Tag Archives: activism

Media failures on climate change

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‘Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area last winter than in any winter since records began.’ Photograph: Alamy

George Monbiot doesn’t always get things right – I disagreed with his arguments urging Britons to vote “no” in the Brexit referendum, for instance. Yet he hits the proverbial bullseye more often than most commentators.

This recent column on media failures to communicate climate change is a belter, the most relevant paragraphs being the last couple, which are reproduced here:

Why should we trust multinational corporations to tell us the truth about multinational corporations? And if they cannot properly inform us about the power in which they are embedded, how can they properly inform us about anything?

If humanity fails to prevent climate breakdown, the industry that bears the greatest responsibility is not transport, farming, gas, oil or even coal. All of them can behave as they do, shunting us towards systemic collapse, only with a social licence to operate.

The problem begins with the industry that, wittingly or otherwise, grants them this licence: the one for which I work.

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Flatpack Democracy’s DIY independence

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Frome ex-mayor Peter Macfadyen (not the current mayor, as incorrectly stated in the interview) talks in this audio interview of how a group of ordinary people in southwest England took control of their local government by standing as non-party, independent candidates.

His story involves a group of local residents – meeting in a pub, of course – who took control of their town council at their first attempt then swept all the seats on their second.

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Where next for Anywhere but Westminster?

I love what John Harris and John Domokos have been doing with their ad hoc video journalism project “Anywhere but Westminster” for the Guardian. Theirs was an inspired decision four years ago: to travel around the UK to cover national politics rather than stagnate among the self-absorbed and self-obsessed of London’s media and political pools.

Their coverage has been refreshing and realistic – far closer to the dynamics of what’s happening on the ground than what you could learn from watching the national broadcasters – the BBC, ITV or Sky and the first twos’ regional offshoots.

Now they’re asking for ideas for what to do next. My answer would be to focus on the various experiments in political innovation that are popping up around the UK’s four member countries – things like Frome’s Flatpack Democracy – which John Harris himself wrote about last year.

The Sortition Foundation is another interesting initiative. On the 10th and 11th of June it will host Harm van Dijk and Jerphaas Donner, the founders of the G1000 in the Netherlands, to help launch the G1000 in the UK. The G1000’s aim is to assemble a representative, random selection of people from a selected community to deliberate their areas political priorities.

I hope to be there myself to start gathering material for a follow-up series of articles to my book Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

https://cdn.theguardian.tv/mainwebsite/2016/04/22/160425ABWexplainer_desk.mp4

For six years, John Harris and John Domokos have travelled the UK to get a sense of British politics away from the Westminster bubble. Meanwhile, old-fashioned two-party politics has crumbled amid a rising sense of discontent with the status quo. For their new series, the pair are back on the road, hunting down radical new politics in some unlikely places

Where do you think they should go? Send them your suggestions

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The end of politicians?

Brett

Author Brett Hennig talks about his book “The End Of Politicians“, which describes how ordinary people could become decision makers in their own right by way of citizen policy juries.

“It’s about a different way of doing democracy. Instead of relying on elections to select your leaders you do a random selection of ordinary people and give them the power to make the decisions,” Brett said.

“Politicians are constrained by money, by the media, by factions. They aren’t actually as free to implement the things that they say that they’ll implement.”

Brett told Democracy Talk his 10-year dream would be to have national governments no longer chosen by elections but rather by sortition – the random selection of a representative sample from any population being governed.

The book gathers evidence from an array of citizens’ assemblies showing that they work: ordinary people can and do make good, informed, and balanced decisions.  An electronic version is being crowded funded on unbound.co.uk.

More details on sortition in the UK and more generally can be found at The Sortition Foundation.

 

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Doing democracy differently in Oz

Democracy Talk meets Iain Walker, Executive Director of the Australian charity newDEMOCRACY, which aims to innovate in how we do democracy. Iain goes beyond conventional ideas about why Western representative democracies are suffering a collapse of public trust.

He sees the problem as much deeper than one of money’s outsize influence on elections – it’s the voting itself that’s at fault. Elected officials are in permanent election mode, making thoughtful, long-term decision-making impossible. The solution newDEMOCRACY favours is sortition – randomly selected samples of the public who then ponder a policy question with help from all the evidence they can gather.

This is the first part of a two-part interview.

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Ten Steps to Improve Our Governance Systems

A Landsgemeinde (in 2009) of the Canton of Glarus, an example of direct democracy in Switzerland. CC BY-SA 3.0

A Landsgemeinde (in 2009) of the Canton of Glarus, an example of direct democracy in Switzerland. CC BY-SA 3.0

I was asked this week by Harald Schendera, an editor, web designer, and internet marketer, what were my 10 Steps to Improve Our Governance Systems. He put the question out of personal interest and also to help me clarify what I’m trying to do in re-designing my various web presences.

I was intrigued. No one had ever asked that before. So I decided to write up an answer.

