Blogging vs Robert Fisk
Robert Fisk is a journalist whose insights, particularly into Middle Eastern Affairs, I read with interest, however, his disdain for the Internet and Bloggers in particular, is well known. So a recent article in which he criticises the press for self-censorship and blames it for the reason people are increasingly turning to the Internet and Bloggers for their news and opinion fix was a bit of a surprise. But its Fisk's loathing of the Internet I want to focus on in this piece.
Fisk is characteristically scathing of the Internet; with his typical gusto he describes how he "despises the internet". And calls it an "irresponsible and, often, a net of hate". Then emphatically declares how he doesn’t "have time for Blogopops".
I guess that empathically rules out any potential endorsement of this article.
To a certain extent Fisk is correct, Internet News Sites and much of the blogosphere are little more than poorly researched information, or regurgitated commentary laced with a healthy dose rabble rousing opinion. Though this is nothing that the Tabloid Press are not themselves guilty of.
In fact Robert Fisk himself has admitted to abandoning journalistic impartiality in favour of a doctrine where by he believes he is "morally bound as a journalist to show eloquent compassion to victims."
His comments relate to reporting wars and genocide, however, the principal seems equally applied to all his work where there is a moral judgement to be made. So it’s not without some irony that I note how Mr Fisk has defined the style of the blogosphere which he hates so much.
Blogging is about opinions, it is about standing up for what you believe in and it is about starting a new kind of dialogue between individuals, the media and government. The mainstream media hate it, because for years through the monopolisation of TV, radio and the press they have controlled and warped opinion throughout the democratic world. Now they have a competitor which they cannot control. Worst still the "citizen journalist" has, thanks to sites like YouTube discovered how to broadcast their opinion in video, not just in the written word.
All of this represents a very serious threat to the media’s ability to control the public agenda. It weakens their position.
Their main selling point (as they see it) is their “professional impartiality”, something which is sadly missing in the judgemental Tabloids and in many anchored news programs like The Right with Trevor McDonald.
Given time blogging will come of age. It's still in infancy and over the coming years Bloggers will get more professional. They will aspire to the same professional standards that many journalists used live up to and we will see a shifting in the balance of media power towards the individual.
Of course the blogosphere will never be without the ill informed, the lazy and the under-researched, there will always be bad Bloggers (to be honest I don't see myself as a particularly "good" one.) Though equally there will always be bad journalists, biased editors and corporate agendas.
What blogging gives us is a new found ability to talk back. To counter the mainstream views of the day and to express opinions that otherwise would not be heard. Blogging broadens the political landscape and spits in the face of politicians who seek to narrow it to the ubiquitous “centre ground”. It offers an opportunity for ordinary citizens to speak out against the rabble rousing tabloids and it gives power back to the people rather than corporate monopolies which currently control the media and with it much of the political agenda.
This is why blogging matters. Blogging is crucial for the survival of real democracy, because without it the political agenda gets set by the media elite, the party donors and the politicians who seek to appease them.
I only hope that one day Robert Fisk manages to get over his own sense of self-importance and realise this.
UK-Russia Diplomatic Row Deepens
Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused a British request for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the man wanted in connection with the killing of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London last November. President Putin described the extradition request as the remnant of a "colonial mindset".
The Russian constitution expressly forbids the extradition of its citizens to face trial abroad. Further, under the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, Russia has the right to refuse the extradition of a citizen. Putin also levied a counter-claim that 30 people sought by Russian law enforcement agencies "for serious and very serious crimes" were taking refuge in London
In my opinion what we are reaping here is the consequences of treating a Russian president, who lets face it, is one of the most authoritarian since Stalin, like a democratic equal. G8 countries have failed to apply proper leverage on Putin to introduce political reform in Russia. Instead Putin has being allowed to consolidate power and virtually stamp out any opposition to his presidency.
