Thursday, 22 August 2013

Sex, Lies and The Guardian- Miranda, Snowden and Assange

The Guardian is currently most indignant about the treatment of David Miranda, the partner of one of their journalists who reported on the case of the documents leaked  by Edward Snowden.
The Guardian is portraying itself as defender of freedom of information and opposition to government surveillance. This is slightly ironic considering that Guardian columnist Deborah Orr had a few weeks previously written a cover story praising David Cameron’s plans to turn on default internet filters in every home in the U.K. However, that is not the main instance of double standards and hypocrisy which I would like to highlight in this blog.
A year ago columnists from The Guardian  together with other segments of the U.K. ‘liberal’ media turned on Julian Assange, a man who had previously been their darling.
The reason for this about turn was attempts by the Swedish Government to have Assange extradited in relation to suggestions that he had committed sex crimes. It is important to note that he had not actually been charged with anything, despite having previously gone to a Police station voluntarily to answer questions and waited in Sweden for 5 weeks before legally leaving the country. The current state of play is that the Swedes would like him to return to Sweden to answer some more questions- after which they will decide whether there are charges to be answered. Despite  doubts about whether  charges were going to be issued, tactics were used to try to return Assange to Sweden which would normally be used for dealing with terrorists.
A few male writers have foolishly published very ill advised opinions about the Assange’s alleged conduct. Having a sensible conversation about the allegations against Assange was actually very difficult. There was practically a media blackout in the U.K. When one interviewee on Newsnight mentioned the name of one of the women who had made the allegations he was told that it was not appropriate to mention the name of an alleged victim of sexual assault. However, the names of the women were easily available on the internet all of the world. In fact the situation about these allegations are extremely complicated and it is difficult to make a reasoned opinion about whether there is a reasonable chance of Assange being charged with anything or successfully prosecuted. Please note that is a separate issue from whether his conduct was appropriate or not.
If you want to get an understanding of the chain of events behind the Assange case I would recommend that you watch the brilliant Australian documentary Sex, Lies and Julian Assange.
Watch it and make your mind up. This information has never been openly discussed in the U.K. media- allegedly because it is not U.K. practice to debate these issues before a case is tried. However, in this case it seems unlikely that there will ever be charges and in any case all this information is available in most of the world including the country in which any trial would take place.
Despite the lack of any clarity that Assange was ever going to be charged with anything (never mind be proven guilty) Guardian columnists went hell for leather to disparage and savage Assange’s character. If you read the link below you will find details of some of the abuse which was directed at him.
Suzanne Moore accused him of being a ‘turd’ in a tweet and also suggested that he put hamsters up his anus. Deborah Orr, vanguard of liberty, said that he should return to face charges in a Guardian on-line article. This article has since been altered (with an acknowledgement that this was done) to reflect that he has not been charged. However, writing this in the first place shows a real disregard for journalistic rigour.
Assange was championed by the Guardian when he was revealing things which embarrassed U.K. and foreign Governments. However, as soon as the allegations of sexual misconduct were made he was suddenly transformed into a sleazy persona non grata without any reasonable debate about the validity of the allegations made against him.This is not of course an isolated case of shoot first and do the journalism later. George Monbiot reached a settlement with Lord MacAlpine in March for having written a libelous tweet  linking him to a sex scandal. It seems that when sexual misconduct is alleged all forms of process and evidence are considered unnecessary. In spite of this Will Self has written a piece recently about how upset he was about being wrongly suspected of being a pedophile while on a walk with his son. Clearly Guardian columnists are entitled to fair treatment and presumption of innocence while public figures they dislike are not.  
David Aaronvitch is also reported as having said ‘Don’t you think that supporters of Assange are misogynistic. Just for the record I don’t count myself as a supporter of Assange or a detractor. I have mixed feelings about Wikileaks and I have no idea whether he is guilty of any sexual crime. What I do have a strong dislike for is sloppy journalism and  schoolyard name calling by people who claim to represent the values of liberal and progressive society.
I think what the Assange  about turn shows is that the Guardian’s willingness to stand by whistle- blowers is not very robust. It is therefore very difficult to be convinced of the sincerity of their staunch defence of their own journalist and his partner. The McAlpine incident shows a lack of care to check the truthfulness of allegations.
The real problem with the Guardian is that there are seemingly two different teams writing in it. There is the team of hard journalists who go all over world breaking serious news stories and then there are the columnists who think the paper is just a platform for their own prejuduces where they can write nonsense  without doing any research.
If the paper really thinks that free speech and fair treatment of people are important it should stand by these principles and ignore opportunity to take a populist  slant against these principles.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Cameron, the BBFC and Censorship of Youtube- stage 2 in Destruction of the Internet

