the consequences of simulated violence

The British Government yesterday announced plans to outlaw all ‘violent pornography’ with a potential three year stint in jail for those found in posession of such material, however the legislation seems to be devoid of real logic and substance and is more of an attempt to appease rather than improve.

As is my understanding most Western countries, including Ireland, put restrictions on the production, sale and ownership of pornography (or any genre for that matter) which features an illegal act. This makes sense as a video featuring an illegal act is in itself proof that the act was committed and the sale and ownership of such material simply encourages a black-market where these acts are carried out for financial gain.

With this in mind pornography featuring actual violence (such as rape or murder) is already legislated for and is already illegal and to this extent the extended provisions announced yesterday will move to outlaw pornography featuring mock or simulated violence.

This attempt to legislate opens up a whole plethora of questions about the application of the law. Firstly what is violence? The definition of violence may go from someone enduring some pain to someone’s life being put at risk (or put at risk in a simulated fashion) and without going into any crude detail there are numerous examples where the definition of ‘violent’ could be imposed where the content is not intended to be overtly such.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly the debate around the effect of pornography is brought to the fore. Can pornography really manipulate someone’s thinking and encourage them to commit violent acts? I’m sure that many people have watched a porno film in their lives and attempted to replicate it in some way; perhaps a position or chat-up line however no normal person would watch a porno film and take it as an account based in reality. Pornography is a form of escapism and a simple way for people to nurture personal fantasies and as with all fantasies they are grounded completely in fiction.

Of course some people do like to fulfill their fantasies from time to time but again no normal person would confuse an innocent, if not slightly uncommon fantasy with one grounded in illegal behaviour. If people are willing to think of violent and dangerous acts as acceptable in reality then they have there own personal problems to deal with.

Someone prone to commit violent attacks or violent sexual attacks do not need to be encouraged by movies; they are willing to see violence as acceptable in the real world and can only come to that conclusion themselves. Porn, movies or games do not blur the lines between what is real and what is not, or what is acceptable and what is not, no more than books do; they are all forms of entertainment and escapism where it is clear that the real-world is disconnected and different. Do you believe that someone who decides to have an affair is encouraged to do so by a promiscuous character in a porno too? Of course not. Do you believe that watching (non-pornographic) movies featuring homosexuals will encourage the viewer to become gay themselves? Of course not. Does reading Hamlet encourage the reader to commit murder as an act of revenge? No.

Placing the blame on a form of entertainment, which some may see as tasteless but is unquestionably grounded in the confines of the law is to ignore the fact that human beings are capable of terrible things independent of the “evils of modern media and society”. Why does the British Government think that taking visual representations of sexual violence out of the equation will suddenly make potential rapists upstanding citizens? Remembering that question, why is it that the British Government seems to have no understanding of the realities of sexual violence whatsoever?

Afterthought; With the DRCC’s new figures out how long is it until the tabloids call for a similar law to be introduced to Ireland (if they haven’t already started).

Where is The Dublin Paper?

In a mixture of thinking out loud and researching a potential article it has stuck in my mind that Dublin lacks a county-wide daily newspaper, the likes of which are common across the country.

I know part of the reason why this is; all but one of the country’s daily nationals publishes out of the capital and it is arguable that some have a far stronger focus on Dublin than anywhere else.

This focus can partly be explained on the fact that the seat of Government and higher houses of the Irish court system, for example, are both present in Dublin city. As a result while a national newspaper may not have an intentional Dublin bias it most certainly has the resources to respond to an incident in Dublin quicker than anywhere else, and so the fate of a daily Dublin newspaper is already written.

Of course there have been plenty of attempts made in relatively recent years to launch a traditional newspaper in Dublin; The Dublin Daily (later Dublin Daily Evening) being the most recent example. The Dublin Tribune is another case of a capital-focused newspaper going downhill, and almost taking others down with it.

