Monthly Archives: October 2011

St Paul’s resigning canon holds fire

You’d have thought delivering the Evensong sermon would have offered the recently resigned St Paul’s Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser a moment of respite from a turbulent couple of weeks. Not a bit of it. The priest, serving three months’ notice having quit his post in protest at the Cathedral’s cack-handed response to the Occupy LSE anti-capitalism protestors, had no choice but to tackle the issue head on this Sunday.

Talk about God moving in mysterious ways. The second lesson on the service sheet, Luke,  6. 17-31, could have been written with the recent protests in mind. As Fraser explained, it wasn’t his choice but the Lectionary’s, which sets what Scriptures are read on given days or occasions

“Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God,” the reading quotes Jesus as telling his disciples. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation,” the text continues a few lines on.

Served a sitter, Fraser avoided the obvious route, which would have been to paste the bankers and laud the protesters. He recalled instead the problem of moral absolutes, what he called cheap grace in the face of moral complexity. He remembered the thinking of the late British scholar Gillian Rose, whose truncated life included work for the Polish Commission for the Future of Auschwitz.

As Fraser has written before in reference to Rose’s ideas on the Nazi concentration camps, she argued the Holocaust was being narrated in a way that placed today’s Auschwitz visitors alongside its victims. That was too facile and unchallenging, leaving the fiction of people’s own innocence in place. Far harder would be for visitors to glimpse their reflections in the face of a Nazi camp guard, something potentially far more transformative for the observer.

Fraser said the past two weeks of protest, and the controversy over St Paul’s response, had raised morally complex questions. Far more so than protestors or indeed many journalists would generally allow for. The result was too much cost-free wisdom and no sense of how to tackle the issues raised.

His remarks prompted a cheer in support from a female member of the congregation, which he waved away. He said Christians had no room for complacency. Their own shameful history is also the source of their most valuable insight: that there is no safe or comfortable perspective from which to stand aloof from the world’s problems.

Given reports in various of the day’s newspapers, Fraser’s soon-to-be-former seniors would do well to pay heed. They included the Independent on Sunday’s exclusive that St Paul’s clerics suppressed a study on bankers’ greed to save Church blushes. As for the bankers, and the police they may soon call on to eject the protestors, perhaps they could remember the end of the same passage from Luke. It says men should do to others what they would have them do to them.

And there was me thinking I was taking my daughter for a rare taste of organised religion, beautiful church music with a dash of contemporary politics.

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Progressive media – Made in S Korea

Extraordinary story of successful alternative newspaper model from South Korea’s Hankyoreh – brought to my attention in a video interview by VisionOntv’s Richard Hering at the recent Rebellious Media Conference in London. No news to Korea hands, I’m sure, but interesting for the rest of us.

Who wouldn’t kill, well not literally, for 60k shareholders and a readership of over half a million? Having such a broad ownership structure helps mitigate the effects of corporate patrons or wealthy individuals driving the news agenda. It is unavoidably more accountable to the public precisely because so many of the same public have a say in how the newspaper is run. It plays a vital role in improving the public discourse about governmental accountability, its inherent legitimacy forcing potential competitors to raise their games. We need that in Britain – maybe we all need to learn Korean to find out how they did it.

In the newspaper’s own words:

The Hankyoreh’s financially humble, popular beginnings are part of its legacy: its initial capital stood at 5 billion won, falling short of what most media experts considered the minimum necessary funding for a startup newspaper company. The Hankyoreh solved this issue by instituting a computerized editing system, which replaced the old type-mounted system. The new editing system reduced expense by 90 percent.

There’s hope for us all yet then.

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Fraudcast News video interview

This is an interview I did at the Rebellious (RMC) Media Conference on October 8-9 in London, explaining a bit of the background to the book. The interview was conducted by the indefatigable Hamish Campbell of VisionOntv, an organisation using video for social change around the world. They were among the RMC organisers, working incredibly hard to record the event and make their materials available to the world via the internet.

I am inspired by their energy and example and reference their efforts in Fraudcast News as part of the solution to our bad journalism and bogus democracies.

If I had the tiniest quibble, it would be in the accompanying text introducing the interview:

Why traditional media is pathetic, from someone who worked there. Patrick Chalmers introduces to Hamish Campbell his book “Fraudcast News”, and gives some ideas for building better media sustainably.

I didn’t actually say traditional media are “pathetic”, even if I think the bulk of what they do does nothing to improve the quality of our democracies. What I said was that my survival in a staff reporting job for so long, without having a fundamental grasp on the meaning of democracy, was pathetic. That’s the media for you (joke).

The challenge for me as I push out the book in the next couple of months will be to explain the problems of journalism without alienating reporters who think they’re doing a great job. I used to think I was doing an okay job myself, but I was wrong.

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Michael Albert on Occupy everything

This is an interview shot by friends of mine last weekend at a radical media conference in London. Michael Albert is a very thoughtful and experienced activist who is always worth listening to. If you want a response to all that political stuff that’s pissing you off right now, may I invite you to take a look.

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Rebellious Media Conference

What with the long radio silence?

Well, self-publishing isn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be, at least not as quick in any case. Having had a friend do some straight talking on my first draft, I’m trying to pull it apart and put it back together without destroying the whole. Tricky business.

In the meantime, I’m headed here this weekend, to the Rebellious Media Conference in London. I hope to catch up with some old friends working on alternative media and politics and to make a few new ones.

This is what’s written on the packet:

The gathering has three main aims:

– to showcase inspiring examples of radical media practice;
– to further develop radical critiques of the mainstream media;
– to enable activists, journalists and students to engage in training and skillsharing.

It will also provide a chance for dialogue between radical media and mainstream media; for radical media groups to come together to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing us, particularly in relation to the digital revolution. The intention is to capture as much as possible of the RMC and to make it available on the web, and for there to be ongoing projects coming out of the RMC.

My intention is to look for collaborators in a post Fraudcast News project to build a nested network of radical, or public-interest journalists. Their reports would range from local to global levels of governance, their remit being to make our politics and governance systems accountable to we the people.

Here’s hoping….

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