Scientists VS Sceptics

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When it comes to the media representation of climate change there is much room for debate. Science journalism and the media in general place as much importance on scientifically weak arguments as they do on scholarly analysis which offers “media expertise rather than media opinion” (Dreher, 2012).  The climate change debate is not the first that has divided the public into sceptics and believers. The sceptics of climate change in the media could be compared to the tobacco and asbestos lobbies, which also hid behind the façade of the ‘sceptic’ to warrant their beliefs. “Climate ‘Sceptics’ have been assisted either by a culpable media or the media’s pursuit of “balance“ before accurate and adequate reporting of the science” (Purdue, 2012).

This concept of ‘false balancing’ is seen across a range of other media debates, one of the most recent examples was the relationship between Thiomersal and autism, or the ‘Thiomersal controversy’. The ‘Thiomersal controversy’ describes claims that vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative Thiomersal contribute to the development of autism. Contemporary science proves that after extensive research there is no evidence to support these claims but in spite of the consensus of the hard facts and figures some parents and advocacy groups continue to contend that Thiomersal is linked to autism. A 2011 journal article described the vaccine-autism connection as “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years” (Flaherty, 2011). The media coverage on Thiomersal resulted in scepticism about the product, just as the scientific media representations of climate change resulted in an opposition from climate sceptics. Again, the media’s ‘pursuit of balance’ assisted the sceptical view to overthrow the expert scientific evidence. In the case of Thiomersal this false balancing was resurrected, and hard science won. But who will win the debate on climate change – The scientists or the skeptics?

Reference:

Cottle, S, 2011, ‘Taking global crises in the news seriously: Notes from the dark side of globalization’, Global Media and Communication 7(2), pp77-95

Dreher, T, 2012, ‘Analysing Literature: Global issues’, BCM310 Lecture Week 11, Wollongong University

Flaherty, D, 2011, ‘The vaccine-autism connection: a public health crisis caused by unethical medical practices and fraudulent science’, 45 (10): 1302–4, accessed online 17/05/2012 http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-Denial-Media-Banishment-Science-Reality.html

Purdue, B, 2012, ‘Climate Change, Denial and the Media – Banishment of Science Reality’, Sceptical Science – Getting Sceptical about Global Warming Scepticism

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Art or Porn?


Henson is one of Australia’s most respected photographic artists, he has always been fascinated with the coming of age and this has been a prevalent theme throughout his photographic history. Until recently his interest in photographing adolescents was not seen as a cause for concern, but when his 2008 exhibition was circulated in Sydney newspapers his work made the drastic transition from photographs to ‘pornography’. The media coverage surrounding the exhibition drew the attention of child protection agencies who acted quickly to shut the ‘pornographic’ show down. Hetty Johnston, executive director of child sexual assault action group Bravehearts, urged police to charge photographer Bill Henson and the gallery displaying his photographs. “It’s child exploitation, it’s criminal activity and it should be prosecuted”, Johnston told Australia’s AAP news agency. “They are clearly illegal child pornography images. It’s not about art at all. It’s a crime and I hope they are prosecuted.” (M&C, 2011) Heavy media coverage and members of the public speaking out against Henson’s subject matter caused an eruption of moral panic, which only escalated the more it was debated in the media.

I saw the exhibition when it was first opened to the public and I can safely say that to this date it was my favourite collection of photographic work. The exhibition received public praise and was predicted to be a great success. It was only after receiving newspaper coverage that a common fear began to spread that suggested his work was pornography that could encourage pedophilic behavior. Today if you type Bill Henson into Google the impacts of this moral panic are permanent. The search engine pulls up suggestions such as Bill Henson CONTROVERSY, Bill Henson CHILDREN, Bill Henson BANNED PHOTOS, Bill Henson CHILD PHOTOS… The list goes on. Even after the panic has subdued this negative media attention will not be forgotten. The moral panic that came as a result of the unwarranted fear of these child protection groups continues to haunt Henson and his reputation, and will limit artists who wish to express this stage of life in their future works, creating the idea that any expression of a young naked body could have you labeled a pedophile. It is a shame that these narrow-minded members of society are given a voice through the media and that their opinions have the ability to create such a widespread public fear. Perhaps it is those who see works like Henson’s as pornography that should be accused of pornographic tendencies.

