Blogs

Bigot sorry for “historian” claim

 

Professor Niall Ferguson apologized today for having pretended that he was a serious historian.

“When I look back at the books I have written, I can now see that they are a collection of reactionary prejudices masquerading as well-researched historiography” he said.

 

Professor Ferguson made his name by arguing against the prevailing historical views on for instance the First World War and the British Empire. “I mean, to hold that the slaughter of World War One was justified, or that the Empire was of huge benefit to Johnny Native, how could anyone believe that?” he joked.

 

Secondary school history teacher Jack Williams commented "To be honest, it's a liberation. I don't need any more to explain to a class of students from all over the world why an established author thinks Britain civilized them."

 

Ferguson admitted that he had been attracted by the fame of other television “historians”. “I saw David Starkey able to strut his bigoted stuff all over the media on the basis of some crap pop-historical bios of the kings and queens of England, and I was jealous. I mean, as a poof, he doesn't care about the future, so how could anyone trust him with the past?”

How to break the Chinese and Vietnamese firewalls

OR How piracy is the greatest spreader of culture in history

I am currently in teeming and steamy Hanoi, surely one of the greatest cities in the world, having taken the epic sleeper train up from Da Nang in central Vietnam. Yesterday I lighted on an old quarter bookstore (not more than a table on the street) with a very shrewd and discerning selection of English language books. There I found a copy of Jonathan Neale's excellent "People's History of the Vietnam War". Astutely the old lady running the store suggested to me Graham Greene's classic "The Quiet American" to go with it, but I had just finished reading it. Glancing at Jonathan's history, the misspelt cover pages and scanned text showed me it was a pirate copy, which I'm sure would be a great delight to the author, even more if it was in Vietnamese. I couldn't check that yet. This is not an article to discuss the pros and cons of copyright protection so I will simply state that I consider file-sharing to be the most vital disseminator of culture in the world. My own use of it is fairly prolific, though probably not by ths standards of teenagers I know. Torrents found through pirate bay furnish our fortnightly film club of deeply obscure art movies, and the magnificant aaaaarg.org gives me more serious food-for-thought reading matter than I can ever get through, and helps impoverished doctoral students the world over. Downloading from spotify and youtube allows me to consume music on my smartphone whenever I travel. This activity is made more fun by the ferociously concerted attempts of a few corporations to alter the very nature of the internet in order to protect their sadly outdated business models. The resulting game of cat and mouse is frequently absurdly unequal, like watching repeated episodes of Tom and Jerry. When ISPs were forced to ban pirate bay by a daft court judgement, it took me two minutes to find a proxy, and pirate bay's traffic rose with the publicity.

So much for the corporate-sponsored legislative firewalls. Here in Vietnam there is a state-sponsored firewall no less absurd and meretricious. In Da Nang we can't get facebook (no tragedy for me), but can get the BBC. In Hanoi it's the reverse. (I shoud point out that I do not use the BBC for its news, which is as unreliable as any corporate media's, but for its excellent football coverage at what is a crucial juncture of the season for the Gunners.) A quick and simple installation of the excellent anonymity network Tor, gives me a blow-by-blow account of the Arsenal's battle for a Champions' League place. In the lobby of our hotel yesterday I met a young Chinese woman despairing at the blocking of the Zuckerberg empire in her home country. She said that people in China paid for a service to get round the Great Firewall (a VPN?). With something as important for human rights as internet freedom, trust someone to try to make money out of it. I suggested Tor to her as a free alternative. The Chinese authorities are continually trying to block Tor, but bridging apparently makes this much more difficult. For further information, see this excellent article.

Meanwhile, I must go out and buy a beautiful wooden birdcage in Hanoi's bustling markets, though not of course to house a bird. For someone who opposes corporate and state attempts to cage the internet, that might be considered hypocritical.....

A Psychopath Comes Home: "Skyfall" and the Zeitgeist of the Elite

The latest 007 adventure “Skyfall” has been widely praised by reviewers, and welcomed by fans as a return to the series' core values. For me, though, it was probably the divergence from those values that made me so keen on the much criticised previous outing “Quantum of Solace”. But “Skyfall” goes a lot further than a mere return to the conservative spirit of the 50-year-old series. Any mistaken idea that Berkshire-born director Sam Mendes is a typical London theatrical liberal is decisively squashed by this deeply reactionary movie. Mendes' British stage productions are normally described as “dark”. I haven't seen them, but I'm guessing they belong to a very contemporary zeitgeist of paranoiac grimness, with very little critical ideology at all. Incidentally, I have never been able to understand the ecstatic reception given to Mendes' first Hollywood movie “American Beauty” (1999), a mild and inconsequential drama of suburban manners.

