Friday, November 14, 2014

Equality in education post - an exercise in persistence

In 1954 segregation became illegal in the US, although in the South, a region notorious for white supremacist racist terror and the political oppression of African Americans, the government(s) made no effort to implement the changes. The NAACP pushed for reform by nominating children to enter into segregated 'white' schools. This change arrived in 1960 after little Ruby Bridges (6) began attending an all-white school, Franz Elementary, in New Orleans. 

I did wish to host this podcast about Ruby Bridges back in July, but my system was hacked and damaged. {Excuse me for mentioning that again, but I think that it is important for the parties at fault to realize the ramifications of their actions, which affect more people than just me and them, and that it won't be forgotten, and that it may slow me down momentarily, but it certainly won't come close to stopping my writing.}

In the photo that accompanies the podcast, a young Ruby Bridges is seen being shepherded to school by US Federal Marshals.

This is only a tiny abridged version of the post that I was planning, but it's timely, with the Nobel Prize having just been awarded to another brave young girl, Malala Yousefzai.

Malala was shot on her way to school. She lived in a region of the world that is seriously threatened by radical fundamentalism. Things are still not so good for Pakistani girls who want to use & expand their God-given minds and talents & Malala now has to live in England, for her own safety.

When I look at the brave, stoic look on Malala's face, and that image of the timid and tiny Ruby Bridges on her way to school, I am reminded of two tough, clever young women I know. They, and their many courageous, strong female friends contend every day to break through the barriers of gender discrimination. Sadly, they still struggle to get treated equally in tertiary education (and in their workplaces) here, in Australia, where conditions are meant to be fair, but still aren't and have a very long, long way to go.

To all the women and girls who read this post today who battle for their right to speak and be heard, and to enjoy the same opportunities that are available to men, perhaps the story of Ruby Bridges may offer some hope of social justice and societal reform. The hurdles that we overcome today are for the benefit not merely of ourselves & our own quality of life, but for our children and our children's children. That's a pretty motivating factor. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Please help Julieka Dhu's family - sign their petition

One of the things I have been planning to post is a link to DICWC(WA)'s campaign for an independent inquiry into the death of young Julieka Dhu - there was a national protest on Thursday and there is a petition that you should all sign.

Julieka, 22, was imprisoned for unpaid traffic fines but living in the remote North West of Western Australia getting around is almost impossible without a car, and public access to vehicle licensing centres to pay fines and manage your licence and rego, does not parallel the police's access to drivers, which is both mobile and 24/7.

Subsequently infringements are common. Jail for fines is quite common too, and more so, if a person is Indigenous. It's a problem that numerous governments have known about but have done nothing to fix. Please lend your support to end this madness.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Subscribe by email

There are a few of you who drop by this page regularly to check for updates. I know they've been sorely lacking over the last few months - I had some technical difficulties... :{{

However, if you want to keep up to date without the hassle of visiting just sign up for email notifications (in the right hand side bar) and then new posts will be delivered into your inbox.

It's just an optional widget in my blog set up - I don't have your personal details, I have no list of who is signed up, I can only see the numbers of visitors, and roughly where your IP addresses are located in the world. Nothing private.

I do have a few other things I need to post about this week and I will try to do that this evening, before I get busy with this week's tasks.

Old school journos - lifters not leaners

Somewhere in my writer's muddle, I have a paper that examines the work of Gary Hughes and Gerald Ryle - two traditional journalists who touched on the placement of domestic spies and police into the Australian media. 

This was only a small facet of a larger investigation by the journalists of Victoria's Special Branch, whose mass surveillance practices were outlawed in the 90s. Media infiltration and corruption is a topic worthy of far greater investigation.

So, I am looking for the story and will link to it here, or host it, but in the meantime here are two fairly interesting links (see page 903) that are relevant to the traditional journalism duo's work. 

Says a lot that the mass surveillance by Vic Special Branch or the 'Operations Intelligence Unit' as they were subsequently named, was outlawed by the Victorian Supreme Court as corruption - that poor judge would have a massive coronary today, with proposed govt surveillance and that already in operation. 

During that era there were specific types of police units that were disbanded in several states due to unethical practises, and special branch type squads were typically one of these.

