Friday, December 25, 2009

Free press, or free people

 When journalists write about journalism they can reach such rhetorical heights. Oh la la, la presse libre! To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To keep power accountable. To communicate the truth. These are lofty goals, and wonderful words. And when journalists have to write about the principles that underscore their daily grind, they easily revert to these grand concepts, as if all journalism ever done was cut from that cloth. 

I'm not condemning the poetic authors of new treatises on the honours of journalism, though I do wonder how out of touch with their own profession they are. But reader,  be wary. Those concepts let off some powerful fumes, and there is danger of intoxication.

I am writing, specifically, about the case of a new law that the legislative assembly of Ecuador created. It's a law that would regulate the media. The Inter American Press Association warned it would "affect press freedom and free speech by breaching inter-American principles on the public's right to information." The BBC correspondent in the capital said that the law is so bad that from all "across the political spectrum, journalists and members of civil society are opposing it." The Reuters article is so down on it, that they've earned some extra special attention from me, below the jump.

See, I think these outsiders are trusting too much in what they are reading. All of their sources are the very outlets whose hegemony over information in the country is threatened by the new law. The powerful newspapers, TV and radio stations say they can regulate themselves, that anything else is censorship. But I’d argue that this campaign for “free speech” they are waging is a perfect illustration of why some sort of regulatory law is needed. Right now, they hold the talking stick, and by the power vested in them by MONEY, they are the only voices getting through.

Carlos Vera, a former television journalist, led two rallies against the Communication law this month (the rallies happened to coincide with the launch of his new book). His rallies received extreme coverage, taking up whole front pages and in some papers, more pages inside. He has thus made himself the poster-boy of the privileged, established communicators in Ecuador who hide under the shroud of "freedom" when the only freedom they care about is their own. [read a translation here of blogger Galo Benítez’s interpretation of the mainstream media: “What irks the media elite is that there is no law that infringes on freedom of expression as such, but to the freedom of private businesses, which are affected by the scope of the bill which seeks to make certain reforms to democratize in part the right to communicate.”]

The Reuters article  in the NYT is an example, of the oversimplification, and opinion, that has been reaching the international press, instead of the true story. The comments attributed to Correa are not about the TV station the story discusses. They are about the new law. And the only reference Reuters made to the new law is:

"The suspension came as the country's lawmakers are debating creation of a government-controlled watchdog with powers to punish journalists in a measure critics say is a crackdown on media freedoms."

Thirty-seven pages of legislation, 104 articles and several resolutions boiled down to that? "Government-controlled watchdog with powers to punish journalists" – Reuters manages to make the proposed body sound like a re-incarnation of the Spanish Inquisition. But the “council,” as it is to be called, isn’t that scary at all. It's actually fairly similar to a body Canadians are familiar with:

"The CRTC regulates all Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications activities and enforces rules it creates to carry out the policies assigned to it ... The CRTC reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Canadian Heritage,"
Shocking! A government controlling the airwaves! How can this be allowed!

Ok, so the law is long and the debates surrounding it are complicated. Both of the international outlets that covered the story latched on to the familiar narrative: freedom. But freedom of the press is an empty concept in a media environment where journalism does not serve the public interest. “Journalism” in Ecuador does NOT follow the same ethical precepts I was taught in journalism school. There are no standards of attribution, accuracy, or accountability to the reader. 

According to one set of numbers, 43% of journalists in Ecuador say that they consider that the corporate interests of their outlet are weighed above the freedom of expression. 44% have abstained from including information in an article out of fear or out of direct pressure from the owners of their paper (according to a representative from the International Centre of Latin American Higher Education in Communication, or CIESPAL by its Spanish acronym, who is in a clip nine minutes in to this gov't-sponsored PSA).

To enumerate the excesses of the media would take up an entire article (actually, there are blogs already dedicated to that task). Also, I will have to write about more specifics of the law later, when I’ve had a chance to finish reading it (or, when it comes up for debate again in the House of Assembly, January 5).

So I will conclude with some words attributed to Rousseau I’ve seen tossed around in this debate, which capture it well:
“Between the weak and the strong, it is freedom which oppresses and law that liberates.”
Ah, and I forgot: Happy Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Need feedback

Trying out some new blog features. Let me know what you think of them.

