Democratic Media Institutions

 Community Media, Debate, DIY-DMU, DMU, EMCMN  Comments Off on Democratic Media Institutions
May 022018
 

BBC Media Action is the charitable arm of the BBC that seeks to support communication development in developing nations around the world. James Deane is the Director of Policy and Research, and in his latest blog he asks if we need to rethink how we build media organsations and institutions that support democratic accountability around the world. Deane suggests that:

Access to information that people can trust, find relevant, that underpins informed democratic debate, and can hold power to account, will depend on the existence of media institutions, not just information networks. That remains the major challenge of media support. It is a challenge that we need fresh thinking to achieve.

I agree with Deane that this isn’t just about rolling-out large media corporations, or throwing open the communication floodgates to the market, and that we do need to undertake some careful thinking about what we build and put in place for the future. As Deane argues:

Media freedom and media sustainability indicators focus on whether media is free and sustainable and less on on whether they are valued, trusted or relevant to the populations of their societies, especially those outside an educated middle class. This is especially important at a time of digital and demographic transformation.

The challenge, from my perspective, is how do we harness the independent and distrubuted technologies in which we aggregate news and media content, in which ‘brands’ are no longer as importnat, but the need for trusted informants, guides and advocates is?

Trusting Community Reporting?

 Community Media, Debate, DIY-DMU, DMU, EMCMN  Comments Off on Trusting Community Reporting?
May 012018
 

John Naughton writing in The Guardian makes a very powerful point about the need for trusted sources of information in developing communities. With the use of Facebook as a tool for promoting fake news, which has led to violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Naughton suggests that:

We have woken up to Facebook’s pernicious role in western democratic politics and are beginning to think about ways of addressing that problem in our bailiwicks. To date, the ideas about regulation that have surfaced seem ineffectual and so the damage continues. But at least liberal democracies have some degree of immunity to the untruths disseminated by bad actors who exploit Facebook’s automated targeting systems – provided by a free press, parliamentary inquiries, independent judiciaries, public-service broadcasters, universities, professional bodies and so on.

However, as Naughton goes on to point out:

Other societies, particularly the developing countries now most assiduously targeted by Facebook, have few such institutions and it is there that the company has the capacity to wreak the most havoc.

The importance of trust in our civic and community media is crucial to promoting peace and reconciliation, but do we have the right tools to do this as independent media producers and communities? Large media organisations spend a lot of time promoting their ‘brand’ identity so that it can be trusted and relied upon, but this appraoch isn’t available to small, independent, volunteer-led community media groups.

Is there a way, then, perhaps with something like the Mozilla Open Badges project, which independently verified people’s learning, to independently verify the output of reporters across different media platforms, networks and communities?

Trust is the currency that holds society togehter, and when trust dies, our social order suffers. How can we build a new infrastructure that enables trust to be implicity validated in our media use, and what would the criteria be that would demonstrate that a reporter or a media producer is a trusted source? If Uber and Tripadvisor can do this, why can’t news organisations and social media corporations put some funding and development time into producing trust tokens for community reporters?

Will 2018 be the year of the Neo-Luddite?

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Mar 052018
 

According to Jamie Bartlett writing in The Guardian, in our rush to embrace all things technological, we are failing to account for the human costs and the consequences of the development of automation, artificial intelligence and everything being networked. Jamie asks if 2018 will be the year when of the Luddite comes to prominence again?

“The downsides of technology’s inexorable march are ​now becoming clear – and automation will only increase the anxiety. We should expect the ​growing interest in off-grid lifestyles to be accompanied by ​direct action and even anti-tech riots.”

I’m not such a pessimist, but with every move forward with technology there is both a positive and a negative impact. Having open forums in which we can share our concerns seems to me to be the initial response to our anxieties, and learning to express our anxieties without fear of being shamed for them, however unfounded they may seem to others, should be something we use socialised media to achieve. Talk and learn is probably the best response to these anxieties.

Mary Shelly taught us two hundred years about that we have to learn to adapt to changes in our culture brought about by science and technology, the question is how and in what way we respond – as a Luddite smashing things up, or as an optimist embracing change as a way of promoting diversity and inclusivity?

How to Change Zombie High-Streets

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Aug 282017
 

Walk around any town centre in the United Kingdom and you are likely to encounter the same chain shops, the same chain cafes, the same chain restaurants and pubs. British highstreets have become zombified, they are boxed-in with chains, charity shops, pound shops, bookies and nail bars. None of which is inevitable, and none of which hasn’t occurred without choice made by governments to support a narrow and limited franchise-version of the marketplace. This is the result of tax-breaks and preferences that go to large corporations that are centralised, branded, vertically integrated and stultifying in their operational form.

The British high-street lacks diversity, it lacks independence and it lacks charm. Each town I visit has the same products on sale, from the same companies, in the same format, and for the same prices. I thought that capitalism was supposed to promote a marketplace of competing services, products and ideas? Instead, the British high-street has the flavour of Soviet Russia, with uniform businesses selling products that are chosen centrally by a committee, and which are pushed-out to consumers with a dull regularity that leaves them with little expectation of creative difference or variation.

The usual line that is trotted out is that economies of scale are what deliver low prices to consumers, but if this was the case, then those who make this argument would be making a strong case for the complete centralisation of all consumer services and the supply of all goods, as variation is so obviously wasteful. What they don’t account for are the other factors that market diversity brings, like innovation, or local identity, or tradition, or craft, or civic engagement and pride.

It used to be the case that a town or city centre would be populated with local businesses that were run by families who had a stake in the civic life of the community. The owners of these businesses, the shopkeepers and the stall holders, the managers and the suppliers, all interacted and supported the good running of the town. If you work as a manger in a chain, however, what interest would you have in being part of the civic infrastructure of a community? None as far as I can tell. You would be more interested in your relative position within the company network.

The centralisation of things like cafes and restaurants has had a knock-on effect, as all the marketing and publicity work that could otherwise be done locally is locked-up in the headquarters of the holding company. This might be in London or New York, but it’s not driven by local ideas and using local design services and skills. The centralised market is therefore a poor experience for consumers, while simultaneously hollowing-out any allied or associated businesses that might develop around them.

Dull and repetitive marketing patterns emerge that are reliant on large-scale marketing, a rapacious speculative property system, and a de-localisation of services. When we walk along a British town centre high-street, the shops and the cafes with the most money spent on them are all the same. There is little variation. They are homogenised and identikit. To put it bluntly, they are boring and suck the joy out of life. They dominate the market and all that is left is for charity shops and fast-food shops to fill the void. This is hardly a successful and innovative market environment in which new suppliers can emerge and offer different types of products or services that meet more local needs. Its differentiation by global brand, not by innovation, and it’s boring.

So, what can we do about it? Well here’s a couple of ideas that rely on some simple changes to our corporate tax laws and which use the market mechanism to foster a different culture of enterprise. There is an economic model that isn’t discussed a great deal these days, but it is actually one of the founding principles of the European Union, though it doesn’t get a lot of attention these days. Distributionism says that those things that can be done at the lowest level of society, should be done at the lowest level of society.

For example, in 2008 when the financial crash hit, Thornton’s the chocolate retailer had one thousand stores across the UK. They nearly went broke and had to flood the market with cheap products in order to get cash into the company. Remember the stacks of boxes of mass produced chocolate that stood in supermarkets and petrol station shops? In one fell-swoop this bloated and centralised company, churning out its factory produced chocolate would have gone bust, with the jobs and associated services it would take with it.

However, if we had a distributionist model of retail businesses in the UK, and rather than running a national chain of chocolate shops, there would be a network of independent and family-run businesses, some of whom might have gone bust, but many who would have survived. They would be making and producing their chocolate products locally, they would have embedded local skills, they would be part of a civic network, they would be family oriented, and so on. If Thornton’s goes bust the loss of skills is negligible in each of the towns they are based. It is a simple retail operation that can easily be reproduced. In a sense, the only skill needed to run a Thornton’s shop is to stack shelves and cash-up the till.