Of course these mass surveillance/intel-collection roles have now been outsourced, firstly to private security contractors, who are conveniently not governed by the same legislative restrictions as government agencies; and, also to foreign governments who then similarly outsource intelligence gathering to private companies. (This is how whistleblower Edward Snowden came under the media spotlight, shocked by his exposure to widespread breaches of civil liberties). see also: 

One of the biggest problems in outsourcing intelligence is the conflict of interest that intelligence gathering companies can potentially have, eg. collecting security data on the public for huge private corporations such as mining or logging companies (as exposed two years ago in Victoria by Dorling), or other businesses, banks, pharmaceuticals etc etc ad naus. But potentially, if for example Snowden can leak to the media, and private companies can on-use their data to help private companies, then really, private intel collectors and their companies could leak the public's data to anyone, any govt, or group. 

How many CCTV systems do you have in your city & who do you think manages that private info?

I know in my local area alone, CCTV companies were even using live streaming as a marketing lure for the elderly, and also domestic violence victims, to have CCTV in their very own homes - yes, I said, live streamed to intel collection staff.  

So who is watching? And, even if those recruits/employees were well screened, which I highly doubt, would you want them viewing your private life, and, in your own homes? FYI btw - domestic violence survivors usually like their space and privacy. Urgh - who thinks up these ideas! 

Could your personal moments be worth selling? On the Dark Net, deviants and desperadoes sell ratted camera footage - what would stop/stops these employees from profiting the same way? (The same technique is used for use of your computer and smartphone's microphone, incidentally. Handy safety tips - )

It's a pretty scary concept, who you are trusting your data to, especially when you consider this case in which a WA police officer who was convicted of child sex offences, had thousands of images of baby boys being abused - he was 'monitored' offending regularly for a lengthy period before his arrest. 

What about the Skype scandal, in which soldiers were caught broadcasting to their mates, a private sexual liaison. It was comforting to note Gen. Morrison's response that over 200 soldiers who had demonstrated compromised ethics in relation to female soldiers, had been given the sack. This type of breach isn't isolated and has been subject of several criminal convictions against police in the last year.

If this kind of ethical vacuum exists presently in relation to available communications and surveillance technologies, why are the authorities making things worse by pretending that they have their officers' ethics under control and rolling out these technologies' widespread use?

I am really just not that comfortable with having CCTV in my home live streamed via Blue Iris  to police and other places - who in their right mind would be, but does that lack of expedience make reasonable objections subversive? What have we "got to hide", right?? Yehk. But then consider this: your iPhone/smartphone can be used for audio, visual and location-tracking surveillance 24/7 and now, as of last week, all without a specific warrant. 

Industrial relations court transcripts show that the people handling and receiving that data are not well paid. Frontline police earn about as much as a waitress or kitchenhand and their poor pay has long been analysed as a precursor to corruption. Regularly and historically, police and their sworn representatives have been charged for selling private information and convicted of unlawful access of confidential citizens' data. Yet the head-in-the-sand approach to Australian government accountability continues unchecked, with security services arguing for and receiving greater powers over citizens everyday - without adequate safeguards for even the already existing legislated powers.

Government contracts are equally vulnerable to exploitation by higher-paying corporate interests. Intelligence these private contractors supply as part of their roles dictates the authorities' perception of individual citizens. If police were wrongly or falsely told that an individual was a threat, that could result in overly aggressive handling of a suspect and human rights violations. 

It is another glaring fault in the intelligence gathering systems - as revealed by thorough, old fashioned NatSec news reporting, that these systems could likewise be potentially exploited by foreign interests, which offer a huge, tempting, revenue carrot to very hungry economies.

##Update - this is an interesting story about the ethics of intelligence field officers - enjoy :}}

Some related links to the Ryle/Hughes investigation that exposed pervasive and indiscriminate unlawful police intelligence practices that were outlawed in the Victoria Supreme Court:

Four Corners: An Inside JobThe Age: Former commissioner defends right to infiltrate radio 3CRThe Age: In a Covert Operation, Dossiers Mounted on the Lives of Ordinary People

I'm still looking for a PDF of Tanner's 'At the Coalface' on the reporters' experiences investigating this case - email me if you have a copy

Where in the world is: Would-Be-Roger-Moore? How to spot him...