It’s quite shocking to see it happen; the city has such a large population it’s hard to understand how a focused newspaper would not succeed. There are a number of reasons though; at this stage in the media’s development people have a favourite brand and almost all styles are catered for. Dragging customers away from their favourite publications can be difficult, as the Daily (Irish) Mail is discovering at the moment; the Dublin Daily was given the impossible task of getting huge readership from other tabloid newspapers in just 4 months, which no publication could do with any ease. On the other hand it is difficult for a Dublin-only newspaper to find something unique that the nationals haven’t already picked up which is also relevant enough to appeal to the entire population. To that end expense would probably need to be made on investigative journalists who can bring great rewards but by nature need more time and money to operate than standard news reporters.
Regardless of the reasons the lack of a county-wide daily Dublin newspaper does have a negative impact on people hoping to get experience in journalism. Usually local publications are the best starting points for young would-be’s but without them in the Dublin market there’s an un-bridged gap that isn’t easy to cross. A daily local is a great starting point for those wanting to move upwards and it also offers more potential for work experience.
Of course new publications like Metro offer some hope, even though they aren’t county-wide they are Dublin focused at present, but that’s likely to change once the companies behind it can afford to let it. Other than that there are weekly newspapers and freesheets aimed at specific sections of the Dublin market; Fingal, Northside, Blanchardstown and so on. While these publications offer more hope than having nothing but nationals they still don’t hold the same weight as a county-wide publications; partly due to their publishing frequency, partly due to the area they cover and partly due to the scale of topic on which they report.

On the contrary Dublin radio offers a lot more to chose from and community radio stations are far easier to get involved in from the bottom up. It seems odd that the Dublin radio situation is far more accessible to new-comers than the print market, which can seem extremely closed off at the best of times.

That was the week that blogged (20th – 27th August)

Welcome one and all to the second ‘That Was The Week That Blogged’. Bloggers this week took two of Ireland’s greatest anti-heroes to task; in one case getting their heads around the sporting event of the season (so far) and in another waxing lyrical on an ad campaign that can simply be described as… eye catching.
Feel free to slap a comment below with your thoughts, good or bad. Anyone wanting to bring attention to a worthwhile blog post for next week can do so below of via email… the topic doesn’t matter as long as the blogger is Irish and it’s somewhat coherant!
Click to read on, and enjoy!

Continue reading →

Online media suffer inadequate legal protection (SBP – 27 August 2006)

My article from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Irish law is inadequate in its protection of those involved in online media, according to TJ McIntyre, barrister and chairman of lobby group Digital Rights Ireland (DRI).

Under eCommerce legislation, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are offered some protection ‘‘but that doesn’t cover the likes of bulletin boards or blogs, for example,” said McIntyre.

The upcoming case between popular Irish discussion site boards.ie and MCD, whose solicitors served legal papers on the website’s owners earlier this month, has brought attention to the way the law in Ireland applies to online media, specifically in regard to defamation and anonymity.

While many believe that hiding your name or other personal information will protect you, this is not the case.

‘‘Anonymity online is an illusion – it only takes a day in the High Court to get someone’s identity,” said McIntyre.

In a recent incident in England, Michael Keith Smith, a member of the UK Independence Party, won a defamation case after claims were made against him in a Yahoo! chatroom.

Tracy Williams had anonymously made her accusations, but was exposed when Smith obtained a court order requiring the site operator to disclose her identity.

There is also the issue of who can be sued. Irish law holds the publication owner responsible for the content in its publication, regardless of the author.

In an online context this means that comments published in a public forum or the comment section of a blog will be treated as the comments of the site owner, even if they are not.

The law is a great disincentive to doing business online – ‘‘People won’t set up websites if they think they will be held accountable for what other people say on their site,” said McIntyre.

‘‘It’s not financially feasible for small companies to risk going to court like that. Even if you win, you will be greatly out of pocket as a result of it.”

The internet does offer more covert avenues for people seeking to have content removed, however. As eCommerce legislation rules the hosting company liable if they are aware of any wrongdoing upon which they fail to act, most such companies will pull content as soon as a complaint is made against them.

McIntyre feels the willingness to pull content without investigating it first is a major problem and one that has no legal recourse for the content owner.

‘‘The situation is ripe for abuse…it’s a form of privatised and cheap censorship that’s quicker than going to court,” said McIntyre.

