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October 14 2010

14:18

New Media as a Force for Mobilizing Political Change

Does the dramatic uptake of new media tools such as mobile applications, digital media, blogging, social networking and video activism mean that citizens, citizen groups and service organizations have the power to challenge the state and mobilize political change?

This is a question that I'll be pondering along with my fellow participants at the New Media: Alternative Politics Conference at the University of Cambridge. Below are some of my thoughts on the topic, as well as a specific look at the situation in Zimbabwe. After the conference is over, I'll share some of the opinions expressed by key researchers and practitioners in this area.

Digital Media Affecting Change

In a recent article, researchers Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca L. Stein argue that in the Middle East "digital media is becoming a new war zone." Digital media has changed the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli military occupation by offering local populations new tools to "interface with, support, contest, and/or agitate against state policies."

Social media sites are being used, some more successfully than others, to rally interest for online political demonstration, election campaigning and to logistically organize on-the-ground activity. These platforms, such as Facebook, are enabling citizens, groups and politicians alike. Using these types of tools certainly seems to be a quick and simple method for supporters to demonstrate their political allegiance or to air their views. But are members and fans genuine and active supporters? Does the fact that they join a Facebook group imply that they can be relied upon to take action in a material way? Will they turn up to vote, boycott a product or participate in a rally?

One positive example came after a tragedy -- when Khaled Said was beaten to death by the Egyptian police. A Khaled Said Facebook group was launched in his memory, and that group, along with Twitter and YouTube, were central in bringing together Egyptian activists and organizing protests to demand justice for Said.

Websites and blogs have similar power. In just one example, Kubatana.net, with its archive of over 17,000 reports from the NGO sector, is documenting the history of Zimbabwe's political and economic decline over the past nine years. It serves not only as a digital record, but also as an aid to the community's collective memory and a factual reference point for international media. Likewise, the Kubatana blogs site, with over 34 different authors, allows ordinary voices to be heard on a wide array of subject matter. BBC, CNN, Sky and the New York Times have looked to this site for a range of opinions from Zimbabweans.

Mobile Applications

Mobile telephony applications have also been widely used for political mobilization. In early September 2010 in Maputo, Mozambique, food riots were mobilized through the viral spread of text messages. According to a report from Russell Southwood on Pambazuka News, this may have resulted in the government putting pressure on the three local network providers to temporarily ban the SMS function.

In Kenya, SMS was used to incite ethnic violence during the 2008 post-election violence. This period gave rise to Ushahidi, a Kenyan crowdsourcing and mapping initiative and News Challenge grantee, which was developed to monitor and map the election violence in Kenya. (Read more about the project here.)

FrontlineSMS, which is free software for sending and receiving SMS and MMS messages, has been used in many countries, including Pakistan and Zimbabwe, to deploy SMS's for election related logistics and results.

Mobiles phones -- through voice, SMS and interactive voice menus -- are increasingly
important tools for citizens to receive, validate, gather and offer information. Mobiles offer a large percentage of the population a new means through which to stay informed and share opinions. For instance, mobile pones can be used to rally and organize participation, monitor elections, poll opinion, track human rights abuses, assist with more transparent modes of governance and to report back on government's service delivery. They can also be used for numerous other positive social benefits in the health, agriculture, education and emergency response sectors; and they can be used in a meaningful way to improve the lives of people at the bottom of the pyramid.

But to what extent do these examples of new media activities translate into meaningful change? Certainly, they facilitate remote participation; but how often does this convert into direct participation and/or action on the ground? We can assess opinion, reflect outrage, inform and inspire recipients, crowdsource information and record events without ever
meeting any of the contributors or consumers. Is there a danger that we will mistakenly believe our armchair activists will meet us in the street or at the polls? And how do we effectively measure the impact of new media? This inability to quantify new media's impact could lead to false optimism/pessimism, incorrect presumptions and misaligned reactions.

Zimbabwe's Traditional Media Landscape

In Zimbabwe, in spite of the two-year-old inclusive government, the media continues to suffocate under draconian laws like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

Television and radio remain firmly in the hands of the old guard, offering biased and highly politicized coverage. Community radio remains an elusive dream, and the government has redoubled its efforts to jam the shortwave radio signals of external broadcasters.

