Tag Archives: opinion

Who Speaks For Ireland? Media and Representation

Do you feel as though mainstream Irish media represents you and the issues that matter to you well? If not, then you are not alone.

 

There is a well-documented disconnect between many Irish young people and their government. A study in 2007 had Ireland’s young voting turn-out at the lowest in Europe. But what is less well-documented is the disconnect between much of Ireland’s youth and its media. I would argue that the political apathy is in part a knock on effect of a media that does little to prioritise issues that affect younger demographics but it is a problem in its own right as well.

 

This was well demonstrated in the ‘Pantigate’ incident that has been unfolding since January which brought many issues of homophobia and censorship to the forefront of debate. But it has also shown that the priorities and loyalties of the Irish media do not align with much of the population. The details of debates on homophobia, the Iona Institute and other parties involved have been and will be discussed elsewhere but what is more significant to me are actions of RTE in its role as broadcaster during the scandal.

 

There was a lack of transparency from the beginning which made many people uneasy. When the final figure of the settlement of €85,000 was revealed many people were outraged. RTE has received over 850 official complaints regarding this pay-out for a comment which received zero audience complaints on the night.

 

The general frustration and outrage was expressed on social media platforms and described on RTE a week later as “Twitter lynch mobs”. It was probably more akin to an unfiltered Letters to the Editor page. One upload of the section of interview edited out of RTE’s digital archive has been viewed on Daily Motion 27,360 times at time of writing. This is higher than the average rating of 18 of RTE’s 20 most watched programmes.This is maybe not that surprising given, according the Irish Digital Consumer Report in 2013, 53% of Irish people aged 16-25 and 43% of Irish people aged 26-34, now consume the majority of their TV content online.

 

I spoke to the chair of Ireland’s top journalism degree, Dr Jane Suiter who has written for a number of publications such as the Financial Times, to get her perspective on how Ireland’s traditional media have struggled to entice young audiences. “Yes I think traditional media are struggling with how to win audiences among young people. The Irish Times for example has hired a few younger writers who attempt to engage with issues relevant to younger readers but the success is patchy.”

 

However Dr. Suiter felt that journalism has had to become partially about entertainment rather than purely information. “Journalists are increasingly utilising social media as a source and reference for news and current affairs; this allows more direct access for all citizens as the shift in news production becomes more bottom up. Younger people are more likely to be engaged in social media and this is thus a source of influence.”

 

So young people looking to get involved in debates and commentary on current affairs now need no more qualification than an internet connection. Social media, particularly Twitter, is the primary news outlet for many young people all over the world including Ireland. Ireland has 600,000 daily Twitter users, making us the 10th highest country in the world for Twitter users per capita. This is a fact that journalists and broadcasters alike have been struggling with for a number of years. While this presents its own set of quality-control challenges, is an open more inclusive discussion not generally preferable?

 

The guests and debates on RTE only continued to highlight this disconnect in the weeks that followed ‘Pantigate’. Pussy Riot and Hollaback are two groups that have big youth followings but their treatment on RTE has cringe-worthy at best.  Brendan O’Conner’s interview of Pussy Riot in February was widely considered embarrassment as he failed to discuss their activism or feminist actions or their experiences of prison but rather made inappropriate jokes and asked questions about Madonna. Last year Ryan Tubridy interviewed the head of Irish Hollaback Aimee Doyle and suggested that she should find street harassment complimentary.

 

When asked Hollaback stated: “It was quite clear that Ryan didn’t take us seriously and was determined to present us as a group concerned only with “wolf-whistles” rather than a group concerned with street harassment and its place within rape culture. It was a frustrating experience, as we felt that there was a deliberate attempt to twist our words and redefine our experiences.  It seemed that our attempts to challenge the status quo were unwelcome to Ryan, who of course benefits from that status quo.”

 

Just this month RTE came out with a new TV show ‘The Centre’ that focuses on a working class community centre trying to “grab grants” by ticking “diversity boxes”. I watched the first 10 minutes of the pilot and that was all it took for the show to be massively classist and transphobic, not to mention anti-traveller and dismissive of Muslim women. Rather than spreading the things that would offend people out RTE decided to put all the things you might hate about them in one convenient place.