In an experiment by Dutch lobby group Bits of Freedom, the text of an out-of-copyright book was published on accounts across ten different ISPs (pdf file). The group then contacted each ISP pretending to be the copyright holders and demanded the content be removed.

Seven of the ten complied immediately.

In the USA, the situation is different: while an ISP is obliged to immediately pull content that receives a complaint, they must then contact the content owner about the decision.

If the owner is willing to stand by their content or comments, then it can be put online again. Any subsequent legal battle will only be between the content owner and the complainant – the ISP is immune from prosecution.

Whatever the outcome of the case between MCD and boards.ie, it is sure to set some precedent.

Regardless of that, McIntyre feels that more can be done to make sure the law is not used as a weapon to silence people who have done nothing wrong.

‘‘Hopefully the case will highlight the need for greater protection for online publishers and the greater need to encourage free speech online,” he said. 

I had originally written a longer piece on this topic which had to be cut down for space reasons; click below to read this “extended” version.

Continue reading →

Weekly blog feature; day change

Just a quick heads-up ahead of the fact; the week in blogs feature which started last Sunday is being moved to Monday afternoon instead.

As means of an explanation, let me give you three reasons, none more or less important than the other;

Firstly Sundays tend to be slow-blog days; most people switch the computer off and chill out. On the other hand a Monday sees returning office-folk desperate to find something entertaining online that will take their minds of another week of work (!); hopefully by moving days the feature will be brought to the attention of more people, which will encourage people to engage in the post-feature discussion and most importantly follow the featured links to read more on things of interest.

Secondly the change means that the review can cover Monday – Sunday, which is a slightly more logical situation than reviewing Sunday – Saturday; now the review will be a round-up of the week that went before and will hopefully round-up the better bits of the previous 7 days.

Finally the change allows me to start the article on Sunday evening and tidy it up in-between that point and the ‘deadline’; that should make for a better read than a rush-job of writing, editing and publishing all in one go.

I’m still trying to balance the definition of the weekly feature in my own head but I think it’s far better to tinker with the style and focus in front of an audience in this instance. Given that the feature relies on what’s going on elsewhere there’s no way that I can have a set plan; trial, error and experimentation is the way to go. Already I’ve had some constructive input and I think this sums up where my head is at on the idea at this moment in time;

I want the feature to be a round-up of the better end of discussion in the Irish blog community; it doesn’t have to be stuffy or serious but it should be entertaining, inspiring or thought provoking. The basic idea is to connect the wide and varied array of bloggers together; show them that they’re not alone in what they’re discussing and hopefully encourage them to read more and engage with alternative ideas more.
I’m not going to just pick the most popular topics of discussion, just the ones that contain the best and most eclectic opinions at the time (although the more bloggers post about one thing the more chance there is for that wide range to exist).
As is the beauty of blogging there is no consensus on anything; the comments I feature will not be always reflective of general opinion or anything like that; if anything I’d rather highlight the alternative PoV than the one everyone has already heard. In last weeks piece, for example, I featured comments on certain things that I completely disagreed with and that were pretty isolated in the wider community alongside the cream of what most people are saying; I hope I will continue to have the ability to do that.

All comments are welcome and encouraged!

Making the most of the web

The second article I ever had published was a piece on one of my favourite bands, Pearl Jam, and their decision to sell a digital download & physical CD bundle online as a way of giving fans the best of both worlds in their album purchase.

Pearl Jam Sold Out

Last night I was lucky enough to be in attendance for their performance in The Point, Dublin and just like last time the gig was astoundingly superb. At midnight as I exited the venue I had the same feelings as any music fan would as they left an enjoyable show; I wanted more, I wanted to be at the beginning of the show again and I wanted to be able to listen to the nights unique renditions constantly for the next month.

During the Binaural tour in 2000 the band, long time advocates of the bootleg scene, experimented with their own official bootlegs, releasing copies of every live concert during 2000, all recorded straight from the soundboard at the various venues. For me this meant that I could (and still can) listen to my first ever proper gig (which just happened to feature one of my favourite bands ever) at my own leisure.