Monday, December 21, 2009


If I wrote poetry, now would be the time. But I don't posses that power of simplification.
It's just the shortest day of the year, and I just said goodbye to Paul and Muddy for what could work out to be several months. Yes, I might see them in a week when I fly out of Toronto en route to Guayaquil. And, I may see them at the beginning of February, between flying in from Guayaquil and leaving again for Mexico. But, the little nucleus Paul and I have have had for the past couple years is gone.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Kind of crazy

I am the kind of person who keeps as much stuff as I possibly can. I'm not a DSM V-disorder hoarder, but I do have a few good sized boxes filled with photos, old journals, letters and assorted memory aids which wouldn't make sense to anybody else.
Today, as I do from time to time, I went through some of this ... my "files" I guess you could call it.
I was looking for photos of Freddy Vinces, Jennifer Santos, Rebecca Montoya, Jose and Luis Velasco, Karla Endara, Erica Robles, Danny Pincay (perhaps) Lionel and Carlos (whose last names I forget all the time), Francisca Pincay and David Cobos. Why? Because December 20th is their last day in high school. And I remember when they were in kindergarten, little fighters: José distinguished himself from his twin by using more swear words. Running around in yellow, red and blue t-shirts two sizes too big, with a squirrel on the front. I remember their first day of high school, too: clean uniforms, tidy hair. Dad drove them there, all packed into his white van. He was proud. They were, too.
I was, too.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Welcome back to me

It is October 19. Summer is well over. In fact, November is less than two weeks away. Almost as soon as we got back to Halifax after our travels across North America, I started school. I studied Radio at University.That course started earlier than the regular term, and ended a couple of weeks ago. I came away from it having recorded my first radio news story, a minute and 13 seconds long. It wasn't bad.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Go here!

I have officially started posting more often on White Bus Black Dog. I will not post on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida suring my summer adventures. If you want to keep following me, go here and subscribe. Highlights so far: The day Paul and I got our bus converted to run on vegetable oil The day Paul and I adopted a Jack Russell terrier The day Paul heard the shipyard BOOMing The day we built a bed inside a bus I promise to respond to every comment over there! I can't promise I'll respond to comments here on this blog over the summer. Happy adventures!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Paper art

Fascinated by this woman: I Don't Know from ATO Records on Vimeo. Lisa Hannigan, famously from Damien Rice's ever-impressive O

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Time to regain goodbye

Just read Elena Poniatowska's Massacre in Mexico (La noche de Tlatlelolco). I read it in Spanish, and it made me realize how foreign Mexico is... At some points, I couldn't understand 1 out of every 4 words! A lot of it was political, so there were lots of names, acronyms and nicknames I had no chance of getting, but some regular words would escape, me too. Living there next year will be completely new and exciting, I feel: I wont approach it like an Ecuador, though the spanish will make me more prone to enjoy my time learning. A year ago I was in Ecuador. Paul and I got there on April 11 in the early hours of the morning. A year is so long, but it is going to be longer before I can be back. I have been defending that to many friends lately.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Story from North America from Kirsten Lepore on Vimeo. Paul and I are in the market for a video camera. We are planning ahead for the summer. We want to create a multimedia blog with writing, video and pictures of our trip. Unfortunately, that will mean In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida will be mostly empty during four months... May to August! I hope you will not abandon me in that time. I might still post stuff here that is trip-unrelated, or that I just make up so that In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida doesn't lose it's 8 or 9 daily visitors. -Bethany

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wading into a pool of infirmity and sludge, looking for gold