 

In February UCC held a Journalism Conference where the issues surrounding sexism in Irish media were addressed, like the fact that 98% of opinion columns in the Irish Times are written by men. Audrey Ellard Walsh, a Cork journalist covering the event, referred to traditional news outlets and “legacy media” which is an interesting term. Legacy is what traditional medias have to offer. Reputation, authority and trust are vital for any news outlet and it is the advantage that they still have over blog and purely online based publications. However what online journalism has to offer is an accessibility and diversity of voices that is seriously lacking in much of Ireland’s “legacy media”.

 

But Dr Suiter believes that “online journalism” as distinct from journalism as a whole is an increasingly outdated concept. “In many ways almost all journalism is now online to a greater or lesser extent. The questions are from where does it emanate? The traditional news organisations tend to have greater resources, more trained and experienced journalists and thus have a higher level of credibility with the public. The challenge for them and indeed for democracy is to ensure that these advantages are leveraged, ensuring high quality, questioning, well researched journalism that engages with the audience.”

 

The BBC could be seen in some ways to reflect this. It is one of the most highly visited online sources of news, on its own site and across various social media platforms, but also maintains its tradition television and radio mediums. It combines new techniques with a reputation that is trusted. But more importantly it provides context for its breaking news, something which can be lacking in Twitter headlines.

 

At the end of our interview, Dr Suiter expressed optimism for Irish media in the future, that it would figure out how to adapt and change. This week The Irish Times saw changes as John Waters left their employment and the website hosted a respectful and engaged article at the Lady & Trans Fest at Seomra Spraoi.

 

I am not suggesting that this disconnect is a new problem but rather that the internet is providing a new solution. Now the voices of the disenfranchised have a more easily accessible means of being heard. Underground zines that the world can read.

 

Does this mean we about to see a seismic shift in Irish media? Will ‘legacy’ outlets catch up with the needs and priorities of a very different country? I am not sure honestly. Most of the time in Ireland, to poorly paraphrase Yeats, change comes dripping slow. I do think that local, home-grown media still has value in an increasingly globalised word. So if Ireland’s media does change, hopefully it will be for the better.

 

First published in Trinity News.

Why the Trial of Barrett Brown Should Scare You

Barrett Brown (32) is an American freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian, Vanity Fair and the Huffington Post. He is facing the prospect of a 105 year jail sentence.

In 2009, Brown set up Project PM which was “dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance”. Then in 2010 the actions of Wiki Leaks and the brutal treatment of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning inspire Brown to dedicate himself to online activist and transparency projects.

It was through this that he came into contact with the ‘hacktivist’ collective Anonymous. Not as a hacker, but as someone who discussed and defended the group to the media, without actually being a member.

brown

Then in 2011 Anonymous hacked the computer systems of private intelligence firm HB Gary Federal and released thousands of incriminating emails such as the firm trying to persuade Bank of America to hire them to discredit Wiki Leaks supporters. This was followed by the 2012 leak of emails from Stratfor, another private security firm.

It was ultimately Brown’s investigations of these two firms that led to his harassment by the FBI. In March 2012 his apartment was broken into and searched for information pertaining to HB Gary and Stratfor, various documents were seized but they did not have a warrant for his arrest at this point. Ultimately the FBI found Brown at his mother’s house where they demanded his laptop, which he denied having. Over the months that followed, agents continued to harass Brown and threatened to arrest and indict his mother for “harbouring” Brown or helping him conceal documents.

Then in September, Brown posted a YouTube video in which he talked about how FBI agents had threatened to ruin his life. In the emotional video he threatened to “destroy” one of his harassers FBI agent Robert Smith, who had threatened his mother. There were no physical threats issued.

This allowed the FBI to arrest Brown on the charge of threatening a Federal agent. Once he was in custody they found other charges to hold him on such as trafficking in stolen goods for sharing a URL to the leaked emails with some of his colleagues, as well as the more ludicrous charge of credit card fraud as some of the emails contained credit card information which it was clear he had never used.

Brown has now spent a year in prison awaiting trial.