Centralisation and economies of scale are not the answer. Diversity and innovation don’t come from companies that are vertically integrated and centralised. In Leicester, the independent coffee shops are cheaper than the chains. So the price mechanism argument doesn’t hold water either. If the market was about competing on price, why is so much price conformity in the UK so consistent, with the exception of London that seems to demand a premium, the prices in the coffee chains around the UK are consistent and don’t vary much. It’s contradictory that people argue on the one hand for market flexibility, while on the other hand they apply universalist prices?

There is a rule of thumb that we can use to enforce more local provision and local market mechanisms, and it fits with the distributionist principle quite well. Malcolm Gladwell described it in the Tipping Point, when he explained the one hundred and fifty rule. This is the general number of people who can form a social network or community without having to impose bureaucratic management systems. At no more than one hundred and fifty people in an organisation or a community, it can be managed through inter-personal relationships and connections. People who have different roles and do different types of work in these companies or communities get to know each other, they can relate to each other, and they can interact directly with each other.

So here is my list of suggestions for changes in the UK retail and services sector: Apply distributionist principles by applying the one hundred and fifty people rule. This means that any retail business that employs more than one hundred and fifty people faces progressively higher taxes. If a business grows to employ more than this number of people, then it has two options, to pay more tax on these roles, or to split and subdivide the companies into separate and autonomous units that are managed independently and sustainably from within the new company.

This means breaking-up the vertically integrated product and services model, and reinstating a network of independent businesses that can choose between suppliers in an open and transparent marketplace. The large manufacturers and producers would be able to sell their services and products to these companies, but they would not be able to tie them into contractual relationships that prevent alternative suppliers or service providers also entering the market. The choice and the responsibility for getting this right would be that of the people working in the local business. If they get it wrong, they lose their jobs.

Another couple of actions would be necessary to help this work. Firstly, any form of undeclared labour must be taxed, not on the profits of the company, but on its operational revenue. How is it that in the UK, customers are forced to do the work of the companies that are selling them their products, and making profits from them? Standing in queues at counters is a form of undeclared labour that these companies benefit from.

We need a queue or a tray tax, something that will dissuade businesses from ripping-off their customers by making them do the work. It is quite common across the rest of the world for customers to be seated and served at their table. In fact, it is more efficient and more pleasant. Standing at a counter or a bar is a way of a company getting its customers to do their work for them.

Customers in bars and cafes should always be seated and served at their table. This would limit the number of customers that can be serviced at any one time, and push-out customers into other businesses, and would be regulated by the price mechanism. The more popular a café or bar, the more they can charge. Those who wish to compete can do, but on the basis of either price or innovation, and not by abusing their market position and crowding-out competition as happens far too often now.

One additional factor has to happen to make this work. When a bar, café or fast food shop sets up, it must offer seating and toilet facilities, and it must use washable plates and cutlery as the cheaper option for eating. This means taxing disposable and transportable containers that just end up in the bin. It is a job for someone to wash these dishes and clear these tables. It is social contact for people who eat in cafes and sit with a proper meal. It is good business sense to spread and open the market so that it is sustainable and independent, rather than centralised and corporately managed.

Whatever happens with Brexit, the culture of the service industries have got to change in the UK. This can only be done, however, by turning the market mechanism around on itself, decentralising, breaking the vertical stranglehold, ending the franchise model, promoting local and family ownership, applying sustainable principles to waste, applying sociability principles to service delivery, and getting people to spend more time relaxing and enjoying these services. This is not an anti-business agenda, its more pro-business than the dumb system we cling to at the moment. It’s time to change it.

Community Media – The Power of Self-Representation

 Community Media, Debate, EMCMN  Comments Off on Community Media – The Power of Self-Representation
Jun 282017
 

The horror of the Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted for us all the issue of social marginalisation and voice poverty. If you need evidence of how divided communities in this country are, the proof is staring at us in the form of the smouldering shell of a tower block that was once home to hundreds of families who had settled in London in the hope of building a better life.

But if people living in the richest borough in London are not being heard or understood, how many other people and communities up and down the United Kingdom are likewise not getting heard?

The shock of what has just taken place in London should be a worry for us all. Not just for what it says about fire regulation and social policy, but for what it says about communities that have important issues to talk about, and who want to contribute to the ongoing debates about what makes us stronger.

After years of vilification and whipped-up hatred by politicians and newspapers, often to suit narrow political or business interests, it has taken a disaster of this magnitude to see through the deception that being poor isn’t, and never has been, a free-ride.

The stark fact has come to the fore, that people and communities across the United Kingdom are seemingly powerless to act against entrenched local authority bureaucracy, especially when it is entwined with deregulated and unaccountable commercial business interests.

Having been excluded from national debates, vilified for their social differences, or worse, disregarded as legitimate citizens, the anger that is being expressed on the streets of Kensington and Chelsea is understandable. If you push down on people for long enough, eventually they will push back.

This means that the challenge of living together in harmony, in integrated communities, for the mutual benefit of all, is back on the agenda as the defining worry of our age. However, after almost a decade of austerity, the absence of practical support for shared social cooperation, which promotes understanding and mutual engagement, has meant that our communities are more divided and more disenchanted.

None of this is helped by the centralised, concentrated and narrow model of media regulation that we have in the UK, which is clearly not fit for the purpose of community self-representation. The market-based model of local media is letting us down.

Everywhere there has been a hollowing-out of local representation. Local newspapers are put together from press-releases in distant towns. Local radio stations regurgitate nostalgic chat and play-listed music that is a comfort blanket for some, but an irrelevance for many.

Social media is the disrupting influence in this process, as social media platforms are able to demonstrate a proliferation of voices, issues, creativity, obduracy, concern, and anger. Social media has given a platform for many different alternative voices to come forward, though this is a process that can work both ways.

The expression of consternation and indignation that is being voiced, however, is as likely to come from the right – with those who want to exclude marginalised communities and demonise them – as much as it comes from those on the left, who want to embrace and celebrate social differences.

The alternative to a trusted and responsive media, we are so often told, is to share our own news and ideas on social media. But this has also highlighted that many of our traditional media outlets, newspapers and broadcasters, have too much in common, and are chasing the same narrow expectations of shareholder value and profit.

The concentration of ownership of British media, in the hands of fewer and fewer multinational corporations, that are all chasing the same advertising revenues, means that audiences are only ever considered in ways that are constricted, homogenous and static, all to please their sponsors.

It’s frustrating then, that community media is seldom acknowledged as a practical and sustainable alternative to mainstream media. Especially as community media is well placed as a community movement that embraces diversity, self-expression and shared cultural understanding.

Had community media been able to provide a space for voices blocked by the mainstream media and political parties, then the simmering resentment that resulted in the Brexit vote might have found an outlet. Instead, the mainstream media where preoccupied by a wave of jingoistic nationalism that failed to pick-up on the experience of many people living in the left-behind communities who have not shared in the new prosperity offered to only a few by the free market.

Community media in the United Kingdom, however, is desperately underfunded and actively marginalised by speculative commercial interests. If young people and others are turning to extremism as they search for radical answers, because they can feel that they are part of something, then we need to invest in alternatives media spaces that cuts-off extremism and renews our sense of community as an active and enriching set of social practices.

In Germany, the Federal Agency for Civic Education gets federal funding in order to promote understanding of political issues, intensify awareness of democratic cultures, and promotes the political process as something that all citizens can participate in.

Clearly, work needs to be done so that communities are able to share information in responsible ways, be media literate, and learn to question what they are told. But it is only by investing in community-led solutions, that offer people a chance to learn about each other, founded on the ability to participate in the life of their neighbourhood, its civic life, that we are able to renew and strengthen our sense of community.

Community media is a movement of people who want to see change through locally empowered and self-determined voices that are accountable through local participation in media of all kinds. Community media is a movement of people who think globally, but act locally. Community media is a movement that calls for all parties aspiring to government to invest in social and civic spaces that they can cherish.

