Sunday, April 15, 2007

How the Media Spins Stories to Promote Political Agendas.

I wrote back before Christmas that my TV broke - and I still have not replaced it. However I have now become a great fan of StumbleVideo. Check it out.

Just follow the link (it will open in a new window) click on "Stumble" and it will serve up a random video. Click on "Channels" and you can select what broad topic areas you are interested in. When you watch a video you can click on the "Thumbs up" or "Thumbs Down" sign to indicate whether you like it or not - that information will then impact future videos - After a couple of weeks of this I now find that I like 70% of the video served and it is still getting better.

As a result I have started to pick up on stuff that we simply don't get to see in the UK and I suspect that if you are in the US it will also introduce you to stuff that you are not seeing there.

Why is this important? Because the more I use the internet to select the information I want to see - the more I realise how much the media is now controlling what we think. For example - Fox News - Owned by Rupert Murdock this news Channel is so biased that it is painful - but it true Orwellian style their strap line is "The network America trusts for fair and balanced news"

Fair and Balanced - Take a look at this short video clip of one of Fox's top anchors Bill O'Reilly - this man exudes right wing christian views - look at how he treat people on his show who in any way start to present a view or opinion he does not like or agree with.

Bill O'Reilly at his best

OK so now you know the kind of "Fair and Balanced" reporting O'Reilly is capable of, you will not be surprised to learn that a man like this is a target for political attack. Incidentally despite the huge controversy over his and other clearly biased reporting on Fox News, it continues and is openly supported and defended by Fox News executives which implies also, Rupert Murdock.

In November 2006 "The Bastard Fairies" (a band) produced a video using a very talented young actress playing a fictional role in a short promotional video that was posted on YouTube. This is a video (less than 3 minutes) that you will love or hate, depending upon your political perspective. It is important to watch the video before you see how O'Reilly responded.

The Coolest 8 Year Old In The World Talks About O'Reilly

The statement that the video was fiction was posted with the video on YouTube at the same time, yet despite that in December Bill O'Reilly responded on his show. You will now see how Fox News spun this promo video to make it into an example of "Child Abuse" (claiming that the girl was the daughter of nuts and Fox knows who they are) by bringing onto the show an "expert Lawyer" on Child abuse, Wendy Murphy:

Bill O'Reilly responds to the Fairies

It is interesting to note some of the things Fox news did with this video to spin it and promote their Christian/Republican agenda. If Fox will do this with a verifiable source - what will they do to other news stories?

  • Fox showed very carefully selected and edited highlights to present messages not intended with the original video.
  • O'Reilly presented this as "Child Abuse" illustrated by a young child being used as a propaganda tool by her parents, who are nuts and should be prevented from being parents - she is a child actress - it is fictitious.
  • Fox beeped out the word "Ass," then O'Reilly claimed that the video contained more profanity - which it did not.
  • Murphy, a child abuse lawyer, claimed that "this is the ultimate inhumane treatment of a child." Really! This woman prosecutes child abusers and sex offenders for a living - she is an expert and must know that is not true, so she openly lied to position this story - that is not the first time she has lied in this way.
  • Murphy claimed that the girl accused Republicans of mass murder - she did not.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sanitised Wliberforce Museum promotes Anti Gay campaign.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of Slave Trading in 1807 - and I have had the pleasure of listening to the Wilberforce Lecture given The Prime Minister of Barbados, the Right Hon. Owen Arthur. I am hoping that the speech will be made available in text form because unfortunately, I only managed to understand about half of it due to his strong Caribbean accent.

However there was some good stuff there, including a few references to the role of multinational corporations in perpetuating slavery by supporting slave labour in the production of goods they sell at extortionate mark ups in the west some of the worst culprits being Wal-Mart and Nike.

One of the important messages coming out of the current anti slavery campaigns is that slave trading is not just a white crime as was stressed by John Prescott MP who opened the speaking today. Black chieftens were often guilty of supporting slave trading just as today they are prepared to accept billions from the USA and other western governments and corporations in exchange for resources or even unimpeded access to slave labour.

Following the Wilberforce lecture I walked round to the newly opened Wilberforce Museum to see how it had been refurbished. I had been involved in a couple of consultation exercises during last year which had not gone well - and I had real doubts about what they were planning. Those doubts were, I regret to say well founded. The museum has totally sanitised slavery.