The licensing of five newspapers in May 2010 has not yet materially changed the media landscape as only one of them, NewsDay,
is actually operating. Added to this is the fact that the majority of the country's population lives in rural areas, where they struggle to access newspapers due to cost barriers and limited distribution infrastructure.

So while there has been some token liberalization of the print media, overall Zimbabwe's traditional media landscape continues to be tightly restricted, repressed and controlled. In its stead, new media initiatives are rising like green shoots in the cracks of the concrete, providing citizens with an alternate voice and means to bypass the state's road blocks.

In Zimbabwe access to the Internet is largely limited to the elite. Due to poor infrastructure and high costs, only about 10 percent of the population have access to the Internet. This limits the number of people who can take advantage of the net's abundance of news, social networking, blogs and services such as email. Not surprisingly, the 10 percent of Zimbabweans who have access to the Internet are benefiting from improved communications, information consumption, organizing ability and productivity. But the lack of overall access means that web-based media have limited power to mobilize political change within Zimbabwe.

Mobile Growth in Zimbabwe

While Internet access is far behind, there is much improved GSM coverage and rapidly growing penetration rates of mobile phone users, which according to government data is up to 49 percent from 9 percent in 2008. This sudden growth coincided with the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in late 2008 and is in stark contrast to the years preceding when people had to source SIM cards on the black market. Increased competition has brought down the cost of phone lines, but has had little impact on the cost of local calls and SMS. The lack of cooperation between mobile network operators has also resulted in the duplication of mobile phone towers to services areas, resulting in slower progress in the roll out of infrastructure and greater costs for callers.

At US$0.25 a minute, Zimbabwe has one of the highest mobile call tariffs in the world. This partly reflects the government's lack of vision on how mobile communications can be embraced to benefit the nation. The sad result is that these costs and attitudes constrain the potential of mobile communications to increase productivity and improve lives.

The government has been clear about its unease with civic and political initiatives using interactive voice response phone services to share information with mobile phone users. Actions to date have largely been directed at the mobile network operators, whose licenses they threaten to revoke or not renew. However, out-dated legislation and the inevitable convergence or radio, telephony and web technologies make this a losing battle in the long run.

09:58

Guardian: Murdoch’s media fightback over letter to Cable

A letter signed by numerous media organisations including the BBC and sent to business secretary Vince Cable earlier this week, calling on him to intervene with a planned bid by Murdoch for the remainder of BSkyB, has sparked quick responses from Murdoch’s other media outlets.

According to a report by the Guardian, it was first an editorial in News International’s The Times yesterday, which claimed that BBC director general Mark Thompson had made a “serious and surprising error”.

By lending his name to the campaign to prevent News Corp from purchasing those Sky shares that it does not already own, Mr Thompson has made a serious and surprising error. He has embroiled his taxpayer-funded organisation in a political and commercial battle that it should have nothing to do with.

Then today the Sun’s columnist Kelvin MacKenzie added that Murdoch should be encouraged, not stopped.

The fact that Sky is so successful is due to his three-word mantra: invest, invest, invest. When you look at the list of business duds opposing him, what’s quite clear is they have chosen to survive by three other words: Cut, cut, cut. …It’s hard to know why Vince Cable wouldn’t nod the deal through as Rupert has always run Sky thanks to his near 40% equity ownership and the right he has to pick the chief executive.

… The reality is that Sky owns very few of the channels it broadcasts and many of the stations have minute audiences – especially compared to the state monopolists at the BBC. The issue for our nation should not be how to stop Mr Murdoch investing in Britain but how to encourage him – and many more like him.”

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October 07 2010

03:35

Introducing Version 3 of the Campaign Finance API

For developers looking to find information about political candidates and committees, friendly data formats can be hard to find. Version 3 of The Times's Campaign Finance API aims to start making that process a bit easier.

