Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere

October 2004

Censorship22:38, October 31, 2004

I’m sure everybody’s heard about the seizure of Indymedia server equipment my now, and EFF offer a superb collection of material relating to the case. It seem to me that the law-makers still have a long way to go before an internet site is regarded with the same respect as a real-world newspaper would be, in the eyes of the law.

“Silencing Indymedia with a secret order is no different than censoring any other news website, whether it’s USA Today or your local paper,” said Kevin Bankston, EFF attorney and Equal Justice Works/Bruce J. Ennis Fellow. “If the government is allowed to ignore the Constitution in this case, then every news publisher should be wondering, ‘Will I be silenced next?'”

Censorship22:32, October 29, 2004

In a lecture hosted by JMK/Stockholm University, Gideon Meir the Deputy Director of Public Relations at the Israeli Department for Foreign Affairs, tried to provide the listeners with an another version of recent events in Israel. But, the view was a one-handed one, and instead of adding nuance to the conflict, a yet more contrasted picture emerged.

It’s not often that one sees bodyguards in Sweden. Not if you’re a student, mostly diving your time between seminars, secluded libraries and busy pubs with cheap beer. Hey, we’re all friends, right? Wednesday morning was another story: men dressed in black scrutinized me as I entered my oh-so-familiar lecture hall. At the podium was Gideon Meir, and on the first row Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Eviatar Manor, and a few aids. All dressed in powersuites. All looking very out of place among the students and professors present.

The title of the seminar was The Media as a Third Party to the Conflict, and the moderator from JMK introduced the speaker. Mr. Meir started the lecture by explaining that what we were about to hear was a 40-minutes version of a 1 1/2 hour lecture, and fired up PowerPoint. As if to show how pressed for time we were, he skipped a handful of slides.

He started with saying that he thought Sweden was one of the most Palestine-biased countries in the world, when it came to the media. Not without indignation in his voice he added that during his Stockholm visit, it appeared no journalists were even interested in talking to him. He’d only done one interview; for the Swedish public service radio channel SR/P1. This, he thought, was because Swedes have already made up their minds and was not open for the other side.

Mr. Meir admitted that not letting the media into Jenin was indeed a mistake that was not to be repeated, since it was the root of all the “myths and misconceptions” about what actually took place. However, it was in the journalists’ interest to keep out of Jenin, he argued, since it was extremely dangerous to roam around in a war zone. So, it was out of Israeli consideration for the journalists that they were banned. At least, he said, there should have been embedded reporters – something he clearly was positive to since out of experience, he knew that embedding gave more favorable and positive articles. At the same time he admitted that embedded journalists were not good for public discourse and for producing fair news. I was quite interesting, I thought, to hear a senior official admit to this reason for embedding.

The Israeli position on democratic openness is a guarantee for good reporting, Mr. Meir maintained, and said that the practice of censorship is very limited, and applied only to issues of national security etcetera. 99% of Israel is completely transparent for journalists, he said. Why, he asked, do the conflict attract so much interest compared to other wars or international issues? He stressed that Israel is a big country, and that very little is shown from the other, calmer parts of Israel. His PR-department, he say, receive around $8.5 million a year in funding, and such a tight budget does not allow him to focus on such things.

He continued by showing how media portrayed the conflict throughout the world (interestingly enough he skipped most of the Swedish examples one could see when looking at the distributed seminar notes, I wonder why…). From an academic standpoint his methods of picture analysis was hardly great, however in all fairness this could also depend on cultural context; the decoding of signs, signifiers and myths are not an exact science. More disturbingly, I found that few of the (arbitrary) examples he’d included were such that they could not be verified independently and/or systematically. Also his way of presenting “evidence” that Sharon was portrayed like Il Duce by European media for example was less than satisfying – given enough time I bet you I could find a picture of the Dalai Lama looking pissed off, without that really proving a thing per se.

It’s quite obvious from looking at the state of the region, that both sides use the media for its purposes – some with more success than others – but I really had no idea that the versions were so far apart. Personally, I have to say that I’m very much sceptic to a lot of what he said, partly because of the lacking methodology in his research, but also because I obviously do not share the same basic contexts. I can for example, at least on some level, see suicide bombers as victims – murderers yes, criminals yes – but also victims of an increasingly desperate society. This cultural divide between myself and Mr. Meir makes it near impossible for the two of us to agree on issues of cause and consequence.

So, after the quite heated debate, where the occasional professor did a bad job of hiding his contempt against the Israeli policies, I was indeed somewhat disappointed. Sure, it was interesting to hear the official Israeli version of certain events, and I’m sure that some of them are true, but it did not cast any light on the more delicate questions.

I could not help to feel the bodyguards eyeballing me on my way out, and I imagined what information was being fed to them through the not-so-discrete earpiece they were wearing.

Digital Culture22:29, October 29, 2004

Click for larger image...It’s not often that creators of software get into politics. But, in the case of DC++, a popular P2P file sharing program, this has indeed happened. At startup the program contact the creators server to look for updates, but what it displays is a message about the lock-out fom George W Bush’s website. This is not a first for DC++ however – an entire version of the program was called The Peace Version, in the weeks leading up to the Second Gulf War.