These are the facts that are widely known by those who support him but have been mostly ignored by mainstream media. Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, has been consistent in his support of Brown. Greenwald himself as faced harassment due to his work with whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“Both prongs of prosecutorial abuse are clearly present in Brown’s case. There is no evidence that the link he posted to already published documents resulted in any unauthorized use of credit cards, and certainly never redounded in any way to his benefit. More important, this prosecution is driven by the same plainly improper purpose that drove the one directed at Aaron Swartz and so many others: the desire to exploit the power of criminal law to deter and severely punish anyone who meaningfully challenges the government’s power to control the flow of information on the internet and conceal its vital actions…What the US government counts on above all else is that the person it targets is unable to defend themselves against the government’s unlimited resources” – Glenn Greenwald

What should be highlighted here for everyone, not only journalists, is the implication that linking to stolen information could be deemed illegal, by extension making investigations into many kinds of clandestine activities also illegal.

The prospect of the American government giving itself the authority to control what the public should and should not know is not new.

However the idea that you can be charged simply for reading something available to the public online is incredibly worrying.

This particularly should worry any American readers but given recent revelations about the NSA have made it clear that the US government believe it has the right to monitor citizens of other countries as well this is a matter which affects everyone.

Think about your Facebook profiles, your Twitter feeds, your Tumblr dashboard and think of all the links you click on or share every week. This trial has the potential to create legal precedent to have you be legally responsible for information you find online.

Even outside of the bigger picture, the charges still do not make sense. How can the prosecution argue that Brown is legally culpable for the information he possessed and not the dozens of other journalists, from various media outlets such as the New York Times, who reported on the information, most of whom must have read the material as well?

Not only that but the US Department of Justice have now issued a gag order on Brown and his legal team, preventing them from talking to other journalists or “members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case”.

Brown’s lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, has stated that this gag order is a violation of Brown’s 1st Amendment rights as a writer who has continued to work from behind bars on issues not pertaining to his own case or his prosecution.

Now not only can journalists be punished for critical writing about their government but once arrested cannot speak to other members of the press. The ways in which this threatens the right to freedom of expression are obvious and deeply concerning.

The General Secretary of Reporters Without Borders came out in defense of Brown saying:

Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest…Threatening a journalist with a possible century-long jail sentence is a scary prospect for journalists investigating the intelligence government contractor industry”.

From start to finish this has been a targeted attack on a journalist who did his job. The US attorney’s office have made claims they know do not hold weight in attempts to discredit, bankrupt and silence Brown. I would go so far as to say that Barrett Brown is a political prison of the US state.

To learn more detail about the trial or to donate to Brown’s legal fund go to Free Brown Brown dot org. The persecution of investigative journalists puts all civil liberties at risk and must not be ignored.

Orla-Jo

Freedom of the Press

The internet has allowed greater freedom of the press than ever before in human history but many governments have shown tendencies to try to combat this freedom wherever they can.

Reporters Without Borders is an NGO dedicated to protecting journalists and the rights of the press.

“Every year, some 500 journalists are arrested, 1,000 assaulted or threatened, and over 500 media outlets censored. All of these violations have serious consequences which need to be tracked in order to better counteract them.” – RSF

They also campaign against internet censorship, teach about online security and provide support for online journalists.

“Netizens now play an essential role in the vanguard of news coverage worldwide. However, more and more often, they are becoming victims of threats and censorship by governments who fear this new cyberspace of freedom.”

Organisations like this are becoming increasingly necessary with the climate of censorship and harassment of the press that appears to be growing more prevalent in countries that would have previously supporting a free media.

UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The US have traditionally taken great pride in their press freedoms but in recent years have found ways to undermine any attempts at investigative journalism.

In May this year the US Department of Justice seized the calls records of the Associated Press (AP) without being given warning or told why the records were needed, no warrant was issued. Whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden or Barrett Brown have all mean met with severe punishment or been forced to flee the country.

Not only that but one of the documents that Chelsea Manning is accused of having passed to WikiLeaks is a video proving that a US helicopter was responsible for the killing of two Reuters reporters as well as multiple Iraqi civilians.

