Burning The Forest For A Few Special Trees

Pratt’s article from the readings this week is quite important in explaining the issues associated with the seemingly never-ending race of cities, particularly in the western world, to be the most ‘creative’, the most ‘diverse’, and have the most ‘culture’. Some excellent points are raised about how interpreting these words in certain ways and then presenting these interpreted meanings as having universal applications can lead to the opposite of the intended consequences occurring in actuality. 

Through government support of certain definitions of ‘culture’, certain lifestyles are promoted over others, which eventually leads to displacement of people and cultural aspects that don’t specifically fit into the mould desired. For an Australian example, Melbourne’s promotion of itself as a ‘cultural’ centre has led to an influx of hipsters and hipster culture into the city, leading to negative consequences for those who aren’t a part of that class. The creative class in Melbourne has led to creeping gentrification, particularly in the northern suburbs, which has led to the lower-income working class being pushed out and further onto the fringes of the city.

The issues that the promotion of a certain type of culture over another causes has seemingly gone unheeded by Sydney, as the Sydney 2030 project pushes forward, with one of its key aspects being on ensuring Sydney is a ‘Creative city’. Though the cultural policy at the moment according to the website is to develop a cultural policy, the type of culture that will be promoted can be inferred from the tone of the rest of the project’s website as one similar to what Melbourne now experiences. The website boasts of the City’s contribution to public arts programs, but a cynical view might suggest that if these programs truly represented the culture of Sydney and its residents, they would be profitable endeavours and able to support themselves without government funding. But that would be a cynical view…

Self-Obsessed Aussies

As part of JOUR206, I was part of a group assignment that produced a Storify that examined the coverage of international news in Australia as compared to other countries. Generally, it was found that Australia’s coverage is quite self-interested, with SBS being the only source of wider coverage.

The Storify can be found here:

http://storify.com/Storify5/international-news-coverage

Where I Leave Off…

There are three major points that have become apparent from my research into the current ongoing situation in Syria. These are that the public sphere is changing to loosen the grip of the traditional media over public discussion, that the rise of citizen journalism has lead to the circumvention of traditional journalistic methods, and that the effect of ideology can have a fairly severe impact on how somebody ‘decodes’ a given message. Through the research of the situation throughout this semester, these points have become evident.

Discussions within the public sphere are decreasingly reliant on traditional media outlets to guide them. In the past, individuals were entirely reliant on sources such as television, radio, and newspapers, to gain their knowledge of the news and current events that were occurring, in particular for those events that were occurring internationally. Editors and owners of said outlets would control what news and current events these traditional news outlets would highlight. The means of having your message received by a wide audience was limited to a relative few because of the costs. Due to these prohibitive costs, these news outlets could control the content of what was being discussed in the public sphere. Today, these prohibitive costs of broadcasting a message to a wide audience no longer exist, due to the rise of the internet. A much wider array of messages are broadcast to users, and, as such, give them greater choice in what discussions take part in the public sphere. This access to information that was previously unavailable leads to greater awareness of issues that traditional news outlets might ignore, therefore creating a situation where the grip of the traditional news outlets on what makes up the content of discussion within the public sphere is loosened to allow for individuals who have discovered alternative narratives on the internet to discuss issues important to them. This is reflected in the Syrian situation through the fact that traditional news outlets have all but ignored the situation, while the online community has gone ahead and made discussions about it a part of the public sphere anyway (see ‘Online Support for Syria’ and ‘Point to Syria on the TV’ blog posts).

On a similar note, the control of journalists who work for these news outlets as the only authors of the narrative that the public views has been diminished by the rise of citizen journalism. Audiences were once forced to rely on the narrative presented to them by journalists of traditional outlets, who acted as a third party through which all news had to go through. Obviously, this created potential for the news to only be presented in a skewed fashion, a problem since this may have been the only, or one of very few, sources of information available. With the rise of citizen journalism, individuals are able to provide their own take on situations, and provide viewpoints different to those provided by traditional outlets. The use of citizen journalism to circumvent the narrative presented by other sources has been crucial in the Syrian situation. By uploading videos of the events taking place on the ground within the country, a viewpoint and exposure of events that doesn’t correlate with the narrative presented by the Syrian government has been revealed. However, it should be noted that these videos can also present their own skewed view, as those uploading may also have their own agenda to pursue (see ‘YouTube giving Syrian rebels a voice’ blog post).

Finally, the effect of differences in ideology upon how somebody decodes something has also become apparent. This is best exemplified by the two YouTube vloggers I highlighted in ‘Online Support for Syria’. Phillip DeFranco’s political ideology could best be described generally as centre-left. Based on the media coverage he has received, which present the narrative of Syrian people being oppressed by Assad and his regime, he decodes the message in a manner that leads him to support the rebels in a fight for freedom, the only question being of how. This contrasts starkly with the other vlogger I highlighted, who goes by the alias of ‘Syrian Girl’. Across her videos and social media channels, she takes this same media coverage, and rejects it, claiming it misrepresents the situation, and that her support remains with Assad. To decode it in this way implies an ideology at odds with DeFranco’s. These opposed views reflect the effect of differing ideologies.

The reduction of traditional news outlets’ effect on the public sphere, the rise of citizen journalism, and the effect of ideology on decoding are all reflected and exemplified in the situation in Syria.

Nope, Never Heard Of It

It is interesting to note that, at least in my experience, the coverage of the situation in Syria by various facets of the media has failed to raise awareness of the situation for many people. Obviously, I can only speak from what I have encountered, but it is only a minority of people that have been aware or informed in any meaningful way about what is currently happening in the country.