October 04 2010

10:45

Phone-hacking: Dispatches source claims Coulson listened to recordings

Tonight’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, Tabloids, Tories and Telephone Hacking, will reveal new phone tapping allegations against Andy Coulson, Channel 4 News revealed yesterday.

In a breaking news announcement, presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy reported that a past colleague of Coulson’s will claim in tonight’s broadcast that the former editor of the News of the World, and now communications director for the Prime Minister, not only knew about phone hacking at the tabloid and asked recordings to be played to him. Coulson has always claimed that he had no knowledge of hacking at the paper.

The Dispatches programme, which features an investigation by political journalist Peter Obourne into the tabloid’s relationship with police and the government, will be aired on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm. The programme follows fresh allegations of phone hacking at the tabloid made by the New York Times last month, sparking emergency debates in the House of Commons, a new police investigation and a series of lawsuits.Similar Posts:



October 01 2010

14:57

Politico: News Corp made second $1m donation to Republican group

News Corp contributed $1 million this month to the US Chamber of Commerce, a business lobby campaigning in support of the Republican effort to retake Congress, Politico reports.

It is not News Corp’s first large contribution to the Republicans this year. Rupert Murdoch’s company, parent to the Fox network in the US and newspaper publisher News International in the UK, made a $1 million gift to Republican Governors Association in June.

While other large US media companies have made political donations, News Corp’s June payment was notable both for its size and the lack of a corresponding donation to the democrats. It is customary to split donations between the two parties.

In the past, News Corp. has also spread its donations between candidates of both parties. The huge gift to the RGA raised questions among some media critics about whether News Corp. had crossed over an inappropriate line for a media company. The second donation is likely to rekindle that debate – and to make both News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News even more of a liberal target.

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September 30 2010

11:30

Distrust in US media at record high, according to Gallup poll

Distrust in mass media in the US has reached a record high, having risen for the fourth year running. In a recent Gallup poll, 57 per cent of respondents said they had little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.

The 43 per cent who answered that they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in mass media make up a joint record-low. An earlier poll, conducted by Gallup last month, suggested that trust in newspaper and television news is particularly low, with just 22 per cent saying they had quite a lot or a great deal of trust in newspapers and 25 per cent saying the same for television.

The suvey suggests a sharp decline in trust in the branches of government, with Gallup recording a record low for the legislative branch, worse than the media rating.  The executive and judicial branches of government fared better but also suffered declines.

Other findings suggest that nearly half of Americans (48 per cent) think the media is too liberal, compared with just 15 per cent who think it is too conservative. Sixty-three per cent of respondents perceived bias in one direction or the other.

A recent YouGov poll of the UK found that trust in media outlets is in steep decline. The survey suggests that ‘upmarket’ newspapers (Times, Telegraph Guardian) had an approval rating of 41 per cent, ‘mid-markets’ (Mail, Express) 21 per cent, and red-tops  just 10 per cent.

Full Gallup findings at this link…Similar Posts:



September 29 2010

10:32

September 28 2010

09:55

Jeremy Hunt: Providing local content should be condition of broadcasters’ licences

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will say today that he intends to make the provision of local content a condition of the licences given to commercial broadcasters like ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

In a speech today to the Royal Television Society, Hunt will also tell those channels with a public service broadcasting remit (PSBs) that retaining a prime position in the Electronic Programme Guide or future equivalent would depend on their commitment to “content with a social or cultural benefit”.

I will begin the process of redefining public service broadcasting for the digital age by asking Ofcom to look at how we can ensure that enough emphasis is given to the delivery of local content.

Of course not all PSBs will want, or be able, to be local broadcasters. But I’m determined that we should recognise the public value in those that do.

Echoing the sentiments of his party’s ‘big society’ idea, Hunt will warn broadcasters about not investing in local news:

If we remain centralised, top-down and London-centric – in our media provision as in the rest of government – we will fail to reflect the real demand for stronger local identity that has always existed and that new technologies are now allowing us to meet.

Hunt will add that he has been “strongly encouraged by the serious thought that the BBC has been giving to how it might partner with new local media providers”.

