Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere

November 2004

Digital Culture14:46, November 25, 2004

In an article a month or so ago, I discussed Jon Katz’s prediction that the web would kill print newspapers. I argued that news has been turned into a commodity that people consume in quite a different way than they did just 10 years ago, and that while it has not yet obliterated the newspaper, it has certainly changed they way they’re doing business. (And the newspapers who have not yet changed their model, are up for a big surprise…)

Now, Wired is at it again – and they seem, I’m glad to say, share quite a few of my views. In yesterdays article Newspapers Should Really Worry, reporter Adam L. Penenberg, reports that newspapers, according to one study done by The Washington Post, are having difficulty appealing to the very vital demographic group of 18- to 34-year-olds, and they believe this has got to do with a change in reader habits. In the article, Wired talks to a few people to try to pinpoint the problem:

[John Athayde, a web designer] views news as “packets of distributed information,” and uses NetNewsWire to aggregate about 70 news sources, including several blogs. “I typically will read entire stories within the news aggregator, bypassing all design (and) advertising” to get “to the content”, [he says].

Although their interviewees may not be representative of the broader spectrum of news consumers or newspaper readers in any part of the world, the views are still of uttermost importance. I remember a time when the music industry didn’t think in a hundred years that mp3-downloading could seriously threaten their business model.

The question is also; how long can online news-outlets provide news for free? Considering their explanation on the growing number of online newspapers that offer RSS-syndication to please users who are tired of intrusive advertising “chimneys”, the papers only source of revenue is also dropping. Advertising in RSS feeds might be controversial right now, but its probably inevitable that users will have to get used to it (and/or invent the feed version of a popup blocker to avoid it from littering their newsreader).

Wired: Newspapers Sould Really Worry

Internet Governance00:05, November 23, 2004

Today, the 23rd of November, the battle for control over the internet moves to Geneva, when the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) starts.

The problem goes a little something like this; unlike the international telephone system that is co-ordinated by a UN agency (ITU), the internet equivalent to a phonebook – the DNS-system – is controlled through an American organization, ultimately reporting to the American Commerce Department. This worries a few countries, since it puts the control over national top-level domains (e.g. .se, .fr etc.), essentially in the hands of American interests over which there is little control from an international perspective. The organization, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is set to become independent in 2006, but the control will still be out of reach from international entities like the United Nations.

China, and most poor countries oppose the system as it is now and wants UN involvement – and recently European countries are willing to accept such an arrangement, even though they originally supported the ICANN set up.

However, as The Economist adequately points out (“premium” content, Economist subscribers only, sorry), one should no forget that much of the rapid spread of internet technology probably has got a lot to do with it being controlled by private interests, and that the bureaucracy of UN might cripple that in the future.

Personally, I think ICANN (even though its better than what was before), can be seen as American unilateralism and that the world in general could benefit from greater UN control. For example, there’s an enormous amount of money to be made from domain registrations, and the creation of new TLDs – and who can really decide if or when .sex or .whatever is needed and what rules should regulate such domains? I don’t know, but I imagine that it ought not be decided by monetary interests first. However, giving added control to individual countries – over their country domain, for example might also mean increased risk for them using it to add filters, blocking content or banning internet phone calls. Keep in mind that some of the countries in the UN Working Group, such as China, Iran and Cuba has a less-than-excellent reputation when it comes to encouraging free speech online.

WGIG will present its results on the UN World Summit on the Information Society, in Tunisia, November 2005. I’ll keep you updated.

Iran16:37, November 22, 2004

Sometimes the Swedish system surprises even the Swedes. Most often it’s negative, as the horribly long queues for getting that life-saving operation, but once in a while it’s something positive that takes you by surprise. Something trivial, yet refreshing. This is a story about such an occurrence.

Yesterday was a beautiful winters day in Stockholm. Clear skies, a few degrees minus (yes, Celsius, that is) and a few decimetres of snow can make even me leave my desk for a Sunday in the open fresh air.

So, I went to visit my brother who has a seemingly endless supply of energy, and who had prior to my arrival made lobster soup, hot chocolate and waffles ready for us to bring on our winter picnic. He’s also got, more importantly for this story, a two-year-old daughter, Tyra, and the mission of the day was to go out to small hill nearby (that’s got to be like the alps for someone who’s hardly more than three-apples-tall), in order to try out her new sledge, bought the day before and never yet used.

As we dragged her new, red sledge up and down the hill (trying desperately not to get run-over by the hoards of ten-year old hooligans in overalls), we noticed an abundance of sledges lying around the foot of the hill. It turned out that they were owned by the municipal kindergarten nearby, and that anyone could lend them for a ride downhill.

As strange as that is, what’s even more strange is that I, being a Swede and nurtured with this behaviour since I was a toddler, never really reflected on how extraordinary it really is to allow this. It was not until I got home I realized that somebody’s got to be there to take the sledges out in the morning, and to take them on the evening – and that the government pays that person to do it. And there I am – taking it for granted. And so did the kids I’m sure. Especially those who don’t have a sledge of their own, I suspect.

Well, here I am now, telling you that though I may have opinions on how this country is run from time to time, yesterday the welfare state helped to make my afternoon a pretty wonderful one. Thank you.

