Wednesday, 4 August 2010

New Media Vs Old Media

On the ABC’s website, The Drum examines how Wikileaks exposed the leaked classified military reports concerning the war in Afghanistan. They question why a small group like Wikileaks can produce such a shocking expose’ about the Afghani war that trumps anything produced by the mainstream media. But the real issue is, what effect is the internet having on journalism and the media.

Thirdly, the release of the Afghan logs constitutes a damning indictment on the traditional pillars of journalism. Wikileaks is a tiny organisation: basically, a bunch of computer nerds supported by a handful of volunteers. Yet, in the short period of its existence, it has broken an extraordinary number of big stories, from the 'Collateral Murder' footage of the Apache helicopter in Iraq to corruption in Kenya. As one admirer put it, "Wikileaks has probably produced more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years".

It was just too tempting and I had to add my 15¢ worth.

The Drum Comments:

Terry Wright
28 Jul 2010 5:10:09pm

New media such as the internet is having a huge effect that we may not be noticing. 

Take drug policy for example. Much of us get our information about drugs from the movies, the MSM or what the government tell us. Now it only takes 15 minutes on the web and you will find that most of what we have been told was wrong or grossly exaggerated. This is challenging one of politics most potent weapons - scare campaigns about drugs.

It's only been over the last 5 years or so that many drug myths perpetuated by the government have been publicly debunked. These myths were so heavily promoted in an attempt to appear "Tough on Drugs" that they somehow became "facts". The cannabis gateway theory, crack babies, ecstasy killing a generation, crack/ice being instantly addictive, the ice epidemic, the ecstasy epidemic, the skunk epidemic, the honeypot effect around MSIC etc. - all myths that were debunked by easy access to the internet.

Remember the recent mental health panic concerning cannabis? Remember the articles in the MSM and dire warnings from politicians? Remember the sudden surge from the states to ban drug paraphernalia and increase drug penalties for pot? All because of some picky reporting from the MSM especially the Murdoch press. It took a constant stream of rebuttals from those who bothered to analyse the research and evidence to encourage the public to check for themselves. Now, whenever someone wheels out the old anti-cannabis rhetoric, they are bombarded with facts and links to research that would have not been publicly available a decade ago.

How many times have we heard some swarmy politician slamming another politician for being "Soft on Drugs"? Nearly every single "Soft on Drugs" slur has been on someone who puts forward a rational, evidence based suggestion but without the ability to easily check facts, scary sound bites about evil drug dealers targeting your children catch the public's attention. 

Luckily, we can now just google any new proposal and decide for ourselves rather than rely on politically motivated spin or the usual drug hysteria that makes great headlines in the MSM. We just have to look to the US, where the "War on Drugs" was causing so much carnage but was never fully challenged due to constant lies and propaganda from the DEA and other anti-drug groups. Most of the media were hesitant to criticise the "War on Drugs" but the internet changed all that. Now, the "War on Drugs" is targeted regularly and the government has made more positive changes than ever before in it's history. In fact, the whole world is rapidly embracing harm minimisation as the public become more aware of the facts instead of the BS fed to us in a closed information environment. 

No wonder the government wants an internet filter.

I love the internet. And The Australian Heroin Diaries wouldn’t exist without it. I especially love the way you can provide links to real information to debunk the lies and exaggerations we so often see.  Being able to discredit misinformation and political posturing gives us a unique power reminiscent of what Don Dunstan once said - to keep the bastards honest. Well, that’s the theory anyway. 

What surprises me most though, is that many of the usual suspects haven’t caught on that facts can be checked in a few minutes with a quick google. Only recently, the WA premier, Colin Barnett was shooting his mouth off with scary lies about the dangers of cannabis and why WA had to toughen up their drug laws. The comments section of the PerthNow website was inundated with posts challenging Barnetts’ silly claims and the fact checking power of the internet was on display for all to see. 

Most politicians are sleazy and will say anything to try and win over voters but what is the media’s excuse? It seems contradictory that on one hand, they take full advantage of the whiz-bang features that a digital world offers them but then on the other hand, they overlook the easy access to factual information that may not coincide with their own reporting. News Ltd. anyone?