 

As for the half-century-old Bond, we can make a brief retrospective by looking at 007's enemies. In the Sean Connery / Roger Moore age, the real, drab, if sinister, Cold War adversary from the KGB is substituted by much more entertaining Pacific-island-owning, cat-stroking megalomaniacs bent on world domination. Mike Myers' Austin Powers derives much of its hilarity from being only a small step further down the road of caricature. Only when the Soviet Union was finished could communists actually appear. The Russian Futurist design of Pierce Brosnan's first film “Goldeneye” (1995) is one of its more appealing features. Communist-capitalist rapprochement even became possible in “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997). Michelle Yeoh's agent Wai Lin and Pierce Brosnan provide a more sexy version of Mao Tse-Tung and Richard Nixon's meeting of more than 20 years earlier. “Who said Communists have no sense of fun?” quips Bond, yoking Yeoh's character to the same stereotype as Garbo's Ninotchka of 70 years before. Coming back to villains, it was a very pleasing departure to see the colourlessness of Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene in “Quantum of Solace”. In the only left-wing film of the series, the villainy here lies not in a crazed individual, but in an impersonal corporation which wants to steal Bolivia's water supply. This is clearly a reference to real events, the water privatisation tried at the behest of the World Bank in the city of Cochabamba in 2000, heroically overturned by mass protest. These events were themselves recently made into a film, “Even the Rain” (2010). “Quantum of Solace” is “Even the Rain” with sex and stunts, and without of course the actions of the people.

By contrast, the fatal political weakness at the heart of Thomas Paul Anderson's “There Will Be Blood” (2007) is the grand guignol villainy of Daniel Day-Lewis' oil prospector central character. Watching the film, I was more curious about the other oil executives he encounters at one point in a restaurant: a group of normal, family men, who are presumably exploiting both people and natural resources in ways similar to Day-Lewis' character. This depiction of wrong-doing, that it is the act of twisted individuals rather than a function of the system, dogs many otherwise political films. Good examples are the treatment of Nazis in many post-war dramas. For instance, in both Bunuel's “Diary of a Chambermaid” (1964) and Bertolucci's “1900” (1976), the fascist character is not a dispassionate bureaucrat sending Jews to the camps, but a child rapist and killer. But of course if Nazism had been able only to rely on the participation of people like Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the Holocaust could never have happened. This is one of the great strengths of Pontecorvo's “Battle of Algiers” (1966). Ruthless, torturing paratroop colonel Mathieu is so admirably objective, turning French journalists' questions back on them: “The question is: should France be in Algeria?” If it should, then he needs to torture. If not, not. There is no way to have both human rights and the empire, as pro-war liberals often try to maintain.

 

The enemy in “Skyfall” is Javier Bardem's turncoat MI6 agent, a computer geek. Chillingly, the substituted enemy here is neither the KGB nor Osama Bin Laden, but Julian Assange and the masked youths of Anonymous. “Skyfall” has therefore taken an exceptionally reactionary turn to focus on the “enemy within”.

 

Mendes' “dark” world is very much in evidence, showing a menacing London not far from the dystopia of “V for Vendetta”. So much is this the case that I was impelled to ask, what is MI6 protecting exactly? Presumably the 1%, target of the Occupy movement and those same masked Anonymous youths. Can I have been the only viewer who was not upset to see MI6' notorious ziggurat on the Thames blown to bits?

 

Judi Dench's role as M has also become darker. Since her first appearance in 1995, she has been Jocasta, mother to Bond's Oedipus. In his “The Life of Ian Fleming”, John Pearson suggests that M may even be based on Fleming's own mother. In “Skyfall” she is more the child-murdering Medea, or Woody Allen's mother in “Love and Death”, ever prepared to sacrifice him for the good of the nation.

 

Apart from Dench's character, “Skyfall” is incredibly negative in its portrayal of women.