Community media is about recognising and supporting the right to speak out, about giving back control of media to local communities. Allowing communities to hold their representatives and administrators to account. Investing in support for high quality, grassroots journalism. Including young people in the democratic process. Valuing all voices, from all backgrounds and abilities. Demystify media and the structures built around it. Changing the broadcasting regulations to support wider debate is now essential.

Access to community media should be seen as a right, and not dismissed as a hobby or plaything. But community media can only contribute to the building of a better society if people have time to volunteer, and the resources to discuss, debate and question issues that are relevant to them.

By offering widespread community media opportunities everywhere, and for all people, it will be possible to reach people who are held at the margins, especially those who other media do not understand or cannot represent. Community media is about promoting access for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, ability, income or any other factor.

This means maintaining the core principles of community radio, which means that there is an alternative media movement that is not run by the state, that is not for profit, which is locally owned and accountable, and which can lead the way in bringing about deeper social change. As media technologies change, such as community television, or small-scale digital radio, we have to ensure that communities have priority over narrow commercial interests.

Funding for community media has to be increased substantially. Ofcom presently gives £400,00 each year to support community radio in the UK, but the BBC spends ten times that on taxis each year. We need to establish flexible and dedicated funds for all types of community media projects, channels and groups, that support reasonable and fair payments for the services community media provide, through training programmes and the promotion of community development campaigns.

Investing in education and learning opportunities through and with community media means recognising community media’s contribution to our civic and social life. Celebrating and valuing the achievements of the community media movement in a way that cherishes the positive impact we can all have on the wellbeing of individuals and communities, is essential.

By working closely with government and community focussed partners it is possible to embed and secure new opportunities for community media participation. Being included in all important conversations about regulation, legislation and resource planning is essential.

Principally, this is about promoting the development and use of existing and emerging media platforms for sharing the creative work of communities. This is not just about mirroring the way that mainstream media works, but instead, it’s about how we understand and support the artistic and creative value of community media, in which we are able to provide physical and virtual spaces for communities to take creative risk and find their voice.

Those of us in the community media movement know there is a different way, and that ordinary people can collaborate, work together on independent platforms, that are owned and run by local communities. Community media has been quietly growing in the background across the United Kingdom, using alternative business models that are not driven solely by advertising, but that embrace the work and the vitality of social enterprises, that increase access, thereby earning money from training, running inclusive membership schemes, and much more.

Community media has been desperately underfunded. The community media movement has to fight for the meagre resources that it’s got. However, community media tells us something about the way forward. That the ownership of media needs to be with everyone and not just a few. People need to tell their own stories, recognising that our differences and our diversity are our strengths.

Social Media Production Development Themes

 Debate, DIY-DMU, DMU, Research  Comments Off on Social Media Production Development Themes
Mar 152017
 

There is a useful and important question that we can ask about social media, and what we understand to be the emerging role of the social media producer. Does our view of people shape the methodology that we adopt in thinking about social media, or does our view of the available methodologies shape the way that we think about how people use social media? The reason that this is important is because if we adopt different approaches to the study of social media, then we will necessarily arrive at different conclusions and different expectations about the people who are involved in producing them.

I want to use this blog to sketch-out some ideas and principles that I hope to adopt when developing my studies of social media, and the associated creative practices that underpin them. To be direct, my starting point is humanistic and empirical, it is based on the idea that what matters most about the study of media is what people become in the practice of sharing and creating different media products and relationships.

This means thinking about the dispositions that people adopt, the patterns of behaviour that they exhibit, the accomplishments that they seek to achieve, and the conceptual framework and language routines that they articulate in the process of enacting their social presence. This is an approach that is informed by symbolic interactionism, which is a way of pragmatically thinking about our engagements in our individual and social life.

Herbert Mead, the renowned American anthropologist/sociologist, framed the pragmatic view of human life in these terms: firstly, we define ourselves as individuals in relation to our social encounters and situations; second, we define our social encounters in relation to our individual creative dispositions; and finally, we use symbolic forms, such as language, communication practice and media, to establish social relationships which are capable of creating new opportunities for mutual understanding.

This view sees social life, and the individuals that make up the social body, as the primary source of all human undertakings and accomplishments. This means that all the patterns of behaviour, all the concepts that account for our behaviour, and all the meanings that we negotiate between different agents acting in the social body, are observable, and are made meaningful as a process of negotiation, reflection and action.

Therefore, any study of social media has to recognise that it is people, themselves, who create the meanings that we collectively hold about the nature of the world, and so studying and accounting for the way that people make sense of the world is the primary purpose of our reflections on the way that things are, and how we fit with them.

It is the meanings that people create and negotiate that give us the options to act in particular ways, some established, and some emerging and different. And it is people who share the symbolic frameworks of language and mediated representation that are part of the cooperative and developmental process that results in our interactions with the world in purposeful ways.

Now, taking the symbolic interactionist framework at face value, it is possible to map-out some principles and themes that might help to form a view of social media, and the manner in which it is possible to study the forms and practices that social media represents.

This is a sketch and reflection on the practices that I’ve developed in two modules that I teach at De Montfort University, Leicester Media School. TECH1002 Social Media and Technology, and TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Productions. The first module is an introduction to media culture and social media practices, and the latter module introduces ethnographic principles of enquiry, combined with creative and collaborative working practices, suited to emerging social media production challenges.

Reflexive Learning
Symbolic interactionists regard human agency as a primary component of social life and activity, thereby adopting a view of human agency that is reflexive and contemplative, and which is able to retain memories of former practices and states of mind, either as habits or as narrative experiences, which we can learn from and reflect on. Thus, drawing inferences about the process of what makes personal and social development possible.

Blogging – Explaining to Others
I’ve been encouraging learners to write and produce blogs that account for their experience as they learn to make media and share their media socially. There are generally three levels of reflection that I have aimed to introduce. First, how does the process of creating and developing media products feel to the individuals involved? Second, how does this process feel to the group of people who are involved? Third, asking how might the products and the process look to other people who are not involved or committed to the repertoire of meanings that are being offered?

By breaking-up the process of reflection in this way, a mature learner should be able to switch from one perspective to another, and thereby they will be able to account for their own intentions in acting and communicating in the way that they do – before accounting for how these intentions might be operationalised with other people. If we get stuck in any one of these modes, the self-observant mode for example, and are unable to imagine what they might be like for other people, then we will be unable to fulfil our potential as participations in our social situations, or feel individually satisfied at the same time.

Vlogging – Personal Reflection
Reflection isn’t a zero-sum game, however, and so identifying our own individual needs does not necessarily mean a trade-off against what we are trying to achieve socially. A useful technique to make this process tangible is the use of video reflection. I’ve only started to do this properly this year, and yet have found it to be a rich and accessible form of reflection. There seems to be something about opening-up to the webcam on a computer that allows for a more extended set of expressions of what we are thinking about.

I’ve used this process through the year in the De Montfort University Universal Design for Learning requirements, that expect lectures to be recorded or summarised on video in order to assist learners make sense of the complex nature of the topics. I was reluctant to do this initially, but I soon realised that I was benefiting from recording a summary of the topic of my lectures, and then listening to it and watching it, before posting it to YouTube.

I was never sure that I was making sense previously. Now I feel more confident that I am using the terminology of the investigative method, and the vocabulary of the topics in a more purposeful manner. I can check-in with myself and find out how I am doing, rather than waiting for the approval of other people to offer this supporting acknowledgement. It seems that I am more independent and self-actualised as a result of adopting this simple practice and turning it into a habit.

Talkaoke – Structured Discussion
One of the challenges working with first year undergraduate learners, is to develop and nurture a more extended thinking practice. It takes a long time to get learners from the UK to engage in a discussion and conversation that stays on-topic, and which focusses on the subject and the issues at hand. Literally, my experience is that within thirty-seconds the conversation gets deflected and takes a track that is only relevant to the immediate and personal experience of the learner, but which doesn’t probe or explore any of the deeper and more intractable issues that might be related to a problem or social issue.