At the moment I’m re-reading Phil Rees Dining with Terrorists (2005).  
It’s a controversial book and not one you travel around with, without the obligatory, innocuous, fluffy puppy and flowery covering. Just the word terrorist is problematic for a journalist. It’s a fully loaded term – or rather, it has become a fully-loaded term by journalists who’ve become synonymous with regurgitated cheesy public sector spin.

This type of curiously weak newswriting is symptomatic of a bigger problem. There is one particular journo in the Aussie pop-media who stands out in my mind as being suspiciously cr*p – for simplicity sake let’s call him Roger Moore – because obviously that’s who he thinks he is. I gag on Roger’s writing daily, just by the way – spewtastic – he won’t win any awards from me, that’s for sure. Roger is so utterly cr*p I am beginning to think he might be the brother of the computer voice that makes me sit through 100s of button options when I call the phone company.

But, back on point, the biggest negative of Would-Be-Roger’s writing, is that it is now being used to generalize and sermonize and sully the ethics of all Australian journalists by opportunistic offenders who require actual press scrutiny. Without competent press scrutiny they will continue to exploit and recruit disadvantaged teens from minorities to act as their lowly paid flunkies, hurting themselves, their families & communities and complete strangers, all in one go.  It’s a just cause for a decent journo. NatSec doesn't solely draw show-offs and imbeciles. There are still a few good, old fashioned, traditional journos around in the mainstream media, and if you're lucky, they may be the ones who ask you for an interview. But, identifying good journos requires a little attention to detail.

So with this in mind, I am going to make a few points to hopefully guide some media consumers through the media’s maddening maze of bull$hit artists, to more wholesome journalism.

Now, Rees’ book shouldn’t be controversial. Read it yourself – it’s on Google Books for $3:50 (AUD). But journalism that challenges readers’ to think, and to question, and to develop their own opinions, based on real facts, instead of preaching to them or spinning news to suit an agenda, has become viewed as so dangerous and unpublishable that a lot of journalists/media outlets are self-censoring. Even if Australian/State propaganda is safe to publish, how does the reading public then discern it from the propaganda/spin of foreign interests? The thing that is making a lot of young people even more vulnerable to opportunistic foreign interests is that for pop-media consumers, it’s dangerously same-ish and indistinguishable – the average media consumer thinks it’s all news.

Furthermore, a fearful, nobbled, developmental media suits governments, because they regularly opt to run press statements and press releases verbatim. They also favour official sources, instead of getting a wide variety of opinions from sources involved in an issue. It’s bad journalism that doesn’t serve or inform the public and has been on the increase for some years now, as authorities ban and restrict traditional journalism methods & values.

Last week we even saw the government legislating that type of developmental, heavily spun, officially-approved, piffly type of news. What the govt has proposed (and put in place, unopposed – thanks, Bill) is that journalists working on National Security (NatSec) topics simply give authorities a tinkle – just drop them a line. 
“How delightful”, I hear you say. 
Then… the investigative journo in question, just divulges straight back to the department which they are investigating: 
a) their whole story, and, 
b) details about all their confidential sources, and, 
if that government agency say "yes it’s okay for you to...: 
a) investigate us and 
b) potentially expose our mighty ineptitude, 
c) embarrass us by exposing our corruption & incompetence", then: 
d) the media can go ahead and print it. 
Easy peasey.

While I am sure that this won’t pose a problem for our Would-Be-Roger-Moore, it doesn’t sound like the type of media practice that would occur in an affluent, independent country, does it?
But, it has been proposed by Brandis (who also put forward the scrapping of the Racial Discrimination Act, section 18C) and passed unopposed by the opposition, all too eager to look like they have a clue.

Another bad effect of Would-be-Roger Moore’s reporting, is that it ostracises independent sources from talking to the media. Potential sources become fearful of vilification and branding as baddies. Vilified minorities can come to think that the media is against them, and that the media is not made up of thousands of individual journos but form just one identity – the mass media. Subsequently, the thought of approaching one of them to talk about an issue is so confronting and scary that they’d prefer to keep a safe distance from mainstream journos, even if it does mean they continue to get blamed for stuff they haven’t done, and called names (branded) instead of being interviewed.

