All We Are Saying is Give Peace Journalism a Chance

I think it’s fairly safe to say that the news frames the way we see the world. By choosing what to report and how to report it, news media holds tremendous power over what is debated within public spheres, which in itself becomes problematic as the global news becomes increasingly dominated by the social, political, and economical interests of the global West (Joye 2010). Due to geopolitical and commercial interests it makes sense for news broadcasters to reinforce the views of their audience, rather than challenge them, which in turn lends itself to stereotyping cultural “others” and cultivating increasingly isolated public spheres (el-Nawawy and Powers 2010). Shinar (2006 cited in el-Nawawy and Powers 2010) argues that contemporary news, which thrives on sensation, drama and emotion, favours the production of news stories based on war and conflict simply by design. But is it possible for news coverage to move away from this fueling of conflict and difference, and instead promote cross-cultural dialogue and foster conditions for conflict resolution? This is where academics have argued for a new type of “peace journalism”.

Lynch and McGoldrick (2005 cited in el-Nawawy and Powers 2010) talk about “peace journalism” in terms of creating opportunities for audiences to consider and value non-violent resolutions to conflict. This is achieved through the selection of news stories as well as the way in which the news stories are constructed. Additionally, “peace journalism” can be constructed in a way that frames conflict in terms of political, social, and economic contexts rather than as an inevitable and natural response to uncontrollable events as the modern mass media typically do (el-Nawawy and Powers 2010).

With the aim of giving a “voice to the voiceless”, Al-Jazeera English (AJE) represents an opportunity to further globally represent the stories and views of the global South (el-Nawawy and Powers 2010). AJE is unique as the first English language satellite news that broadcasts globally from the Middle East, sourcing many stories and journalists locally (el-Nawawy and Powers 2010). Figenschou (2010) recognises that AJE represents a potential contra-flow to mainstream news media, however then acknowledges that there are still some issues of representation amongst the journalists, the most prolific and authoritative of which are male, independent elites. But in terms of peace journalism and moving towards the facilitation of conflict resolution, I think Al-Jazeera English represents a good start to the process and also serves as a good model for other media outlets. A study by el-Nawawy and Powers (2010) shows promising results that help support this claim, stating “the longer viewers had been tuning into AJE, the less dogmatic they were in their cognitive thought”.


References

Figenschou, T.U. 2010, “A voice for the voiceless?: A quantitative content analysis of Al-Jazeera English’s flagship news”, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 85-107. Viewed 2 October 2014 http://uow.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link/0/eLvHCXMwVV1JCgJBDGzEFwiKx_nAQPd0m86cxcEH6AOyHuf_R9PgQSEPyKEoqkKoSmliJIoFPceExG81YzOkriasAP53zP9h8-2UDraf03t7vO7P-VsGMMvotZmbB98uS_DEiksRdiSQNuLUnOtKFEgqhNUyiKwwfhsDWqH_ySBMe8dySccw1HZNU3E1QA3pIbkpdq6abyMT0zULs3wA5G4wWg

Joye, S. 2010, “Reflections on Inter Press Service: Evaluating the importance of an alternative news voice”, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 121-125. Viewed 2 October 2014 http://uow.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link/0/eLvHCXMwVZ0xDsIwDEUjxAmQQIy9QKXEdZx0RlQcoBeIE_-R-4-4EgNIPoAX-_3_lx_CpLU1XxDRxyU-L7Gy1VaGdR0i-Avzf775dgkne1_Dvj33x2v-lgHMXVaapTmraVFuBiiP4bomFoLTFanBKkRYkKM50ij3WkpWFdbjgBJ6uoWz-2m7hwnOYEIGEnXurSvrqkcVF4MWE_oAyAYwEg

el-Nawawy, M. & Powers, S. 2010, “Al-Jazeera English: A conciliatory medium in a conflict-driven environment?”, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 61-84. Viewed 2 October 2014 http://uow.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link/0/eLvHCXMwVV07DgJBCJ0YT2CisdwLTDJ_ZmrjxgPoAYCBcu9fyhoLDRSUVI_3KXBuoY5oC2qwNopfcuhFOsIUptma_pn5P2i-ntxBtrN7rffn7eG_zwA8x5aGN6Eyi4LYyeNEyjAawqAGc8S9cBgeV0KFTzbGRY3YK5YgCJS4xos7mqCWq1tq3yOBiDM34yuJqEsIzJltqDryG79RL54

Does Twitter Make a Good News Source?