Acknowledging this, Britain has granted safe haven to a number of Russian dissidents, many of whom are former business leaders and part of the "30 sought" by the Russian authorities. In such a climate it’s not unexpected that Putin throws the rattle out of the pram when the UK requests the extradition of Lugovoi. And lets face it, even if Putin had nothing personally to do with the death of Litvinenko, (which he probably didn’t,) he’s not going to let high ranking Kremlin officials take the flack for it as that would be far to embarrassing for his administration.
Still as a nation, Britain should not allow foreign agents to carry our murder on UK soil with impunity. A potential compromise might be to allow a British Court to be set-up in Moscow to try the accused under British Law without physically removing him from Russia. However, given that Britain is offering refuge to wanted Russian dissidents its unlikely that such a suggestion will be agreed without a tit for tat arrangement.
So where can Britain turn for leverage? The other G8 members perhaps? Well no, not really, we can’t even seem to agree an even-handed extradition treaty with the USA who are supposedly our closest ally. Once again the obsequiousness of the Blair Government undermines our International standing, I wonder if the Brown Administration will fair any better?
A Response to TJ Rowley
I've thought long and hard about whether or not to bother writing a response to TJ Rowley's letter published last week in The Paper. After all, his letter begins with ridicule and ends with abuse so there is a good case for saying that I shouldn't dignify it with a response. But I have decided to respond, because his letter allows me to highlight the face of British bigotry and the tactics they use to discredit more progressive thought.
You see Rowley and others like him have long since conceded the moral and intellectual arguments against racism so instead of arguing for racism they argue against those who advocate racial tolerance. Debate shifts from analysis of the issues and moves instead to character assassinations and campaigns of misinformation.
TJ Rowley's letter opens with ridicule at my use of the expression "Racism is abhorrent", which is admittedly fast becoming a cliché. He called "abhorrent" a "self-righteous adjective". This is certainly witty, but it does little to move on his argument which seems to centre on an attempt to suggest that I am not qualified to talk about racism or xenophobia.
Unfortunately for Mr Rowley he doesn't know me, so he's gambling on the fact that he believes I'm unlikely to have experience serious racial or xenophobic incidences first hand and that I'e never lived in the places in the UK which he claims are essential for understanding racism. On both counts Mr Rowley is wrong.
I spent 8 years of my childhood (1987-1995) growing up in Tenerife, during that time there must have been dozens of incidents where I was verbally abused for being a foreigner, but my most vivid experience of xenophobic abuse was being aged 10 and chased by a gang of local kids. They pelted me with stones and hurled drinks cans and bottles at me. Why? Because I was a foreigner and I asked to join in a game of football.
I was lucky to escape with a few scrapes and bruises and not serious injury. Now admittedly this isn't quite in the same league as the Klu Klux Clan lynch mobs, or the racially motivated murder of Anthony Walker, but surely TJ Rowley doesn’t insist that someone must be dead or seriously injured to have genuinely experienced a serious racial or xenophobic attack?
Now to address TJ Rowley's second misconception, namely that I have not lived in racially mixed towns in the UK.
For the record, my home town is non-other than Bradford, West Yorkshire, and during my adult life I've lived in a number of places around the country, most notably Portsmouth, with its large Bangladeshi community and Sheffield where 1 in 10 people are from an ethnic minority group. I've also spent time in London and Leicester. Nothing in all my time living in any of these places has ever for one minute given me reason to believe that racism is acceptable or justified.
After unsuccessfully questioning my credentials to comment on racism and xenophobia (which amount one of the same thing), Rowley then moves onto misinformation, saying that I seem to be claiming that racism is something only perpetrated by white people against black people. Re-read my original letter and you'll see that I did no such thing. No seriously go and check, ask for a back copy of The Paper if you missed it, (letters column issue 334).
In fact in this piece I made reference to my own experiences of xenophobia and largely dismissed the race incident of the day which at the time was the use of the N-word by a contestant on Channel 4's Big Brother.
Racism isn't just white on black, as a rule its 'majority on minority' so your exact experience of racism tends to depend on which part of the world you are looking at. For example, a friend of mine who dated a girl from China experienced racism at the hands of her parents who didn’t want her daughter dating a white boy.
