When Muammar Gaddafi speaks to the UN

24 09 2009

Think international politics is boring? Think again. The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington reports that Muammar Gaddafi’s maiden speech to the UN was one for the ages. Living up to his reputation “for eccentricity, bloody-mindedness and extreme verbiage”, Gaddafi spoke for 100 minutes, six times longer than he was allotted. I pity the poor soul who chaired that session.

He tore up a copy of the UN charter in front of startled delegates, accused the security council of being an al-Qaida like terrorist body, called for George Bush and Tony Blair to be put on trial for the Iraq war, demanded $7.7tn in compensation for the ravages of colonialism on Africa, and wondered whether swine flu was a biological weapon created in a military laboratory. At one point, he even demanded to know who was behind the killing of JFK. All in all, a pretty ordinary 100 minutes in the life of the colonel.

The colonel looks at his notes (Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand /AFP)

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Flanders, ‘land’ of a thousand clichés

11 06 2009

The Guardian is running a ‘luxury break’ competition. “You and a friend could experience European chic in style”. This is how the advertorial describes Flanders:

Flanders is one of Europe’s hidden gems. Home to stunning architecture, fantastic art, great food, brilliant bars and chic fashion boutiques, it has something for everyone.

And there’s loads to explore – the Flemish-speaking area of Belgium encompasses such delights as Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Leuven, Mechelen, and Ostend and its coast. If you love city breaks, you’ll love Flanders.

There’s a video demonstrating just how European chic Flanders is. To many people, Flanders is incredibly dull. Jeremy Clarkson thinks so. When I lived in the States, some of my friends thought Flanders was a socialist hell hole. Flanders is also often associated with the right wing reputation of Vlaams Belang. What images, stereotypes, jokes, etc do you associate with Flanders?





Economists answer a rhetorical question

23 03 2009

The globalization of journalism is a two-faced Janus. The first face is abuzz with the creative promise and transformative potential of technological innovation. In essence, the development of ‘new media’ technologies such as content management systems, weblogs, podcasts, news aggregators and other internet applications has revolutionized journalism and other forms of public communication – public relations, advertising, business communication, politics. This digital revolution has paved the way for new journalistic practices like online and citizen journalism.

It has also produced cultural shifts in news production and consumption. One such important shift is that audiences, i.e. news readers, listeners and viewers, have morphed from voiceless, passive media consumers into rambunctious, active producers (a.k.a. ‘produsers’ or ‘prosumers’). In brief, new media technologies have given audiences a voice. This voice can be heard the world over, in ever increasing co-creative, interactive and networked ways.

In complete contrast, the second face tells a tale of doom and gloom. ‘Traditional’ media industries, inter alia institutional journalism, publishing companies, movie studios, television and radio stations are struggling with the digital revolution. Their political economy is fraught with declining numbers: circulation, audience figures, advertising revenue, staff count and market capitalization. A cottage industry of websites now tracks media lay-offs, shutdown operations and mergers.

Print journalism in particular has been bleeding red ink as the industry shifts from print to digital. Summarizing, print journalism is seen as a transitioning medium in search of new business models, one-upped by technological innovations and cultural changes, challenged by commercial and editorial adjustments, criticized for declining quality standards, and eroded by uncertain labor conditions and de-professionalization. In short, moribund discourses abound about the future of print journalism.

The thread that runs through these depressing stories is the (orthodox) view that print journalism in particular and democracy are inextricably linked. It’s a simple (and perhaps outdated?) idea: news informs us about who we vote for, what to buy, who did what to whom, and the like. In short, news affects public opinion and thus constitutes a ‘fourth estate’. Here to drive this point home are two Princeton economists, Sam Schulhofer-Wohl and Miguel Garrido. Alan D. Mutter has the lowdown, I offer the abstract and my sympathy.

The Cincinnati Post published its last edition on New Year’s Eve 2007, leaving the Cincinnati Enquirer as the only daily newspaper in the market. The next year, fewer candidates ran for municipal office in the suburbs most reliant on the Post, incumbents became more likely to win re-election, and voter turnout fell. We exploit a difference-in-differences strategy – comparing changes in outcomes before and after the Post‘s closure in suburbs where the newspaper covered more or less intensive coverage – and the fact that the Post‘s closing date was fixed 30 years in advance to rule out some non-causal explanations for these results. Although our findings are statistically imprecise, they demonstrate that newspapers – even underdogs such as the Post, which had a circulation of just 27,000 when it closed – can have a substantial and measurable impact on public life.

Schulhofer-Wohl, Sam and Garridoz, Miguel (2009). Do Newspapers Matter? Evidence from the Closure of The Cincinnati Post.  Discussion Papers in Economics, nr. 236 Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.





Quo vadis, Flemish news media?

18 03 2009

Tomorrow is a big day for ‘quality’ news media in Flanders (I would love to write Belgium, but alas, Kris Peeters represents the Flemish government). Flemish Minister-President Kris Peeters is organizing a Media States-General: a formal meeting to discuss and safeguard “the plurality and quality of the Flemish press” (in Dutch).

Given the ongoing crisis in news media the world over, moribund discourses about the future of print/quality/investigative journalism abound. Flanders – the Northern part of Belgium no one outside of it knows or cares about – isn’t any different. That is why a number of Flemish writers, publicists, academics and politicians are urging the Flemish government to

take concrete steps to keep viable and to strengthen critical, multiform and independent quality journalism in Flanders. (my translation, TVH)

Underlying this call to action is the orthodox concern that journalism stands to lose its role as fourth estate in participatory democratic societies. In the words of Eduardo Potter: “if newspapers go bust there will be nobody watching city hall”.  There is something to be said for this claim, but judging from the reader comments, the public at large couldn’t care less about the future of (professional) journalism.

The authors of the opinion piece make no fewer than 10 suggestions, ranging from regulating institutional convergence to stress prevention policies and in-service training courses. In addition, the authors make a case for “additional investments in scientific research on news quality and the journalistic process”.  This is exactly the kind of research that NewsTalk&Text is promoting. Glad to see that there is an interest in this line of work outside academia.





Welcome to the show: Obama takes office

20 01 2009

Today is a historic day. Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States of America. Hope for change. I’ll be watching the inauguration live on Avaaz.org. Sculpture and picture by Michael Murphy.





An expression of moral indignation

7 01 2009

As Israel “expands” its “operation” in Gaza, stories, pictures and footage begin to circulate, ranging from the revolting to the critical and leading to moral indignation, but nothing more, alas. When diplomacy fails and world leaders turn a blind eye by expressing “concern” (that’s you, Obama), words no longer matter. Actions do. Stop the war.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Assault in Gaza, Day 12, The NY Times (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In 1971, American radio DJ Tom Clay accurately captured the senselessness of war, violence and terrorism in a compelling remix of What the world needs now and Abraham, Martin & John. Contextualizing the assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy with soundbites and effects, Clay delivers a powerful, timeless political message.

Tom Clay – What the world needs now/Abraham, Martin & John (Motown, 1971)
Preview here or purchase as a DRM free MP3 file on amazon.co.uk





The sh*t hits the fan: Leterme I resigns

19 12 2008

Just witnessed a historic live television moment: De Standaard editor-in-chief Peter Vandermeersch breaks the news that the Belgian goverment has decided to offer its resignation over the Fortis banking scandal, seconds after receiving the news via sms “from a very trustworthy source”.