OK, I know that being shocked by James Bond's sexism is like being surprised by the Pope's religion, but here once again Mendes has given the standard Bond line a further twist to the right. There are a number of progressive currents running through the 007 canon. There are consequently choices that producers and directors can make. One of the attractive aspects of “Quantum of Solace” was the feistiness of Gemma Arterton's Bond girl. As such, in this world of sick, sorry, playful male fantasy, she must of course be killed, but that only gives her the same fate as every mere sex doll he meets. In “Skyfall”, though, we have Naomi Harris' hapless Eve Moneypenny, who, having accidentally nearly killed Bond, at the end of the film retires to a woman's “proper place” as secretary.

 

For the first time, in “Skyfall” we see Bond's social origins, as a member of the presumably English landed gentry in Scotland. These very “1%” roots are consistent with the political world of the rest of the film. Recent research on happiness in a deeply divided society suggests that the 1% may be as miserable and unfulfilled as the 99% in this state of affairs. Bond's strangely unmoving childhood trauma, and his consequent shallow and callous hedonism, make him the perfect agent to protect this grim world, in which he may be sacrificed at any moment. In this world individual human beings count for nothing. The preservation of the system is all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shack-dwellers movement: using democracy to replace capitalism

The problem is capitalism, but what, for the poorest people on the planet, are the solutions? This was the constant theme when the Anarchist Bookfair on October 27 2012 was addressed by Lindela Figlan from the South African Shack-Dwellers Movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo - AbM).

The AbM grew from the discontent of poor shack-dwellers with the neo-liberal policies of the African National Congress government since 1994. Since foundation in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban, it has won victories over land rights and infrastructure, while remaining fiercely independent of both politial parties and NGOs. This grassroots movement is famously democratic, and as such reminded me of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), with whom they are linked. Currently they are organising popular assemblies for decisions to be made, a parallel political structure from the grassroots. Their leaders are unpaid, and Lindela describes them as "servants of the people". Everything the movement does seems designed to contrast clearly with the kleptocratic corruption of the post-apartheid political system.

Their door is always open for meeting with politicians, but, Lindela says, rather than come imposing their own agendas, the politicians must listen to the democratically-decided demands of the shack-dwellers.

The movement's radicalism has provoked violent repression, with arrests and torture common, and there have been  cases of armed raids. Lindela himself sleeps in a variety of places for his personal safety.

Answering a question about the role and threat of NGO involvement, it was clear from his reply that the movement has no delusions about help offered. Lindela described how one NGO bussed in AbM activists to a meeting with the NGO's donors, but afterwards refused the movement's request for modest help to organise a march. He made an analogy: as long as your car (the movement) keeps travelling, the dogs (the NGOs) run after it barking, but if it stops, they cock their legs against it. He contrasted the canine NGOs with War on Want, who had listened and responded to their needs.

The AbM is in no way a single-issue movement. They recognize, for instance, that new housing projects are not enough. As Lindela explained, if a person gets a new flat, but can't eat, they then sell the flat for a fraction of its value to put food on the table. So Abahlali baseMjondolo is adamantly anti-capitalist, arguing for a complete transformation of society from the bottom up.

For more information: http://abahlali.org

Catch the DATES of Lindela Figlan's UK TOUR here

The Fear of Working Class Power - Liberal journalists and Venezuela

Yet more counter-factual bile is spewing out of the traditional media, and especially the liberal media, on the occasion of Hugo Chavez' death. So I re-publish this article written at the time of the Venezuelan Presidential elections in October 2012:

 

Most journalists work for companies whose purpose is very well described in Patrick Chalmers' article News to Make the Rich Richer. Based on his 11 years' experience as a journalist for Reuters, this article introduces the broader themes of his excellent book Fraudcast News. Ownership, who pays, news sources, editorial ideology, and journalists' fear all contribute to the distorting lens.

The immediate aftermath of another election in Venezuela is a perfect opportunity to count the cost of corporate media mis-reporting. This article will analyse the reporting of some journalists of the supposedly liberal media in the UK. But following Patrick's lead, let's look first at Reuters.