One helpful technique that I’ve explored this year to help to redefine this lack of focus is the use of structured discussions in the form of a Talkaoke. This is a basic exercise in passing a microphone and explaining a concept or an idea without being interrupted by other learners. This means learners are able to demonstrate that they can dig deeper into an issue that would otherwise be deflected and avoided when a conversation between friends takes place.

It’s a challenge to speak to a topic for a sustained period, and the focus by the speaker as they hold the microphone is more engaged, knowing that the discussion is being recorded requires an extra level of preparedness and depth. Not everyone can do this immediately, but it’s something we can all do with practice. As long as we a prepared to have a go and reserve judgements until we listen back to the discussion afterwards.

DIY-Media
Increasingly I have an aversion to mass-produced and industrially distributed media. I’m getting bored with the sterile and limited repertoire of concerns that are voiced in much of what forms mass media these days. Instead, I’m drawn to more independent and DIY forms of media, because they offer an alternative framework of engagement that draws on the creativity of the people who are making it, and the alternative ways of thinking that they otherwise explore.

Engaging learning through doing.
DIY media is useful because there is no one telling individuals what it is that they should be making or saying. This is a form of media production that is self-determined and draws on the interests and the inquisitiveness of the people who are making it. There is no template, there is no right and wrong, no fixed path or pattern. This is about seeing what emerges as a creative expression and as a form of individual self-discovery.

It is also a form of expression that is directly connected with the process of making something and sharing it. The sense of achievement that comes from making something for ourselves, however limited or ramshackle this might be. The DIY ethos celebrates the achievements of everyone, requiring us to turn-down our sense of judgement, or professionalism, or business acumen, or whatever, and to value the personal achievement and the expression that has been invested in a media product by individuals, rather than simply viewing media products as the outpouring of a commercial process or a factory production line.

Avoiding expensive equipment.
To engage learners in the process of creating things we have to learn to value the most immediate forms of media production, craft and technology that we have to hand. Media production learners get well drilled in the art and craft of the mainstream and industrial production techniques, particularly those required for television or radio, for example. But they have fewer opportunities to explore their creative potential in the form of their own limited, hands-on, capabilities.

If everything can be achieved by applying a pre-determined filter, or by using a technology that makes an artefact look or sound like something else that already exists, then our media becomes sterile and lifeless. Knowing that there is a person behind the process makes it more meaningful, regardless of how ramshackle it might appear.

Promoting alternative and independent points of view.
It’s essential, therefore, that we have in place a structure for learning that promotes and exposes learners to alternative forms of media practice. Particularly those forms of media practice that offer alternative opinions, expressions of identity and dynamic forms of creative practice. Simply churning-out graduates who are capable of slotting into the already established and pre-existing employment and skills structure that is represented by mainstream media is no longer tenable.

All we will end up with is a sterile and flat media culture that offers no diversity of thinking or interest, and which can only reproduce that which we already have. Where will the innovation in media forms and practices come from if we are only teaching learners how to fit into the established mould of media producers? Don’t we have a responsibility break and remake the mould from time to time?

Social Learning
One thing that is clearly breaking the mould, even as we speak, is the requirement to learn the skills and attitudes of collaborative thinking and working. The tools that are available to us in the internet age are making it much more likely that we will have to collaborate in ways that we have never done previously, on a continual and a deeper level than we have done in the past.

Collaborations skills are going to need to be richer and more socially based than the old command-and-control models of organisation development will allow. It’s going to be essential that knowledge workers will have an outlook and disposition that is essentially social, and which enhances the network potential of new data-driven tools and communication practices.

Dominance of Skills & Roles Models
Presently we are locked into a model of learning that is process driven, in which the focus is on how we manage the techniques of project development, rather than focussing on the relationships that are fostered by the people involved. This means that we are continually turning-over the ground of set skills-pathways and skills-models that come from a previous age – the mass production and factory age.

The role-models that are advance in this model also tend to come from the same community of practitioners that are identified with tightly-defined set of production techniques. The value of people who can discuss social imperatives is not part of this grouping. How we feel and understand what things mean, is not necessarily something we focus on when putting a production team together, though in an age of increased anxiety, this might be worth pursuing.

Shift to Practical & Experiential Engagement
What we learn from practice and experience will be different from the kind of analysis that we can derive from our understanding of process and systems. While these systems are important and provide the backbone of a set of media practices, the social context in which they are enacted are equally important. One gives life to the other, and to focus on a purely rationalist or instrumental view of human activity and motivation produces a sterile and alienating experience.

Peer-Learning Practices
This is why continuous peer-learning techniques are essential in the development of a social approach to project management and development. Learning is no longer terminated upon graduation. It has to continue and continue to be undertaken for the rest of our lives. So, let’s make these learning practices as accessible and enjoyable as possible. The symbolic interactionist approach recognises that all social activity is learnt activity. We continually learn from one another. To learn in isolation is going against our natural dispositions, perhaps suited to less than twenty percent of the population. So why aren’t we accessing those social learning practices that work so well in informal play or recreation?

Playfulness and Alternative Learning Practices
There is a developing trend towards the use of gamification techniques to enhance learning and comprehension. Simply regurgitating the ‘tram-lines’ models of learning that have been imposed in the mass-media age will not suffice. We need to look again a co-learning and participation-based models of learning that foster and nurture a sense of engagement on multiple levels, not just those that are preferred by the inspectors and supervisors of the curriculum. Humans comprehend the world in many different ways. We approach problem-solving in equally diverse ways, so why not allow learners the opportunity to explore more diverse approaches and use a wider range of practical tools that are better suited to their divergent cognitive dispositions?

Collaborative Practice
If social media is to realise its potential, not only as a mode of promotion and conversation, it also needs to be articulated as a set of collaborative platforms that ensure that work can be developed on a shared, transparent and continually engaged basis. The silo mentality of development is a difficult one to shift in the mind-set of most organisations, as it seems counter to rationalist and efficiency models of social organisation.

Stepping back and allowing self-determined and interdisciplinary teams to take the reins of a project is anathema to most project managers and systems developers, who would rather work by dividing and conquering, as each task and resource that is deployed to focus on the task is optimally deployed on a unit-by-unit basis. Russel Ackoff critiques this approach, when he questioned the ‘systems-thinking’ mind-set. His argument was as simple as: take any single component of a car and see if it achieves anything like what the car can achieve when it is operational as a whole!

Wiki Development
The tool that I’ve been using most to develop this is an instillation of MediaWiki – the system that Wikipedia runs on, and which has been installed on the DMU Commons. It requires a change of mind-set to embrace wikis as a collaborative development space, because the lack of hierarchy, the open structure and the negation of status challenges many of the received models of knowledge development that are incorporated in our public institutions.

As the symbolic interactionist tradition acknowledges, it’s not the institutions that matter, but the perceptions and the shared experiences of the people who form those institutions that make the difference. If we separate the organisation from the people then we are left with a sterile and information-process-led approach which most people seem to find to be an anathema to a happy and fulfilled working life. So why keep doing it?

Social Production Tools
Fundamentally, we have to invest in the social tools that will enable us to maintain meaningful human contact when we engage in dispersed projects and try to achieve extended common goals. Yes, different types of jobs and tasks tend to attract specific types of thinkers, but they might be so much richer and quicker to resolve if they take a more pragmatic and inclusive approach to cognitive diversity. Simply employing people with the same outlook will only produce the same responses. If we paraphrase Einstein, the way to critique one system of thinking is to deploy an alternative system of thought that that can help us to shift our perspective and bring about fresh thinking.

Before Copernicus every expert was adamant that the Earth was the centre of the universe, and that when we looked at the sunset we saw the sun setting below the horizon. After Copernicus, it was possible to demonstrate that it was a false image, and that it was actually the horizon that was rising to obscure the sun. Sunsets, however, remain beautiful and prompt a sense of wonder – so it’s win-win to be able to think both ways.

