Sunday, June 26, 2016

Will Brexit Affect My Favorite International Broadcaster?

So I'm using the BBC to keep abreast of the Brexit story. The BBC happens to be the "inventor," if you will, of the public broadcaster genre, and if you want you can read about it in David Attenborough's* biography. 

Before they ventured forth, nobody really used the new technologies of Radio and subsequently Television in the manner we have become accustomed to in this day and age. They pioneered public broadcasting as well, because heck, si there was a whole Empire right there to talk at? And so with their British can-do attitude off they went to colonize the airwaves. You see that word 'International' appended to any of your favorite channels? Guess who you have to thank for it.

To this day, they remain a rock-solid brand that commands respect from competitors and detractors alike. One may accuse them of having biases all one wants, but nobody dismisses the Beeb outright. I grew up knowing the tune of Rule Britannia (sadly I can still sing the first few bars) and I still "fact-check" major global stories with the Beeb- especially if the story has been broken by an American newsroom. (CNN International? Ptuh, ptuh).** 

There are other newsrooms now that do incredible work and whom I consult on a range of issues. But nobody documentaries like the BBC, to date. I mean, I am a completely zealous convert to the Vice media empire, but still. If I want to know about a subject and there is a BBC documentary about it, then it gets watched first.

As an Africanist I have absolutely no problem being anglophilic about certain things, the BBC being one of them. They gave Tanzania the likes of Tido Mhando, Zainab Chondo, the delicious Salim Kikeke and on and on- there is a list of superb Tanzanian broadcasters who have passed through the BBC's hands. Idhaa ya Kiswahili ya BBC is one of the pilgrimage spots that I would like to visit some day, Inshallah.

This morning as I was catching up on the Brexit issue, it occurred to me that the BBC is a public institution with a penchant for independent thinking. Now that the conservatives have so much sway over the country's fate, what will become of them? I like to think that the institution is safe- it is too big, too old, too majestic to be messed with. But I know this is just wishful thinking. A conservative government that would happily cripple its own public healthcare system is a government that just might mess with anything else that is good about Britain.

Understand: I certainly dodged paying the TV license (tax) as a student in Britain out of solidarity with my fellow broke housemates. When one is young, one must sail the seas of piracy with bravado, knowing that you are only stacking up debt for further on in life. Did this mean we didn't watch the hell out of BBC products? Nope. We watched the hell out of BBC products, especially those of us who were not British and who needed news of the world beyond the little isle.

So in a way I guess this is me making up for it a little bit. Of all the institutions and practices that Britain has offered the world, the BBC is by far my favorite and always will be.*** If anything could impassion me about the Brexit saga, this would be it. Don't nobody mess with Auntie.

*Speaking of awesome institutions, David Attenborough's gorgeous curiosity about the natural world has probably done more to educate the English-speaking world about nature than anyone else I can think of. Between him, Jaques Cousteau and National Geographic magazines you can literally give your kid an amazing education about this planet while instilling deep respect for it and for science.

**I love what Shaka Ssali is doing on VoA but let's just admit he is a lone hero stranded in a country that just doesn't even begin to understand how important this kind of work is. I am perpetually horrified that PBS and VoA are run on donations and would totally donate to their excellent causes if my Tanzanian debit card were acceptable unto them.

***That is saying a lot considering the competition: Smarties, Sunday pub lunches and the romance novel genre thanks to one Austen lady. Not forgetting Builder's Tea and the glorious F-word as noun, adjective and everything in-between.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Day That Britain Left Europe.

So #Brexit happened, by a tragically thin sliver. Just a wee two percent difference in the Yes/No vote and kaboom! everything changed. You would think something this dramatic would at least warrant dramatic poll numbers but apparently reality is not scripted by Hollywood. 

The most interesting information to come out of the polls has to be the generational difference in opinion about the EU. The majority of young Britons wanted to stay, the majority of old Britons did not. Guess who gets to live with the consequences of their elders' choices, watching their future get knocked in an unwanted direction in the space of 24 hours? As someone who suffers from immense frustration over the undue concentration of power in elderly hands in my own country, I feel for young Britain. 