Digital Culture16:05, November 20, 2004

In their book De-westernizing Media Studies, James Curran and Myung-Jin Park, have invited a number of media critics from around the world to comment on recent media developments in different countries and regions. The book is indeed an interesting read for anyone who’s interested in the relationship between mass media and society in a globalized world.

This book is part of a growing reaction against the self-absorbtion and parochialism of much Western media theory. […] Whether it be middle-range generalization about, for example, the influence of news sources on reporting […], the same few countries keep recurring as if they are a stand-in for the rest of the world.

I’ve looked at a few chapters dealing with the situation in the Middle East, Egypt and – for comparison – Sweden. A special emphasis is put on developments in satellite-distributed television, and how that technology changed the possibilities for regional governments to maintain control over its citizens’ consumption of media. Why is it that we in the western world tend to dismiss Middle East media, and claim moral superiority of our own?

ICT4D20:58, November 19, 2004

UNESCO is currently working on the Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions, a document originally designed to let individual countries decide on measures to – in a world where media conglomerates expand globally – make certain culture is not reduced to a commodity.

However, due to recent changes to the Convention suggested by “certain countries”, Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) released some opinions of the draft. For example, that the Convention must not be made subordinate to existing or future trade agreements and that it must balance any references to the protection of intellectual property rights with reference to protection of the cultural commons.

CRIS’s suggested changes to the Convention

Free Speech and ICT4D23:57, November 15, 2004

Internews, an international non-profit organization that supports open media worldwide, just released their 2004 Annual Report. Quite an interesting read for anyone interested in efforts to increase participation and enable a public sphere in developing countries.

Considering the recent Afghan election, I think Internews activities in Afghanistan is worthy of special a special mention. Working primarily with the medium of radio (due to a very low literacy rate), Internews is trying to increase political awareness among the citizens, as well as providing other programming. (One of their radio programmes for children Shahrak Atfal, became so popular that a TV-station relayed the audio feed on TV.)

Uncategorized17:12, November 6, 2004

…is according to delegates of the EU something Swedes seem to start each and every sentence with, and then completing it with a monotonous detailed description about how we Swedes supposedly solve everything the right way. Such normativity is usually something I shun. But seriously, I’ve had enough. I can take it no more! Everywhere I look there’s an article about US voting machines breaking down; whole states without paper trails to recount. It just ridiculous! So, I’m going to say it. Hold tight.

In Sweden, we have a system were none of this could happen. We have a system that’s simple, easy and really old-tech. It’s a system that cannot brake, and it leave mistakes to a minimum. You have to be blind, dumb or both to unintentionally vote for a candidate.

This is how it works: You put a piece of paper with the candidates name on it in an envelope. You then put the envelope in a ballot box. Whoa! There are even pre-printed pieces of paper with the candidates names on them.

See. That wasn’t so hard.

Easy-to-understand instructions in English (with illustrations). (PDF)

Censorship and Free Speech18:09, November 5, 2004

OpenNet Initiative provide a great starting point for anyone who’s interested in the legal implications for Internet filtering.

[…] While filtering regimes have a tremendous effect on issues such as civil liberties, international jurisdictional matters, and Internet governance, there are few established mechanisms for review and reform of Internet censorship. The paper highlights the importance of transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness in order to maintain a reliable, efficient, and global medium for communication. (PDF)

Digital Culture20:18, November 4, 2004

Ok, when I first set out to write this weblog a few weeks back, I promised myself that it would not be yet another blog about blogs. I don’t want to say anything bad about people who do so; I daily read a whole bunch of them with great interest, but I wanted my blog not to be a meta-blogblog. However, here’s another post on the subject. Sorry.

Washingon Post published quite an interesting read yesterday about how blogs “let the cat out of the bag” on election night exit polls and the implications of them doing so.

First of all: yes, I believe the blog-owners did wrong and should have known better than to relay dubious information. But that’s really not the issue.

It seems to me that the big media need to realize that blogs are soapboxes from where individuals express opinions, and they’re good at it. The big triumph of this year’s election is the increased participation and plethora of voices and opinions in the month and weeks before the election. This is, I believe, what media scholars will be analysing in a few years time. And this is what those big-media articles really should be about.

I do, however, have my doubts about weblogs as newscasters, in the sense that they report such things as exit polls. And you also seriously have to question the stability of the system if Wall Street reacted strongly to rumours circulating on the Internet, huh? I thought everybody knew that the Internet was nothing but rumours and porn? =)

Digital Culture22:41, November 1, 2004

Publicizing opinions online has become dramatically easier with the advent of weblogs, as I’m sure all j-turn readers are aware. What does this mean for a journalists in old-media? Journalists are getting more and more comments on their practices, The New York Times reports, and the comments are not always nice. But, please, you don’t think bloggers get their fair share of bashings too?

NY Times: Web Offers Hefty Voice to Critics of Mainstream Journalists

Censorship22:39, November 1, 2004

Sometimes only the threat of legal action can cause site owners and/or ISP’s to remove material from the web without much thought. The result is, according to a Dutch study, that a site can basically be “hacked” and brought to its knees with one simple email. The public sphere is in danger – again.

Article by the Free Expression Policy Project

Reasearch Paper from Dutch Multatuli Project (PDF)