Reference:

Catharine Lumby and Kath Albury, ‘Too Much? Too Young? The Sexualisation of Children Debate in Australia’, Media International Australia, No 135, May 2010,

M&C, 2008, ‘Police close photo show of topless children’, accessed online 11/05/2012 http://news.monstersandcritics.com/asiapacific/news/article_1406945.php/Police_close_photo_show_of_topless_children

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Significant Australian Content?

In order to protect the jobs of those working in the Australian film industry we need to stretch the current screen content policy, and broaden the definition of Significant Australian Culture Test that decides if a film or programme is ‘Australian’ enough to deserve funding. Telling Australian stories plays an essential role in the development of our cultural identity, but the current policy is restricting the screen industry by enforcing strict regulations outlining what is constituted as ‘significantly’ Australian.

The key word here is significantly, what is the difference between significant Australian content and content that is in some way Australian?

Who is to say that this film…

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Is any less Australian than this film…

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Candy gives a much less stereotypical account of Australia, but the story is in my opinion far more significant. Even though it was filmed and set in Australia, staring Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, it was not deemed ‘significant’ enough to pass the test. Where as Crocodile Dundee somehow would get approval? What image of Australia are we putting forward to the rest of the world?

The current policy is so strict that the industry relies on profits from footloose productions and co-productions to stimulate employment for our Australian technical crew, but this would not be the case if more Australian films were passing the SAC test. The message here is simple, we need to broaden this idealised view of traditional nationalistic Australian culture in order to allow for a wider range of Australian content to be produced domestically. We need to work towards a policy that understands that it is not only stereotypical Australian culture that warrants funding, that other more subtle versions of Australia may paint a more diverse picture and benefit the industry greatly.

This is not a groundbreaking solution, I simply propose that if we follow the lead of other more successful global content industries, our success might follow. Other countries all over the world are not battling for the concept of local content. Director of Television Sandra Levy explains that when she left Australia to go to an international market in the 80s, other countries “did not have to lobby government, or networks for financing and regulatory mechanisms to protect the concept of telling their own stories, in their own voices, in their own country”. She feels that Australia is “almost alone in the world in having a television service open to all comers. Other countries’ television is managed by history and practice, such as the United States, and the UK. Australian broadcasters have been governed by regulation, carefully monitored, to secure minimum levels of Australian content.”

Reference:

Levy, S, 2003, About the ABC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2003 Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture – Screen Producers Association of Australia, accessed online http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/speeches/s998743.htm

Screen Australia, 2009, ‘Producer Offset: Guidance on Significant Australian Content, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/producer_offset/

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Between the walls of Facebook

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Put bluntly, this image sums up what is happening in the Facebook walled garden.

The idea of the internet is that information is free – freely distributed and free of charge, but there are certain platforms such as Facebook that change the free dynamic of the online world. Facebook is what is known as a ‘walled garden’, where only members have access to their content but no access to the content of their competition, basically excluding anyone that does not cross over to Facebook.

Facebook presents itself as a social place, a seemingly ‘free service’ that benefits the individual – one that we have control over. But the reality is that when we use social networking platforms we are engaging in a controlled activity that is ending the concept of free Internet as we know it. We voluntarily provide the most personal of data on social networking sites, data that accumulates and is often never lost, giving the company almost complete control over who you are.

It is the issue of control that is truly terrifying. Before the Internet people realised they were being restricted, restriction was straightforward and communicated. Today company ‘walled gardens’ such as Facebook have developed a new kind of restriction, one that might seem obvious but many are oblivious to. They are requesting that we share our private information, manipulating us by disguising these requests under applications that we ‘need’. The process creates a level of threat to our freedom and sense of identity that only the Internet can provide.