Sure enough, in the lead-up to the Venezuelan Presidential election, which pitched socialist incumbent Hugo Chavez against candidate of the right-wing coalition Henrique Capriles, Reuters followed the meta-narrative of the vast majority of the corporate media. They constantly insisted that the election was closely fought, right up until election day, when Chavez actually won by a whopping 11%. This depiction of a tight race was despite most opinion polls showing Chavez with a double-digit lead. A cursory research would have told a half-decent journalist that the solitary polling organisation that showed Capriles to have a lead, Consultores 21, has an abysmal record in previous elections. In 2004, 2006, and 2009 this poll underestimated Chavez' vote by between 10 and 13 percentage points, well outside the acceptable margin of error. And again this time, Consultores 21 underestimated Chavez' vote by 10%. They are nothing if not consistent. Of course for US media organisations, that makes this poll "respected", "reputable" and "well-regarded" (in the words of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and the Washington Post respectively). But why are the reporters of Reuters not more sceptical? Patrick Chalmers answers this well. But I believe there is another factor.

In the almost universal disparaging of Bolivarian socialism in the media of the US and UK, one of the most interesting phenomena is the intense involvement of liberal newspapers and news outlets. The Guardian's Rory Carroll is notorious. For him, Venezuela is always on the point of infrastructural collapse, while Chavez is a waning force. His recent headlines included "A strongman's last stand" and "People's hero in final showdown". Chavez was described as "Banquo's ghost". Given the opinion polls cited above, was the apocalyptic tone justified? His reports are also peppered with the kind of factual errors which always chime with the opposition's narrative of an authoritarian populist demagogue. I felt roused to challenge Carroll, using the feeble means of twitter, over his claim that Chavez' election victories were "not always fair". Jimmy Carter, after his long experience of monitoring democratic elections, for which he won a Nobel Prize, said “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world” and that Chavez has always won “fairly and squarely”. No response of course came from Carroll, so I ask again. What is it that you know, Rory, that Jimmy Carter doesn't? The overwhelming tone of all of Carroll's pieces is an obsession with the figure of Chavez himself, not the Revolution he has led into being. His post-election piece is headed "Hugo Chavez: a victory of enduring charisma and political mastery". Note how Chavez' voters, the Venezuelan poor, are, according to Carroll, voting for him because of his charm and Machiavellian skills, not because of their empowerment through communal councils, the free health clinics and universities, the new housing, or the massive reductions in poverty.

The Independent newspaper reporter Jim Armitage, however, makes Carroll look like a Chavista sympathiser. Here we have unsupported references to human rights abuses, defamation of oil workers, the casual, and again unsupported, claim of privations, and the cheap and gratuitous reference to Ken Livingstone. If you are astonished by the tone of the unfactual hack piece in the link, it's worth noting that the supposedly liberal Independent has a long history of this kind of coverage.

But one thing connects Carroll and Armitage. When I wrote that I would analyse their coverage, I meant it in an almost psychoanalytic way. Their patronising of and disregard for the poor majority seems to me to involve the same hysteria that Carroll ascribes to Chavez' voters. They both profess to support a mildly social democratic system of social welfare, as avowedly did Chavez' so soundly beaten rival Capriles. In other words, they think the elite should deign to alleviate the worst excesses of capitalism. What troubles them beyond their being able to deal with it rationally is the idea of the poor majority taking power. For this presumption on the part of the working class, and their vision of a society that goes beyond welfarism to socialist democracy, the poor deserve to be mocked or sidelined or ignored. Why do Carroll and Armitage not celebrate the Bolivarian revolution's reduction of poverty by half, instead of putting it in parenthesis, or treating it as an electoral bribe? What is the mixture of hatred and fear that motivates them to write such shoddy journalistic bile? The fact that the Guardian and Independent commission and print it shows us the dark, inhuman heart of liberalism.

Citizen Media Handbook - coming soon!

Some quotes:

How to do citizen media:

"Stick to the template!"

"Write it for every next-door neighbour in the world."

"From the hyper-local to the global."

"Good enough is good enough."

Whose reconstruction? - the tsunami disaster one year on

One year on from the biggest earthquake to hit Japan, with media interest having dwindled, relief NGO Peace Boat has announced today that it will continue to work for the foreseeable future in the Tohoku area so devastated by the tsunami wave. Why?

When we visited the fishing town of Ishinomaki in September, we witnessed the hard work, and phenomenal organization, of Peace Boat volunteers and workers, still clearing debris from the beaches and serving hot food in emergency shelters.