Social Evaluation Tools
This means that we need to think differently about the evaluation tools that we use to demonstrate that we are engaged in a common endeavour of value. How we look at meaningful social communication has to be understood in different terms than simply measuring the interactions and the number of people who flick a switch and stare at a screen. What are the wider outcomes that we are trying to achieve? What is the context of need and social development that we are trying to cope with? How can change and shifts in disposition be accounted for?

Either we continually try to chase our tails, and keep-up with the numbers and the metrics, or we step back and ask questions about the ethics, the value and the meaning of our social forms of communication. In my work with community media, the challenge is never to measure the audience of a community media project, but instead to ask what people become in the process of developing the relationships they establish in their practices?

Mediation
By returning to the triad of pragmatic communication, associated with Pearce, we can complete the cycle of development and understanding. What are the forms of communication helping us to become? How do they help establish a sense of ‘self’? How are they valued and understood in the context of the community of practice and interest in which they are expressed? The pragmatic symbolic interaction tradition is an anti-essentialist form of thinking. It doesn’t see language as a universal trait of human nature, rather, it looks to practice and activity as the formation of our language.

The need to collaborate and meet shared social goals is what leads us to formulate language and symbolic representation. What, then, are the shared aims and goals that our present forms of symbolic representation seek to address? Our tools of symbolic communication are always shifting and changing, and in the process our goals and aims also change.

Social life is never static, it is dynamic and changing. It evolves in practice, and our reflection on that practice gives us new insight into how we can change and evolve our goals and aims continually. We are restless in this respect, because we remember that we have lived our lives one way before and we are drawn to the creative practice of trying new ways to live, new ways to interact and new ways to see the world.

Pragmatic Models of Communication
Pragmatism, then, takes the dynamic process of interaction and social engagement and asks: what do we become in the process of applying these emergent forms and practices of communication? Accounting for change is the primary need of all social enquiry. We are continually faced with change. We remember the habits of the past, and sometimes we long for those habits with a force that is deeply held within our being.

Periods of rapid social change are always challenging, and they displace the equilibrium and harmony that we previously established. But in time we adapt. In time we establish and incorporate fresh perspectives and the harsh lessons of life get incorporated in our language repertoires and routines. It is impossible for us to live in a word of no memory, though it is often difficult for us to move on from the past. We are driving into the future with our eyes firmly fixed on the rear-view mirror, (to steal an analogy).

Affordances & Constraints of Technology
Of course, technology plays an important part in the development of our dispositions and sense-making capabilities. As technology changes, so does our ability reflect on the mechanisms by which we engage with the world, recall information about the world, and engage with one another. The McLuhan’esque determination that it is the technology which shapes our comprehension of the world is only partly true. Technology plays a role, but it does not exist in isolation, and humans still have to make sense of the technology that they engage with and use.

A pragmatic approach to technology seeks to understand the relationship between our sense of self, our sense of the social group in which we operate, and the media and symbolic forms that we have to hand, that allow us to go beyond our immediate bodily senses and capabilities. Any examination of the technology of communication cannot be deterministic. Technology and media practices do not define the human experience. They may help to shape that experience, but they do not totalise it or finalise it.

There is no universal fulcrum on which the world rests. Our experience is the product of the social construction of meaning, which is shifting and developmental, emergent and partial. We never have the full picture and we never will make sense of everything. Our experience is a process of negotiation, and technology and media forms are only one aspect of that process.

Dispersed Meaning Processes
In a sense, the preponderance of social media technologies has helped us to see the world in a different light. We are no longer embedded in mass-media models of subject-object dualisms, and instead can locate the evidence that humans are creative, inventive and generative. Yes, to a large extent we learn by imitation, but if encouraged and supported appropriately, we have the potential to follow richer streams of generative intent.

Mainstream media organisations now spend much of their time mining social media interactions to figure out if they can offer potentially meaningful content to a broad audience. This is a significantly different process than the mass media model of industrial media production. It looks to people and publics to find out what they regard as meaningful, rather than simply imposing content on a uniform and mass audience.

Adapting to these changes is taking time. The levels of collaborative and co-production are emergent, as Henry Jenkins attests, this is a model in which meanings are circulated by users or agents in a network, moving beyond the simple producer-audience binary that has been the mainstay of mass media entertainment through the Twentieth Century.

Post-Broadcast
The task, then, is to prepare for the post-transmission age, in which dispersed and distributed meanings networks are the norm, and the experiences of humans within these networks are given primacy. This will take us beyond the institutions and industry practices of the present, and open a dynamic and shifting mediascape that is driven by individual and unique expressions of belonging, participation, creativity and difference.

Diminution of Importance of Transmission Models of Communication
Gone are the days of reliance on fixed communication pathways. Media will have to work harder to establish a presence within the plethora of social worlds and multiple reality-frameworks that people experience. We might not yet witness the full effect of this change, but it’s becoming more apparent in the dispersal of micro-gestures that make up social media communications platforms and systems. Being able to tune in and out of these reality frameworks is going to be the required skill of future generations.

Rhizomic vs Arbolic forms of Media
Deleuze and Guattari signify this shift in the concept of de-territorialisation, and the contrast between the ‘arbolic’ and the ‘rhyzomic’ structures underpinning knowledge and information exchange and development. Eric Raymond describes this as the ‘cathedral and the bazaar’ model of thinking. We may well continue to invest in long-lasting structures and social spaces, as they serve a functional purpose, but they are slow to respond to social change and aren’t based on flexible forms of thinking. Whereas the rhyzomic forms of collaboration and co-development are fluid and continually emergent, offering change many times over, at a rapid pace and in unpredictable ways.

Practical Tools
The challenge, then is to build a practical set of tools that can help us to adapt to these generative models of social experience, and which help us to realise the potential of participative models of media engagement. These are often labelled as part of the digital literacies model of thinking, and there is a great value in exploring this framework of practice. It will be more effective, however, if we can tie these ideas to the symbolic interactionist methodology, because a lot of the groundwork has already been done, and the simplicity of the precepts have been established.

The challenge is to keep thinking, to keep reading, to keep writing and to keep exploring and making points about how all of this works, what difference it might make in practice, and how we can adopt forms of analysis and evaluation that aren’t fixed to speculative or deterministic ideas. Let’s form a view of people that respects agency and then find a methodology that can account for the creativity that is associated with being human.

Issues in Developing Curriculum for Media Technology and Production

 Debate, DIY-DMU, DMU, Research  Comments Off on Issues in Developing Curriculum for Media Technology and Production
Feb 242017
 

There is an ongoing debate about the status of media studies as a subject and set of learning activities that suggest that the traditional focus on textual, institutional and political areas of interest are no longer the sole area of concern for academics and practitioners who are developing learning and teaching strategies that make sense in the highly changing social, economic and technical environment. For example, William Merrin suggests that models of media study and practice need to go beyond the ‘broadcast’ and ‘transmission’ age models of production and distribution (Merrin, 2014), something that David Gauntlet reflects by calling for a “media studies 2.0” framework based around creativity and participation (Gauntlett, 2015).

This is a debate that is ongoing and has real implications for the way that media courses are structured, planned and promoted. What might the intended outcome of a media studies or media production programme be when seen in the context of rapid and advancing change? How can media studies and media production programmes meet the challenges and needs of the future, such as the “Great Disruption” (Moore, 2016), with its requisite impact on social resilience, adaptation and planning for environmental change, increased urbanisation, technological automation and information management, as well as fundamental changes to the communications model, passing from the arbolic to the rhizomic mode of generative media (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013)?

This is a quick sketch of issues that I believe are important if we are to address future needs in the development and promotion of the media studies and the media production curriculum. This can best be summed up by asking if anyone needs media studies and media production courses? There has to be a point to our undertaking, such as addressing pressing social problems? This entails going beyond a market-based supply of skills needs, and addressing future concerns of sustainability and participation in communities of practice and interests.