He is expected to say that, despite the UK “fast becoming one of the most atomised societies in the world”, those looking back in the future will see its media as “deeply, desperately centralised.”

They will be astonished to find that three out of five programmes made by our public service broadcasters are produced in London.

They will note that there is nothing but national news on most of the main channels, beamed shamelessly from the centre.

And they will discover token regional news broadcasts that have increasingly been stretched across vast geographical areas – with viewers in Weymouth watching the same so-called “local” story as viewers in Oxford. Viewers in Watford watching the same story as viewers in Chelmsford.

Hunt will also set out his vision for local TV provision:

My vision is of a landscape of local TV services broadcasting for as little as one hour a day;

Free to affiliate to one another – formally or informally – in a way that brings down costs;

Free to offer nationwide deals to national advertisers;

Able to piggyback existing national networks – attracting new audiences and benefitting from inherited ones at the same time;

And able to exploit the potential of new platform technologies such as YouView and mobile TV to grow their service and improve their cost-effectiveness.

In June, Hunt scrapped plans for new local news networks set up by the previous government. Hunt called the plans for Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) in Tyne Tees and Borders, Scotland, and Wales “misguided” and claimed they “risked turning a whole generation of media companies into subsidy junkies, focusing all their efforts not on attracting viewers but on persuading ministers and regulators to give them more cash”.

Read Jeremy Hunt’s RTS speech in full here (PDF)Similar Posts:



September 23 2010

11:59

Trust in journalists in steep decline, says YouGov research

Trust in journalists has plummeted over the past seven years, according to a survey conducted by YouGov for Prospect Magazine.

YouGov has been assessing people’s trust in various communicators, decision makers and service providers since 2003, and the forthcoming edition of Prospect compares the polling agency’s latest findings with its first.

Unsurprisingly, politicians have taken a hit since the Iraq war and trade union leaders won’t be going to the prom with the captain of the football team any time soon.

But there has also been an alarming fall in the ratings for journalists. In 2003, ITV journalists had a trust rating of a little over 80 per cent. That figure had fallen by 33 per cent by August this year, putting BBC news journalists in the lead.

But the BBC might not be getting asked to babysit or look after anybody’s car: trust in its news journalists has dropped 21 per cent since 2003, down from 81 to 60 per cent.

And it’s a similar story elsewhere: “upmarket” newspapers (Times, Telegraph, Guardian) have suffered a 24 per cent knock down to just over 40 per cent in the latest figures; mid-markets (Mail, Express) are down from around 35 to 21 per cent; the red-tops have only fallen four per cent, but it is from 14 to just 10 per cent.

By comparison, leading Labour politicians scored 23 per cent, leading Liberals 27 per cent and leading Tories, who were the only group on the survey to win an increase in trust, went from a meagre 20 per cent in 2003 to 29 per cent now.

YouGov’s surveys have consistently found more trust in local, rather than national professionals. GPs, teachers, police constables and local MPs are apparently deemed more trustworthy.

Unfortunately, the polls don’t include data for local journalists. Does the tendency to trust local professionals extend to the local hacks? Are there areas where people trust their hyperlocal start-up more than the age-old local rag?

Feel free to chime in with your own opinions… what about this?Similar Posts:



September 18 2010

12:11

What I read today…

September 16 2010

12:02

September 14 2010

10:37

September 13 2010

11:58

MPs and ‘media assassins’: an update on the phone hacking saga

Adam Price, former Plaid Cymru MP and a member of the culture committee which previously investigated phone hacking allegations, spoke to Channel 4 recently about why the culture committee did not force Rebekah Brooks to give evidence, using the Seargent-At-Arms or “nuclear option”, as he refers to it.

We could have used the nuclear option. We decided not to, I think to some extent because of what I was told at the time by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I know was in direct contact with NI execs, that if we went for her, called her back, subpoenaed her, they would go for us – which meant effectively that they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish them and I think that’s part of the reason we didn’t do it… in retrospect I think that’s regrettable. It’s important now that the new inquiry stands firm where we didn’t. Politicians aren’t above the law but neither are journalists, including Rupert Murdoch’s bovver boys with biros.

