Tag Archives: patrick chalmers

Deeper democracy down under

Government of the people, by the people, for the people – seems like a good basic principle for “democracy”. Yet many groups of citizens, in different representative democracies around the world, don’t seem too happy with their current versions of “kratos” in the hands of the “demos“.

Be they UK “Brexit” or Remain supporters, or those voting for or against US President-elect Donald Trump, people on both sides of both arguments seem to agree their governments are serially failing to deliver for the large majority of citizens.

It’s a risky situation for humanity. People’s evident frustrations and anger are readily channelled towards minority scapegoats – a dangerous tactic that unscrupulous politicians employ to our collective peril.

Happily – there are alternative political approaches emerging. They offer more hopeful prospects both for greater harmony in our political processes and for building far wider consensus around the decisions eventually taken.

Carson, a director of Australia’s newDemocracy Foundation, explains how work conducted by her organisation since 2009 has been charting just such an alternative path through real political problems. The radical part is how newDemocracy uses random selection, not elections, to choose its representatives of the people from among everyday citizens. The principle is the same as used for selecting criminal juries.

Doing away with political campaigning and the act of voting for decision makers, or at least the people doing the heavy thinking on a chosen political problem, creates a totally different dynamic to the process. Participants aren’t always looking over their shoulders for guidance from a political party or playing to the crowd based on how they think they might get re-elected. The result, repeatedly, has been the emergence of prudent solutions to previously too-tricky-to-solve problems.

What so far has been pretty much Australia’s gain is now becoming a prospect for Europe’s creaking political systems. Carson says her foundation is looking for partners with whom to run further projects, charting the process all the while and fine-tuning their methods as they go.

She was speaking to journalist, author and democracy campaigner Patrick Chalmers at the Council of Europe’s November 2016 World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France.

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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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Not voting is neither stupid nor disrespectful – it’s a tactic

Danzig shot

Below is my answer Jon Danzig’s challenge to respond to his post suggesting Russell Brand’s electoral advice to not bother voting was dumb and disrespectful to those who fought for our right to the ballot. I’d have posted it in the comments thread of his piece but got chucked off for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

Hi Joe – so here’s an answer that’s slightly longer than Twitter’s 140 characters. I said that I get but reject your logic about voting or abstaining, suggesting that you’d missed Russell Brand’s points in the Paxman interview.

How do I get your logic?

– People all over the world have fought over the centuries for universal suffrage – the right of almost all qualifying adults to choose their leaders from a restricted list of candidates in periodic elections.

– Because those people fought, some died, for our right to vote, a person’s decision to vote disrespects their memory and sacrifice.

I don’t in any way disrespect these people’s efforts – in fact, I both venerate them and am hugely grateful for what they did and some still do. I don’t think that’s an argument for me voting or not voting in UK elections.

So how is it that I reject your logic suggesting that I should exercise my right to vote?

For the record, I happen to be resident in France so am ineligible to vote in UK general elections. I do get to vote in communal, regional and EU elections here but not national ones. That’s not my point though.

If I were a British resident – as I have been in the past – I would almost certainly not exercise my right to vote in UK national elections. For the vast majority of UK constituencies where one of the main parties is the likely winner – Conservative, Labour, LibDem – I don’t think there’s any point in voting. There are marginal differences between the three but when it comes for example to economic policy – the bedrock of all policies – they are all variously but solidly pro-austerity. Throw in the UKIP EU dissidents and there’s still no change on that question. So for the vast majority of UK voters, what’s on offer involves choosing between parties who collectively subscribe to pro-austerity thinking – regardless of the fact that these policies aren’t working, that they heap the costs of the financial crisis on ordinary, poorer people when it was speculative capital and over-extended banks that got us into that crisis (NB we bailed out the banks – the real benefits scroungers/cheats in this debate) and because the reality is that “austerity” is in any case a cover for dismantling the public sphere and the welfare state in favour of private interests. That’s to say nothing of these parties’ failure to question the notion of economic growth as a sensible way to run the planet – it’s a recipe for ruining it more like.

I might be persuaded to vote in constituencies where there was a chance for an upset to pro-austerity thinking – perhaps where there were strong Green candidates and chances of their election or SNP candidates in Scotland (though for the latter, it is highly questionable whether the SNP would veer much from the pro-austerity model).

Choosing not to vote for any of these candidates is a political choice or tactic. It is not at all a suggestion that people disengage politically but rather that they ignore or minimise their engagement with the hulabaloo of elections and concentrate their energies elsewhere. Occasionally it might be tactically astute to vote – I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

We need radical political reform in the UK, at the EU level and globally. Nation-state representative democracy has had its time – a few decades of glory for citizens in Western countries in the aftermath of WW2, I’d suggest, but not any more. Real power has long left national parliaments – witness Syriza’s mauling by the German finance minister in the latest round of debt restructuring talks.

This interview with the Spain’s podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is highly instructive on what the future might possibly look like – though no one can say for sure.
For a UK perspective – the 2004 Power Inquiry was an intelligent stab at the question of why people didn’t vote. Though the inquiry failed to get much traction, it left us with a useful account of the then state of alternative democratic experiments around the world.
The work-in-progress bringing up to date of that report is here.
If you speak French – I interviewed a man called Charlie Bauer a few years back. He makes the case for radical democratic reform very powerfully, as you can see at the bottom of this post.
As a fellow journalist – a huge barrier to radical reform are the conventional expressions of our chosen profession. I tackle this in detail in Fraudcast News, which you more about here.

That’s way more than 140 characters.

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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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Quakers and Business review of Fraudcast News

Screenshot from 2014-07-29 16:02:27

I was delighted to get a full review of Fraudcast News in a recent issue of The Friend magazine. Below is an excerpt while this a link through to the complete article.

How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies – A Review

An article by Elizabeth Redfern that appeared in the 4th July 2014 edition of the Friend.

Press corruption is sadly a subject we’re now familiar with, from the press’s own coverage of the Leveson Inquiry and more recently the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and others, who – in what might become the longest criminal trial in English history – are charged with phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid. It would be nice to think that this is an unfortunate blip in an otherwise sparkling British press history. Certainly I hadn’t taken much notice of the inquiry or court case until I’d started to read Patrick’s book, when some familiar words started to nag at me.

 

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Fraudcast News reading and Q+A, London, Aug 1

Screenshot from 2014-07-18 15:21:44

When Patrick Chalmers hit on becoming a foreign news correspondent, he dreamed of somehow helping advance the cause of social justice around the world. When he eventually landed that dream job, he soon realised it had little to do with improving people’s lives. So he quit to work out where he’d gone wrong, in the process transforming himself into an author, activist and campaigner for better media and governance structures.

Among the results was Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies published in paperback and as a free PDF download. Patrick will read from the book and discuss how it relates to current political events at all levels, ranging from climate change inaction, renewed conflict in Iraq, Scottish independence or the rise of UKIP.

 

Screenshot from 2014-07-18 15:26:29

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Making peace in times of war – the heroes of Vietnam

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