the front page. Closely modelled on the South Korean phenomenon OhMyNews, the site advocates creating a community of citizen journalists who can break down traditional forms of media prevalent in the world.
Kyle MacRae from Scoopt introduced the concept of ‘citizen photojournalists’, describing his agency which sells images taken by the public to the mainstream press. He was patently unapologetic about his commercial aspirations. Unlike flikr, this is not an idealistic concept but rather one rooted in capitalism. It also opens up a moral minefield : does it encourage ‘citizens’ to re-enter disaster scenes to get their scoop? Is it promoting a world where everyone is a paparazzo? (MacRae denied this accusation but suggested that if you did happen to see Jude Law walking down the street then please snap him on your camera phone and send it in. You could supplement your income nicely).
Neil McIntosh from the Guardian spoke about how his newspaper has been using the medium of blogging as a different form of representing their news and views. Not much else really.
Finally we had Simon Bucks, the Associate Editor of Sky News, defending established journalism practices. His first analogy -would you rather have brain surgery performed on you by a professional brain surgeon or a citizen?- fell flat on its face (isn’t everyone distrustful of doctors?). It was later riposted smartly when he was asked if he would rather have sex with a professional or a citizen.He didn't have an answer to that.
The talk didn’t really provide any answers to the questions it set out to explore (What does citizen journalism mean for mainstream media? Can it be considered a valid form of journalism?). However it did introduce an array of innovations out on the web.
Perhaps the roles played by the four speakers best reflected the four directions in which blogging and citizen journalism can go: one idealistic, one commercial, one wants to assimilate it into its system while retaining the status quo, and one wants to deny its relevance. It’s a new world and the possibilities are endless.
Whatever the Labour Party conference can do the Frontline Club can match. While Tony Blair’s heavies forcibly ejected Walter Wolfgang from the building, the Frontline Club was less heavy-handed with its heckler. It seems to be the season for heckling. Perhaps it’s a barometer of the import the subject being discussed. Look out for a more vitriolic report on the discussion here over the next few days. I believe our friend was there arguing with Simon Bucks from Sky long after everyone else had left.
Who governs the net?
Hold the frontpage - the US and the EU can't agree who should run the Internet. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Bill Thompson's book (or should that be a module out of his database?) and let the people do it. Whatever happens, it willl make November's WSIS conference all the more crucial. As both Bill and Andrew Chadwick note, these divisions have been rumbling along in the background for some time.
Email software goes fut
Just to let our email subscribers know, we're having technical trouble with our email sending software this week, and we haven't been able to send yesterday's email. In the meantime, if you're missing your biweekly contact with us, you can view the email here.
The software should be back in business soon. But now's as good a time as any to subscribe to our RSS feed - which brings daily updates from openDemocracy straight to your desktop. You can find out more here.
Storming the court - a human rights legal thriller
by Carolyn Tan
This afternoon, I attended an event where Brandt Goldstein talked about his new book Storming the Court: How a Band of Yale Law Students Sued the President and Won. An animated and engaging speaker, Brandt started by giving an outline of (in his own words) the ‘human rights legal thriller’ that took him five and a half years of researching and writing to complete. Brandt's book tells the story of 300 Haitian political refugees who had been granted passage into the US but had tested HIV positive and hence were being held in Guantanamo, which according to the American constitution is a land without law and where they had no rights at all. Ironic, considering that we are talking about 300 democracy activists who were attempting to flee to America, the land of democracy. A group of Yale law students took up the refugees' cause and fought for their right to legal representation as well as release.
This story is still very relevant today, especially with the attention that Guantanamo is getting in the media. A member of the audience brought up the issue that there is no accountability on Guantanamo today and what damage does that do to the values of the US ranging from the rule of law to individual freedom? The US has sacrificed its moral leadership, but is Senator McCain’s effort to make sure that there is no inhuman treatment in Guantanamo going to help rectify the situation?
Like the Haitian refugee case 12 years ago, action is being carried out right now to protect the human rights of the detainees. Even if this action does succeed, we still have to ask ourselves if big-level activism is ever going to create a permanent change in American society on the national stage? After all, it looks as if the same human rights violations that the Haitian refugees experienced 12 years ago have once again repeated themselves.
World Social Forum x 3
It's hello-time for the 6th World Social Forum. It's being held in three different cities this time, January 2006. Pick a location near you: Caracas (Venezuela), Karachi (Pakistan) and Bamako (Mali). They're calling it a "polycentric" forum, an adjective so fair it probably took an entire committee to agree on. My guess is most of the action will be in Venezuela.
