Monday, November 21, 2005

Attack of the Blogs? - Really?

Browsing through Forbes magazine, an article caught my eye, 'Attack of the Blogs'. (Forbes magazine: 14Nov05).
According to Daniel Lyons;
"Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective....".
The full article is worth aread, but there are at least two facets to consider;

The first is that blogging and bloggers can abuse their exercise of free speech. Just as we can't meaningfully have rights without responsibilities - in my view they are 2 sides to the same coin - then truth must also be the flip side to free speech.

The second facet deserves more thought. Why does such an article appear in Forbes, as opposed to another media outlet, or even another magazine? I think the answer probably points to a much deeper issue, and that issue is the difference between the older, established media forms, and the new kids on the block. The new family being the internet, and the precocious child being the blogosphere.

Business has long been able to sell it's wares, create it's image, unilaterally. A PR firm, and advertising campaign, a market presence that they control. Essentially only limited by the resources they wish to commit to the process.
Now, there is another factor to consider, the internet, and blogs in particular. Word of mouth writ large. Now, a disgruntled customer (or a happy one) can make their views known to a much larger audience.

There is now another factor in marketing and communication. Any little guy can now have a voice, and an opinion, determined not by the resources available to them, but by the case they make, and how they present it.
And, it seems some of the older, established players may not like this turn of events too much?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

11Nov05, 30th anniversary of 'The Dismissal'.

Some times and places in each life are milestones. You remember where you were, what you were doing, even what you thought. Nov 11th 1975 was such a time for me. I was 18, in a room with my RAAF coursemates, studying for my final exams. Someone poked their head in the door, and informed us that the Governor General had dismissed the Whitlam government. Not much later, we heard writs had been issued for an election, and that Malcolm Fraser (then leader of the opposition) had been appointed caretaker PM.

Opinion was polarized, media coverage was at saturation level, and everyone had an opinion. Usually either a 'Labor was robbed/How DARE he', or a 'great, he/they are gone' view. The subsequent election clearly showed that those with the latter view were in the majority.

That was the first election I voted in. I voted for the coalition. Why? Partly because I felt Labor/Whitlam had had a chance at government, and blown it, partly because my political view was towards the right (I was a volunteer, regular Air Force in the then Vietnam era). There had just been too many scandals, too much of the left agenda pushed through in too much of a hurry, too much bad economic husbandry.

The majority of the electorate apparently shared that view, Labor lost, in a landslide, but 'maintaining the rage' became a Labor mainstay. They 'was robbed'. The most enduring lesson for me from that time is that, though there was anger, and partisanship, and division, there was NO violence that I recall - at all. Heated debate, rallies, saturation media coverage sure, but no violence. In contrast to how many societies would have handled such a scenario. And I think the reason was that the Australian population had faith in the electoral system to deliver a fair result, their collectively desired result at the end of the process.

I am for an Australian Republic, yet I voted against the model put to the people in 1999. The reason? The model in my view was seriously flawed. I measured the model against 1975's events, and found it wanting. In my view, what is needed is an elected President (or call him Governor General still if you like) with codified reserve powers - the peoples reserve champion, who can disolve Parliament, call elections, act as an umpire should such situations arise, and generally act as a pressure relief valve and watchdog. And there is a very big difference between a President/GG selected by Parliament, and one chosen by the people. Quite simply, the difference is to whom does his/her loyalties lie? That, and the question of mandate, and delegated power.

November and December 1975 demonstrated to me that the electorate can make a considered and quality decision on complex questions. A view reinforced by my observations of how the 'ordinary citizen' approaches other difficult situations, like jury service. The 'ordinary Australian' is no mug punter, but a noble soul who is much more thoughtful and responsible than many give him and her credit for.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New Australian Industrial Relations Laws

New Industrial relations laws are about to be introduced. The government's side of the argument is here.

There was no such thing as a union for military people while I was in uniform. However, on starting another job not long after leaving the service, I discovered the new workplace was a closed shop - no union card, no start. That was in the days when aggressive unions held too much sway.

That was back in 1983, and I moved to a staff position soon thereafter. I haven't been in a union for 20 years or so, I'm considered 'engineering staff'. I'm no stranger to employment agreements, employment contracts, and the art of dealing with the human resources department(s).

Contract law assumes the parties bargain from a position of equal power. A young used car buyer dealing with a seasoned salesman is not on an equal footing with his or her 'adversary'. Granted they can walk away from the sale, but what of someone negotiating a work agrreement in an adverse economic climate - particularly if they are low skilled? I argue in most cases that an uneven bargaining position exists, at the unskilled end of the labour market particularly, and less so the more saleable skills you possess.

An option for some sort of advocate, either a union official, lawyer who specialises in the area, or even just a friend, seems to me to be a fair way to tread the path in the initial stage of a workplace agreement, and later as well, if the relationship between employer and employee should hit some troubled grounds.

The workchoice literature I've seeen unfortunately is short on much detail, so I remain to be convinced that the changes are a great leap forward. The Australian economy seems to be doing quite well without such sweeping changes as those tabled.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Australian 'anti-terror' laws.

Australia, at federal and state level, has floated, and implemented anti-terror laws. After 9/11, 2 Bali bombings, London, and Madrid, it is undeniable there is a clear threat to westerners, and Australia in particular. The US has it's Bill of Rights. Canada, NZ, even the UK have bill of rights legislation. Australia, alone of the Anglosphere, does not. The concern has to be that we not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and many, including peak law bodies also express reservations. Lawyers saying in part;
"Elements of the rule of law should be inalienable. The rights of our citizens to their liberty and freedom of speech, movement and association should be protected by our parliaments, rather than reduced by them," (UK Bar Council Chair Guy Mansfield QC).
There is a common thread to the attacks on the US, UK, and Australia, and that is fundamentalist Islam. A feature of those societies is intolerance, authoritarianism, and lack of respect for individual rights and freedoms. How sad it would be, if, viewed some time from now, we see that our response to an attack from those with the negative features above, is to tend towards the model of governance they espouse. My view is that we should celebrate, and protect, the rights and freedoms we stand for, not abridge them.
It would be even sadder, if, having given up some freedom in pursuit of safety, we end up with niether.
In that scenario, our unfree opponents would have won a victory.

Yes, we need to equip the police with the necessary powers to meet the challenge of terrorism, but no, not at the expense of the safeguards, rights and freedoms that the societies comprising the Anglosphere have spent more than a millenia developing and protecting. We are different to those who challenge us. We need laws that go as far as needed, but no further than needed.