I read on the Telegraph website a couple  of days ago that David Cameron is planning for videos on Youtube and 'other' (all?) sites which involve user generated video content to have material  rated as suitable or not for different age groups and to have the ratings linked to web filters.
The details of how this will be done are rather vague. However, I understand that the method will involve a combination  of the author giving a rating and then crowd sourced ratings of the public whom can get to vote using buttons on the web site to rate the content. The system is to be designed by the British Board of Film Classification a body which currently rates (for a price) all DVDs Blu Rays and video games before they are released.
At first sight there are some things to commend this proposal. It is the public whom are doing the rating, not a faceless Whitehall body and there is a certain amount of democracy of access.
However, dig a bit deeper and think about the imlications of it and it begins to look much less attractive.
Here are the reasons why I think it is a bad idea;

1.   It is completely unnecessary. There are already ways of reporting and having inappropriate content taken off Youtube. If you find something on Youtube like a child being bullied then you want it removed quickly- not rated.

2.It is highly unlikely that there will be much consensus on what is inappropriate for different ages of children beyond what is completely unsuitable. Some parents will want music videos with suggestive dancing rated for adults. Some parents will want sexist attitudes towards women taken down or made adults only. Pacifists will want to give anything which glorifies war or weapons  given an adults only rating. Some parents will want anything to do with homosexuality made adults only and UKIP supporters will probably want anything taken down that promotes culture which they don't think is British. Pro-lifers will want anyhting that gives information about abortion screened from young people.There are many readers of both the Guardian and Daily Mail who want censorship on the web but they so not have shared motivations or views about what they want censored. One thing is for sure. Youtube will have a new audience of people who never looked at it before but now spend all day rating videos according to their political inclinations.

3.  It represents mission creep for Cameron from blocking sites to censoring content. When internet filtering was first discussed I said that it would graduate to censorship of individual items of content. This is in fact what is happening and it will only be one more stage on the way to full scale censorship of the internet.

 4. The current proposals don't represent the full extent of Cameron's censorship ambitions and his ultimate objectives will adversely affect the development of the internet. The Telegraph piece states that Ministers 'accept ' that it is impossible to use a body like the BBFC to rate content before it is put on the internet due to the sheer volume of material that is up there. The unstated implication of that statement is that if there was much less material on the internet then they would institute compulsory certification.
It is very important to note that there is only a huge volume of material on sites like Youtube and Videojug because there is not compulsory rating. Hundreds of thousands of people put up helpful videos on all sorts of  topics from how to prepare for a job interview to how to build a self assembly bookcase. People put these videos up for no financial gain and many of the people who put videos up have little or no money. Some people who post videos are victims of war or injustice. How could they afford the BBFC charge of £75 plus £6 per minute? That's £110 ($172) for a 5 minute video. Would you be inclined to put up a video of footage from your holiday for that price? What if you wanted to get footage out quickly to alert people to a crisis. Any system which involves people having to pre-submit something  will make on the hoof citizen journalism impossible.
Just imagine Cameron had been around to propose this type of censorship in the early days of the internet. Most of the content you enjoy now would not be there and you would not even realise that it could have been there. What future developments in the democratization of media will be stymied by starting on the slippery slope of a controlled internet. 

5. What about sites which won't or can't co-operate with Cameron's rating proposals? The internet is (at the moment) a global and relatively free to access phenomenon. However, Cameron seems to want file sharing sites other than  Youtube to adopt his proposals. If small file sharing sites are ordered to install ratings programmes then are they going to be able to afford to do so and if they cant then will their access to U.K. homes be blocked. What about sites which are hosted in other countries- are they going to be forced to institute ratings just to get access to British homes? What if other countries all start having their own ratings systems? It will be impractical to simultaneously respond to all sorts of different ratings systems. The result will be that the internet will cease to be international with sites being blocked from all sorts of countries because they don't correspond to their ratings system. What about videos posted by individual users in other countries. Will someone posting a video in the U.S.A. have to complete Cameron's self assessment questionnaire before their video can be seen by U.K. viewers? The odds are that they won't want to bother and as a result U.K. homes will not be able to watch their content. The end result will be balkanisation of the internet- a situation which will be very inconvenient for most people but a boon for MEDIA BARONS, CORRUPT POLITICIANS WITH THINGS TO HIDE AND CENSORSHIP BUREAUCRATS.

