Tag Archives: video

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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And the winner isn’t…

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Development reporting suffers exactly the same sort of problems as does  journalism that purports to cover conventional politics and economics – probably worse even. Too much focus on official sources and too little questioning of mainstream Western ideas about what countries and their citizens must do to “develop”. All the arguments of Fraudcast News with bells on when it comes to journalists failing to examine the realities of power, where true power lies and what ordinary people can do about it.

I thought it worthwhile spending a few days working up a grant proposal for the Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme run by the European Journalism Centre.

If it worked, I would get paid to do the journalism I attempt to champion in Fraudcast News while also leaving behind some of the same techniques for others who might do the same.

The idea, simple enough, was to produce a series of smartphone video reports from Mali’s  Inner Niger Delta asking the question: “Whose development for Mali?” Rather than just present another foreign perspective on resource grabbing, the idea had been to conduct a mobile phone video report training for Malians, leaving behind the means for local people to then tell their stories as they wished rather than relying on outsiders.

Had the proposal succeeded, I would have been part of a visionOntv training team working together with local and international NGOs working on the ground in Mali. It didn’t, the judges deciding instead to award grants to a variety of ideas shared across a number of media outlets from across Western Europe.

I wasn’t blown away by the winners. None strikes me as addressing the underlying assumptions of “aid” and “development” set against the effects of global trade, banking, financial markets and the rest as they benefit rich countries and global corporations. Shame – it would have been good to have had an opportunity put the ideas into effect with some sort of budget in hand.

Sour grapes? I hope not.

This was the failed proposal:

Development dilemmas in Mali – whose tale to tell?

Malians will go to the polls this July with two military coups and a French-led assault on Tuareg separatist and Islamist rebel groups fresh in their memories. Yet what difference will elections make, however “free and fair”, to the lives of ordinary citizens?

Even before Mali’s recent upheavals in government, subsistence farmers and fishers in the Inner Niger Delta faced ever-lower water levels during annual monsoon floods. While climate change might play some part, far more pressing threats come from hydroelectric dams and river diversions for massive, often foreign-owned irrigation projects.

Locals complain of national politicians who ignore their plight. Bamako leaders, their ears bent towards external creditors, donors and their advisers, promote impossible development models. While chosen policies might boost abstract measures of economic health, they also ruin local livelihoods and the natural environment.

No news there – Mali faces the same economic binds as poor and not-so-poor countries the world over. All struggle with questions of how to meet their populations’ basic needs without paupering citizens and their environments. Only the strongest dare question Western development orthodoxies. Most of them, saddled with debt, fall prey to strings-attached foreign investments, debt-led growth models or demands for privatisations and deregulation. The evident damages of such policies is ignored in the rush to “develop”.

Mali’s various versions of the problem play out in domestic cotton production, gold mining and livestock rearing. None illustrates it better than water, lifeline to communities dotted along riverbanks and seasonal islands across the Inner Niger Delta. Their river’s annual rise and fall follows a cycle quite unlike the ever-upwards demands of compound growth charts. Projects promising fat returns for distant investors, and payback for historic creditors, spell devastation and displacement for locals. Abstract policy becomes practical reality at the sluice gates, where operators decide who gets what water when, the weaker and voiceless invariably losing out.

The global crisis of capitalism, now an open debate in rich countries, has been clear to the world’s poor during decades of Western development policies. Their voice has gradually grown stronger and more authoritative, thwarting biased agendas in world trade and climate talks and driving business at the UN’s General Assembly. As yet they lack the power to counterweight the agenda of rich-country governments, corporations and financial markets. With conventional institutions deadlocked and bereft of fresh ideas, civil societies around the world are among the few offering hopes of alternatives.

This assignment will amplify those grassroots voices and foster civil society dialogue in Mali and beyond. It will bypass gatekeepers in governments and conventional media by publishing mainly direct to the internet. Three highly experienced reporter-trainers will use smartphones to make multiple video reports in the Delta and teach local stakeholder groups to do the same. Their reporting techniques, perfected by London-based NGO visionOntv, cut out the costly time-dumps of video capture, editing and encoding. Reporters’ bi-lingual output, combined with that of workshop participants, will offer multiple perspectives on Mali’s water dilemmas, opening a wider window on development questions themselves.