How Focussed on skills are the courses we manage?

Most media courses have a strong sense of planning to meet existing skills needs, but to what extent are we investigating the potential skill needs of the future? As the media production and development working environments shift, so to are the skills expectations. As technical and social change occurs we have to try to anticipate, investigate and experiment with patterns of future skills requirements that are relevant for diversified media ecology.

Cognitive Diversity

Well-structured courses draw on strong emphasis of production, reflection and investigation, while also being mindful that it pays to be a generalist when planning for the future, and thus avoiding a too narrow focus on a limited and conforming set of ideas and core practices. The single-mindedness that academics and media practitioners bring to the development of their courses is admirable, but it is at the risk of failing to recognise and exploit the potential that is offered when we bring together mixed learning experiences and contributions. By introducing diverse learning opportunities, and using interdisciplinary and multiple modes of engagement and practice, it should be possible to enhance the learning experiences that address emerging technologies and practices, in a more collaborative mode of delivery than those that are addressed in the traditional linear and abstract forms of knowledge development.

Cognitive Expectation

It is therefore necessary to draw on different scholastic and investigatory traditions of practice and learning, exploiting and experimenting with interdisciplinary methodologies and approaches. If we avoid the narrowing of our expectations, and the conforming of our practices and routines of enquiry, then we can avoid the pitfalls of monological thinking that removes opportunities for discovery and investigation – with the associated limited range of cognitive expectation that accompany these practices and dispositions. Promoting interdisciplinary, collaborative investigative approaches and structured challenges, means that it will be possible to enhance the expectations of learners, while keeping them engaged in a rewarding and stimulating learning experience for its own sake, and not one that promotes deferred reward, status or approval as their primary outcomes.

Experiential Engagement

What we gain from these developmental learning traditions, which sees the cycle of learning as driven by an integrated sense of learning through practice and concept, is a reinforcing cycle of engagement that opens-up the learner’s expectations, rather than limiting their opportunities and potential for diverse outcomes. A narrow mode of engagement and participation only short-changes the potential that cognitive diversity offers. The potential for problem solving is enhanced if those who are engaged in the activities are able to recognise the inherent strengths of different cognitive approaches, while also being open to multiple opportunities for divergent and reflexive thinking. We are all enhanced if we use the multiple cognitive modes of engagement that problem solving requires, as we are more than the sum of our parts when we collaborate.

Reflexive Improvement

A more reflexive approach is one that utilises learner-centred development processes that are situated in practice and supported by appropriate concepts and ideas. The impulse to normalise this experience into pre-structured roles and expressions, limits and restricts the level of engagement that can be achieved if we simply view media practice as a purely functional task – usually learnt by rote and practiced with a limited sense of self. This classical mode of ‘banking’ learning leaves learners with poor techniques for self-actualisation, and undermines their ability to explore alternative forms of engagement and expression that would otherwise promote growth and self-awareness.

Participatory Engagement

The challenge, then, is to design learning programmes that allow learners to develop social engagement skills and to maximise their contribution to the group enterprise. In the collective intelligence models that promote learning through shared practices and shared understandings, learners are oriented away from classical models of learning that promote engagement as atomised and transactional. This means taking every opportunity to provide social and collaborative learning practices that enhance learners sense of belonging as part of a learning community, and thereby able to explore techniques for co-development and co-production that support innovation and problem solving learning.

Partnerships

However, it’s pointless trying to promote participatory forms of learning if they are not appropriately scaffolded with clear expectations that are drawn from ‘real-world’ projects. Partnerships that raise expectations, and are of an international standard, will be increasingly prized in the future, as they will give learners a sense that their individual learning experience is not being designed in isolation, but has a viable sense of meeting raised expectations based on the status of the partners and their progressive and forward-thinking dispositions. Leaving learners with local and limited expectations is no longer sustainable.

Collaborative Practices

The need to develop and enhanced collaborative practices, therefore, is something that can help to give a greater sense of externalised engagement to a learning programme, and thereby minimises the potential negative effects of a ‘bubble’ mentality. This ‘bubble’ mentality is on in which self-confirmation and self-regard limit the opportunity for realistic externalised engagement. The self-reinforcement of expectations promotes brittle and weak learning opportunities that are unattractive and require sustained (and wasted) investment in internal organisation politics and resource battles. It’s better to be seen to be working with external partners because they bring a different perspective to the learning experience, in the way that they enhance expectations for independent working relationships, founded on a future needs analysis, and a diversity of problem solving techniques and technologies.

Social Disruptions

To this end a needs analysis must address how challenges of social, economic, environmental, technological and cultural change and going to impact on future expectations of media production and media communication. If we only frame our learning practices in terms of what we already know, and not in terms of what we need to know, then we will miss the opportunity to prepare learners for the challenges that lay ahead of them, and the roles that they will be expected to perform as media-producers who are capable of meeting these challenges. Diversification of expectations of use of media, to include wider range of technologies and social uses (i.e. gamification, data management, social participation, virtual reality, digital mapping, media-supported-learning, etc.) should be regarded as a key strategic aim of all media courses.

Sustainability Needs

Diversification, then, is necessary because there is an ongoing requirement to addresses the significant and impending challenges of social and organisation development.  By introducing relevant problem-solving approaches to environmental, social and technological change, it should be possible to promote a sense of engagement with sustainability agendas, such as climate change, urbanisation, automation, globalisation, personalisation, data-integration, ethics, social and civic accountability (among many others). As the oncoming waves of change approach, we will need thinkers and producers who won’t be overwhelmed due to lack of preparation, fixed as they might be in a monological thinking pattern. It’s incumbent on all course planners, therefore, to build-in a sense of evaluation of their proposed learning practices, focusing on future resilience and sustainability, and the practical issues of communication and mediation, the use of technology and social engagement, and so on.

Technical Change

If we can’t promote a strong impulse for the exploration and utilisation of technology for social accomplishment, then we are simply narrowing the expectations and value of technology, design and engineering practices, leading to limited cognitive and practical experiences that won’t keep-up with technological change due to lack of support, investment and advocacy of the technical development process. If we promote the pragmatic and continual re-evaluation of the support that is built-in to our taken-for-granted technological practices, then we also engage learners in progressive and creative methodologies and practice that utilise diverse and experimental methods of investigation and problem solving. Why should we cut off the opportunity for continuous learning?

Innovation Expectation

So, media courses that are going to be fit for purpose in the future must therefore have a strong focus on discovery and engagement with emergent and open development practices. They must avoid any narrowing of expectations that would otherwise lead to a reinforcement of the existing solutions that are commonly available, which, over time, may prove to be insufficient and lack a sense of sustainability, resilience and future-proofing. It’s certain that many organisations are thinking about these challenges, and these organisations undoubtedly will become more attractive because they have a more explicit focus on future potential and possibilities of technological practices and media know-how. Therefore, if we comprehensively review our expectations about the media curricula that we offer, then we can begin to develop the supporting methodologies that will be defined by more open learning experiences and practices, and which are better suited to the emerging affordances of media technology innovation.

Outcome Diversity                       

Overall, then, it is my belief that media courses should manage the expectations that graduates so that they are better suited to a wide range of innovative practices, such as media production, research, technology development, teaching, campaigning, performance, R&D, independent media employability, and so on. If we keep narrowing and conforming our expectations to a limited set of established media practices and technologies, then we will reduce the ‘pool’ of ideas and expectations we have to draw on in the future. By reinforcing the methodological monology, we will only achieve what we already have.

Our focus should be on the way that graduates deal with change, how they are able to account for change, and how they can assess and evaluate the future potential of a diversified and emergent set of media technologies and practices. This means reviewing the status of our current curriculum and methodologies, and positioning ourselves and our learning partners in a direction that is more focussed on open learning experiences, supported by practices that anticipate changing social roles in media, and thus beyond in learning practices, research and development approaches.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2013). A Thousand Plateaus. London: Bloomsbury Revelations.