I swore I'd never get involved in campus politics, but now I'm writing about for two classes, so I might as well get my juices going here, too. Students Mobilize for Action on Campus is a Dal group that has stated shaking things up a bit at the student union level. I started writing about SMAC for Kimber's class, except I didn't really start writing because I leave everything to the last minute, so I took on the assignment for my Research class as well (the end product of that was a very different thing than what I am now writing for Kimber, but it got me started, which is what I needed). I finished the story for Toughill by March 11: SMAC had been gearing up for a Dalhousie Student Union meeting on March 11. Even though I was done the news story, I needed to attend the meeting for the narrative story, and I was still in news-writing-gear, so it was an excellent feeling. I was going to be able to capture it all! I wasn't going to have to parse it down to 800 words, and I would be able to write it in an interesting way! Unfortunately, the fates were against me. Because any time I am excited about something I am bound to get dragged out of it by police. (OK, "dragged" is an overstatement. I've been saying "escorted out," though I'm pretty sure the police quit escorting me before I was fully out... I'm wishing now I had doubled back and sat down). So what now? You can't possibly write about the meeting now, after missing the most important parts of it! Well, you sure can. You sure can. Kimber thinks this was an excellent development (story -wise, he means... media-justice-wise, not so much. The King's J-school profs have written a formal letter to the DSU, as has the King's Student Union). And now, I sit at my computer early in the morning, to write. The sun is bright through the crack in the curtains. I haven't opened my mouth since last night, and it feels like it is full of white glue. Backpacks and dirty plates are piled up behind my computer screen: I pushed them forward to leave me some working space. I'm going to go to the bathroom now and I promise to come back. I promise to come back to start writing for Kimber! ---- Update: 400 words completed! I feel a bit dizzy, vertigo/car sick-like. I wonder if it is the thrill of finally getting some solid work done on an assignment that has been hanging over my head since January 5? Or it could just be hunger. -Bethany

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Big problem

I've realized the flaw in my master plan, but this is a good thing. In my life, I am learning about two major things right now: journalism (reporting on news for the purpose of creating public information and record), and activism (using vigorous action to bring about political or social change). I do journalism because I believe it is powerful, and can do the job of activism sometimes better than activism itself can. Activism tries to get sympathetic people involved in campaigns that are a step outside of their comfort zone. The end goal, of course, is to get enough people to be moving in a certain way so as to manage to change the world. I believe that journalism can reach a broader segment of society than activists can. It isn't targeted at those that are sympathetic, rather it broadcasts information freely, on public airwaves and on popular web portals. This information has the ability to affect the consensus of a big population. Depending on the degree of the consensus, changes happen as result. Activism and journalism work at different paces, though: I am not sure which is faster, at this point in my life, which is why I do both. I am aiming at a career in journalism because I believe this. I am aiming at doing journalism in a Spanish-speaking country because I believe Latin America is a place that needs to see a lot of changes in the next couple of decades. I was talking to my Ethics prof today about nothing in particular, and I said my ultimate goal is to do journalism in South America. This is not a new thing, I say it to everybody, all the time. But then it hit me (and this is the flaw in my plan). In activism, I subscribe to the belief that changes should happen from the bottom up, that the minds that need to change are those at the bottom, because their power would be the power that would truly transform all levels of injustice. In journalism, I am primarily a print journalist: I write, and read, to get my news. I have very little broadcast training or experience. But in Ecuador at least, the literacy levels of the general population (the ones, who, according to my activism education, are the ones from whom the most powerful and true changes would be coming) is not high. The population in Ecuador that I am interested in affecting, as an activist, would be very different from the one I would be affecting, as a journalist. Written journalism in societies with low literacy levels is a forum for the elite: it is about politics that nobody on the bottom cares about, trends that nobody in poverty is privy to, cultural events that are not important to the masses. If I concentrate on print, in a South American context, this is the audience I would have: an audience, my activism education tells me, which is already lost. An aaudience that will not make any changes unless they are forced to, by the mobilized masses. So, in this conversation with my prof, I thought about two options: go into radio, or make print journalism relevant to the masses. I think you all know which of the two ptions appeals to me more.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Armies of the Night