A quick web search turned up this piece –  a very useful, if US-focused, list of 10 ways to democratize the economy by Gar Alperovitz and Keane Bhatt. I didn’t want to rip off their thought-provoking ideas, which include more use of participatory budgets, so I put it aside to draw up my own. The difference between the various search results I found and what I had in mind is that I’m trying to imagine a process that encompasses the local everywhere to the global, passing via nation statehood on the way.

The following is what I came up with. The order’s maybe a bit out of whack, but some of the essentials are there. Though the list will probably be a perpetual work in progress, it’s a start. What do you think?

1. To detail and make clear to as wide a possible public the problems of our current governance systems, prinicipally at nation-state level but also at higher and lower levels.

2. To promote a basic governance credo inspired by demokratia – from the original Greek notion of “demos” and “kratos” – the Greek words for “people” and “power” respectively.

“Democracy” would therefore mean something more like real power in the hands of a majority of the people living in any particular geographic area of government. “Representative democracy” – which drastically reduces the ambitions of Ancient Greece’s demokratia – has proved predictably liable to capture by narrow, self-interested parties.

3. To nurture, and join, independent media operations that understand the problems of our current governance systems and champion the cause of reform and root-and-branch innovation.

4. To encourage, and take part in, multiple experiments with governance mechanisms that go beyond representative democracy’s periodic elections, political parties and party candidates.

5. To document the experimentation processes, both for research purposes and to spread information about results, including the context of why they are happening, what they’re finding, how they might apply elsewhere.

6. To encourage people to learn about, engage with and become active in the scrutiny and holding to account of their local governance systems, the lowest level of government to which they are exposed.

7. To develop governance innovation toolkits, describing the range of possible governance innovations available and “how to” manuals of applying them locally, and making them free to use and share.

8. To encourage people to consider their own preconceived ideas about “democracy”, not just what it means and where it came from but also to consider just how “democratic” they are as individuals (a vote for me, but not my neighbour)

9. To encourage the use of, and to adopt oneself, inclusive language and thinking, the notion that any solution to the current problems in our governance systems must ultimately take a whole-planet approach. That approach would take into account not only every human on the planet, and future generations, but also all the animals, plants and the biosphere itself.

10. To be open to the respective religions, spiritual practices, or lack of the same, in all other people on the planet. At the same time, to be clear about the fundamental goals of mutual respect for, and non-violence towards, all other people. While violent self defence might be legitimate in certain circumstances, a well-functioning governance system would include mechanisms, and potentially societal penalties, to prevent its misuse.

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Talking about democracy – an interview from the frontline

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras - is democracy champion waving or drowning? Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras – is democracy champion waving or drowning? Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

It’s easy to rail about the failures of our governance systems – the unfairness of elections, the unaccountable behaviour of our governments or the grotesque abuse of democracy unfolding with Greece’s fiscal evisceration by fellow eurozone governments, the European Commission and the IMF.

These sorts of failures increasingly bumped up against my conventional understanding of politics when I worked as a salaried reporter up until 2005. To whom our governors are accountable was the question I found myself asking more and more – yet I struggled to find a satisfactory answer beyond the facile.

Fraudcast News was the fruit of my search for a response – writing the book allowed me to debunk my illusion that we live in anything approaching democracies as the term was originally defined – namely government by the people. I concluded the book with a pledge to explore alternatives to our many governance failures, using citizen journalism as a tool and tackling every level from local to global. That process has meant looking out for others who might be doing the same.

One such gem I discovered recently is Adam Cronkright, co-founder of the Bolivia-based Democracy In Practice.  He fell out of love with existing versions of democracy along a route that included Occupy Wall Street. His organisation majors on democratic innovation, experimentation and capacity-building at high-school scale in Cochabamba. I came across him earlier this year via the website Participedia, hooking up by email and then via internet voice calls to share frustrations about the state of democracy.

Adam and his colleagues are doing some great, real-world work in alternative government systems, which includes junking elections in favour of lottery systems to select student government bodies.

The following interview, which we recorded in early June 2015, gives a great flavour of what the work entails.

Feel free to respond in the comment thread or, if you’re involved with a similar project, get in touch for an interview of your own. There’s a big chance what you’re doing holds greater hope for decent, humane government than our current, mangled models.

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Glints of light in our governance gloom

Attractive young Greek people used to make a politics article more enticing.  Photograph: Orhan Tsolak/Alamy

Attractive young Greek people used to make a politics article more enticing. Photograph: Orhan Tsolak/Alamy

Paul Mason is one of the few regular journalists I make a point of watching out for. He does a neat summary of the state of alternative politics in Greece and elsewhere in a comment piece featured in today’s Guardian edition.

It’s certainly worth a read, and a comment if you’re so inclined.

Good work, as always, from Paul Mason though he doesn’t take the question far enough in IMHO.The last paragraph is the important one:

“…we will know that a real new left has emerged when we begin to see its thinkers prioritise the redesign of institutions inherited from the 20th century, and the invention of new ones centred on the self, identity and structured to survive incessant change.”

I’m not that interested in terms such as “left” or “right”, they’re too exclusive for a planet of human beings.