Since the Binaural tour the band have modified their set up and now rather than releasing physical CD’s they instead offer MP3 or FLAC downloads of each show (here). Customers will also recieve art work for each concert as well as concert photo’s; all for either $9.99 (mp3) or $14.99 (FLAC). Needless to say I am waiting patiently for the latest Dublin show to come online.

With ventures like this and ones previously mentioned Pearl Jam have shown themselves to be one of the most web-friendly bands going. They are offering fans DRM-free concert tracks, professional photographs and artwork and all for a reasonably small price. Let’s not get naiive here, someone is bound to be making a profit but who says a company or group can’t make a profit without ripping off their fans and followers?

Looking at things rationally the bootleg scene has been an issue since the creation of the portable tape recorder; you can go into any independent music shop or any p2p client and you’re bound to find countless recordings of live gigs, quite probably done from the middle of a screaming crowd. Confiscating recording equipment from fans (which nowadays could be anything from their phone to their mp3 player) or trying to take down retailers and websites offering bootlegged material has proven to be a pointless exercise; there is a demand by fans who attended and those who could not to hear live shows. Pearl Jam are sensible enough to realise this and so have decided to give the fans what they want in the best possible quality. I’m certainly willing to pay a small fee to hear the Dublin gig again, especially if it means I can hear the band and not just some shrieking fan standing in the general proximity of the microphone. Just for the record concert-goers are still permitted to make personal recordings of Pearl Jam gigs if they want, once their techniques are reasonable and fair.

Companies, bands and individuals could learn a lot from this example; Pearl Jam are offering their fans high-quality versions of something they want and are probably making money on it too; they’re selling something that no-one else can offer and so it’s a win-win situation for both fans and the band. Their move from physical live CD’s was probably due to the production and distribution costs entailed in creating literally hundreds of different albums on a rolling basis and it’s a business model that seems to be successful.

Now if you don’t mind I’m going to go listen to the 2000 gig again while I wait for the 2006 to turn up online!

Developing a brand in journalism

A wise and experienced journalist recently suggested to me that the personal ‘brand’ of a journalist is the key to the attainment of success. This brand does not come from the publication you work for or the topic of journalism you pursue but instead your ability to produce quality within whatever given niché you operate in.

This is possibly the best advice I’ve been given so far and its strength comes, as with everything, in the simplicity of the message; if you earn a good reputation you will be given good opportunities, to that degree a good reputation comes from the individuals ability and not the specific outlet it is hosted in.
Most media consumers see news outlets in general terms and will often have a favourite newspaper or television channel for their own reasons. Many ignore other media because it’s too trashy or too stuck-up; to one person a publication could be dumbed down while another is seen as pretentious.

It is true that a news outlet must build a reputation for itself in order to succeed; it needs to be known as the most reliable source of information to its respective audience. In order to ensure this a news outlet must staff itself with people capable of maintaining that quality and honest and as such will hope to find the best available. At this point it doesn’t matter if a journalist has a background in an outlet of good reputation but it instead matters if they were (or were not) a foundation of that good reputation. That is to say that writing for one newspaper over another does not make you a good journalist, while most newspapers will want good staff this isn’t always the case and is never assumed as such by editors.
The advice given to me on this occasion was that a good journalist is not defined by the publication they write for but the copy they produce; the truth is a journalist should not be concerned with writing for a publication that is known to take a bias as long as their own products are neutral, in the same regard a good journalist should not be concerned with writing for a publication known for its trashy celeb content as long as they are writing on issues of real relevance.

The development of a personal brand is not something that is unique to journalism; a worker in any industry will find it best to develop a good reputation for what they do and only a fool would rely on the reputation of their employers in absence of their own. Journalism does differ in the way a reputation of a journalist is usually built in public, although the reader will not pay attention to a journalist until their reputation has already been cemented; names aren’t often noted by the reader unless they appear regularly attached to good stories or regularly attached to bad ones. Of course at that stage the editors in the media community would have passed judgement long before.