Barrett Brown is facing charges that could add up to 105 years in federal prison for simply investigating the actions of a private security company. Jeremy Hammod, pleaded guilty to hacking the email account of Stratfor and released hundreds of emails that contained sensitive information including discussions of possible assassinations. Brown linked colleagues to a public URL that contained the emails. This is the reason he is being charged with “trafficking” in stolen goods.

“Barrett Brown is not a hacker, he is not a criminal…He did not infiltrate any systems, nor did he appear to have the technical expertise to do so. Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest. The sentence of 105 years in prison that he is facing is absurd and dangerous” – Reporters Without Borders General Secretary, Christophe Deloire.

In the last week, a gag order has been placed not only on Brown himself but on all his lawyers forcing them to refrain from: “any statement to members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine,  internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case”.

In response to trends like these, Pieter Omtzigt of the European People’s Party has tabled a motion for a resolution regulating surveillance programmes and protecting whistleblowers on July 31th in the Council of Europe. 

The proposed resolution would call on member states to regulate and control surveillance, protect whistleblowers on a national level and spark an investigation by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. This committee has previously shed light on CIA inference and secret detention centres.

All over the world, journalists continue to be at risk. A month ago journalists were attacked by soldiers in Sri Lanka for covering a protest against the pollution of a local water source. Four atheist bloggers were arrested and one imprisoned in Bangladesh. Authorities in Myanmar have consisted sought to curb the media and have now banned Time magazine for it’s discussion of militantly, radical Buddhist groups.

It is the purpose and responsibility of journalists to critically report on world events but far greater protections for these reporters need to be implemented.

Tanzanian radio broadcaster Phot credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello
Tanzanian radio broadcaster Photo credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello

What We’re Talking About When We’re Talking About Feminism

Feminism is word that simply by existing can cause controversy. It is often implied that feminist issues are frivolous issues, that feminists are petty and mean-spirited or that feminists just care about abortion or sexual harassment. The mainstream media fosters this idea of feminism is narrow, reactionary and unnecessary.

But feminism is more than a narrowly interpreted idea of “women’s issues”.

Education is a feminist issue. Two thirds of the children in the world without access to education are girls.

Trans rights are a feminist issue. When someone is told that their gender identity lessens them as humans or limits their human rights, that is a feminist issue.

Poverty is a feminist issue. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor. Women work two thirds of the world’s working hours but receive only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property. Of the 150 major conflicts fought since War War Two, 130 of them were fought in the developing world.

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UN Photo/Martine Perret

Racism is a feminist issue. Stereotypes and discrimination of women of colour is a feminist issue. Native American women are nearly twice as likely to be sexually assaulted. Indigenous women in Canada are five times more likely to die as a result of violence.

The rights of the disabled are feminist issues. In Europe, Australia and North America, over half of disabled women will experience physical abuse.

War and conflict are feminist issues. Of the 27.4 million people displaced due to conflict in 1996; 80% of them were women and children. Wartime rape affects women of all ages. In the Democratic Republic of Congo 36 women are raped every day. During the Bosnian War between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped.

Clinic Somalia UN
UN Photo/Stuart Price

Rape is held over the heads of women all over the world as a punishment for those who step out of line and is most definitely a feminist issue, even when the victims are men. In the United States someone is sexual assaulted every 2 minutes, 54% of rapes go unreported and 97% of rapists will receive no jail sentence.

Women between the ages of 15 and 44 years of age are globally more at risk from rape and domestic violence than they are from cancer, war, car accidents or malaria according to World Bank data.

There is a sentiment that feminism is unnecessary or that the term is outdated, that there is no need to actively promote the ‘feminine’ but rather support equality as a whole. But the idea that what is traditionally ‘feminine’ is lesser is still so pervasive in today’s culture that while it is socially acceptable for a women to behave and dress in ways considered traditionally masculine, the same cannot be said for men who wish to behave or dress in ways considered to be feminine. These bias are damaging to men as well. But more significantly they demonstrate that many advances that appear to have occurred in gender equality are based on the idea that women should behave or value things that are more traditionally masculine.

That is why feminism remains relevant.

Pibor South Suden UN
UN Photo

Orla-Jo