I've been reading "Armies of the Night", by Norman Mailer. It is about an anti-war protest in 1967, when masses converged in Washington to March on the Pentagon. Maybe it is depressing to find the mistakes of the past repeated in tiny, derivative, timid, inconsequential ways in the mistakes of the present. It might be impossible to "learn from the past," because history is a scam (Mailer writes this book as a novel precisely to indicate that when dealing with events so charged with politics, and with hundreds of thousands of attendants, and multiple fronts of action, to render the story as a history is to be unfaithful to the reality: everything that happened that day was subjective to the person to whom it was happening), and in the same way, it is impossible to be "doomed" to repeat it, because to do so would be an improvement on the present. I don't know explicitly know how the past is an improvement on the present, but at least the mechanics of resistance seemed much clearer then. Mailer describes the confrontation as a battle, with fronts and attacks, ambushes and strategy. His "armies of the night" could have achieved their symbolic victory, according to Mailer's analysis in Book 2, if they had been more strategic. He chalks their failures up to the lack of common ground between the pacifists and the revolutionaries. But, if Mailer thought there was fragmentation in the Left in 1967, he should've been active now. Now... now... now... God! If he defined the factions then as Old and New: now, there is every age in between that, and some who lie about their age and say they are immortal. Some of the factions in the current Left hate each other as much as they hate the Right. As different as the eras are, I see so much now of the broad themes that Mailer outlines, around resistance and protest. He certainly describes the guilt accurately. For example, on page 193: Mailer and many others have been arrested. The protest started with a peaceful rally, after which those who chose to could challenge the war-makers more directly by marching from the rally site (the Lincoln memorial, in Washington D.C.), across the river and towards to Pentagon. Those who wished for even more confrontation provided by the March separated themselves from the mass of and tried to break through the line of military police that were containing the protest group to the street. The end goal was to break into the Pentagon itself and hold a sit-in. Those who tried to get that far were all arrested. See, I can understand this frustration. This group of thousands feels alienated by their government, morally soiled by their government's actions, implicated in the murder of the innocent. It would be tremendously ironic and lobotomizing to carry our a protest of this situation with the endorsement of the sickening government one is so disgusted by. I, too, would find the whole exercise disappointing unless I finally broke through the line of police, finally challenged directly one of the arms of the corrupt creature. However, in their prison cells, another moral dilemma presents itself: the protesters are offered a deal. They are to plead "No contest," accept a suspended sentence of 5 days, and a $25 fine, on the grounds that they agree not to return to the Pentagon for the next 6 months. This is a good deal, people get out of jail within hours. But is it moral? Tuli Kupferberg didn't think so. To agree to not return to the Pentagon for six months would mean collaborating with the government, the same corrupt, murderous machine they were trying to combat. He told the judge he would not promise to stay away, and so had to serve his 5 day sentence, instead of being released like the others were. His stand was not popular amongst the other prisoners. He turned a glaring light on their desires to go home. But Mailer's analysis of the situation turned this into more than a conflict between desires and morality: he sees it as a continuum, every step step simultaneously carrying you closer to righteousness and closer to disappointment. Read this: "Mailer listened to (Kupferberg) with a dull ear. He hated to become enmeshed in these unmanageable connections between politics and personal morality. To a part of him, Kupferberg seemed absolutely right ... there was a definite taint of an unholy desire to get out." However -- Mailer's internal narration continues -- what is really at stake here? "Prison could be nothing but an endless ladder of moral challenges: each time you climbed a step, another higher, more dangerous, more disadvantageous step would present itself. Sooner or later you would have to descend. It did not matter how high you had climbed. The first step down in a failure of nerve always presented the same kind of moral nausea. Probably he was feeling now like all the people who had gone to the Pentagon , but had chosen not to get arrested, just as such people, at their moment of decision, had felt as sickened as all the people who should have marched form the Lincoln memorial to the Pentagon, but didn't...One ejected oneself from guilt by climbing the ladder - the first step back: no matter where, offered nothing but immersion into nausea. No wonder people hated to disturb their balance of guilt. To become less guilty, then weaken long enough to return to guilt was somehow worse than remaining cemented in your guilt. " And so, Mailer rejects Kupferberg's path because the shame of giving up now would equal the same of giving up eventually. Finally, he judges that remaining cemented in your guilt is better than leaving it momentarily only to return to it out of weakness. I know people in my own life who have taken this stance. I know, too, the self hatred that returning to your guilt instills, the contradictions of a life hating the establishment carried out within the establishment. I don't know if Mailer regreted his decision to leave New York to go to the protest: to begin that climb up the ladder. I haven't read anything he wrote other than this book, and I haven't read anything more comprehensive about his life than the eulogies that appeared in newspaper after his death. So I am forced to assess his words on their own merit: and I reject them. I know for me, there is no option to remain cemented in my guilt. Nor do I feel very attracted to the idea of turning into a parrot of myself, living in limbo with irreproachable but suspended ideals. The only way for these continuous incursions away from ones guilt to be better, than, are for them to accomplish something concrete. Which brings me back, as always to the same question: what am I going to DO!?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Summer in February