Now their work has shifted to helping restore the infrastructure and to focussing on the long-term psycho-social problems of people who lost their homes and loved ones. As the emergency shelters closed, tsunami survivors have been rehoused far from their original homes, often isolated and left alone with their trauma. Just before our trip, one man in this situation in Ishinomaki committed suicide.

 

 

"Unfortunately, in spite of the effort of our mayor and city authorities, one big flaw is there. That there is very little communication or consultation with the local population, who are dispersed in different parts of the city, and sometimes outside of the city, and that worries me so much. It seems that in spite of the enormous help from outside, our future planning is not going to be the planning made by the people ourselves, but a plan made by a few officials, and the outside agencies and the government and the companies and so on. so I am very worried that our town in the future may not be the town of our own. That concerns me so much." Konno Fumiaki, from Rikuzentakata, 60 miles to the north of Ishinomaki.

Why I Hack the Media

My name is Richard, and I am a media hacker.

But what is a media hacker?

For me, it means three different things:

1. We try to build effective tools to make contemporary media more than the sum of its parts. (Right now it's not even the sum of its parts.) No media project should be an island. We want to help buld a flow of content, with waves the producers can ride. Taking the tools that already exist, making them better, and and stitching them all together. Key-words: for the code, open industrial standards; no black boxes, no writing code from scratch; aggregation ("If I was to start a news organisation today, I would not be a producer, I would be an aggregator." Clay Shirky); smart aggregation, being a golden ladle in the data soup; ethical aggregation, never re-posting, always linking to the published source. The producer of the film gets all the views.

2. Taking a sharp and shiny scimitar to the traditional media, hacking at it while it's on its knees.

3. Producing a lot of films, but at the same time, still having a life. I used to be an investigative reporter for TV, and it could take me two years to make one half-hour film. And I didn't have a life. Using visionOntv's templates I can churn out reports, streaming the things that I do. Bish bash bosh.

Get a life, hack the media.

Beyond journalism!

visionOntv's citizen journalism tools are not only useful for telling news stories. They may even improve your love life! (Published on Valentine's Day 2012) Try out the templates!

 

Thanks to Takako Yamaguchi, Percy Bysshe Shelley and J.S.Bach

THOUSANDS PROTEST IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE

RALLY CALLS TIME ON DICTATORS IN SYRIA, EGYPT, BAHRAIN....

Activists from countries across the region took to a huge stage to share their stories of struggle and perseverance in the face of violent suppression. Speakers were there from Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine and Bahrain. The huge crowd was made up of trade unionists, students, Amnesty International supporters and other ordinary people from across the UK who gathered in a day of "solidarity and defiance".

visionOntv interviewed the activists:

Disabled Fight Back with Central London Blockade

Dozens of protesters against the Welfare Reform Bill and cuts to disability benefits and services blockaded Oxford Street on 28 January 2012. A number of wheelchair users chained themselves together at 12 noon, joined by activists from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), UK Uncut, The Black Triangle Campaign and other disability rights groups. Traffic was stopped on Regents Street at the height of Saturday shopping.

In the words of one campaigner:

I’m here because I want to protest against the cruel cuts that are hitting the disabled horrendously in this country, that and the horrible horrible propaganda that’s been coming out from our government trying to villainise genuinely disabled people as being scroungers as being parasites, and a 75% rise in hate crimes that’s come along with that, that I experience daily. Just going out shopping people come up to me and they ask me “Do you really need to be in that wheelchair? or are you, you know, just doing it for the benefits?” Like no, no, I don’t know why anybody would want to in this day and age, even the pavements aren’t accessible half of the time in the UK.

 

The day before the action UK Uncut explained:
Recent reports have shown that as a result of the bill 500,000 families stand to lose their homes while others will become ‘imprisoned in them’. Nearly half a million people would lose their Disability Living Allowance, including disabled children. People with terminal illnesses would be forced into work, and 3.2 million will be put through demanding tests that have already pushed some to take their own lives. According to their own research, the government’s flagship reform will push 100,000 children into poverty.

Earlier this month, disability rights campaigners released the Spartacus Report, which found that the government's consultation on DLA reforms was flawed and failed to meet the state's own code of practice for consultations. Furthermore, 74% of respondents in the consultation were opposed to the plans.