6. Who is going to Police the effectiveness of this self-censorship process
Cameron will want to ensure that all video sharing sites are operating according to his policies and are operatin g a ratings system 'effectively'. He will need someone to police this.
 Have a look at at the BBFC website. They have a category of charges on their charging listing called 'Digital Platforms' with fees starting at £500 per year for sites with 100+ videos. A logical extension of Camerons proposals will be fora public body to audit what video sharing sites are displaying with fines for people who don't co-operate or deal with 'inappropriate' material quickly or efficiently. This will be policed by the BBFC who will charge fees (eventually much higher than quoted above) for auditing sites. The result will be that  sites will have eventually feel that they have to pre-approve  material before they put it on. They will charge people who want to upload material so that they can recover the cost of having someone watch it and to cover BBFC fees.

7. Who are going to be the new Publishers and distributors of material on the web?
Answer: The old publishers of CDs and DVDs and satellite TV. A highly regulated media only offers access to big players and those who will dance to their tune
Since it will eventually be impossible  to view uploaded material from other countries and ordinary citizens will  not be able to afford to pay censorship fees there will be a new role for publishers. Companies like Virgina and New International will pick the 'best of the web' from other  countries and package it in a pre-censored way with all controversial political material extracted according to U.K. Government requirements. New bands and performers who want to get their work seen by the public will have to pay media companies to get exposure for their work who will probably also want to get exclusive rights to selling their music. The ability to bypass big business to sell your work direct to the public will cease.  Rupert Murdoch will once again control media in the U.K. and be able to influence political opinion.
Big media lobbyists are involved  in moves to implement internet censorship  around the world. These companies do not care about protection of children - they want to retake the control of media which has been lost to them. They want once again to control what people see and hear and be able to exploit producers and consumers in the ways they used to.
Notably Cameron does not have anything to say about the large numbers of soft porn channels available on Sky and he has explicitly said that he does not have a problem with page 3. Answer- he is still afraid of standing up to big media interests. He will undoubtedly have discussed his current plans with Rupert Murdoch who is currently rubbing his hands in glee at how he or is sun is going to control the new U.K. local  internet which we will have in a few years.

In summary- my doomsday scenario involves some extrapolation for Cameron's proposals but they are in my opinion logical extrapolations.

If you trust David Cameron to control the media then I urge you to read the brilliant book Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson M.P. and then see if you still feel the same way.
If you are a feminist like Deborah Orr who believes that Cameron's proposals will stop children seeing material which is sexist or offensive to women then you are very naive. Cameron is a Conservative, not a feminist.
If you think Cameron's proposals will reduce access to pornography of any kind then you are also very naive. 

Power of Big media Concerns = Billions of Dollars

Power of pornography industry = Billions of Dollars

Power of self help groups +
 civil rights groups+ 
 musicians who sell their music through the internet+
 and bloggers who want to talk to the world about what concerns them+
 people that want to upload their holiday and hobby videos   
                                                    = Maybe enough dollars for a pizza if they all chip in.

All these groups have equal access to the internet at the moment but they won't once the internet becomes regulated.
All Camerons proposals are the thin edge of a very fat wedge which will destroy the internet as we know it. 

Oppose him now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Phubbing ? I call it Multi-tasking!

Apparently there is a new name out for a phenomenon which you see every day - and this is people playing on your mobile phone while talking to someone. I don't think there is a word yet for playing on your iPad while talking- maybe it will be pudding.
I am afraid I am frequently guilty of both and it does seem to annoy some people - especially those of my own generation. It is not that I am disinterested in what the person is telling me. It is simply that I can't concentrate on anything unless there are several streams of input going to to my head at once. If I didn't have distractions I would end up day dreaming and drifting off and then I really would miss what the other person is saying. 
Cognitive psychology uses the term the ascending reticular activation system for nuclei within the brain stem which regulate arousal. People whose ARAS is set a high level of activity need peace and quiet to reduce their arousal levels and are most likely to be introverts. People whose ARAS is set at a low level quest for stimulation and need a high level of social interaction and novel experiences.
Despite the traditional association with nerdyness computers and social networks actually provide a great potential for additional interaction and stimulation for people who need it.
When I check out messages or emails when I am talking to someone I am usually  looking for information which will be useful to them within the context of our current conversation. Sometime something you have just been sent can answer a query or problem someone has come to you with. Sometimes when you are in a conversation with several other people dropping out for part of the conversation which isn't relevant to you to answer an email is actually a good use of time in a very fast paced world.
So- What is the answer to the phubbing problem. I guess for me the short term answer is to tell people why I am looking at something and make it clear that I am not just ignoring them or getting bored.
Ultimately, however, I think a better answer is something like Google Glass- where you have a screen display which nobody else can see. Then they wont know what media sources you are receiving. Or better still - a direct computer link into your brain. From there its on to full scale cyberization which  is hopefully not so far on the future that I won't get to enjoy it.