Digital Culture22:26, October 28, 2004

From Wired News: “President Bush’s official campaign website has blocked access to foreign surfers since Monday, an internet monitoring company said Wednesday.

Netcraft, based in Bath in western England, said the site ‘appears to be rejecting visitors from most points outside the United States, while allowing access from U.S. locations.’ ”

I wonder if there’s a technical reason for this (unlikely) or if excluding foreigners to read about the most powerful man on earth, was an actual decision from the campaign staff. I’m worried though, that this might backfire among those who are already suspicious about the policies practiced by the United States. Time will tell.

Wired News: Foreigners Blocked From Bush Site

Free Speech22:24, October 27, 2004

Election night in the US is just a few days away and the Americans will cast their votes and decide who will be given four years of being the most powerful man on the planet. Ever been curious how the outcome would be if the entire world were allowed to vote? Participate on The World Speaks where everyone has a say. Someone commented: It’s a great idea; let’s help the americans figure out who their next president should be – God knows America often “help” in presidental elections in other countries.

Election 2004: “The World Speaks”

Digital Culture and Free Speech22:22, October 26, 2004

The Internet was created to be a synchronous medium, just like Sturken and Cartwright point out. What that means in practice, is that whoever can receive also can transmit, unlike for example television. In effect – anybody with an Internet connection can become a reporter and publish news and articles without the hassle of printing and distributing atoms, or investing hugely in the infrastructure needed to broadcast television.

What’s in a Name
In Sweden, which will serve as my example here, the market for Internet broadband is moving away from empowering the users with the possibility to broadcast. There are two primary ways of getting broadband access today; first, through optical fiber which is a quite expensive solution since quite extensive modifications to the infrastructure is needed, both the building and the apartments; secondly, broadband access can be provided through the ordinary phone lines. The latter is by far the more common method, and most often utilize ADSL-technology to achieve its goal.

The design flaw, and the inconsistency to Sturken’s a Cartwright’s ideal, is actually right there in the name: ADSL is an acronym for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line. What this mean is that the rate of which users can receive data is much higher than the rate they can send at. The ratio between the two can be as high as 30/1 (28 mbps downstream and 0,8 mbps upstream). However, there are alternative technologies (such as VDSL) that enable true synchronous transfers, but none of the Swedish Internet provides are offering such a service to the market, and those who did are gradually replacing the technology. This is, the providers’ claim, because that too few customers requested the feature.

Without being overly conspiratory, I would like to raise the question whether is possible that there is indeed a strategy behind these choices of technology. The phone companies have since a few years stopped being just providers of an information service, to actually wanting to provide and sell content for the networks. Is it really in their best interest as content merchants, to enable others to easily distribute content on the net?

The Swedish market does not (yet) show the same degree of synergetic mergers of companies as in the US, so lets consider the American example for a while (2001:317). Road Runner, one of the world’s biggest broadband providers is owned by the Time Warner Inc., who in turn own dozens of newspaper, radio stations and movie studios.

In the rapidly changing landscape of digitalization, and as more and more services anticipated to be provided through the broadband connection; fixed line telephony, radio, television, pay-per-view movies and music to name but a few, the apparent risk is that the consumers will, one again, be turn in to passive receivers of information without possibility of a feedback-channel. The effects of increased democratization would evaporate in thin air.

» Sturken M. & Cartwright L. (2001) Practices of Looking – An Introduction to Visual Cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Uncategorized22:21, October 26, 2004

The turbulent situation in the Middle East is reflected in many different ways in the various media in the area. In most countries rigid censorship reigns. In other more liberal areas efforts to report objectively what is happening are increasingly undermined by the political objectives of the different sides of the conflict.

Those of you who happen to be in Stockholm the 27th of October 2004, should visit JMK for an open lecture by Gedeon Meir entitled The Middle East Conflict and the Media. Gideon Meir is the Deputy Director General for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem.

Date: 27th October 2004, between 1015-1200 CET
Place: JMK-salen, JMK, Karlavagen 104, Stockholm

Censorship22:19, October 25, 2004

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily show, was invited to CNN’s Crossfire and accepted. Now, Jon had been bashing Crossfire on his show, and must have figured it to be hypocritical to make a good face on live television. The result? Well at first, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson are amused, but minutes later it becomes quite clear that this comedian is not joking around. Serious fun at its best.

Download (35 Mb, WMV-clip)
Watch on iFilm

Digital Culture22:12, October 24, 2004

The last decade has brought substantial change in the way newspapers are doing business. Barnhurst and Nerone (2001:283) cite the American journalist Jon Katz who in 1994, made the (now infamous) prediction that newspapers would be dead within ten years. Considering that ten years have passed, and many of us are still in fact starting the day with a cup of coffee and a copy of the local newspaper, one could say that Katz was wrong. Barnhurst et al seem to imply just that. However, let’s look at a couple of examples of what these ten years has brought us, and let us then again consider Katz’s prediction.