Saturday, October 24, 2009

Poland's shame

I saw this piece by Radio Free Europe yesterday. A shameful piece of pandering by the Polish government. I wonder what other quid pro quo was involved. I used to think that such symbolic honors were empty, but now I think they do have some significance. Every element that lets a repressive government claim legitimacy is important. A repressive government should be faced constantly with reproach for its repression. It is only through such consistent pressure that incremental change is possible.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

EU calls on Russia to explain trade plans

European Voice: EU calls on Russia to explain trade plans

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To me, this is not very surprising. Russia does not want to be bound by the restrictions that would come with full membership in the WTO. Negotiations have been ongoing for more than a decade, but membership in the WTO would hamper the Kremlin's ability to use its domestic subsidies for domestic political purposes.

Old habits die hard. How necessary these subsidies are may be questionable, but clearly the government thinks they are needed as a lever to maintain power and control within the country.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Smuggling and activism frowned upon in Russia

I prefer not to think of my perspective as jaded. But often events can appear so completely predictable. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the concerns that the municipal elections in Moscow would be rigged. Human rights activists were concerned about this, and quite a few protested, according to news reports. "Quite a few," of course, is a relative term. Considering the inherent risks of any sort of anti-government protest in Russia at the moment, anything more than half a dozen qualifies as quite a few.

About 50 activists were arrested by police. Predictable. And now comes word that they are still being held. Also predictable.

Slightly surprising was word about the arrest of Valentina Shadrina.

The director of the Altyn jewelry company was accused of smuggling precious stones and jewelry. Since its start in Kazakhstan, the company has developed an international chain of jewelry stores favored for low prices on jewelry.

It's hard to believe that someone would have forgotten to pay off the necessary official, so the arrest could indicate some power shift within the FSB.

Finally, on an idealistic note, the St. Petersburg State University has organized a contest for young journalists. The Russian language details are here. The suggested themes of the contest are: "helping senior citizens, homeless children, former prisoners, cleaning trash, volunteering during the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, healthy lifestyle and others."

Nothing too much objectionable, assuming that the pieces are written "correctly."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bread and Puppets

This guerilla theater troupe came to Boone, NC, yesterday. They spent a few hours rehearsing with students and members of the community, and then presented this show. I've only included the "fun" parts here. A very moving piece about Gaza was just impossible to capture because the lighting was so low.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Students foretell the future of the media. It's not rosy.

Today I discussed with my class the ethical obligations of journalists. I was left unsatisfied by our last conversation, which ended with an incomplete link between actions of the media as a whole and the maintenance of a democracy. I have my own beliefs about the importance of the media in democratic processes, but I don't want to just dictate my conclusions to my students. I do want to explain my beliefs, to make the connections between "x" & "y."

By the end of the discussion, some students were ready to admit that journalists possess some ethical responsibility to tell the truth. But this was an ethical responsibility that had to be balanced with the need to get a paycheck. So, really it came down to situational ethics. If a journalist felt that he or she could quit the job after being pressured by the advertiser, then that journalist should quit the job. But - that would be a choice that few would make.

I guess that's par for the course. In fact, most journalists don't make that choice. I did once, but I was young at the time.

Overall, I found a high level of cynicism in my students. One summed it up well. The young man didn't feel much ethical responsibility to be honest, he said, because no one believed the media anyway.

I was at a loss for words. He had a point, albeit a grim one.

Before they left, I conducted an impromptu poll. How many people don't consume any news, get no news at all except second-hand, through conversations? One young woman raised her hand. She the news was depressing. Can't argue with that either, I guess.

How many get news from the TV?

About eight raised their hands.

How many get news mainly from the Internet?

The remainder raised their hands.

So - this is the future of the media apparently. The information that serves as "news" for these students might be a mixture of Facebook info, Drudge Reports, New York Times articles or posts by Perez Hilton. The students as a whole have little regard for ethical responsibilities of journalists and nearly no trust in any information they consume. What does this mean for our democracy?