A reminder about the fragile nature of press freedom around the world today. The Reuters Institute is reporting that one of last year's fellows Bernard Tabaire, whom I had the good fortune to sit and discuss my research with, has been charged with "defamation" back home in Uganda. There is also more information on John Kelly's blog and Henrik Ornebring's blog has Bernard's account in his own words.
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has my new biog up there - rather more serious than my blog one you may find. Are these two people related? I think we should be told.
Last week I read something in a newspaper that genuinely taught me something new. The Guardian ran a series on Susan Faludi's new book The Terror Dream on the aftermath of 9/11. In an interview with Decca Aitkenhead and then three extracts, Faludi talked about the ideas that had grown up after 9/11 - the heroic male image, the mom and apple-pie return, the treatment of the 9/11 widows.... intriguing, thought provoking and taught me several new things.
The power of the media to create myths (my own field the tsunami 'orphan' is a particular potent one, when all statistics show that in fact far more children and women died in the wave) is something that we fall victim to, whether serious or less so. I was particularly amused to read somewhere in a newspaper today (brain gone blank, cant remember where) about TV reporters fanning out the night the Queen Mum died in the hope of silent cinemas, clubs etc showing respect for the Nation's Matriarch. When they found the ungrateful populace drinking enjoying themselves as usual it was immediately recast as the Blitz spirit....
Having predicted doom and gloom for aid agencies who are turning to social networks (sort of), I was inundated with emails defending Facebook's relevance in 2008 and now comes a report from the Centre for Policy Studies (see disclosure below) that analyses how it will force politicians to be more open. Robert Colvile's theory (headline grabbing stat: the BNP's website has the same market share as all of the other major political parties combined) is that so far politicians in this country have failed to take advantage of the web, which will prove just as revolutionary to politics as TV and radio did in the 20th century.
His argument is that technology transformed politicians from masters of rhetoric (Gladstone, Pitt commanding the Houses of Parliament) to communicators able to project an intimate image on television (Wilson, Thatcher, Blair).
Web 2.0 and its successors means this will change again: politicians won't worry so much about facing down Paxo as being more responsive, more interactive - and more open, due to Google's ability to keep on record previous remarks/policies that may come back to haunt them (although the Sunday Times reports there are already companies working on cleaning up your internet profile; useful for those who may fear Facebook indiscretions could stymie them).
Aid agencies could certainly consider these lessons. How to target appeals in future; will the old style DEC still work? Probably for the tsunami style natural disasters, but not so much for the long term chronic ones.....how they will be put under pressure even more quickly if they fail to deliver (those guerilla aid workers were keen on blogging). And whether they, like politicians, will be put under pressure from activists - Facebook already has groups criticising Amnesty's abortion policy.
*Disclosure: I sit opposite Robert when I work in the Telegraph and he has been known to buy me cups of tea and vice versa.
Lent update: These are the things I now really want to buy currently and can't: a stopwatch that means I can change tracks on my iPod while running (I didn't even know such a thing existed until a week ago, but now am convinced it will change my life); the DVDs of Cold Feet after reading a James Nesbitt interview in the Observer; tracksuit bottoms with a mobile phone pocket in them (so I can call my brothers to jeer at the end of the Liverpool half marathon in two weeks); a copy of Fateful Choices, by Ten Decisions that Changed the World by Ian Kershaw. I feel this attempt to combat consumerist thoughts isnt really working.
Lent (only buying what you need instead of what you want) is really biting now; I found a piece in the Mail on Sunday about a woman who did this for a year profoundly depressing. And yesterday I took my godchild to buy a birthday present, to Borders to buy her whatever book she wanted.
The problem was this meant I had to go into a bookshop and not buy anything for myself; equivalent to the shopaholic going past Primark blindfolded. D danced round in front of me pushing dustjackets in my face, rather as I imagine a pusher dangles wraps of cocaine in front of an addict. Pig.
I read ALL the children's books to them in the Starbucks cafe. This really is getting desperate if you read Dr Dog*, Little Miss Magic and More Pants just to get round the need/want Lent problem.
*Do not read Dr Dog unless you have a strong stomach. Or are obsessed with intestinal worms.
The Guardian reported yesterday that Ashes to Ashes had lost a million viewers for its second episode, and the biggest debate seems to be over the character of DI Alex Drake. Keeley Hawes, as Helen Rumbelow puts it in the Times, the new series has divided viewers as sharply as the miners' strike or the disbanding of Wham! did in the real life 1980s.