Gauntlett, D. (2015). Making Media Studies: The Creativity Turn in Media and Communications Studies. Oxford: Peter Lang Publishing.

Merrin, W. (2014). Media Studies 2.0. London: Routledge.

Moore, S. A. (Ed.) (2016). Pragmatic sustainability – Dispositions for Critical Adaptation (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

 

Community Media & Community Development

 Community Media, Debate, DMU, TECH2503  Comments Off on Community Media & Community Development
Feb 082017
 

One of the underlying and emerging themes of my teaching practice and research work is the potential for the development of communities of interest, practice and association.

I’m predominantly looking at this in the context of Community Media, however, the net is getting wider all the time, to include community development issues, civic participation issues, and social sustainability challenges.

There is a very good article in the Guardian today from George Monbiot, in which he describes the impact of community development projects.

What is interesting, and I’ve pointed this out to colleagues I work with in the Community Media Association, is that Community Media is not mentioned in the list of activities and accomplishments.

I’ve been contemplating this for some time now, and I’ve been asking myself if we are doing enough with our courses and the research we undertake, to develop and enhance the social and civic contribution that we make, both with and through, media and participatory media activities?

Hopefully I’ll get some time soon to write and post some regular blogs about these challenges,  and the potential insight that media scholars and practitioners can contribute that goes beyond the narrow skills and industry straight-jacket that is so dominant at present.

Why I am a Conservative (But Never a Tory)

 Debate, Greens, Politics  Comments Off on Why I am a Conservative (But Never a Tory)
Jul 052016
 

Who would have thought that the modern Conservative Party would have become so radical and ideological? The referendum decision to leave the European Union has sent shock-waves through our national psyche and is proving difficult to understand because it is the result of some problematic political cross-dressing.

It seems that the advocates of Creative Destruction that is gleefully being embraced and pursued by potential leaders in the Tory Party has caught many by surprise, and leaving many unable to respond or to come up with a suitable counter-argument.

The question I have, however, is doesn’t this go against the foundations of conservatism? I thought that the Conservative Party had a historic role in the British constitution to preserve and endure, whereas the path that is being advocated by the anti-EU head-bangers in the Brexit camp is the opposite of that, and suggest that the Conservative Party has fully abandoned its historic role in British life.

My simplistic understanding of the conservative tradition suggests that conservative principle number one, is to sustain and conserve for future generations. Decisions that we take should be rooted in a pragmatic forms of practicality, focussed on the need to get out of situations if they are not in our interests in the future.

We’ve just spent the last forty years building a sustainable future inside the European Union, only for the second principle of conservativism to be annihilated. A stable society is built on stable institutions, i.e. the Crown, the Courts, the BBC and NHS. Conservatives are concerned that the institutions that we hold dear will endure past the mid-term priorities and perspectives of the people involved.

Stable institutions give us a predictable framework around which we can plan our future decisions. In this sense conservatives are boring, and they certainly don’t promote extreme measures based on ego or an ideological whim for fear of the unknown consequences.

In this regard, however, conservatives are pragmatic and run with what is known to work. Conservatives don’t like to experiment for the sake of experimentation. Change is an evolutionary process that is agreed and built on consensus, rather than being hurled at people who don’t know what they are getting.

Conservatives therefore have a disdain for popular expressions of the public mood, so they don’t use referendums very often. Instead conservatives work within the framework of representative and liberal democracy that protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority through deliberation, expertise and wisdom. Parliament is supposed to debate and discuss issues of national importance and come to a consensual view that suits all parties.

Outside of the political realm conservatives put the family at the core of their ideas. The stable family unit around which the rest of society is based is the central premise of the conservative mind-set, associated with values of self-reliance and merit in which people are able to climb the ladder of life with the minimum of interference from the state or from government.

Likewise, conservatives are stewards of the environment and the natural world. They seek to sustain the world around us so that it is pleasant, free from pollution and works best to provide us with resources for other forms of social life and industry. Conservatives argue for balance between those things that sustain and nourish us and those things that we can exploit for more materialistic ends.

Conservatives, therefore, are patriots and nationalists, with a strong sense of duty to one’s country, King and Queen.  It is this nationalism and patriotism that gives conservatives the space to put strong local identities high on the agenda of our national lives.

The idea of the nation is built on the idea of the strong community with an engaged sense of civic participation. Civic leaders are drawn from the worlds of commerce and social association which is empowered by the stake that people feel in their local community and the benefits in status that are derived from playing an active part in community life.

According to conservatives participating in local politics and decision making is something to be proud about and it relates to your social standing. Conservatives therefor prioritise local decisions and local issues above other needs.

The market isn’t the only factor that conservatives take into account when they are enacting decisions on behalf of their communities. The social impact and the potential detrimental effects of any race for commercial exploitation. This might imply a rigid structure that is slow to change, but it is one that is based on longer-term ideas of the social good and not just an ability to get rich quick.

But there is an ideological mix-up. The Tory Party is now overwhelmed by free-market, neo-liberal ideologues. A process that started over forty-years ago with Margaret Thatcher is now bulldozing all before it.

This ideological fervour is based on the dominant belief that the free-market will provide solutions to social problems. It is the belief that so-called free-markets go hand-in-hand with the power of Creative Destruction, ripping up the rules, changing the game, and if some things get broken in the process, so what!

For more than forty years it’s been said that there is no moral or ethical dimension to the free-market, only economic instrumentalism and utility. That there are no moral equivalences between different services and goods offered in the marketplace. That everything can be reduced to a consumer exchange and the supply and demand of desires and wants.

This neo-liberal mind-set says that there is no need to offer a guiding hand or to mitigate the excesses of the market, as markets are inherently good at what they do, and will auto-correct when things go wrong.

However, when I take a look around me all I see is that the free-market has only delivered a zombie economy based around endless brands, chains and franchises. Don’t bother travelling around the United Kingdom, every town is the same, every place has a Starbucks, a Costa Coffee, Boots, WH Smiths, all in endless and soulless duplication.

If a local community wants to deny planning permission for Tesco to open another supermarket in their area, then there is very little that they can do about it. Local decisions are usually over-written by centralised managers in London who only care about the numbers and not the impact.

Local democracy has been devalued in the United Kingdom for decades. The assault started with Thatcher who disbanded the metropolitan authorities who wanted to invest locally and manage change more socially democratically that the free market ideologies would allow.

This has resulted in the dominance of instrumental thinking in political and civic life, as the mono-logic of economic utility pushes all public and civic life to the so-called free market place. This is a logic that treats everything like cornflakes. Designed, manufactured and distributed from a centralised management, but containing no nourishment or health benefits despite the claims.

The neo-liberal ideologue can’t recognise that measures of sustainability and environmental protection are prudent, so they find ways to derided and belittle the process of ecological stewardship. They become climate change deniers because nothing can interfere with the free-market, not even the mounting evidence of environmental catastrophe.

So expertise is undermined. Universities are reduced to being factories for employability. The idea of the university as a space for independent and divergent thinking is subsumed under the logic that says that students are consumers and that they must be facilitated in their employability needs, rather than being independent thinkers with a liberal conscience.

Our politics has become a giant marketing exercise. The buzz-phrase is the ‘conversation’ which reduces everything to surveys and opinion polls. The fact that politics is the manifestation of competing interests is hidden and made opaque. Who did the Brexit campaign actually represent beyond themselves?

So, the question I’ve been thinking about is why I am a conservative? What makes me want to see a resurgence in conservative thinking that will challenge the destruction of the free-marketers?

I want to see strong, local communities in which local people determine their own priorities on tax, planning, education, health and welfare. This will only come about if local people have a democratic stake, so we need Proportional Representation for all of our elections. With a decentralised model of education we can look to the best practice that allows our young people to become creative, independent and resilient, ending the factory and hot-house model that is failing to engage enough people in life-long learning.