I can't wait for this school term to be over. I'm not just talking about the age-old-desire to be free of the deadline mill, though I look forward to the end of that, too. I want this term to be over because I am looking forward to our adventure. The famous bus: Just a plain, old, ugly, white half-school bus with all it's insides ripped out and intermittent battery problems. Right now, we use it to take the dog up to the tip of the peninsula, and to deliver newspapers on Thursdays. It is a bus that is not living up to its potential. Soon, however, we will be meeting with Perry, the oil conversion genius, who is going to turn this diesel guzzling monster into a veggie oil chugging clean-machine. We already have seven buckets of grease lingering in the back of this bus, waiting for their glory moment. After what I perceive as the Big Fix, we will be free to imagine more mundane ones. The reliance on diesel is the worst aspect of this big machine. It is expensive, stinky, and it kills things. I foresee a relieved conscience after we are able to convert it to run on WASTE vegetable oil. After the bus is ready to run on WVO (and after we have learnt how to filter and clean the dirty french fry bits out of the WVO), we will start building living arrangements around the fuel system. My favourite part of living, is eating, so naturally, how to cook while on the road is something that is important to me. Paul did the bulk of the work to find out about rocket stoves and solar ovens. This solar oven is made with about $5 worth of materials, and can reach 130º C, or 266º F (don't worry, we wont be cooking any meat). There are a million different kinds out there, though. The Fun-Panel Rocket stoves are nifty little things, too. We already have a few of the materials needed to make one (Paul found a design where we don't have to mix, shape and kiln our own bricks. Thank goodness!) Once the eating part of the adventure is taken care of, the Internet will be the next priority. We want to record Podcasts and keep posting blogs while we are on our trip. Maybe we'll try video posts and photo essays. Paul might start up a short-story sharing website. Whatever we decide, we will need power... SOLAR POWER! This part is a bit tougher to figure out. (and pay for) But we can dream!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

If you judge it visually, I deserve an A+
It is 4:18 am. What a dead time. It is the only time when you can meet the world in peace and quiet, though, and peace an quiet are what I need to write stupid essays I don't care about. I would like to think that if I were writing something that had more of my heart in it, I would be able to focus on it despite the thrills and clamour of daily life. As it is, I had to find a space outside of life to complete this task: 3 to 5 am. In this house, hopefully even 3 to 6. I need these hours. Deadline approaches. I am writing an essay about a book about writing novels. Cruel punishment, to make someone write dry boring academic constructions about the full, satisfying life of an artist. As much as I dislike the novelist book, I am more sympathetic to it than I am to my essay. I suppose I should have given myself more time. I always say that: truth is, I just don't care about the homework enough to give it more time. I have other homeworks and other professors that I want to work for. Even sleep was more important yesterday. I should never try to work at night. I should always set my alarm for 3 am and take advantage of dead time. I should never feel guilty about going to bed at 9 pm. I should give up the pretense of trying to string words together after my brain has shut down, after my sympathies are halfway to dreamland.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ignore the most recent video post, I'm trying to accomplish something for a school assignment. I didn't get very much done this weekend. It saddens me, more that it worries me, becuase it means that one of these nights this week when I am to come home from school with a bad headache, I will have to sit down and read 20 pages of a boring book before I get to go to bed. I am falling behind in 2 out of 5 classes. S.K. I love you, but 3 books reports, weekly readings and a 4,000 word narrative non-fiction article is just not a nice thing to do to someone all at once.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I have an overabundance of Journalism classes this term. Forced to produce content in so may different formats (television scripts and reports/print news pitches and stories, not only for my Research prof but for the Gazette, and maybe the Coast/opinions essays/a 3,000 word narrative non-fiction story), I think I will implode come March. But in the meantime, I will be doing me very best to keep everybody happy. The hardest job will undoubtedly be staying free of self-plagiarism. Every prof wants original ideas, ones that haven't been pitched to other editors or teachers before. But I will have 6 or 7 people demanding untainted originality from me within the same 4 month time frame! I think sustaining originality in ideas will be impossible for such a quantity and variety of outlets, but hopefully I can stretch ideas across various classes and publications in a way that isn't unethical or illegal. Fortunately, I am taking Journalism Ethics this term. If in doubt, I will knock on his door and present each case as it comes up.