There is great importance in developing a personal brand and it can naturally take some time, but if you continue to develop your knowledge and abilities in your chosen field and do so with honesty and integrity it will only be a matter of time before your investment and diligance pays off.

Additional reading: Was just sent this superb piece that relates well to branding in Journalism; it’s a bit idealistic but there are some gems of advice that I personally haven’t come across yet and that encourage me to continue on the path I’ve taken so far.

Broadcasting act finally moving ahead

Yesterday’s Tribune reported on upcoming Government legislation (reg req) that will see RTÉ becoming a semi-state body, the BCI and BCC merging into the BAI (which will have authority over every Irish TV station, including RTÉ and TG4).

The foundations for this move, just like that of an independent TG4 were laid out in 2001 with the Broadcasting Act of the time, however the collapse of RTÉ’s digital ambitions soon after that left the legislation gathering dust.

Commercial broadcaster TV3 has always felt that allowing RTÉ to answer to itself meant the Irish TV market was an unlevel playing field, with different stations having different rules of engagement. This new situation should answer those concerns and also force every broadcaster to stick to their licence obligations.

Having the one authority over-see the products made by RTÉ as well as its commercial ventures was also a dangerous situation as it increases the opportunity for commercial pressures to infringe on the PSB remit of the national broadcaster. The new RTÉ board will theoretically seperate these aspects of the broadcaster and while commercial pressures will always be present to a company that relies to any degree on commercial income it will hopefully serve to strengthen the general independence of the station and continue to improve its content.

The creation of the BAI is long overdue too; as the Tribune article points out the BCI currently has little power in keeping companies in line with their licence remit; this will change once the BAI comes into being. Finally radio and TV stations can be fined if they fail to meet their licenced obligations.

Sport in the headlines

Editors at BBC News took an interesting line-up in their news coverage during Sunday and Monday morning, putting this story, about a cricket match forfeit ahead of other stories such as the death of a British soldier in Afghanistan and the arrest of a teenager suspected of involvement in the death of an elderly man in Liverpool.

The inclusion of sport in the main headlines is an interesting topic; in my opinion there are few incidents where sport becomes a general news story and even at that point it is generally secondary to all else. Of course the news-worthiness of any story is also subject to the importance of the other stories of the day but in this case there were plenty of important stories to chose from.
In reality, unless the world is faced with a major world event the above cricket story does have a place in the general news headlines; after all it is a first in the world of cricket and a controversy in its own context. With that in mind however it seems odd that it would be considered more important than the death of a soldier in Afghanistan, one of only 20 so far.

Interestingly this isn’t the first time the BBC has chosen a sport story over the death of British soldiers in Afghanistan. Martin Bell chastised the broadcaster on Comment Is Free in July for putting Beckham’s resignation above two deaths in the Middle Eastern country.
In my opinion the priorities of the BBC editors were poor on this occasion as well as the last; a harmless and frankly fluffy sport story is in no way comparable to the death of a man serving his country in a controversial war. As a side note the run of stories on News 24 that started at midnight on Monday morning gave over 6 minutes to the cricket piece and just 2 to the Afghanistan piece, although this is probably explained by the lack of information publically available on the soldier at present.
Sport in the headlines is fine, but only when it’s an extraordinary sport story and there are no extraordinary current affairs stories to chose from on the day. A game cannot be held in the same regard as current affairs in the real world; even the most ardent sports fan should recognise the difference there.

This was the week that blogged (13th – 19th August 2006)

Welcome to the first edition of a new weekly web-article on the Irish blog community. The concept of this weekly piece is to round-up the popular topics of discussion during the week and highlight the range of opinion and angles available in the Irish blogosphere.
If this were a new media application it would be in ‘Beta’, and as such I hope the coming weeks will allow me to push things around until I find the best format and set-up. Once I find the best way to put the piece together it will hopefully get more concise and eclectic too.
If you have any suggestions for the way this article could be presented, drop me a comment below or send me an e-mail; if you have any suggestions for blog posts worthy of inclusion in the next edition you can do the same (it can be your own post, it can be funny or serious; it doesn’t matter as long as it’s original and coherent).
Otherwise, I hope you enjoy!

Continue reading →