In a statement to Channel 4 News, the committee chairman John Whittingdale said there was “no suggestion” the news organisation would target members’ private lives.

When it was suggested by Labour members to force Rebekah Brooks to attend, I recall a conversation with Adam Price in which the repercussions for members’ personal lives were mentioned. But that had no bearing on my own decision to oppose bringing in the Serjeant at Arms. Nor do I have any reason to think there was any suggestion that News International would target our private lives.

West Bromwich MP Tom Watson, who spoke at last Thursday’s Commons debate in support of a motion for the standards and privileges committee to investigate fresh allegations of phone-hacking, told the House that politicians are “afraid” of standing up to media “assassins”.

Watson said this weekend that he regretted his part in a story in the Sun suggesting Kate Adie should be sacked in 2001. In an interview on Radio 4, he said he was was “ashamed” of his role in the story, which quoted him as saying Adie should “seriously consider her position”.

I have done things that I regret with journalists. I’ll tell you the worst (…) I stood up a Sun story that Kate Adie had jeopardised our troops in Iran/Iraq with her reporting because I was asked to do so and I felt very guilty about it afterwards. I didn’t tell lies. I was asked by the Sun did I think her report imperilled the safety of our troops. It was a judgment call – I think I used the words ‘she should consider her position’ which was weasel words from a politician that I feel ashamed of.

So I’m part of the problem as well, I am holding my hands up. But nevertheless there is a problem and we need to get to the bottom of it. People whose phones were hacked need to know. We have a toxic media culture that we cannot allow to continue.

Adie was cleared of blame by the BBC and she later accepted damages for libel from the newspaper.

Also speaking on Radio 4, former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission Sir Christopher Meyer said that MPs have an “love-hate” relationship with the media.

If we are going to talk about people being in cahoots with journalists, look no further than the House of Commons. This is why the thing has got so convoluted. It is because MPs enjoy an intimate, often toxic, love-hate relationship with journalism. They need journalists in order to leak and to brief; they hate journalists when they start looking into their affairs.

(…) They live together in a deadly embrace and I really have to ask the question whether MPs shouldn’t actually recuse themselves from passing judgment on journalism simply because the interests are so conflicted.

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September 09 2010

09:07

September 06 2010

10:51
10:05

BBC CoJo: In defence of Mark Thompson’s visit to Downing Street

Last week several news outlets, including the BBC, reported on a visit to Downing Street by the BBC’s director general Mark Thompson, who was allegedly there to discuss BBC news coverage of the government’s spending review.

It was suggested that such a visit may risk damaging the impartiality of the broadcaster, with Thompson reportedly trying to ensure a good relationship with the government in light of a licence fee review on the horizon. Others indicated that the meeting was on the order of senior government figures who wanted to “quiz” Thompson on content.

Commenting on the press coverage, Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism criticizes what he regards as a promotion of appearance and impression over the facts in a post on the College of Journalism discussion blog.

Is it really a surprise for example, to learn that David Cameron’s press chief, Andy Coulson, had lunch with the BBC head of news, Helen Boaden, and that the subject of spending review coverage came up? Or that Mr Coulson would press for more ‘context’?

(…) Now, I have no special knowledge or insight here – but certainly when I was running Today or World at One it wasn’t that unusual to recruit senior executives to put in a good word when you were trying to fix big interviews.

And it’s easy to see that with a huge, high-profile season on the horizon – and the spending review season will run across all of the BBC’s national and regional programming as well as the news website – a bit of shoulder work from the chaps at the top is no bad thing.

See his full post here…Similar Posts:



September 03 2010

16:46

‘The silence is almost eerie’: press holds back on phone hacking scandal

Allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World resurfaced this week following an investigation by the New York Times which looked at past allegations as well as a new case being legally pursued by a third party. This has led to calls today for a judicial review from industry bodies and politicians.

But coverage of the event by the rest of the media has come under criticism by numerous publications and bloggers.

Caroline Crampton at the New Statesman reflected on the issue the day after the story broke, when she claims the Guardian was the only national newspaper to have reported on the NYTimes article at the time.

The Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Mirror all failed to cover the story at all. Considering that the investigation uncovers a widespread culture of phone-hacking at a major Sunday paper, with one source saying “Everyone knew. The office cat knew”, I would have thought that Fleet Street would have more to say about the low tactics employed by one of its number.

But the silence on the Coulson story from the rest is almost eerie. Papers are usually desperate to expose each other’s failures. Why are they holding back?

Online media watchdog Tabloid Watch makes the same points, while editor of the Liberal Conspiracy blog Sunny Hundal wrote on the Guardian website that while he expected News International publications to avoid the topic, he was disappointed by a lack of coverage on BBC radio early on.

It comes as little surprise News International subsidiaries and other tabloids have avoided it. But the BBC’s radio silence also speaks volumes: not just about their deference to the new administration, but of unwillingness to investigate their peers. It needed the New York Times to blow the story wide open again.

(…) The conscience of our country is determined more by Rupert Murdoch’s private interests than is healthy, already. These controversies say less about rightwing bloggers (whose smears are used as a proxy) and more about the collusion that takes place among the media establishment.

However the BBC has since followed up on the Time’s report, including an interview on Radio 4′s Today programme with Lord John Prescott this morning discussing his own concerns of being targeted by phone hackers while BBC Surrey’s Nick Wallis yesterday discussed the report, admitting that the BBC had only touched on the issue “from time to time” but said he would be writing to every Conservative MP in Surrey and asking them if they are happy that David Cameron kept former NOTW editor Andy Coulson as his PR man.

The article by the New York Times is due to be published in its Sunday magazine this weekend.Similar Posts:



11:52

William Hague and the power of the political blogger

David Higgerson, head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror, has posed some interesting questions on what the William Hague and Christopher Myers story means for the power, image and responsibilities of the blogging community.

The fact Hague felt the need to release the statement he did, and that Myers felt the need to stand down, shows the influence political bloggers have within the Westminster village. (…) Does Hague’s response suggest that he and his colleague over-weighed the true impact of what is written on blogs for the wider public? It’s certainly the mother of all statements, and there’s a danger it sets a new precedent for denying rumours. Will we now see a glut of rumours around the internet in the knowledge that a denial is likely to follow?

And, he adds, if recent events do show political bloggers are becoming increasingly influential, should we now be addressing the introduction of greater responsibilities for such a powerful online community?

See his full post here…Similar Posts:



August 20 2010

11:11

Poligraft: the transparency tool set to make investigative journalism easier

The Sunlight Foundation has launched a new tool – Poligraft – to encourage greater transparency of public figures and assist journalists in providing the extra details behind stories.

By scanning news articles, press releases or blog posts, which can be submitted to the program by inserting the URL or pasting the entire article, the technology can then pick out people or organisations and identify the financial or political links between them.

Discussing the impact of this technology, Megan Taylor writes on PoynterOnline that it is a simple yet powerful tool for the news industry.

Anyone can use this, but it could be especially powerful in the hands of hands of journalists, bloggers, and others reporting or analyzing the news. It would take hours to look these things up by hand, and many people don’t know how to find or use the information.

Journalists could paste in their copy to do a quick check for connections they might have missed. Bloggers could run Poligraft on a series of political stories to reveal the web of contributions leading to a bill. All this information is public record, but it’s never easy to dig through. What is possible when investigative journalism is made just a little bit easier?

See a video below from the Sunshine Foundation posted on Youtube explaining how the technology works:

Hatip: EditorsweblogSimilar Posts:



10:29

News Corp gives to Republicans, but who’s giving what to Democrats exactly?

Responding to News Corporation’s donation of $1 million to the Republican Governors Association in the US announced earlier this week, the Business Media Institute (BMI) reports on figures released by the OpenSecrets website that show significant political donations to the Democrats from other media organisations.

Delving into the numbers, the BMI looks at who’s donating what and where, including stats on News Corp.’s previous donations to the Democrats – asking if those criticising the corporation for this latest sum are missing out some vital, balancing figures.

Full story on Business and Media Institute website at this link…Similar Posts:



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