The problem was that in Life on Mars, Sam Tyler was portrayed as a nice bloke with a lovely mum who found himself back in time. His 'niceness' made us like Gene Hunt's complete unpolitical correctness more. The writers with Ashes to Ashes have attempted something more tricky; made Drake a knowing, irritating heroine who has defects as a mother (well I think it's pretty bad form to take your daughter along to a hostage situation) and who - aha - had a dysfunctional relationship with a mother who looks the spit of Edwina Currie (surely the problems Alex faces are all apparent now).
Alex "Hello constructs" Drake I can put up with; what is interesting is that it affects the rest of the cast. The sexism that was apparent in LoM has a nastier side in A2A because Tyler as New Man isn't there to counterpoint it; the writers no doubt justify the snooker ball scene, Rupert Graves shagging on the sofa and stamping Alex "Property of the Met" on the backside as part of Alex's id (in fact they made her explicitly say it) but there is a nastier tone. Ray Carling was always the dodgiest of the three but he has turned into Finbarr Saunders with a perm; Chris Skelton has gone from being sweetly naive about women to a repulsive lech. And Gene Hunt - well - he looks rather lost.
I am hoping this will turn out to be a witty and perceptive take on how women have moved forward since the decade that first saw a woman in power; that the darker tone reflects a deeper deconstruction of the materialist girl decade. But at the moment there aren't as many laughs. And they're still avoiding tackling racism.
Talking of materialist girls however, I am sorely sorely tempted however to buy a T-shirt that says "A woman's place is in the White House". I don't even support Hillary but it made me laugh a lot. The problem is with Lent rolling on til March, and Obama's victories rolling on, if I wait until Easter Sunday it may be far too late.....
Over the last century sociologists, feminists, anthropologists have all tried to answer Freud's frustrated question. However, a quick peek in cardboard boxes at Paradise Rd, Richmond, south London suggest they may have overlooked a particularly interesting repository: the Mills and Boon archive.
RUOK, the death of Facebook and Gene Hunt, plus Lent, not borrowed
First things first: I have just been sent a paper on how people use blogs in times of crisis called RUOK. Havent had time to read and analyse it yet myself but will return to it soon. I'm very grateful so far for those who received my lecture who've taken the time to comment on it. (And no I still haven't worked out how to put the PDF version here but I hope it will end up on the Nuffield website soon).
Second I have been thinking a lot about social networking given so many aid agencies are increasingly turning to Facebook, MySpace and Bebo to promote their messages. I joined Facebook at Nuffield before it was thrown open and did little. Then everyone could join and my summer turned into a mass of poking, superwalling, status updating and adding photos. There have been increasing numbers of negative articles about Facebook recently - particularly this one from the Guardian. The truth is - as Richard Sambrook once mused in his status update - is the tumbleweed now blowing through the 2007 sensation. Is it - dare it be said - turning into Friends Reunited; once equally must have and now reduced to sending emails reminding you of its existence. Last week I conducted a small unscientific yet rather telling experiment. If 2007 was the year of Facebook, it was also the year of Gene Hunt with the second series of Life on Mars. The sequel - Ashes to Ashes which began last Thursday was much anticipated. Because of a feature I was helping out on at the Telegraph I got hold of a copy of A2A a day earlier. And in irritating fashion I immediately updated my Facebook status to say I was watching A2A right then. Obviously partly to annoy people; but also to see how many people were still checking Facebook. The results were as follows: one person emailed me mid Thurs to see if his friend who was playing the clown had a big part. Conclusion: 1. Facebook is over (if so, bad news for the aid agencies who think social networking could be the answer) 2. Gene Hunt is over (bad news for the BBC who have pinned so much on A2A) 3. I have no friends anymore (bad news for me) I think it may be a combination of all three.
Finally Ash Wednesday last week means it's Lent. This year having read Affluenza by Oliver James (good idea, although the writing irritated me in parts) I decided I would launch my own assault on the consumer society by only buying things I need, not what I want for six weeks to try to stop being so wasteful (and maybe save a bit of cash too). This is obviously slightly subjective but I think it goes as follows: In brief this means I can buy newspapers (essential) but not magazines. I can't buy new clothes although I can reheel boots. I am only buying lunch, not chocolate and snacks (although who says no good deed goes unpunished; I got sent some chocolates from Save the Children for my talk which I feel I can eat as I didn't buy myself). The big test is: can I buy books? I was arguing this as a necessity in my life (I feel physically panicky if I travel somewhere without reading material) But then I remembered I have a library card.....