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Fraudcast News one of Green Left Weekly’s books of the year

Nice to get some positive feedback on Fraudcast News from Green Left Weekly’s Mat Ward.

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For me, a truly great book is one that stays in your thoughts for a long time after reading it.

I thought about this book daily for months after finishing it, because its main argument seems to be at the root of almost every injustice in the world. Former Reuters reporter Patrick Chalmers gradually realised, through his job reporting on the European Union, that what is commonly passed off as democracy is anything but. Politicians are held accountable only once every four years or so, after which they break nearly every pre-election promise.

Chalmers wants truly accountable democracy, in which politicians are held accountable for every decision they make. In this endlessly quotable book, Chalmers says it is the job of every journalist to make accountable democracy part of the conversation. Technology may hold the key to eventually making it a reality.

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Stand aside George

People’s budgets

The Chancellor George Osborne was talking of his plans to cut a further £10 billion from the UK’s annual welfare budget as I drove through rush-hour traffic to Kingston-upon-Thames.

News of his crowd-pleasing speech to the Conservative party conference spouted from the radio as I wondered how such questions might be decided with more accountability to the public.

Just what might UK finances look like if ordinary people had greater say over how much money gets raised in taxes and where to spend it?

Read on here….

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William Cobbett – dead radical, dead relevant

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People’s budgets or the same-old unaccountable ones?




The basic message of Fraudcast News is pretty simple, you sort of can’t miss it in the subtitle – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

Working from back to front – the bogusness of our democracies is that ordinary citizens get nothing like the influence implied by the word “democracy” – which the Ancient Greeks defined as government by the people.

The UK  budget process is a case in point, consisting of rounds of closed-door horse trading between government departments and ministers. The latest City-loving Chancellor then waves about a battered red briefcase for the media before delivering some crowd-pleasing stunts at the Dispatch Box to hide the fact that most ordinary people are getting stiffed while status quo money holders carry on swimmingly. Gross over-simplification, of course, but it covers the last 30 years of British government relatively well, save for pre-election sweetener budgets and some of Gordon Brown’s giveaways.

The problem is, ordinary people get not a look in on what is the most important function of elected governments. The same problem occurs at lower tiers of government and let’s not even talk about the European Union.

It doesn’t have to be this way, which is why I’m excited to be going along to report on a People’s Budget event in Kingston-upon-Thames on October 8.

This clip explains why such an approach can transform local governance, improving its accountability, transparency and the fairness of its revenue raising and spending.

So rather than “bogus” democracy – we get something more like real democracy.

And bad journalism? It’s all journalism that ignores the bogusness of our current governance systems, at every level, which is pretty much all mainstream journalism.

After that build up, I hope it’s a good night.

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Food and land: base camps for community building

Pogo Cafe in Hackney, London (Copyleft photo by Patrick Chalmers)

I wrote this blog entry for Stir magazine, which has a kickstarter campaign underway to raise funds for printing offline versions of the wonderful work it does already online. Have a think about the stuff you usually fritter your money away on, petrol for the Porsche, a Lear jet flight to Monaco, private banking advice and so on, then consider giving some of that money to Stir instead.

The Pogo Café in Hackney is everything we’re told modern Western consumers aren’t capable of doing, which makes it a treat to visit. The place serves great-quality vegan food, it’s staffed by enthusiastic volunteers who host a space that nurtures alternative culture, co-operative working, exhibitions and events.

Just the place for an evening themed on Land & Liberty! — stories from communities across the world that are trying to control where their food comes from and how it’s grown. London food-growers recounted tales from their visits to like-minded souls in Ljubljana Slovenia, Jaos Palestine, Chiapas Mexico and Havana Cuba.

For the rest of this post, read on here.

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