If you'd like to organise and register activities at the Forum, alone or with other organisations, you've got a few weeks to do it on the different Forum websites.
I'm hoping to go to Caracas so I might say hello to my pal Chavez again. He was the star speaker of the last WSF in Porto Alegre, and no doubt he will be the star at the next. He wouldn't have it any other way. Would anyone like to bet on Castro making a surprise appearance?
How will the global left respond to being personal guests of the rebellious Chavez government? How will it influence the process and the outcomes? This is going to be very interesting to follow.
On Saturday I was one of the estimated 100,000 people (or 20 million people if you beleive one protestor to whom I spoke) that converged on Washington, to protest against the war on Iraq. Though this particular person was probably unduly optimistic, the event had a vigor and optimism that has been all-too-rarely observed in the US antiwar movement.
I've been to a few vigils in my time as a young, conscientous person, and what's always striking, is the disparity of people choosing to protest. Saturday's protest outscored even the anti-foxhunting protest I attended in London last year. Pacifists rubbed shoulders with humanitarian interventionalists, Democrats with Republicans. I spoke with Vietnam veterans, and relics from the 1960s hippie era. Together, these mass of people somehow congealed into a group with direction; the direction was the White House, the pace a slow trudge.
Brad, a lifelong Republican from Iowa, confessed himself (perhaps unwisely in the circumstances) overall a fan of Bush, with Iraq the sole blot on his copy-book. But a big blot? "Sure - it's getting to the stage where I might consider revising my opinions of the guy in general. But you know, I'm really here for my wife, and out of interest, and because this is the first time in a while that there's been any movement to speak of - I think people have generally felt pretty detached from politics."
The obligatory banners and fancy-dress costumes pervade the march. To my left, a woman dressed in a full hijab carries a banner reading "US soldiers died, so that I could dress freely." The exact political implication of this was unclear to me. Around us, a bizarrely Bibilical (and not-quite-rhyming) chant goes up: "Matthew, John, Luke Mark / Were no friends of pre-emptive strike." The religious reference seems to upset more than a few: "Don't take the Gospels in vain", shouts one buff voice.
I manage to miss Joan Baez' performance by Washington Mounument, but am installed at the front row (or "mosh pit", as one young protestor remarks) for the appearance of Cindy Sheehan. Having interviewed Sheehan earlier in the week, it is a surprise to see her in the flesh, quite at odds with the somewhat hesitant voice that had reached me from Los Angeles. By far the biggest roar of the day greets her appearence. For a brief moment, the invariable distractions of an event like this are cast aside, as the crowd en masse, and almost in time, chant simply "Bring Them Back."
I glance over to my right, and Brad is chanting along. If only Drudge could see.
Following Sheehan's declamations, a certain amount of disorder prevails. A surge of seperate protestors, who have been assembled across the city outside the offices of the IMF, reaches us, and for a moment no-one is quite sure where, and what, to protest. But in keeping with the day as a whole, there is no discernable hint of violence. I am surprised, therefore, when the shout goes around that Cindy Sheehan has been arrested. But why? The reasons given are multiple: she spat on a policeman, she "loitered with intent" on a pavement.
Bizarrely, this latter explanation proves mst accurate, as Sheehan was - I later learn - staging an illegal sit-down, in an area where protestors must, under pain of legal recrimination, keep moving. I strain my neck, and can jst about make out what seems like the gentlest arrest ever - Sheehan being escorted by three burly officers with a gentle arm on her back, until she starts to do a little bit of passive resistance. But the whole event has a strangely playful air, evidenced by the protestors posing beside policemen to have their photographs taken.
So, what to conclude? Certainly, I'd take playful over violent, any day: the protestors managed not to obscure their cause by a cheap smashing of Starbucks. The importance of the event lies in its proof that the antiwar faciton can become more than a faction, and truly mobilise when necessary. What needs to now happen is a broad coalition of responsible individuals, such as were in evidence in Washington - actually exerting a political consensus in the weeks to follow. In the wake of Katrina, and with the nomination hearings of Judge Roberts, this is the most openly contentious period of American political discourse for a number of years. From the overall state of exasperated indifference I perceived toward party politics in general, this dialogue needs to occur outside of the standardised lines of Democrats and Republicans. It is for the peole to phrase their ideals, and only then to hope that a party reflects them.
Bombs don't kill people
oD friend, Hossein Derakhshan says in today's Guardian (UK), that the world should worry more about whether Iran has a democratic government than whether it has nuclear weapons.