On arrival, the police seemed at a loss for what to do, and formed lines in front of their vans while busses were backed up along Regent Street. Generally those present described the coalition between anti-cuts campaigners and disability rights activists as welcome and encouraging, and calls were issued for more such actions to take place across the country. After two hours the activists decided to leave together, describing the action as an 'amazing success'.

Photos by Lily Poveda. Thanks to indymedia for report.

visionOntv supports the wikipedia blackout

Today every page of the English-language wikipedia is offline. This is to protest the STOP ONLINE PIRACY ACT (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP ACT (PIPA) currently winding their way through the US legislature. Both these bills would do well-documented damage to the internet and to civil rights, both in the US and the rest of world. Catch a video on this on plugandplay.

Like wikipedia, visionOntv distributes creative commons material, where the copyright is owned by the producers. Like wikipedians, we monitor films we put out for copyright violation. And like wikipedia, we are adamantly opposed to this legislation, and to other laws being passed around the world at the behest of large entertainments corporations. We consider these laws to threaten the restraint not only of our basic trade, but of the freedoms on which we all rely.

Be a citizen TV reporter with just the tools in your pocket!

Free workshop at #OccupyLSX, Finsbury Square 10am - 12 noon Saturday 19th November.

The latest installment of visionOntv's Making News Roadshow

Learn visionOntv's famed rapid-turnaround news templates.

Bring any or all of smart phone, digital camera, video camera, external microphone.

Come ready to make news right away!

The Graveyard of Boats - photo essay

Richard Hering and Takako Yamaguchi have been touring with visionOntv's Making News Roadshow in Japan, promoting video citizen journalism. As part of this they visited the area of the earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors. Richard's first article from the Roadshow follows:

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Near Minamisoma City, just 25km from the nuclear meltdown at the power plants of Fukushima, northeastern Japan, is a shocking sight. It's a classical painting gone wrong, where seascape and landscape have surreally combined.

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The tsunami carried these boats no less than five kilometres inland.

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The area is known locally as the "graveyard of boats". There are some 30 hulks here.

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Compensation from the authorities and from nuclear power company TEPCO has been marred by controversy. Application forms sent out to 60,000 households on September 12th are 60 pages long with a 156-page manual. (Earlier provisional payments were praised for their simplicity). The new claim forms, with one required for each individual in a family, also only cover the period to the end of August, with a new form being required for subsequent damages. "Is this some kind of harassment?" tweeted a recipient. (1)

In any case, compensation will not restart the fishing industry on this coast any time soon. The ocean around remains irradiated, including the vital frozen storage. So this is all that is left.

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Our guide, Tomoyuki Narasaki of the Japan Volunteer Centre, informs us that the tsunami wave also took 600 lives on this coast alone. On what was once a popular public beach, most of the sand was washed away. The force of the wave ripped up some of the some of the very solid stone steps which took sunbathers to the water and carried them far inland.

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The remains of a concrete bridge. Cars and other metal items lie in shredded and rusting heaps.

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We visit a closed primary school, whose playground has a huge pit in the centre, as diggers excavate the radioactive dust from it.

Narasaki-san introduces us to a project he manages, Minamisoma Disaster Radio. This citizen radio station broadcasts three times a day, including the latest radiation levels, and facts and opinions from listeners. He was our guide for what he ironically termed "disaster tourism". His guided tour will be published soon on globalviews.

Follow all coverage of the Making News Roadshow tour on the globalviews channel.

NOTES:

(1) http://www.majiroxnews.com/2011/09/14/tepco-blasted-over-60-page-compensation-application-forms/

The Failure of Video Training

 


Let me make a confession. I have been training people to make videos for 25 years, and most of this training has been a total waste of time.

 

There. I said it.

 

Outside of the hothouse of the weekend or evening class, my students have been, with the exception of a few phenomenally talented and dedicated ones, completely unable to make another film.