This is likely best illustrated by a lecture I attended for BCM112 earlier this year. To an audience of around one hundred university students, a group which one would assume to be well informed and globally aware, the lecturer used the Arab Spring to illustrate a point he was making. He asked how many of those in attendance knew of the events occurring in the Middle East, and less than ten people (myself included) raised their hand. This lack of awareness surprised me, and when I expressed this surprise to friends and family, who I thought would be equally surprised, they expressed either complete unawareness or only a passing knowledge of the same events.

As aware as the online community may be, and as much as it may try to generate greater awareness, the majority of the population still receive their news from traditional sources, which, as I have pointed out in previous posts, have behaved apathetically in regards to Syria, deeming it barely newsworthy. Though this is likely to change with time, for now, it is a disappointing indictment on our journalistic sources; that they haven’t been able to keep the population informed of such events.

Online Support for Syria

Online media has allowed individuals with a variety of views to express them to a wide audience online, reflected within the situation in Syria.

Recently, Syria had one of its most publicised events on Friday 25 May, when the Houla massacre occurred, where 108 people were killed (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18245225). In response, Syrian diplomats and ambassadors have been expelled from countries around the world (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/european-nations-and-australia-expel-syrian-diplomats-in-protest-at-massacre-of-civilians/2012/05/29/gJQAWEBdyU_story.html).

Individuals are making use of online media to spread opinions and information in regards to the situation.

Popular YouTube vlogger Phillip DeFranco (his channel – youtube.com/sxephil – has approximately two million subscribers) has included segments on Syria in the 28/5 episode of his web show (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbNQicDulo8&list=UUlFSU9_bUb4Rc6OYfTt5SPw&index=0&feature=plcp (3:49 to 6:56)) and the 29/5 episode (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8OQd4M5PTw&list=UUlFSU9_bUb4Rc6OYfTt5SPw&index=1&feature=plcp (7:30 to 8:52)). Though these segments are primarily informative more than opinionated, they do reflect the issue of whether or not there should be international intervention.

Other videos are more overt in their support for the rebels’ side, including videos promoting the ‘March for Syria’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocs4k9fnVzI&feature=relmfu), and one detailing a flash mob in Sydney dedicated to raising awareness of the issue (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChZ0-W3A2RA&feature=BFa&list=aULjBNyQF0FbYA). Facebook groups supporting the rebels (https://www.facebook.com/likeforsyria), and voluminous support on Twitter (http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Twitter+talk+violence+sweeps+Syria+people+react+online/6691195/story.html) have made themselves apparent, as people try to raise awareness of the situation, and pressure those with the power to do so to assist the rebel forces.

In contrast is the dearth of views in favour of the regime. Interestingly, the only pro-Assad example that wasn’t institutional that I could find came from a source that is supposedly within Syria (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngUJsfr5rrA). This opinion is hardly persuasive though, considering the outlandish claims made, such as Al-Qaeda being run by the CIA.

It is interesting to note the use of online media to try and raise awareness of the issue, and shows a desire of people to be global citizens. Support is being raised and shown for a situation unlikely to have a direct effect on most of the people giving it. The situation has come to light through the efforts of the Syrian people, and the rest of the online community has responded in kind.

Que Sera, Sera

My three best blog entries for BCM112 have been “They’ll Think What We Tell Them To Think” from Week 9 on Citizen Journalism (http://thejameslamb.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/theyll-think-what-we-tell-them-to-think-2/), “Blog Post (JL Remix) (Hands Up Version) (Radio Edit)” from Week 8 on Rip/Mix/Burn (http://thejameslamb.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/blog-post-jl-remix-hands-up-version-radio-edit-2/), and “The flaw of transmedia narratives” from Week 6 on Transmedia narratives (http://thejameslamb.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/the-flaw-of-transmedia-narratives-23-2/).

The Week 9 post was effective because it took a wider political view at an issue that wasn’t addressed specifically in the materials. The hypocrisy of news organisations claiming that their reluctance to embrace citizen journalism was due to potential bias, while they engaged in divisive, sensationalist reporting clearly favouring a certain side, deserved exposition, even if it couldn’t delve too deep due to the restrictive word count.

The Week 8 post was one of the better ones due to it not being constrained to fit into the story being told by the materials. Throughout the session, there seemed to be a general feeling of hostility when it came to the content industries. In some reading materials, and within some of the lectures, the content industries were portrayed in terms that sought to demonise them, and only one side of the story seemed to be provided. As convincing as this side is, it is not the whole story, and bringing to light an instance that defied some of the rhetoric of the course was important.

The Week 6 post was also a better one. On reflection, it would have been better titled as “The risk of transmedia narratives”, for it was an explanation of how a transmedia narrative might go wrong, not why it will go wrong. Regardless, I feel that this was an effective description of why something’s status as part of a transmedia narrative didn’t absolve it of its flaws, a point seemingly argued against by those dismissing the opinions of those not fully engaged with the narrative’s universe.

These three posts stood out, their content better engaging and reflecting on the materials than other posts.

Insert Relevant Kamahl Quote Here

Abuse of the anonymity the internet provides is widespread. Though an invaluable service at the best of times, it can be life-destroying at the worst. So whose role, if anybody’s, is it to ensure the exploitation of the internet’s ugliest capabilities is kept to a minimum?

Many call for government intervention in these matters. However, as much as governments attempt to censor citizens of the internet, methods of circumvention are always discovered and implemented. Not even the Great Firewall of China is impenetrable (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Firewall_of_China#Evasion).

Offensive activity on the internet is a disappointing display of humanity’s worst characteristics. At some point, hopefully, the culture may be able to shift so that such behaviour doesn’t occur, perhaps through education schemes that convince people why its wrong. Until the culture does shift in such a way, the individual is forced to rely on moderation mechanisms already available, such as where all comments are moderated on smaller sites, and when user moderation is allowed on larger sites. Beyond this, there’s sadly little recourse.