This idea of everything being recorded leads me question my online activity and makes me wonder how much of my data could come back to haunt me in fifty years time. It makes me aware of the fact that nothing will be forgotten, the Internet makes the saying “leave it in the past” redundant. No online activity will be left behind, Internet information is permanent and we should be careful with what we share.

Reference:

Mitew, T, 2012, Feudalisation of the Internet, lecture week 8, Wollongong University

Zittrain, J. ‘Thethered Appliances, Software as Service, and Perfect Enforcement’. In The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it, Yale University Press, New Haven, ppp.101 – 126 

 

A new age of journalism or the death of tradition

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The notion of citizen journalism is one that has been argued time and time again in the age of new media, but what is at the heart of the debate? Is it simply a fear that the quality of content is going to decline? Or is it the threat user generated content poses to traditional journalism that keeps the argument alive. The Internet gave birth to the citizen journalist, and now the world does not know what to make of it.

There are multiple examples of citizen journalists sharing breaking news before the traditional journalists had even heard that there was news to be broken.  Technologies such as smart phones combined with platforms such as YouTube and Twitter have opened the door for unrestricted and unregulated journalism – Journalists used to have to go looking for a story, today any average person can stumble across a story, and if they have the technology to capture it, and the ability to share it, they are labelled to some degree, a journalist.

With citizen journalism comes an influx of content, the majority of this content is useless, but some is priceless and in many cases would have been left uncovered by traditional journalism. “No more press – just the Internet. This is a great fear that journalists have” (Quandt, 2011). In my opinion there will always be a place for traditional journalism in society, we need reliable sources to go to when we need a definite answer, and that will never change. The important thing anyone in the industry needs to understand is that the rise of citizen journalism is out of our control. Journalists need to embrace the benefits it can bring, and evolve with society, finding ways to incorporate these changes into their work. Traditional journalism will not die, but the traditional journalists that stay living in the past might get left behind.

Reference:

Quandt, T, 2011 ‘Understanding a new phenomenon: the significance of participatory journalism’ Chapter 9 in Hermida et al Participatory Journalism, Wiley Blackwell pp155-176

Digital disability – Inclusion and exclusion

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The issue of inclusion and exclusion of people with disabilities when it comes to new media and information technologies is very two sided. On one side of spectrum there is the argument that “disability is customarily invoked as a warrant for the development of new technologies” Goggin, 2007, p159), yet many of these technologies create new forms of exclusion. For example most features on a touch screen smart phone are inaccessible by those who are vision impaired. But on the other hand the Internet and new media offer a form of online community for those with social disabilities such as autism that cannot communicate as freely in daily life.

For people that struggle to communicate in the real world the Internet may offer them a way to reach out and express themselves in a realm where they feel comfortable. Whether it is in the form of a personal blog, a chat forum created specifically for those with a certain disability or simply socialising and talking to others on social networking sites such as Facebook – for some people with disabilities online communication and support is invaluable.

The media portrays disability in such a variety of ways, often generalising and stereotyping the different forms and offering representations that result in public confusion on the issue. It is important to understand that when it comes to disability there is no blanket coverage – new media technologies have both positive and negative impacts on the lives of those with disabilities, at times contributing to exclusion, but also offering a new world of inclusion.

Examples of online communities for disabled people:

http://autisticchildren.com.au/

http://carlysvoice.com/

http://ableize.blogspot.com.au/

http://www.facebook.com/disabledparentsupportgroup

Reference:

Goggin, G, 2007, ‘The Business of Digital Disability’, The Information Society, Issue 23, pp 159-168

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Are we learning in the past?

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We are “living through the greatest change in human communication in human history” (Miller, 2010), yet when it comes to our education system we are stuck in an educational rut. Miller uses the example of the current middle-school curriculum to demonstrate the irrelevant nature of contemporary study. Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, and it shouldn’t be completely cast aside, but if all the focus is put on ancient texts like this, students will find themselves studying in the past, and not looking to the future.

The World Wide Web has completely changed the way we communicate, learn and interact. “Print newspapers are moving online or closing altogether. University presses are considering anything to stay in business”(Miller, 2010) – the present, and the future is all about being online, learning online and producing online content.