Then, Would-be-Roger and his official sources win out.  His ignorant and narrow reporting subsequently dominates public discourse, deluding the public and shifting scrutiny from his powerful sources. It also creates a division in the normal source-journalist relationship that is really hard for both journalists and would-be sources to bridge. 

The crux of this post is that the average reader – or news consumer – needs to know how to separate Would-Be-Rogers (W-B-Rs) from real journos, and it isn’t always easy.

Many mainstream journos can’t/don’t discern the difference between obsequious, developmental reporting and integral, respectable hard-working traditionalists. Heads-in-the-sand approach to the state of the media industry. They prefer to turn a blind eye to media corruption. While some are blinded by the: “ooh, big spy story" - a guaranteed WBR "special exclusive".

W-B-Rs usually have a pervasive presence, big jobs, big names, they can and do win big awards, and their reporting will be bleating at you, in your face, every other day. 

W-B-R's big reporting will feed the other media, who are too broke, too busy, too lazy or too scared, to investigate a NatSec news issue for themselves, and revert to reactive news, simply chasing the news breaker, which sadly, is often lame, old Would-Be-Roger-Moore.

Don’t be fooled, though, Roger’s a busy boy and W-B-R-brand ‘news’ can feature on a variety of issues, but I am using NatSec as an example, because it is quite obvious currently, & it’s the topic of Rees’ book.
Additionally, we’ve seen in recent years in Australia that a lack of independent scrutiny can cause problems where government investigations or intelligence has been corrupted, or is flawed. 

So, to be clear and just so you know, the traditional or ‘Fourth Estate’ mandate of the media is: 
to serve the public by keeping the powerful interests in society accountable.

Hence a reader can spot a Would-Be-Roger-Moore fairly easily. There are a few classic signs:
  1. W-B-Rs favour interviews with official government sources and government-approved experts, almost exclusively;
  2. W-B-Rs will rarely refer to  a citizen/individual, except to label them;
  3. W-B-Rs will not offer a citizen/individual source an interview, or a right of reply, even though it is their legal right to comment if named in a story;
  4. Also, Would-Be-Roger will attack defensively if cornered – that is, if fellow journalists or publications show him up as an inept bull$hit artist, devoid of independence;
  5. They use inflammatory terms, and exaggerate risk, to stimulate fear and apprehension among readers; (this builds an audience/readership's immediate dependence on W-B-R in the future, for ‘authoritative info’);
  6. W-B-Rs also usually camouflage (very poorly) opinion pieces as news. {Writing op-eds does not make you a journalist; journalists have rules & ethics they must abide by. They should be registered with the Australian Journalists Association and they should be qualified – just like any other Australian tradesperson or practitioner. If they are not qualified, then look at their body of work – what and how have they reported in the past – are they fair, do they talk to real people or just big-name sources?}
Sometimes journalists pick a side and will harangue and argue to prove their point, and that is still an orthodox method if they present both sides of a story and argue their reasons vigorously, i.e. interview as many different sources as possible & present all the details from both sides. It’s argued by journos that in cases of a grievous injustice, it is not ethical to remain indifferent. However, others say that choosing a side can be perilous for a journo and make them vulnerable to being conned. These side-picking journalists typically dig deep for answers. They risk peers branding them ‘moral crusaders’ and ‘activists’. (In the pop-media industry those terms are considered insults – ironic, no?)

Another type of news reporter that media consumers will find, simply tries to present the facts of an issue, or as close to the facts as possible. This can be done by seeking as many opinions as possible from an appropriate (relevant) level of society, and, by giving people a right of reply when they are the topic. This approach is risky, because it can degenerate into a pointless he said-she said equation. So it’s best backed up with substantial background research and well-considered interview questions. When these journos are functioning effectively, they risk getting targeted with huge amounts of harassment and flak from official sources.
Rees falls into this category, as well as Peter Greste. Additionally, both are generally considered non-mainstream as they work/ed for Al Jazeera.

Both approaches require journalistic maturity to execute fairly and for the public’s benefit, but should not be confused with Would-Be-Roger’s approach, which is readily identifiable as it simply rubber stamps whatever the government has on its agenda at any given moment. There are economic and political reasons why many media outlets are becoming servile to powerful interests instead of scrutinising them, but that is a post for another day.##