My distaste for anything Murdoch is no secret. Not only have they systematically lowered the standards of journalism around the world but their lack of ethics and agenda driven reporting continue to influence an ignorant public with misinformation, sensationalism and modern conservative ideology. And in what seems like a surreal joke, Murdoch has decided that we should pay to read what he calls, quality journalism. He argues that “quality journalism” is worth paying for and just like buying a newspaper, there should be a charge to read their garble. This will probably come as no surprise but The Guardian in the UK reports that News Ltd’s, The Times has lost almost 90% of online readership after just three weeks of subscription only access. It seems, most people do not want to pay for News Ltd’s “quality journalism” after all. Will Australians pay to read The Daily Telegraph or The CourierMail online? What about The Adelaide Advertiser or The Herald-Sun? It probably depends on how much “quality journalism” there is.

My response in the The Drum article included a dig at the proposed censorship bill called the internet filter. It is the single biggest political issue facing us today. No matter how wonderful the new media is and how much it cuts through the bullshit forced on us, it is pointless if we can’t access it. The internet censorship filter is designed to take away our access to information. Information that can’t be controlled or filtered by those with power. What Senator Conroy and the Labor government don’t understand is that it’s so obvious to the public what they are up to. Just like in 2006 when John Howard changed the media ownership laws and allowed his political ally, Rupert Murdoch to control a countrywide media conglomerate. Only this time, we have all had a taste of what the internet can provide and giving up our open access to it is just not going to happen.

One of the topics flagged for being banned via the proposed internet filter is information on how to use drugs. Ironically, the government itself already supplies funding to NGOs that publish information that help users prepare their drugs for injection. There are plenty of websites and brochures that explain how to get around the protection mechanisms of opiate based pharmaceuticals, giving a step by step guide on how to extract the goodies from specially sealed pills. There are also guides on how to safely inject heroin/speed/cocaine etc. including addresses for where to obtain free syringes. Under the rules of the proposed internet filter, these websites will disappear. It just means that those seeking this information will either view these websites hosted overseas, loose an arm or die. Is this really helping anyone? Who is the target for limiting information on drugs? Kids maybe? Recreational users? Isn’t this even more of a reason not to ban these sites?

To sum up, the internet has given us access to information that scares the government. For the first time, the public doesn’t have to be limited to information that corporations and governments dictate to us. We are free to check facts, choose alternatives or switch off altogether. The argument that certain topics are taboo already and we can’t access them now is simply because we have no say in the matter. Our government censors whatever they want and we are left to argue with a faceless bureaucracy, always with no success. When 95% of Australians disagree with the internet filter, experts keep proving it won’t work and a 15 year old kid can hack it in 30 minutes but the government still refuses to budge, what chance did we have before the internet? The actions of Senator Conroy are a perfect illustration that the government will apply any censorship they want and no amount of logic or public pressure will influence their decision. In other words, we do not want the current censor board’s decisions on what’s restricted so using that as an argument is pointless. We must decide for ourselves what we and our families view according to our own set of standards. Why should we allow the government to decide what we, as adults can or cannot view? Especially when they have such a dreadful record.


Gledwood said...

There's loads of misinformation out there too.

That Wikileaks thing, isn't it a site where anyone can just leak their facts to the world..? I wouldn't know.

What I find strange about this war in Afghanistan is that AFTER we wasted all that money (and no-one ever talks about how much it all costs) going in there for whatever reasons, the opium crop went through the roof! What's that all about?

I wish I could agree with you about cannabis being harmless but I'm one of those people who cannot smoke it. It brings on such extreme paranoia, with hallucinations, in only a few puffs. I loathe the stuff. It should definitely be banned. O it is banned. Ho-hummm...

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Gleds.

I'm like you with cannabis. I hate it and get ultra paranoid on the stuff. But like anything, some people react badly to it. I know some people who have half a glass of wine and are legless. Others I know get extremely aggressive and angry. These people should not drink.

Statistics tell us that dope rarely causes any measurable problem with moderate smokers but there are always going to be a few.

The opium crops went through the roof in Afghanistan because the old ruling Taliban didn't allow opium to be grown. Once they were removed, the local war lords took over their region and reintroduced opium growing.

BTW, did you know that before the war, TV was illegal ... Tele-ban! : )