The accessible and instant nature of the Internet allows for anyone to share their views and opinions world wide within seconds, “we are becoming a nation of writers in search of an audience” (Miller, 2010) and this should be a key factor in deciding what is taught by all education institutions. We need to be able to understand and use the abundance of information and services available to us, and learn how to re-work traditional forms of expression to suit modern day society.

The paradigm shift we are seeing is one from individual reading and writing, to collaborations on a group scale, working towards promoting a tolerance for ambiguity, cultivating curiosity, encouraging connective thinking about real-world problems and “preparing students to think and communicate in and with the most powerful medium of our time” (Miller, 2010). 

We have entered a time of great change. We need to stop teaching and learning in the past and start learning from new media, evolving with the Internet, embracing technology and keeping our education curriculums relevant. 

Reference: Miller, R 2010, ‘The Coming Apocalypse’, Pedagogy, Volume 10, Issue 1

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The upside of street viewing

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Google Street view is a Web-based technology that offers us a chance to travel to places worldwide that we may have otherwise never had access to. Privacy concerns about the tool have been a hot topic in the media since its creation in 2007, mainly due to the fact that Street view allows us to be onlookers to private situations without physically being in the vicinity. Prime examples were the cases involving men leaving strip clubs, men picking up prostitutes and women sunbathing. These personal activities were photographed and published online without their consent, which is definitely a cause for concern, but in no way a reason to dismiss the technology completely.

In my opinion all of the hype surrounding privacy breeches is warranted, but it may be standing in the way of people seeing the possibilities the Google Street View presents. A prime example is the use of the tool for monitoring and reporting on environmental and geographical issues. Journalists and general members of the public can raise public awareness using the tool to hone in on an area of interest from the comfort of their own home computer or with the convenient Google Street view app available to most smart phones.

As well as opening opportunities for investigation from outside parties, there have been accounts of Google using their own technology to raise awareness on environmental issues such as natural disasters. A perfect example was their documentation of the aftermath of the Japanese Tsunami where it photographed more than 27,000 miles of the effected areas, providing records of the destruction to these communities. With the information Google then created a ‘Memories for the Future’ website with before and after images to provide a permanent record of the disaster, and the long road to recovery. Without locative media such as Google street view this would be near impossible. 

http://www.miraikioku.com/streetview/en/

http://mashable.com/2007/05/31/top-15-google-street-view-sightings/

http://maps.google.com/intl/en/help/maps/streetview/#utm_campaign=en&utm_medium=van&utm_source=en-van-na-us-gns-svn

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The power of pink


Many of us feel we are doing our part when we purchase goods displaying the pink ribbon, but after the organisation has taken their profit, what is the very small percentage of left over money put towards? Finding… “A cure”.

When only 1 in 10 women with breast cancer have a genetic history of the disease I would hope the funding would be going towards what can be done to prevent it. But this is not the case, because if the majority of these corporations used the money for preventative research, they would be exposing the fact that many of their own products marketed with the pink ribbon contain chemical substances linked to breast cancer.

Avon is a prime example of corporate use of pinkwashing for profit. When I go to the Avon website, the first thing I am drawn to on the page is the name “Avon, the company for women”, with ‘the’ written in pink. At the bottom of the page is the link for the Avon foundation for women, again the ‘women’ is written in pink.

The Avon walk alone raised over $265 million, one third went to the company, and less than two percent went towards research related to preventing beast cancer. Avon uses this pink power to sell their products, placing emphasis on a cure that may never be found and shunning any notion of prevention that could save lives.

Over 250 of Avon products are listed in the “highest concern” category due to the presence of hormone disrupters, making their reasons for shying away from prevention research obvious. They put the focus on raising ‘awareness’ of the disease and finding a cure when in reality we need to become aware of the risk factors and products that cause it.

The key message here is simple. If you want to donate to the breast cancer cause, donate directly, where the money might actually be used to help the cause. Don’t let these large corporations profit on your charity.

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