In light of this, I would like to raise the issue of weighted voting* in my own Republic's democratic design. Perhaps not for all votes, but the idea would be to concentrate influence in the hands of the demographic most affected by a policy. "One thing which could be done is to give those under 30 more votes than those over, for example, 70. This would be done to give young people more say in their futures than older people."

I think it a brilliant way in which to address the Tyranny ya Wazee that is constantly shafting young Tanzanians and getting in the way of a reasonable standard of living for all.

* a quick search will show you that this area of democratic philosophy is well-developed in terms of literature. Honestly if I was to do PoliSci at UDSM I would probably be a bit more interested in a course that discusses this sort of progressive thinking than revisiting of the glory days of our African Socialism experiment. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: First Step to Fixing A Problem is to Admit You Have One.

There is so much going on in the world right now, what with Trump looking vulnerable and Britain's EU relationship crisis I just want to sit back with some popcorn and watch. But, deadlines, so. This week I am embarking on the second piece in what looks like an organically-developing treatise on the internets and freedoms and security and stuff:

"Let's browse your cyberlife with the 'safe' setting on. Specifically, the issues of security and privacy and criminality. Do you have your finger on the touchscreen there, is your online environment as secure as a 14-character password with at least one number and one symbol in it? Do you get the feeling, somebody's watching you... through your in-built camera? Well you should. George Orwell, one of our father prophets* of modern dystopia, wrote about this in some detail in his scripture titled '1984.' Of course, like any prophetic work, it was stunningly prescient yet limited in its scope and ability to go into detail about the realities of a Big Brother state mentality. It doesn't talk about, for example, the corporate empires of information and technology or the governance wars that have just begun and that affect us all in alarming ways."

You know that moment when you realize how ignorant you are about a field or subject that has a critical impact on your life? Some people can live with that. Those of us with terminal curiosity who were clearly cats in a past nine lives cannot. The more I find out I don't know about the politics of current ICT, the more I want to know. As far as relevance goes, as always technology is central to human welfare and development at a deep level. Which makes the social aspect of it endlessly fascinating. But, you know, I am going to still keep it light because it is important to have fun

*As I wrote about the father prophet Orwell it occurred to me that I was kind of leading up to writing about the mother prophet Margaret Atwood and her tract 'The Handmaid's Tale' with its vision of a near-future in which fertility has been compromised by some unnamed environmental disaster in the crazed religious totalitarian regime that controls the United States of America. Gender politics, the rise of religious extremism, environmental disaster/disease affecting human fertility sound familiar? If you have ever doubted the importance of speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy, the esoteric) or channelled yourself in the direction of strict "useful" non-fiction, the 21st Century is asking you to reconsider. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

DW Global Media Forum 2016: For My Sins. Day 2

Left the party boat at 10:00 pm last night and still couldn't quite make it out of bed until none-of-your-business o'clock this morning. I had forgotten that journalists + open bar + live music = SuperDanceParty!!!! It was magnificent fun, just indescribable. Germans of all ages like to dance and they have kept disco alive. God bless them. 

Today's highlight was the African panel on the digital revolution. I've been around this block a few times so I was hoping that the panelists would say things I have never heard before. They were not in the least bit disappointing. Individually, each panelist is impressive. Collectively, they made me ridiculously happy. It was lovely that most of the panel was made up of women, made it easier somehow to appreciate the male panelists' excellent contributions. Don't ask me why, it just was.  

Kenya was represented because talking about digital innovation in Africa without including our northern neighbors is pointless. I appreciated getting a taste of the situation in Zambia, in South Africa and in Senegal from the respective speakers. They were instructive, dynamic and optimistic. Okay, I'm going to stop now. But, you know, if you put an Africanist in front of a really good African panel, fawning might ensue. 

In the PM I attended the session on piracy in Asia. Intellectual property rights* intrigues me, and also this was an opportunity to learn something about Asia. I am still digesting the information since this was a new area for me and I kept getting distracted by information such as how populous Indonesia is and Game of Thrones. To be frank, I am frustrated with myself for being so ignorant about Asia in general and this topic in particular. Happily, this will give me impetus to raid the internet and more about Asia, and maybe even travel someday soonish.