In the previous exhibit there was a wonderful construction of what it was like in the Middle passage. It was as if for a brief moment you were taken below deck to where the slaves were packed into racks barely large enough to take a human body, where the smell from the lack of any sanitation was so great it could be smelt 10 miles away. This exhibit was so realistic that I am told many children left very upset and as a result suffered some sleepless nights. So now the middle passage is a combination of wall panels and audio visual presentations. All the images are etchings and drawings from the 18th century - but none convey the horror of what this much have been like.

I noticed parents having to explain everything to children because the entire museum, is made up of wall panels and display cabinets with occasional audio visual presentations. In a city where 20% of children leave school unable to read I can see that this will struggle to get the message across.

But worse was to come for me as I entered the section on Slavery today - OK the message about use of slave labour was there- but I did not see any name of villains. It was close to closing time so I will return and have a second look when it is not so busy. But the panel that angered me was one displaying a huge banner saying Homosexuality is a SIN.

This was picture of a religious demonstration in Northern Ireland against civil partnerships beside it was a picture of a gay couple in York following their civil partnership. There was an interactive exercise for kids regarding rights. One of the messages was encouraging people to respect the beliefs of religious groups. Coupling those two messages and the lack of any comment endorsing gay rights - it is clear that this exhibit is promoting a negative attitude towards homosexuality.

I have no idea what this exhibit has to do with slavery, but I do know that it is one of the strongest messages in the entire museum - no baggers on display opposing slave trading - no images of white slave trafficking for prostitution in the UK - in all a very sanitised display - with a huge anti gay banner in the middle of it.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Amazing Grace - Inspiring Political Activism?

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a preview of Amazing Grace, the film about the political struggle by William Wilberforce to abolish slavery. I live in Hull the home 200 years ago of William Wilberforce MP, so this is of special significance here and we were honoured with the presence of actor Ioan Gruffudd who plays Wilberforce, Director Michael Apted and screenwriter Steven Knight.

Although this is a film about Wilberforce's particular struggle 200 years ago, I found it had strong connections with modern times because it is more a film about the struggle against powerful, political and commercial self interests and greed. The wealth of the British empire had been build on slavery and following the abolition of slavery, the plantations in the West Indies failed to produce the huge profits of the past.

As an activist I came away very inspired. Although there were some minor historical inaccuracies, the story remained fairly true to fact and it showed that with persistence we can stop the extreme excesses of the the rich and powerful, but as is increasingly being seen today, unless we do something they will continue to chase profits with total disregard for human life - which is why I want to encourage you to view this short trailer for The Corporation - a documentary that highlights why we need to remember the legacy of Wilberforce - not the abolition of slavery - but the passion to keep on fighting against the unbridled greed that has driven powerful men throughout history, and today is embodied in The Corporation.

You might also like this short interview with Director Mark Achbar

"Just because you can't fix everything doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything" - Mark Achbar

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why are we still spending money on more nuclear weapons?

Yesterday 409 of Britain's MPs voted to spend £20 Billion (that nearly $40 Billion) to start replacing nuclear submarines to carry Trident Missiles - we currently have 160 nuclear missiles, the smallest arsenal of the arrogant group of western countries who feel they need to hold "total world destruction" as a "deterrent" over other countries. What the bloody hell are we going to do with 160 nuclear warheads. We have never used one in anger thank God - only one country in the world has ever done that - and the USA has 10,000 nuclear weapons. Watch this very short video from Ben of Ben and Jerry to see the total futility of this.

USA has the equivalent of 150,000 Hiroshima type bombs - Now at the same time as we are building and maintaining these weapons of total destruction, we pressure Iran to not be able to produce them - Hypocrisy? Do as I say not as I do - Thankfully 165 MPs voted against the Trident decision including 87 labour MPs who rebelled and plan to keep on opposing it. Note that the conservative party mostly supported the Trident Vote.

Time to Call Time on Nuclear weapons I think.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

If you want to be taken seriously does the language have to be inaccessible?

Gosh - its been a while since I posted here - mostly because I have been completing a Masters dissertation which I am please do say was submitted today - It has been very stressful and not something I particularly want to repeat. It's not the topic - I loved doing the research into the coping strategies of trans women and it has really taught me a great deal about the issues being faced by anyone whose gender it not typically male or female - no the problem has been the style of writing required for an academic project.