Twitter has quickly become a new journalistic standard. Any journalist or media organisation that wants to be taken seriously and compete within the new attention economy of the internet needs to be engaging with Twitter in an intelligent and meaningful way (Bruns 2009). As Lee-Wright (2012) points out

“people are migrating to twitter feeds and other news aggregators that supply the news they want.”

I must admit that I too have become increasingly reliant on Twitter as a source of current global, local, and special interest news. I have often wondered whether such heavy reliance on a social media platform for news journalism is really advisable. Khorana (2014) lists 5 criteria for evaluating a news source in a global media landscape, these are: Variety of views; cultural bias; story structure; backgrounds of interviewees; and the gender, ethnicity and organizational positioning of the reporter. Using these criteria I will examine Twitter and attempt to answer the question, ‘does Twitter make a good news source?’

Image sourced from here

Image sourced from here

There are two aspects to what kind of views get represented on an individual’s Twitter feed. First of all, the main feed is made up of all the Tweets and Retweets posted by the accounts I follow, updated in real time and displayed in reverse chronological order; which forms a kind of perpetual, custom newspaper that’s tailored to your specific wants and interests (Johnson 2009). This is tricky to assess because the variety of views you receive as an individual here is based largely on your own choices and understanding of who you ought to follow. With so many users there is basically an infinitely vast variety of views, it’s just that it falls to the individual user to determine which views will be heard, whether they are aware of this or not. Arguably the same issues crop up in relation to cultural bias, story structure, backgrounds of interviewees, etc. because Twitter essentially allows for all these different voices to be heard in arguably equal ways, so it then falls on the users to question these criteria based on each of their followed accounts.

What falls outside of the users control is “trending topics”. According to the Twitter (2010) blog

“Twitter Trends are automatically generated by an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously. The Trends list is designed to help people discover the ‘most breaking’ breaking news from across the world, in real-time. The Trends list captures the hottest emerging topics, not just what’s most popular.”

So can this algorithm have biases? Absolutely. For starters the trending topics clearly favour events that are gaining a lot of attention in a short space of time “right now”. This means that on mass, smaller opinions or issues that don’t fit within this event may fall by the wayside. Additionally the emphasis on “right now” with trends means that even big events might come and go from the trending column quite quickly, giving them a transient quality that might render events invisible to those who are in different time-zones or keep different work hours (Wilson 2012).

By design, on aggregate Twitter has allowed and enabled certain information and hyper-current news content to be shared in a way that legacy media simply can’t, see examples like #Euromaidan in Ukraine (Bohdanova 2013). But all news media, journalists, curators, aggregators, and algorithms simply must have biases, because without bias the news would simply be an overwhelmingly constant list of unfolding events that would become impossible to make any sense of. But being aware and critical of the biases in news is important to make sure we are getting a complete and more honest picture of the world and the events that take place in it. Do I think Twitter is a good source of news? Yes. Does it have biases and weaknesses? Absolutely. I hope this post gives you at least some understanding as to how these biases and weaknesses might manifest based on the design of the platform itself and the nature of the individuals using it.


References

Bohdanova, T 2013, ‘How Internet Tools Turned Ukraine’s #Euromaidan Protests Into a Movement’, Global Voices, 9 December, viewed 2 October 2014 http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/12/09/how-internet-tools-turned-euromaidan-protests-into-a-movement/

Bruns, A 2009, ‘News Blogs and Citizen Journalism: New Directions for e-Journalism’, viewed 2 October 2014 https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/245673/mod_resource/content/1/Bruns%2C%20A.%20-%20News%20Blogs%20and%20Citizen%20Journalism.pdf

Johnson, S. 2009, How Twitter Will Change The Way We Live, Time Incorporated, New York, 5 June, viewed 2 October 2014 https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/245672/mod_resource/content/1/Johnson%20-%20How%20twitter%20will%20change.pdf

Khorana, S 2014, ‘Who Counts in Global Media? News Values’, powerpoint slides, BCM111, University of Wollongong, viewed 2 October 2014 https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/mod/resource/view.php?id=199662

Lee-Wright, P 2012, ‘News Values: An Assessment of News Priorities Through a Comparative Analysis of Arab Spring Anniversary Coverage’, JOMEC Journal, viewed 2 October 2014 https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/260151/mod_resource/content/1/Week%208_Lee-Wright.pdf

Twitter, 2010, ‘To Trend or Not to Trend…’, Twitter Blog, 8 December, viewed 2 October https://blog.twitter.com/2010/trend-or-not-trend

Wilson, R 2012, ‘Trending on Twitter: A Look at Algorithms Behind Trending Topics’, Ignite Social Media, 3 December, viewed 2 October 2014 http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/twitter-marketing/trending-on-twitter-a-look-at-algorithms-behind-trending-topics/

When a Show Falls in Love with Itself: Should Sherlock Adaptations Be So Faithfull?