In a globalised world we can only build local identities by promoting local products and producers, by promoting local arts, media and participation in a strong and vibrant cultural life. Too much of our social interactions are founded on shopping and not on shared creative endeavours.

There is a clear role for Trade Unions as long as they are looking to provide stability when planning for change. Ironically the Thatcherite zeal for union-bashing is partly responsible for high-levels of immigration in service sector work. If people are paid poverty wages then jobs don’t look attractive and employers will seek cheaper labour elsewhere.

I want to make it easier for people to access a local market by promoting civic market places that are paid for by taxing parking on supermarkets. How do new traders enter the marketplace when the competitive environment is skewed towards the national and international conglomerates all fighting for a slide of the pie but with no care for the local community?

This means devolving responsibility for competition in our communities to the local level and allowing local communities to accept or reject the presence of corporate brands in their area. Local people should decide if they want to leave space for local people like themselves to trade and build businesses in their areas. Anyhow, we have far too many shops in the United Kingdom. It’s time we started to restrict out of town developments, and endless shopping centre car parks.

I also want to see a shift away from the car economy, so that urban areas can become the focus of family life. British streets have been chocked and blocked by cars. They have become dangerous and anti-social. Children are absent from our streets and communities, and live like prisoners. No wonder so many of them are unhappy.

It is essential, therefore, that we build integrated transport networks based around trams in our cities. Trams are socially democratic, giving all classes of people confidence to use an integrated system. They are clean and they are predictable. The privatisation of the buses is an experiment in free-market ideology that has cursed our cities.

Another priority has to be that we stop building endless homes and businesses in rural areas. Instead we need to protect and invest in agricultural and recreational traditions, and open the country to a different set of priorities that aren’t based on endless urban-sprawl.

When communities face change, though, they need to be given support and help so that they can adjust to the changes that technology, rather than blaming people. Don’t turn your back on people in need and put in place robust safety nets so people aren’t destitute and can plan their lives around stability. The shame of the Bedroom Tax is deeply felt by many.

I don’t understand why successive governments have had such a problem with local democracy. Local services that are accountable through the local ballet-box are better than some technocratic and centralised ministry can offer. Devolve health, education, welfare and competition management to local authorities while also pulling back defence expenditure.

I’m afraid it’s time to give-up Trident because we can’t afford it, which means giving up our seat on the UN Security Council. Our aim should be to leave a smaller footprint that is better suited to our resources, thereby cutting our cloth to fit our reduced circumstances.

Al this said, once I’ve got over the shock of Brexit and the opportunities start to become clear, I’ve no doubt that the future is going to be internationalist, collaborative, co-operative, welcoming and principled. So who knows, we might come out of this muddle with a form of EU+. Something that is built on strong local communities, in which people are empowered and feel that they can reject the technocratic management and monoculture forces of the global finance industry.

I suspect that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party will be dead and buried in five years’ time. The question is, what kind of political leadership will take their place and how will people square the conservative with the social democratic?

Community Media in a Post Brexit World?

 Community Media, Debate, Radio, Research, Social Media, TECH1502  Comments Off on Community Media in a Post Brexit World?
Jun 282016
 

The ramifications of the result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union are going to reverberate for some time. Not only will the decision to leave the EU mean changes to our economy and political life, but they will also have a significant impact on the way that we think about and undertake community media in the United Kingdom as well.

As supporters of community media adjust to this new reality, it is worth sharing some thoughts about the kind of responses that community media advocates might think about. Depending on your point of view, thinking about what got us into this mess, and what might we do to work through it so we can get the best out of it?

The response of community media supporters at this time will shape the future relationships that community media sustains in times to come. We don’t have any idea at this stage how commercial and public service media will continue to be regulated in the United Kingdom, and what changes might come about as a result of the changing legal and regulatory regimes.

One thing that I hope that can be agreed is that the success of the leave campaign was due in large part to a sense of frustration and indignation at the manner in which our economy and civic life had been playing out.

It certainly became progressively harder to keep community media groups running and focussed as government cuts and austerity hit local communities, but there are other factors that are associated with the general sense of frustration. Community media has been run on a shoe-string for years now, a fact that has been pointed out to government by the Community Media Association on many occasions.

One example that typifies this sense of frustration is the rise of the zombie town, for example, in which every high-street is identical, and populated by the same chain stores and brands? These towns give little opportunity for networks of independent and local businesses to take-root and play a strong role in civic life.

I’ve thought for some time now that it is pointless travelling around the United Kingdom because the high-streets are all the same. Is this a factor in the sense of frustration? Did people become frustrated because they have been cut-off from a clear, independent sense of local identity?

Like the high-street, local media has been under considerable pressure for some time now. Newspapers have been squeezed-out because they haven’t been profitable enough. Local commercial radio stations have been squeezed out as the international conglomerates have built chains of stations around formulas, brands and centralised marketing.

Local commercial radio in the United Kingdom is homogenised, formulaic and repetitive, with little sense of local identity. Playing local travel news in between Justin Bieber tracks isn’t doing anything to foster local expression and understanding.

In hoc only to the needs of advertisers the commercial radio companies have forgotten the listeners needs, and killed-off the chance that radio might be a positive and creative forum for discussion, ideas and local identity.

The BBC doesn’t come away from these events with any glory either. The narrow and condescending programming brief that is given to BBC Local Radio is fascicle and self-serving. Prone to being ‘nostalgia’ radio, BBC local stations have been prevented from fostering a local identity.

Just a change of accents from one station to the next, yet the content is mostly identical.

The BBC Local Radio music playlists are centrally managed, leading to a generic sound that is the same everywhere. No local experimentation, discovery or challenge. Just Daft Punk and Lionel Ritche on endless repeat.

BBC Local Radio should be a place of vibrant, integrated community debate and discussion. Did BBC Local Radio tap into the resentment that was expressed in the referendum, or where BBC Local Radio producers just as surprised as everyone else in the media?

It is often said, and always worth repeating, that the strength of community media is the principle that community media is about people representing themselves. Community media has a proud tradition of supporting community discussion and communication, but community media has been chronically underfunded for a long, long time.

This underfunding, and a lack of active government support, both national and local, has left many community media groups clinging on, not able to develop, grow or expand their services. Everyone I know in community media feels lucky just to have survived.

The Ofcom Broadcast Rules stifle debate and creative reposes to differences of community opinion because they have to be packaged in a ‘balanced’ approach, which for many community media groups is out of their reach given the legalistic framework and ramifications if you get it wrong.

This dereliction of duty by Ofcom to foster and support community media, would be pardonable if Ofcom actually gave some support to community media groups to meet the legal challenges of broadcasting. However, all that Ofcom offers is a PowerPoint presentation based on the complex legal documents they circulate to all broadcasters, regardless of size and status.

Community media emerged from lack of civic support as risk-averse. More often community media groups avoid any controversial topics, news or discussion. This has had a negative effect on civic discussion and compounds the democratic deficit and lack of engagement many people experience.

Four million people voted for UKIP at the last general election, and they have just one MP in parliament. Where do these voices get heard in our local communities? Why are political discussions only left to a few high-profile celebrity politicians on national, centralised stations?

Why aren’t the day-to-day issues of community life shared and expressed in community media forums?

The ideal of community media is for communities to speak to of themselves and to themselves, while also speaking with other communities. The challenge is to do this in a way that fosters understanding and tolerance through shared engagement.

This is a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops by community media advocates, particularly as people try to make sense of the result of the referendum. We have a fantastic opportunity with community media to foster and support communities through open and challenging dialogue, as long as the framework of support is put in place by government.

The alternative is that community media advocates declare their independence and go off and do their own things, using the new social media technologies that are replacing mass media anyway.

I intend to give this matter some serious thought and I’m keen to hear what other people think about it. Is this a moment for community media to step-up and embrace the opportunity to help heal our divided communities by helping them to listen to and understand one another?