One of the books I needed to read for this project was Judith Butler's Gender Trouble. I do not know how this book has become a seminal text. OK she has challenged the gender binary and some of the foundations of feminism and is credited as on of the originators of Queer Theory - but no matter how many times I read this - or should I say try to read it - I cannot understand what she is talking about. Feminism probably more than any subject I know seems to have acquired a virtually impenetrable language that must exclude people - I think it was all part of the need for early feminists to be taken seriously - I on the other hand have been schooled in the belief that as the average reading ability of adults in the UK is age 12 - that the level that we need to write if we want to reach people.

It is interesting that most blog posts I read use accessible language, good basic creative English - even where it is clear that the writer is from an academic background - so why is it necessary to switch to heavy going language as soon as the writing needs to be considered academic rather than personal. My research was based on ethnographic research amongst trans people - who spoke and wrote in good clear English - so it did not make sense that my analysis of that material should be in a complex inaccessible language.

I have noticed this same problem when I run public speaking courses - I get people accessing their passion and telling stories which engage the audience and are really interesting - then we switch to a business or academic topic and they go back to serious and boring again. It's no wonder that business and academic conferences are so arduous when the speakers and writers cannot simply be themselves and speak and write from the heart.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

European Year of Equal Opportunities and other Related Issues

I was invited to speak on a panel at Warwick University on Thursday for a One World Week event organised by students there. I have spoken at Warwick in the past and have quite a growing fan club there and this was a well attended event with some very interesting other panelists.

Gay and Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who I have be a big fan of for a while but never met was there and asked some challenging questions around the limits of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This year has been designated European year of Equal Opportunities and across the UK public bodies are busy developing plans to implement the Gender Duty that will bring about the biggest change in sex discrimination legislation for 30 years. But what of the voices of dissent - are they entitled to an equal opportunity to argue for their position.

One primary issue in the news this week has been around the campaign by religious groups for exemption fro the legislation to outlaw discrimination against lesbian women and gay men in the deliver of goods and services. Is it acceptable to allow a religious group to claim that because their belief systems determines that homosexuality is sinful, followers of their faith should be entitled to discriminate especially in refusing to allow a gay couple to adopt a child?

Both Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly appear to have been sympathetic to the lobbying by the Catholic Church but there has been significant cabinet opposition to support the law as it was passed in parliament. Catholic adoption agencies are threatening to shut their doors if they are not given exemption which would be a shame - but if the alternative is state sponsored discrimination then I have to say - let them close.

One of the other panalists there was Brenda Harrison from the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups who spoke of her campaign to change attitudes of religious organisations from within the Christian movement. Both Peter and I spoke last year at a Quaker Summer School for children where they have long reconciled their beliefs with a modern attitude to gender identity and sexual orientation. The other speaker was Juris Lavrikova from the International Lesbian and Gay Association of Europe who showed a short documentary of the life threatening opposition to a gay group in Latvia holding a Pride service in a local church.

It seems that despite the fact that most Abrahamic religious groups have abandoned the practice of dragging adulterous women to the city gates to stone them to death - the Latvian people would be more than happy to reintroduce the practice for gay people. This brings me back to another of Peter Tatchell's points when he discussed whether it was acceptable for the Mayor of London to welcome Muslim cleric and Islamic fundamentalist Dr Al-Qaradawiwho who openly supports the execution and stoning of gay Muslims whilst excluding liberal and progressive Muslims, especially Muslim feminists who reject the hijab.

Interestingly I also received today an email from GenderPac the gender civil rights group promoting a new report called 50 under 30 detailing the growing trend for young people who do not conform to gender norms to be attacked and murdered - a very disturbing read. I have spent some time today looking for statistics on this topic in the UK to discover that whilst Gender and Gender Identity are specifically identified as hate crime categories - there appear to be no statics recorded.

From my own experience I suspect that when a youth is attacked this is never considered as a cause despite the fact that we know that gender identity, ie not confirming to a macho masculine identity is a primary cause of young males being bullied at school and attacked - In fact I suspect that it is looking gay rather than being gay that is the cause of most homophobic attacks.

So why is the government failing to record the statistics - and why do UK schools still refuse to address gender identity or sexual orientation in schools and most LGBT teachers are firmly in the closet due to fear of the consequences of coming out. The Gender Duty imposes a strong legal responsibility on public authorities to seek out and prevent the causes of harassment and discrimination - so perhaps now we can use the government's own legislation against them to bring this issue to the fore.

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