I’m willing to bet that if any of you have ever logged in on Tumblr over the past few years then you will be quite aware of the lively fandoms that exist for BBC television programs such as Doctor Who and Sherlock. There’s even a good chance you’ve reblogged or shared some quirky fan art or animated gifs of Holmes saying something profoundly obnoxious. This is because the show is huge, the fandom is huge, and the two are more deeply entwined than television shows and their fan base have ever been previously.

We've all seen more than enough pictures of Sherlock, so instead have this picture of an old dog guarding a turd (sourced from here)

We’ve all seen more than enough pictures of Sherlock, so instead have this picture of an old dog guarding a turd (sourced from here)

BBC’s Sherlock is for all intents and purposes “fan fiction”, only with a big budget, high profile cast, and high production values (Penny 2014). It’s a modern adaptation being handled by two boyhood Conan Doyle fans (Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss) who are extremely “fan aware” when it comes to their writing. Gatiss himself has spoken of an intention to move away from the period costumes and set pieces and focus more on what he feels is the spiritual core of the Sherlock mythology; the relationship between Holmes and Watson, Holmes’ brilliance in logic and deduction, and the peculiarities of Holmes’ personality (Nicol 2012). This sounds well and good, but is the show actually too faithful to the original texts? The original Sherlock Holmes stories were constructed in a male-centred society in which sexism, orientalism, and homophobia was actively normalized in society, and not only do these male-centred narratives reflect these values but so too does this supposedly modern adaptation. Steven Moffat doesn’t have a brilliant track record when it comes to representing characters who aren’t straight, white, cisgendered men, which comes across in the way in which Sherlock is written to reflect the needs of straight, white, cisgendered, male fans whilst neglecting the fans who are female, homosexual, of colour, etc. (Asher-Perrin 2014 ;Penny 2014). In a world that has supposedly progressed into a more accepting, enlightened, and culturally aware place it seems profoundly misguided to call Sherlock a “modern adaptation” simply because the characters have mobile phones and use nicotine patches.

Tantei Opera Milky Holmes may or may not appeal to you as an adaptation, but at least it's being creative.  (Image sourced from here)

Tantei Opera Milky Holmes may or may not appeal to you as an adaptation, but at least it’s being creative.
(Image sourced from here)

The Sherlock Holmes mythology is ripe for adaptation. It’s in the public domain now, and the original texts are largely self-contained and mystery focused with little in the way of character development (Vanacker 2012). Anyone can completely legally write and distribute their own Sherlock Holmes text and use it to explore new situations, cultures, contexts and characters. So with this in mind why are we seeing and celebrating a modern adaptation that does nothing to challenge the values of the original text, or reflect the diverse values of a modern 21st century Britain (or even the world)?

The Limited Lifespan of “The Games”

Comedy can be a difficult to translate to an international audience. The problems with comedy arise when international audiences are alienated from the contexts, personalities and cultures from which the jokes are grown (Turnbull 2014). In other words; if you aren’t “in” on the joke, then you won’t “get” the joke. Some comedies are more restrictively bound to regional and time-based contexts than others. This week I want to talk about the expiration and limits of comedy by looking at the brilliant, but ultimately time-and-place-locked Australian mockumentary comedy The Games.

The Games was a mockumentary that had 2 seasons that ran in 1998 and 2000 respectively (Clarke 2014). It was satirical and worked off the premise that a documentary crew had been granted full access to the working day of several SOCOG (Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) workers; played by John Clarke, Bryan Dawe, Gina Riley, and Nicholas Bell; as they went about their working day dealing with the constant unfolding crisis’ that unfolded everyday due to corruption and gross incompetence (TV.com). What made the show particularly compelling was the fact that in ran in parallel to the organization of the actual Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, often blurring the line between reality and comedic fiction. Many of the main cast went by their actual names in the show, but where playing characters with occupations and roles that fell in line with actual Olympic events and scandals. On many occasions actual Australian news staff were used to make mock-up news programs featuring these fictional characters, which lent the show the appearance of authenticity and added a cultural dimension to the show that was recognizable to an Australian audience.