I do totally agree that thinkers everywhere need to focus on radically redesigning institutions, not just those of the 20th century but all the way back to the 18th – when James Madison and friends emasculated notions of “democracy” to mean something very different from power in the hands of the people.

Funny that we should be coming full circle back to the Greeks, who invented the term and other governance variants such as oligarchy, aristocracy, monarchy and kleptocracy.

Their city states were undoubtedly bastions of the elite – women, the poor, the slaves and the foreign were not allowed any part in the governance system.

Nevertheless, those same elites had some cracking ideas about the dangers of elections – doomed to favour the rich, the beautiful and the most educated as opposed to the best governors or governance system – and some remedies in the form of lottery/sortition to choose political representatives at random from the eligible populous.

People are working on these ideas today – experimenting with governance systems that go way beyond elections. Syriza and friends are in the vanguard but they are not alone.

This is an all-too-rare place of hope

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Fraudcast News – lifting lid on media’s “subtle and pervasive bias”

Fraudcast review shotI was delighted to meet Ian Fraser the other day, an award-winning journalist and author of Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain. We compared our respective wounds received as journalists kicking outside of the usual confines of our chosen professional activity – an all-too-rare breath of fresh air for me.

We did one another the favour of paying cash for our respective books accompanied with promises to read and review the other’s output.

Ian came good, way ahead of me, doing me the following review on Amazon.

I am delighted by his enthusiasm for the book while also being cheered by his references to the likes of the ex-Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne as proof of the ongoing relevance of its arguments about democracy and journalism.

If I could be so ungrateful, my sole, additional wish would be to encourage anyone who is moved to buy a hard copy to do so via the more independently minded book retailer Hive.co.uk rather than adding to the tax-phobic coffers of Bezos and co.

There’s also the PDF version that you can download for free from here.

Whatever you do, this is the review – many thanks again Ian.

Patrick Chalmers has written an important and timely book. Building on his experience as a Reuters correspondent in London, Brussels and Kuala Lumpur, he lifts the lid on the subtle and pervasive bias of our mainstream media.

He outlines how this bias can include self-censorship, journalists allowing themselves to be “co-opted” by the rich and powerful, the cozying up of media to major advertisers (as we saw with Peter Oborne’s recent revelations that the Daily Telegraph either removed, toned down or failed altogether to cover negative stories about major advertiser HSBC) and the “spiking” of stories that undermine media proprietors’ prevailing pro-globalisation, neo-liberal agenda.

The chapters on the frustrations he felt as a Reuters correspondent trying to provide balanced coverage of the European Union, of dusty corners of the financial markets and of the attempts of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to resist the “Washington Consensus” are particularly good.

Patrick argues that the mainstream media in the West, as well as global news outfits such as Reuters and Bloomberg (whose journalism is largely funded by the leasing of data terminals to the finance sector), now see their role as being to buttress a failed economic ideology and to pander to an often corrupt elite. As such, he says they have become a pernicious influence that’s obstructing understanding and democracy. The lack of scepticism that most journalists display for international trade treaties like TTIP and unaccountable EU decision-making processes are just two of the areas of media failure covered in the book. Readers, listeners and viewers are being badly let down, writes Chalmers, adding that by amplifying ‘spin’, the media has unleashed a dangerous tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf our democracies.

The media failures outlined in Fraudcast News are also giving rise to a phenomenon that the writer and journalist Tariq Ali has separately described as the rise of the “extreme centre”. Prefiguring his recently published book The Extreme Centre: A Warning, Ali wrote: “What is the point of elections? The result is always the same: a victory for the extreme centre. Since 1989, politics has become a contest to see who can best serve the needs of the market, a competition now fringed by unstable populist movements. The same catastrophe has taken place in the US, Britain, Continental Europe and Australia.”

Chalmers ends on a positive note. In his conclusion, he examines how as a result of, among other things, the rise of social media and the internet, it has never been easier for civil society and public-interest journalists to develop a more ethical, balanced and responsible approach to covering the news. He provides examples of the rise of alternative channels of communication that bypass the mainstream media, arguing that these are much more capable of challenging our dangerously flawed governance structures than the media we grew up with.

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Economics teaching failing students and society, says Prof

University economics departments around the world are failing their students by ignoring the real-world effects of their discipline, among them rolling financial crises and environmental destruction, according to Professor Clive Spash.
“It’s basically a failure, we’re training economists who don’t understand the real economy,” said Spash, Chair of Public Policy and Governance at WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
Despite recent efforts by some students to overhaul the way their courses are taught, incumbent thinking reigns on.
“The students have got to take direct action. They’ve got to make sure that the faculties, the economics departments, really understand that they are failing them. They are failing them in their education. They’re teaching them mathematical formalistic models that have no bearing on the real economy.”
Among the problems are ideas that unconstrained markets might remedy growing inequality or that economic growth and people buying more stuff could somehow bring about a recovery.
“If you want to really learn about economics maybe don’t go to an economics department, go somewhere else,” Spash said.

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