Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Innovative blogging on the Iranian election

I am pleased to see that Aussie expat Craig Bellamy has put together an as it happens blog on the events in Iran in the aftermath of the disputed elections. I noted yesterday the minute by minute reportage coming from Andrew Sullivan's blog, and The Guardian has put together an excellent news blog on this.

In Australia, the bloggers themselves can be their own worst enemies. In a generally self-congratulatory discussion on Larvatus Prodeo about what a fool Christian Kerr from The Australian was, I put up this post:

Just to take the conversation out of the realms of the Canberra cognoscenti for a moment, I can agree with all of this about the likes of Christian Kerr and David Penberthy BUT…

At the moment I think what is happening in Iran is very interesting. It confirms that social media is not just apolitical fluff and chasing around Ashton Kutcher, but may have a political significance at certain moments. At the same time, I am quite glad that there are “journos as hard men of the streets” like John Simpson, who are employed by places like the BBC, and who have a very clear understanding of how to cover events like those currently happening in places like Teheran.

I’ve been following Andrew Sullivan’s blog, among other things, on this, and his observation on the MSM and the blogosphere and MSM-bashing is interesting in relation to these events:

Some of it is overblown. The NYT’s Lede blog has been outstanding, as I’ve said for the past several days. PBS and NPR are doing important work. Many MSM reporters are risking their lives to report this story from within Iran and we bloggers should honor their courage and work. Most of the photos I’ve published come from Getty and the remarkable Olivier Laban-Mattei. Cable news is useless, but we knew that already. But the future is a fusion of MSM tradition and new media open-source news gathering, aggregating, editing, filtering.

While some responses were well thought through, others were of the stock standard "You can't trust the mainstream media" stuff:

Terry yes, there are plenty of journalists still out there gathering primary data and reporting it, which is what I think we would all like journalists to do. However an increasing number of these ‘news’ stories consist of little more than summaries of what various anonymous people allegedly said, all written to support the journo’s evaluative opinion piece … one usually presented in the context of an argument full of assumptions about causation and implications for a particular interpretation of likely future developments.

Ken Lovell - well said. I also note that these unsourced reports are usually chockablock full of loaded epithets, of which my particular fave is ‘moderate’, closely followed by ‘reformist’. Both are usual in discussions of ‘hot spots’ in foreign correspondentdom and denote, if not actually paid agents of the CIA, at least willing Quislings.
As there is little point in being poster #60 responding to poster #40 responding to poster #25, I thought I'd reiterate a few points about what seems to be happening in Teheran:

  1. The West is not behind these protests. Iranians are making their own judgements, and taking matters into their own hands. Barack Obama's foreign policy strategy in the region was premised upon the idea that he would still be dealing with Ahmadinejad after the election, who was the devil they knew. The U.S and others like Britain are basically playing catch up, and decidedly unsure on whether to support the uprising;
  2. Blogging, You Tube, Twitter and other social media have been central to getting the messgae out to the wider world. The idea that this is all apolitical fluff that is about following Ashton Kulcher around and "are not terms that signal any form of collective intelligence, creativity or networked socialism [but] are directives from the Central Software Committee" (to quote a recent pooh-poohing manifesto from the land of Digital Media High Theory) is actually being exposed in a sharp light on the streets of Teheran right now;
  3. The mainstream media are not a monolith in relation to these matters. Several people have commented on the appalling lack of coverage on the U.S. cable networks, the BBC has been great, as has The Guardian and the New York Times news blog The Lede. Moral: don't write off media outlets that invest in serious coverage of international affairs. Bloggers are not filling this gap at this stage.


Mark Bahnisch said...

Has anyone actually been suggesting that the MSM coverage is useless in toto, Terry?

One of the cautions worth noting with this event is that while there is validity in the argument that blogs and social media can play a really positive role in countries with repressive regimes, we also tend to miss the fact that a lot of blogs (eg in Egypt) are full of misogynistic and narrow minded crap, which would be most distasteful to most Western readers. There's a tendency to pick up on the ones written by education middle class folk, particularly those that express themselves in English.

There is actually a lot of dissatisfaction with Ahminajad outside the middle class for basically economic reasons. But I'd be wary about making too quick a judgement about whether the protesters, twitterers etc. are representative of Iranian opinion more generally.

The other comment I'd make is that Nitanyahu would be quite happy to have Ahminajad stay, because the ability to portray him as a dangerous lunatic actually serves the interests of the Israeli state, and for that matter, those other governments who want strong action on the nuclear issue. Realpolitik also needs analysis in the context of any political upheaval.

Craig Bellamy said...

Hi Terry, thanks for your link. I hope all is going well in Brisbane. There has been a few examples of 'community led' media of late; in terms of the G20 protests here in London, #amazonfail, and the Iran elections. Twitter has come of age of late; it is much more difficult to block the mobile network I am told (although my Iranian colleague here tells me that both the state mobile networks are down so twitter is used via the web).

And nice blog btw.

tvb said...

We need to ensure that even with the shut down on internet access, people in Iran know how to circumvent internet proxies and keep the flow of information open. http://www.howcast.com/videos/90601-How-To-Circumvent-an-Internet-Proxy

Jason said...

Nice post, Terry.

Bahador said...

I like this post and especially previous one Terry.

For Mark Bahnisch
Being against government in Iran has two levels among the people. In first level where there is no hope to target whole the system as a sacred religious regime, people use the conflicts between the internal wings by backing reformists to be against the hardliners in hope of changing the whole system gradually. In second level when people see a space to target whole the regime like now most of the people support the protesters. I am sure now there are lots of people among the protesters who supported Ahmadinejad in election because of personal reasons but when they see people are making the situation fragile for regime as whole they might join protesters. By the way the population of Iran is very young. more than 70% of population have been born after revolution 1979 who are not necessarily representative of regime opinions. For last 10 years this is the second big protest by young middle class Iranians with a tendency to the secular thoughts in politics and western democratic system.
Because of that Ahmadinejad tried to satisfied low class population and poor people (who usually are religious) during his presidency in last 4 years by economic incentives like distributing free goods and facilities. But he was not sure the extend to which this class would support him in election. hardliners were afraid of middle class to affect the general opinions during the campaigns because of having access to digital media.

Terry Flew said...

Thanks Bahador. This helps to clarify why some of those are protesting the election, and why this is complex in terms of how they view the Islamic Republic.

One of the things that interests me is whether Ahmedinejad may in fact have got the majority of votes, but then sought to distort the results for other reasons.