But by its very design, The Games is a very temporal show and starts to lose relevancy not only outside of the Australian cultural landscape, but also the time-locked socio-political culture that existed in the lead up to the Sydney Olympic Games. In that sense it bears a lot of similarity with the Clarke and Dawe mock-interviews that run alongside the ABC News once a week, which are tightly bound to the current, national news stories and political events of the time and become quickly difficult to transfer across both time and international space (Turnbull 2014). Whilst the show is still arguably funny, even a modern Australian audience might struggle to identify with the events, characters and the jokes as the gap between what the characters know and what the audience knows grows increasingly wider (Turnbull 2008).

Once You Cantopop You Can’t Stop

“The city’s fortune as a media capital rests not only on its centrality, but also on its marginality. Hong Kong is very Chinese and remarkably Western, and yet it’s not really either” (Curtin, 2003).

I think it’s fairly safe to say that although Cantopop is a genre distinct to the culture of Hong Kong, it is also a product of cultural hybridization. As a musical genre it emerged from the early years of Hong Kong television, when singers would appear on variety shows developing a unique style fashioned from US, Japanese and Chinese influences (Curtin 2003). A modern example of Cantopop (or C-Pop) that really helps illustrate this hybridity is the actor/singer Shiga Lin.

Although the majority of her songs are in Mandarin, the English language song (above) helps illustrate Hong Kong’s place as both a nexus for economic and cultural flows, and a competing media capital (Khorana 2014). The song illustrates a cultural negotiation between American and Chinese influences. This is not just in terms of written and spoken languages, which are interchangeably used in the song, the video and the YouTube credits; but also in the business and industry practices. The song was released under Warner Music Hong Kong, which is a localized branch of a large American multinational corporation (Warner Music Group 2011). Digitally, the song and all of Shiga Lin’s music is available for distribution on both Apple’s iTunes and Google Play; which are again American owned. As such Shiga Lin’s career in C-Pop can be seen both in terms of the hybridity of the genre as it evolved from Hong Kong’s early years of broadcast television, and also in terms of the increasing global economic and media power that the C-Pop industry holds (Khorana 2014). But of course it also shows that a part of this growing economic power is invariably tied to American economic interests, for better or for worse.

 

 

Iggy as Failure (to Indian Culture and Industry)

At present, Bollywood is the biggest film industry in the world in terms of output. Bollywood is a term that not only denotes a particular film industry (i.e. that of Bombay) but also a particular style or genre of film featuring many song and dance numbers, high production values, an emphasis on celebrity and spectacle, and elements of melodrama (Ganti 2013). It is a genre that has been shaped over the past 100 years by the changes in India’s socio-economical, political, cultural, traditional and historical environments, and is seen by many as a source of “soft power” for India (Sarwal 2014). But as Schaefer and Karan (2010) point out, Bollywood styles and influences present in the Western world are largely examples that have been co-opted by the marketing departments of multinational corporations for the promotion of American products. In other words, the economic and “soft power” benefits of the genre are not being felt by the nation and people responsible for its creation. One such example of this would be the film clip for the Iggy Azalea song Bounce.

Everything about the film clip to this song puts the Caucasian, Western pop star Iggy Azalea in a position of central importance. Iggy is the star of the show; commanding and controlling the Indian environments, dancers and extras around her for her own gain as well as the gains of her American record label. This is not a hybridization of culture, but rather an appropriation of its aesthetic that has been stripped of its cultural context and reduced to a sexualized fashion. But then if this is a co-opting of Bollywood, then what would hybridization look like?

Pallavi-Sharda-in-saree-stillsImage sourced from here

This is Pallavi Sharda, a second generation Indian-Australian who has broken out into the Bollywood film industry, debuting in a film called Besharam. What’s different about Pallavi’s relationship with Indian culture is that she has been deeply and passionately involved in Bollywood productions both in Australia and in India from a very young age (March 2013). While it’s still got quite a way to go before it is truly a hybridization, there is no doubt that an Australian born and raised actress scoring a leading role in a high profile Bollywood production is likely to lead to more evenly negotiated cultural exchange between Australian and Indian industries.


 

References

Ganti, T. & Ebooks Corporation 2013, Bollywood: a guidebook to popular Hindi cinema, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon.

Schaefer, D.J. & Karan, K. 2010, “Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows”, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 309-316.