The wurst update: I have so far not managed to eat any german sausage. At this rate, the airport in Dusseldorf better have some decent restaurants or this mission is a failure. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

DW Global Media Forum 2016: A Chance to Reflect? Day One.

Through a series of happy events here I am in Bonn, marveling that an urban development can actually be this clean. Deutsche Welle is holding its annual global conference and the summer is quite gorgeous out here. I am sitting in the conference center trying not to expire from sheer envy at the German modern architecture (air, light, glass, colors, space, efficiency!) and also trying to look like I totally belong here amongst these media professionals. So far so good: my camouflage seems to be working and the herd has not sniffed me out as an impostor yet.

This is a benefit of being 'fringe media': opportunities like this one, all too rare, to learn and reflect on a field in which I am an adjunct. If I can admit to bias, European state media houses tend to operate pleasantly diverse, credible and even intelligent international services. It is no hardship at all to be here in their facility, seeing a little bit about how the wurst gets made.* So far I have found the obligatory handful of Kenyans, a Ghanaian, an Ivorian (I think) and had conversations with a lovely older Sudanese braodcaster and a wonderfully cynical Hungarian lady. Media people are always fun. Team Tanzania is three guys from E-FM so far: woohoo local radio!

So, lots of morning session hey. What I learned, slowly, was that media freedom is of great concern to DW and to the community of international broadcasters. Yes, it has to be raised that I didn't pick up on Al Jazeera or CCTV or CCN International's presence here but that's a whole other discussion. Fact remains that the media is feeling the threat to its freedom all over the globe, and this isn't healthy for anyone. 

Photo: A lobby, somewhere in Germany. 

Because media is nothing if not idealistic, a lot of time was spent outlining the current threats to media and exploring ways in which they can be mitigated. There was also appropriate respect paid to those in the media sorority who suffer violence at the hands of oppressors for doing their jobs. If I had any remaining romanticism about media on the ground, it pretty much disappeared right there. There is nothing even vaguely attractive about the thought of jail-time, or worse. 

Listening to the DW Freedom of Speech Award recipient, Mr. Sedat Ergin from Turkey, talk about being heartsore at winning the award was poignant. A soft-spoken middle-aged man who looks about as threatening as a basket of kittens, he offered a very beautiful and deep meditation on the practice of journalism under current conditions. And then he proceeded to disagree with his host country Germany's Bundestag's recent decision to declare the 1915-1916 killing of Armenians in Turkey an act of genocide. In front of Ministers and other grand worthies. This slight and rumpled man planted his teeth in the hand that fed him, because that's what freedom of speech allows for: candor and fearlessness. 

Speaking of politicians, the ones who opened the meeting and paneled and spoke at us were all seriously into the principles of free media and public broadcasting. My optimistic side promptly swooned with delight at all the liberalism and fervor flying around the room. My cynical side sat back and decided that this might be a level of politricking beyond my ken. If taken at face value, however, it was a beautiful example of how politics can benefit from a strong and independent media and even support it above and beyond their finite careerist ambitions. 

On the issues of value, the difference between propaganda and free speech was brought up. As was the notion of cultural imposition from the West (liberalism, et cetera) being a large part of international broadcast's agenda. I don't think it is that simple. Without international media, far too many African despots would get away with murder and worse without ever being confronted with the truth. On the other hand, international broadcasters emerge from their own culture and carry their own biases and have their own agendas- as they should. An agenda is not always bad, you just have to be aware that there always is one. 

Rounded off the day with a nice intimate session with Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derkhashan on post-web journalism which was very informative. I share and respect his views on social media to a large extent, and his views on the internet in general. Especially interesting is his proposal that we explore offline 'street' methods of engaging with news. Totally lefty crunchy-grainy community artsy-fartsy stuff, and a brilliant idea.  I think he speaks to the alienation we all experience as users of large, faceless social media and offline news projects like he suggested might just provide that human touch that is so lacking in our electronic world. 

That's it for today. DW is going to put us all on a boat in about half an hour then push us out into the Rhine where hopefully they will feed us and it won't rain**. Wish me luck. 

*There's more where that came from. Don't even tempt me. 
** Ha, it is way too cold to be "summer," Germany. Maasai blanket in hand.

A little birdie told me...

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