"Beware the bomber, not the bomb," goes the headline - reminds me of the old mantra of the US National Rifle Association, "Guns don't kill people, people do". I suppose a country has the right to defend itself, but don't tell me nuclear bombs don't kill people. Hossein's argument is more thoughtful than that, take a look.
Marching for justice: a photo diary of 24 September 2005
24 September 2005 was a sunny day – like most have been as we’ve marched on London. It was probably my sixth or seventh Stop the War demonstration.
So why are we still here?
To me today felt immensely important, and quite different from others, as this was our first demonstration since those bombings shook our great city. Not that buildings had fallen, but us, we all felt it. I’m not sure how many felt the intense anger I did; that this had happened after we campaigned so hard to stop the war. It had been ordinary people, on their way to work, as is usually the case, who reaped the consequences.
We marched for Peace and Liberty. Peace, in terms of the occupation of Iraq, and the right to self-determination for oppressed peoples, and also for us, that we may have peace at home, and not suffer attacks as a result of our government’s foreign policy. Liberty, in terms of the anti-terror laws, that have been used to restrict protest, and imprison people without trial in Britain’s Guantanamo, Bellmarsh. New proposals, for further anti-terror laws, on indirect incitement (a subjective concept at best), and for the proscribing of some Muslim groups, are of additional concern.
The journey up was rather confused. My friend and I were running rather late. On the Victoria Line tube we bundled out at Warren Street as we were informed the next stop, Victoria, had been closed for a ‘security alert’. How convenient – ‘they’ were probably doing it on purpose, we half joked to one another.
We took the Northern line to Charing Cross instead, and walked past Trafalgar Square to Whitehall. Here we caught the front of the march on its way towards us.
“Peace and Liberty” donned the railings, and we had arrived.
It seemed the natural thing once we had caught up with friends to stop for a quick drink in the pub. It had been a long journey, and it was a hot day, after all. We sat there self-satisfied that streams of people were filing past outside. What wonderful streams of people they were, those concerned and dedicated enough to come out today and add their weight to our common cause.
We were deep in conversation when all heads in the public house turned to the open door. A passing protestor was tunefully belting out a rather loud rendition of the classic chant ‘power to the people’. As our heads turned back I felt that rather surreal feeling I only get on the day of demonstrations. We are all out here, so passionate, so committed, so desperate to reign in the drastic attacks on our civil liberties, and there are people in the pub who have just popped out for an afternoon drink.
It’s not that this drastically offends me, rather that it emphasises what seem to be our parallel lives. Our parallel lives that occupy the same city, the same country, the same world. Our gang, that pounded the streets building the biggest demonstration in British history not on 15 February 2003, and their gang, the bystanders. I voiced this sentiment to the table at which I sat. A friend remarked that you couldn’t generalise, that a lot of these people probably agree with us, are glad at what we are doing. But still, I mused to myself, we are in another sphere. I feel almost, when I’m in the ‘sphere’ of the protest, that any sphere outside is quite perverse, and that we seem perverse to them also. As do the police officers. I always wonder what they are thinking as we strut past.
We stepped back out into the air as the tail of the march went past Trafalgar Square. An ultra-efficient clean-up operation was immediately kicking in. It seemed as though they sought to immediately remove all trace of our dissent. The machines whirred and police walked past them in the opposite direction, as if checking that not a single leaflet with a single idea could leave the ranks of the demonstrators, and somehow make its way to the gaze of an unsuspecting tourist.
The clean-up was so quick to come into force that straggling demonstrators like ourselves had to weave in and out of the cleaning vehicles to join the back of the march.
We caught back up and passed one of the famous glittering neon trademarks of London.
We were on a mission by that time to get to Hyde Park without missing the speeches. But we were sidetracked again first by stumbling upon old friends, and then by a rather interesting array of artwork attached to the fence.
As we finally re-joined the march I heard someone looking wistfully back at the path down which we had just walked. Half had been cordoned off for the demonstration. It was full on the ‘big day’, he said. I had never heard 15 February 2003 referred to in that way, almost like a wedding. But I knew instinctively what he was talking about. If there was to be a wedding, or big day, for British protest, it had to be that. Now we forever walked in the shadow of 15 February. It both drove us on and mocked us from every corner. It had placed a seed of hope in our hearts that will perhaps never be equalled. On that day, on the way to London, it seemed every train, every route, was people on their way. Everyone was with us. We have had to set out every time after that knowing it would never be like that again. Yet we know from it we are part of a great movement, and that it is up to us to sustain the momentum, and not fall away in its wake.