 

 

 

 

One Confronting Question

iternational-students-picaimage sourced from here

A week or so back, through the networking powers of Twitter, I ended up befriending a Malaysian exchange student who was enrolled in one of my classes. In the process of getting to know each other she revealed to me that she had been feeling quite sad lately, because she had been in the country for around two weeks but she didn’t know anyone and she felt very alone. I was her first Australian friend. As we got to know each other she hit me with a confronting question, “Why aren’t Australians more friendly? Or is it because they don’t like Asians? [sic]” I had no idea how to answer.

010321fb-21f4-476f-b794-856bff27e51fimage sourced from here

Apparently the experiences of my newest friend were quite common. In a serious of interviews with international students, Kell and Vogl (2007) identified a general feeling that Australian students tended not to form close relationships with international, particularly Asian students. This is attributed to indifference, busy lifestyles and an uncertainty for how to overcome language and culture barriers (Kell and Vogl 2007). So to address the question that had caught me off-guard, the problem isn’t as simple as a like/don’t like dichotomy. The problem seems to be that Australians tend to harbour an Australian-centred world view that limits their capacity or willingness to form relationships with those who fall outside of this world view (Marginson 2012).

homseisck studentimage sourced from here

It’s clear that there needs to be a shift in attitude regarding international students and education. It should also be clear that the challenges international students face can’t be alleviated through English proficiency alone (Kell and Vogl 2007). But then what can be done to address this complex, ingrained problem? Marginson (2012) advocates for a model of international education that nurtures “self-formation” in international students, which requires us as Australians to empower international students in becoming active agents in their self-development. When international students choose to study abroad they do so because they wish to change and develop themselves in a range of areas, not just education (Marginson 2012). My Malaysian friend came to Australia for her last year of university because she loves English, loves Australian accents and wanted to make new Australian friends. International education is one of Australia’s largest exports and as such I think we have a responsibility to ensure that international students are getting a proper intercultural experience (Marginson 2012). Aside from the fact that we should all be striving to be kinder global citizens regardless, the fact is that international education is a major product of ours and we need to be able to guarantee its quality like we would any other product.

 


 

References

Kell, P & Vogl, G 2007, ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, S. Velayutham & A. Wise (eds), Macquarie University, p. 28-29

Marginson, S 2012, ‘Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience International education as self-formation’, Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne, University of Wollongong, 21 February

Hello Kitty, Goodbye Culture

I think that I can speak with a fair degree of confidence that most of us under the age of 30 know who Avril Lavigne is. Most of us probably remember the Canadian singer’s early 2000s hit Sk8er Boi that taught us all about the tragic and insurmountable romantic divides that exist between ballerinas and skateboarders. For those who have missed her complex lyrical insights, Avril came back in April of this year (which for French speakers must have been wonderfully poetic) with a brand new song that was bound to set the world on fire. Only this time that fire was accompanied by pitchforks and outrage.

So aside from sounding heinous, why was Hello Kitty so objectionable to so many? Well many people saw the song and its accompanying film clip, complete with emotionless Japanese dancers and nonsensical strings of random Japanese words, as cultural appropriation crossing a line into problematic racial stereotypes (Beauchamp 2014). Arguably this music video hijacks Japanese popular culture, strips it of context and cultural meaning, and reworks it as a product for commercial “Western” consumption (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008). Of course, Japanese pop-culture is itself commercialized in its own right, but this shallow and stereotyped reworking of Avril’s is certainly questionable enough to warrant open criticism. In an attempt to explain her side of the story Avril took to twitter with the following.

It’s hard to believe such a thorough and solid defence could be articulated in less than 140 characters. But sarcasm aside, perhaps there’s more to this issue than Avril being ignorant and wrong? Apparently Hello Kitty was received favourably in Japan, so just how offended should we be in relation to this song? I suppose this song is meant as a homage to Japanese culture that Avril herself became exposed to as a result of media globalisation, however misguided the final product might have been. In terms of cultural imperialism, the fact that Japanese pop culture is having an impact on audiences outside of Japan could be seen as a good sign (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008).


References

Beauchamp, Z 2014, ‘The economics behind Avril Lavigne’s creepy “Hello Kitty” video’, Vox, 25 April, viewed 10 August 2014 http://www.vox.com/2014/4/25/5650108/hello-kitty-goodbye-avril

O’Shaughnessy, M and Stadler, J 2008, ‘Globalisation’ Media and Society, fifth ed, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 458

Schwartz, R 2014, ‘Avril Lavigne’s ‘Hello Kitty’ video gets ‘favorable’ reactions in Japan’, Billboard, 2 May, viewed 10 August 2014 http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop-shop/6077421/avril-lavigne-hello-kitty-video-japan-reaction-tokyo