At a time when the technology to make films is in everyone's hands, but the skills to make effective citizen media are still sorely lacking, this is tragic. So how on earth has it happened? The answer is simple. The technical and craft skills required for documentary making are just too complex, and an apprenticeship of years is required to learn them. So why are introductory video trainers still delivering boiled-down documentary courses over a weekend? A lot of denial of the truth is taking place. Video trainers have dealt with this failure by ignoring it in a number of ways:

 

1. Deny that it's a failure – you can strongly suspect this is happening when the same video, made by the above exceptionally talented ones, gets screened over and over to show the success of previous courses.
Showing work produced on the course is anyway simply irrelevant, as only work produced afterwards without the help of an expert would mean the course was successful.

Video trainers, ask yourselves this simple question: how many videos were made by course participants AFTER your training finished?

 

2. Take the money and run. Millions in funding have been thrown at video training around the world over the last few decades, in the misguided hope that by these methods we can produce a whole new class of video producers. So why not feed a bit at the trough?

 

3. Provide no training at all. The video bloggers' line – we're all capable of being creative in the world of remix and v-logging. Let it all hang out in its distended and undisciplined style. And once again, at conferences, show the few shining examples which have gone viral on youtube.

 

4. Take this a step further and say that training is an unacceptable restriction on the creativity of would-be film makers and how dare trainers tell them what to do. This has the advantage of making you a lot of friends – all the people who fantasize that they can go from beginner to award-winner without learning the basic skills, or the many who like to say “My video's not boring. It's artistic." It also means you avoid the hard work of actually fronting up to students, of having the courage and the social skills to correct their mistakes without them feeling disempowered. "We're all creative in our different ways" is so much easier.

 

5. Carry on teaching the wrong thing. The truth is that we video trainers need to take a heavy dose of “unlearning”, burying our professional skills for the sake of students. Rifle mikes? 3-point lighting? WHITE BALANCE? All unnecessary, and they give students the idea that this is a professional world that is closed to them.

 

6. Parachute in for a weekend, with no follow-up. In reality, the "before" and "after" of a course is more important than the training itself.

 

The project I work with, visionOntv, has taken a radically different path. We have thrown out of our training everything which would confuse beginners and distract them from basic story-telling. We have produced templates for rapid-turnaround video production, as cartoons on one side of paper. We have told students that they MUST follow the templates. Before the course, students have committed themselves to making films after it, and at the end of it they have been able to create a web community for mutual help.

The first training in visioOntv's MAKING NEWS Roadshow was proof of these methods. In the first month after the training, the new Merseyside Street Reporters Network made no less than 55 short films. In one month - 55 films. Not all of them great, but most of them watchable, and some very good. No other video training anywhere has ever achieved this.

 

So what is our vision? A world filled with citizen video reporters. A replacement for the traditional media. Untold stories, sidelined perspectives, a media made by the "people formerly known as the audience". The new mainstream.

Got a Camera? Be a Reporter, Not a Spectator

Richard Hering and Hamish Campbell are checking on what you're doing with that camera:

We've all done it. Gone on a demo and taken an hour's worth of video, and the tape of it then languishes on a shelf slowly icing over with dust. Sometimes, but certainly not always, we even label it carefully, because one day we will definitely edit it into our award-winning activist documentary. Yeah, right.

The question is: why don't we do more with all the video and photos we take of every event in our lives? At any interesting action, a hundred people turn up with cameras. Sometimes there are more cameras than activists. What happens to all these pictures and footage? Mainly, if they appear at all, they go into a kind of flickr or youtube compost, waiting for someone, somewhere to grow something out of them. Or worse, they end up in the internet silo which is facebook, as part of your individual profile. I took these pictures, me, they're all about me. Not much desire for social change in that!

So what stops you, and we mean YOU, from doing something useful with your gadgets? How do you become a journalist instead of a by-stander? It's actually a lot easier than you think, but there are some rules.

Being a journalist simply means telling the story, and you don't need a degree course in media to do it.

There are three basic ways of telling the story, in ascending order of skill:

1. Shoot video of anything interesting, keep it short, and put the journalism in the title and description of the video and blogpost when you upload. Just tell us the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where , When and Why.

2. Think about your story, plan it and tell it right there on the spot, putting the story in the video as it is shot. Template 1 - the live editing one shot report.

3. Learn the skills, put 3 months' work in as a video apprentice and plan the story beforehand, so that you can easily edit the result in a few hours. Template 3

All of these need a level of commitment which clearly separates the reporter from the mere on-looker. But they are all things that can be done in your spare time. To make this a whole lot easier, visionOntv is organising the MAKING NEWS ROADSHOW, a citizen journalist training programme beginning in Liverpool on 17-19 June.