Hyde Park was pretty busy when we got there. But there wasn’t the usual conversation about numbers. It didn’t seem to matter anymore. After ‘the big day’ playing the numbers game was pretty futile anyway. No amount of creative multiplication could place anything since in the same league. We also knew that our efforts were likely to be largely ignored by the media, and that we were here for us. For peace, for liberty, for justice, but also for us. Today as much as it was about learning and protesting, we were here for each other on the movement.
Most people obediently assisted with the theme of immediate clean-up and followed the shouted command to ‘leave your placards here before you enter the park’. How very civilised.
I laughed at one that had been left all alone for those passing to read.
I saw a rare Union Jack and snapped the poignant illustration of the price paid by British soldiers for this war.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir had many activists handing out leaflets. This was clearly a political organisation afraid for its survival, and one with plenty of able-bodied men prepared to work to prevent its demise.
I got near the stage in time to hear Anthony Walker’s uncle Shyla, make a speech and sing a song. Today the speakers and the crowd quite easily illustrated the links between the racist murder in Liverpool, to the failures in New Orleans, to the occupation of Iraq, to the desperate poverty in the global south to the London bombings.
Many speakers referred to the multiracial nature of the crowd. Some referred to Trevor Phillips assertion about Britain, and its divisions, and invited the establishment to take a look at the faces of us, the crowd as we assembled. And we were of all backgrounds and all faiths, and many of none. I believe that in our many colours, we looked quite beautiful.
Tariq Ali spoke with passion and conviction. And he finished by answering the question as to what we achieve by all this. I feel this is something we know in our hearts but often find difficult to articulate to the cynical. He said something along the lines of ‘we were here to fill a public space’, and I recall from memory here, ‘with the speech and the ideas of the majority of people in this country’. It mattered that someone said that.
Tom Hayden the veteran US peace activist made a compelling plea for a special relationship. The crowd roared with delight. A special relationship, he said, not between our leaders, but between the people of the US and Britain, in opposing this injustice. His case for convoluting the malevolent alliance of our governments on the ground got particular applause. We all cast our mind to our allies in Washington, who would be beginning their march in a couple of hours.
I caught site of a woman in Muslim dress crying at one point. I wonder if she was overcome with the emotion of the event, after how difficult things have become after the London attacks. I’ll never know. I was torn between feeling glad she would be so moved by our common movement, and sadness that this chain of events, of which the London bombings are a part, have impacted so deeply on the lives of ordinary people, who have no control over them whatsoever.
The most saddening speech was that of the young Iraqi doctor who told us with passion the problems faced by medics in Iraq with poor resources. He spoke also of the impossibility of reaching patients caught up in restricted areas. One celebrity speaker, Brian Eno, was the only I heard mention a slight dilemma, he suggested UN, and Arab troops, should enter Iraq instead. I didn’t hear any heckling, I think people saw it as a legitimate point to raise, and even counter, as a later speaker did (all foreign troops out), but one which was made from the perspective of someone who genuinely cared about the complete chaos Iraq has been made. Nonetheless all protestors and speakers agreed that coalition forces were the cause of, not a solution, to the problems in Iraq.
Summarising the Summit
David Mepham does an excellent job summarising the outcomes of the Summit. Important progress was made on genocide (how to fight it), peace, human rights and democracy. Those are all things we care a lot about at openDemocracy. As for the lackluster bits of the Summit, I think we've covered those already. Even Kofi Annan had a hard time keeping up appearances at this meeting. Some people would think it an opportune moment to poke fun, like George Bush who passed Annan in the hallway right before the summit ended and asked: "Has the place blown up since he's been here?". Very funny, Mr. President. No, it hasn't blown up.
President Bush pledges to fight corruption
The good news is that President Bush has renewed his commitment to the Millennium goals, as Johanna Mendelson-Forman writes in oD today. “We are committed to the Millennium Development Goals… To a new vision for the way we fight poverty and curb corruption” as the president told the UN World Summit last week.
Which makes me eager to hear what his plans are for dealing with what Ali Allawi, Iraq’s finance minister, described to Britain’s Independent newspaper as “possibly one of the largest thefts in history.”
He was talking about the scandal of the missing US$1billion, a sum that has vanished from Iraq’s defence budget with nothing to show for it on in the ground. Iraq’s troops are left, as Patrick Cockburn puts it, “to fight a savage insurgency with museum piece weapons.”
“The Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit says in a report to the Iraqi government that US-appointed Iraqi officials in the defence ministry allegedly presided over these dubious transactions.
So let us all get behind President Bush in his anti-corruption drive, beginning with occupied Iraq. Watch this space