Still what a lot of people fail to realise is that racism is wrong where ever it happens and whoever it is perpetrated against. And in spite of this you can't use your own victim-hood at the hands of racists as an excuse to dole it back out once you return to a place where your ethnicity is in the majority.
But Mr Rowley really shows his true colours when he suggests that if I were mugged at knifepoint by a Moroccan that I would (mentally at least) want to see Morocco bombed. Putting aside the fact that he also tries to imply I might be Gay in the same sentence, I hope to demonstrate how insanely bigoted this suggestion is by rephrasing the question: If you were mugged at knifepoint by a Londoner would you want to see London bombed?
At risk of initiating a character assassination of my own, I put it Mr Rowley that he is either a racist or a potential terrorist.
Church of England Hijacks Harry Potter
A youth worker at St Margaret's church in Rainham, Kent has published a guide on how to promote Christian values through the Harry Potter books. Owen Smith, who authored the guide, said, "It's all about morals, dealing with issues of trust, issues of love and sacrifice."
Meanwhile ignorant bigot Stephen Green of Christian Voice claimed Harry Potter's tales of witchcraft and wizardry "could be a doorway to the occult."
The lunatic rantings of Christian Voice aside, and I only include to demonstrate that the church is somewhat split on this issue, I'm disappointed that the Church of England would seek to seize on the fantastical tale of Harry Potter for its own ends.
Clearly the Harry Potter tales teach children about morality, sacrifice, right and wrong, good versus evil, but they also teach these concepts in wholly secular terms. Once again the Church seems to feel the need to claim and effectively hijack secular morality in order to associate religion with it. Its as if the church is trying to suggest it has a monopoly on morality and ethics.
If this is not the Church's objective, then associating themselves with Harry Potter amounts to little more than brand placement. In the same way that McDonald's give away toys featuring the latest movie characters with their Happy Meals, the church is attempting to cash in on the Harry Potter phenomenon by associating itself with the books and films.
This would amount to a pretty lame attempt by the church to try and make Christianity more relevant to young people. When a fantasy story is more appealing to children than faith, then we know faith is beat.
More evidence of the irrelevance of Christianity in today's society is the fact that it took them 10 years to come up with this idea.
Chastity Girl Must Lose Ring
A girl who's school threatened her with expulsion unless she removed a ring she wore to symbolise chastity has lost her case at the High Court. Lydia Playfoot wore the ring as part of the "silver ring thing", a Christian movement designed to promote sexual abstinence amongst teenagers. However Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex had insisted she remove it as it was against their dress-code policy to allow students to wear jewellery.
The case went to course as Miss Playfoot believed the schools decision breached her human rights of freedom of religion expression. Today's court ruling went against Miss Playfoot, saying that her rights to religious expression had not being breached because the wearing of a Chastity ring was not an integral part of the Christian Faith.
Now I'm well known for my Atheistic and Secular views, but I must say I completely disagree with the court's ruling. Secularism is a responsibility for government, not for individuals.
Furthermore I believe that everyone, children included, should be allowed to express their personal and cultural identity, be that religious or secular, in whatever way they choose without interference from state controlled institutions (in this case schools).
Schools need to become more relaxed about dress codes and give children more opportunity to express their individuality without oppressive constraints of unnecessary conformity. Certainly there is a case for a school uniform for the purposes of identifying people who should or shouldn't be on school premises. And there is also the (rather weak) case that Uniforms help prevent bullying between the haves and have nots, but beyond this, schools seem to invoke dress-codes that smack of authoritarianism and enforced conformity.
Why does it matter that one kid has a piercing, or another wears a small piece of jewellery, or another has an unusual hairstyle? Clearly it doesn't! It has no bearing on the child's academic potential; it has no bearing on their attitude to their work, or their attendance. All it does is stifle children’s ability to express themselves as individuals, something which the playground and peer pressure makes hard enough for most teenagers without added constraints from schools and local governments.
We should be encouraging children to pursue their individualism, not hindering them and turning them into mindless drones, clipping and pruning them into indistinguishable monotonous hedgerows. Let children bloom for crying out loud.