So what do you want to be today? A journalist or a spectator?

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Let's walk the walk for independent media

How can we really build a vibrant and quality independent media, rather than just hope for one?

Part 1: By creative commons licensing

All the films we have shot ourselves at #visionontv are distributed creative commons, as is the whole of this website. We use this license:

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

The license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This is vital for the building of free and independent media, but lots of film makers find this idea quite threatening.

So here's an FAQ to allay your fears!

I don't want to lose my ownership of the footage by making it copyleft.

Creative commons isn't copyleft - it's a copyright license. You're just allowing some people to use it under the same terms, crediting you when they do it.

The BBC told me that they didn't have to pay for my footage, because it was creative commons.

The corporate media often tries this line, but they are "commercial", and your filmwork is your copyright. One of my favourites, from a production company working for Channel 4 UK, was "we found it on youtube, so don't have to pay". Sorry, you do. If they use it without asking, send them a bill.

But I'm worried about people cutting my footage into whatever film, outside of my control.....

They have to credit their use, and in my experience I have basically agreed with all the films which have used my shots. Surely it's good to get your stuff out there as much as possible?

What about the artistic integrity of my original film?

Well, that still exists, right? There is actually a creative commons license specifying "no derivative works", but why lock up your footage in one version only? Mozart wrote the Magic Flute for a troupe that had lampooned his previous work. Good enough for him, definitely good enough for me. And because of the "sharealike" clause, every use of your material guarantees more media available for the creative community.

My contributors have only released their work to this one film.....

You should never promise this to your contributors, because it is meaningless in the digital world. Let's imagine a worst possible case for them, where their contribution was ripped to shreds as a "satire" by a member of the Tea Party and published to youtube. Under the Californian law which covers google's video-sharing behemoth this copyright violation is permitted as "fair use", a basic protection of freedom of speech. In reality this almost never happens.

But you said your entire project was creative commons. What stops someone from simply taking your whole site and rebranding it as theirs?

They would have to give credit, but yes, they could do that, which would be absolutely brilliant. It would be weird if they didn't add something (conspiracy theory films? Extreme sports?). In which case, if we liked what they added, which in the case of extreme sports is possible, we could put it in our site as well. Everyone gains, and we make the world a better place.

Creative commons is one of the key ways we can build an open and better media. Part 2 will deal with media rss.

Facebook Follies

With over 50 UK-based activist groups deleted by facebook prior to the Royal Wedding last Friday, we have a great opportunity to reassess our relationship to this social media monolith.

Let's be clear. As activists, we would be pretty dumb and self-defeating not to use facebook, which holds accounts for 1 in 12 of the world's population.

It makes absolutely no sense to be using an unconnected parallel network with a small fraction of the members.

But facebook has a basic structure very unsuitable for campaigns and activism. Let's define it politically and ideologically. It is designed to be a network of individuals who connect to their "friends". The full set of features, for instance the crucial facility to direct-message people, is only given to individuals. The suggestion that activist groups should set up "pages" rather than "profiles" is impractical for this reason. At base, facebook is designed to allow people to group themselves, but only within the walls of fb itself. Pre-existing groups, or groups with a life of their own, violate the terms and conditions and can be closed at any time. This fundamental facebook structure feeds the server / client relationship beloved of corporations (they serve us content, which we consume), rather than the horizontal peer-to-peer network on which the internet is based (we can all be content producers sharing with each other - this latter is the corporate nightmare). To adapt Monty Python's "Life of Brian", facebook's insistence that "you're all individuals" should cause us all to shout "we're not!"

So what we need to be doing when we post to facebook is constantly linking to networks and resources outside of it, to net the fb user fish and take them out to safer, clearer, more sustaining waters.

And more broadly, to quote Aaron Peters, "this requires us to start using and building viable alternatives that are in every sense of the word ‘ours’, meaning that they are commons-based in production, distribution and ownership."

visionOntv is currently working on tools that will enable our site to live within facebook as itself, a plan which knocks holes in the infamous fb walled garden. Watch this space!

There is an open meeting on Thursday May 5 for people to stand up to the latest attacks on our civil liberties, organized on, er, facebook.

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