ICE blogs

July 10, 2011

Phone hacking: more regulation is not the answer.

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, media policy, journalism — news_editor @ 8:45 pm

Barry Turne argues that “hackgate” represents the failure of the criminal law rather than the failure of press regulation

On Friday, at a dramatic press conference, the Prime Minister announced that two inquiries would be set up to examine the biggest scandal in British journalism for decades. David Cameron described the deliberate hacking into the phones of private individuals by the News of the World as despicable and called for a massive overhaul of the relationships between the media and both politicians and the police.

The suggestion by the PM was that this scandal had come about in the main because of lack of regulation of the press meaning, of course, in this instance the tabloid print media. In his statement to the press, Mr Cameron did acknowledge that this problem ran much deeper and, very unusually for a politician, even accepted some of the blame for himself and his colleagues from all parties.

Nevertheless, the problem was still presented mainly as a fault in our press regulation and as the specific fault of rogue journalists and editors and consequently one that needed a review of press regulation.

This is, of course, not the first time that senior politicians have called for tighter control on the tabloids in particular. In 1989, David Mellor, Conservative cabinet minister, declared that the tabloids were reckless, too powerful and in need of more regulation; they were, he warned, “drinking at the last-chance saloon”.

Mr Mellor and Mr Cameron, some 23 years apart, had their eye on the tabloids as the scourge of politicians and, in Mellor’s case, it was those he considered in need of regulation. Since then politicians of all parties have rallied to that cause.

Today, press regulation in Britain is already a mess but not because journalists often upset politicians. We have the somewhat absurd distinction of having two sets of media regulation: one for print and one for broadcast. Neither work very well. Our current regulatory structure distinguishes artificially between journalists who work in print and those who work in broadcast as if there actually existed two forms of journalism rather than two platforms on which it is disseminated.

Our current print regulator, if such a term can be used for the PCC , is a toothless talking shop that gives schoolmasterly lectures on morality to journalists who over step the mark, but what is the mark? Our broadcast media is regulated by OFCOM, a bureaucratic anachronism unfit for modern broadcast media in a democracy.

Both current regulators work from a baseline of public morals and 19th century models of fairness. This has led in the case of broadcast journalism to the absurdity of impartiality being translated into the most simplistic form of ‘balance’ and for our newspapers to be subjected to outdated and frankly quaint ideas of ‘decency’ in the name of regulation.

Mr Cameron and many others are now calling for more regulation as if any of the current models or variants of them would have had any effect on this current scandal. This is a typical British approach to dealing with a problem: rules have been broken so let’s have more rules.

On the surface, this current scandal is about the criminal acts of a few journalists and editors that would hardly have been affected by any kind of ‘regulations’. This criminal behaviour is already subject to sanctions that no regulator could ever impose and since the criminal law itself has failed to deter the behaviour it is difficult to see how a book of rules will.

Beneath the surface of the hacking scandal is a far more disturbing state of affairs. For decades politicians and public officials have had a far from healthy relationship with the press. Politicians are frightened of the press and curry favour with it for reasons that should make us all question their integrity and moral courage. It is this relationship that needs to be regulated and to do that the politicians need closer regulation.

It is hardly surprising that giant media corporations believe that they are bombproof when it comes to the law. When the legislators themselves sycophantically curry favour with the owners of giant corporations it is obvious that it will come at a price. Favours need to be repaid so if you don’t want to grant them don’t seek them.

What can we expect now? It is early days yet and we await the public inquiry but David Cameron has already alluded to the possible models that could be put in place. The obvious one is to turn the PCC into a proper regulatory body independent of the newspapers and government. This would give whatever succeeds the PCC the ability of impose sanctions on an offending newspapers and individual journalists and editors. This model would resemble the current strictures placed on the broadcast media under OFCOM. The OFCOM model is itself flawed, based as it is on the faulty concept of balanced reporting and paternalistic protection from offence to public decency.

This model represents a threat to more than 350 years of newspaper tradition in that it would force editors into the ridiculous position of incorporating ‘balance’ into the stories they published. British newspapers have a tradition of partisanship and it is the reason people buy them. Most of our newspapers take a position politically and morally and that is why their readers find them attractive. To introduce the faulty concept of balance will remove the very heart of each of them and take away the choice of the readers to enjoy whatever political and moral position they want to read about.

To wreck centuries old traditions of the press in order to prevent the type of scandal we are now witnessing is throwing the baby out with the bath water on a grand scale. It is akin to attempting to prevent stealing by banning the ownership of property.

Another ‘regulator’ mooted by Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition, is to introduce a General Medical Council or Law Society-based professional practice model. This model too is flawed. The GMC and Law Society - more correctly the Solicitors Regulatory Authority - do not conduct their business publicly. They act as investigator, judge and jury and are hidebound with anachronistic practices and a lack of transparency - precisely the problem with the current regulators of our media.

Why do we need new press regulation at all? Since this scandal began with the arrest and eventual imprisonment of the News of the World’s Clive Goodwin and a private investigator for tapping phones in 2007 it is clear that these matters are of a criminal nature and not one of press regulation. Thus, it is the failure of the criminal law that should be in the spotlight here not the failure of press regulation. This affair is not about journalists or editors it is about corruption in public office.

David Cameron did accept in his comments to Friday’s press conference that the problem lies with the dangerous relationships that have developed between politicians and media corporations. He accepted that for too long practices that allowed this scandal and the earlier one of members’ expenses were well known in the corridors of power and disgracefully tolerated. He accepted that such practices represented a threat to our democracy, where the legislators who make our laws and who govern us, the police who enforce those laws and the media who inform us of how we are governed have developed an unhealthy and corrupt relationship based on kickbacks and deals entirely against the public interest.

There is now a danger that attention will be focused on the press and away from the other two key players in this disgraceful affair as if the actual hacking into private mobile phones was the heart of these crimes. The hacking is a symptom of the disease not the disease itself.

- Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law, Lincoln School of Journalism

August 24, 2009

Is the BBC’s news a role model to be followed?

Filed under: Blogroll, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, media policy, journalism — news_editor @ 1:45 pm

Gitte Meyer and Anker Brink Lund


Every year in week 46 Danish media researchers monitor Danish media, collecting, analysing and reporting on data from newspapers, journals and broadcasts. This has been going on since 1999, funded by the Danish Research Council and the media providers themselves. As a rule, the focus of the project is specifically on the Danish media.

In 2008, however, a small-scale comparison of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in Britain, Denmark, Germany and Sweden was linked to the project. The comparison only included the main newscast of the leading PSB channel in each country - BBC1 in Britain, DR1 in Denmark, ARD in Germany and SVT1 in Sweden - from Monday to Friday. This is clearly inadequate to draw any general conclusions, but some of the observations were sufficiently striking to allow them to be used as the starting point for further enquiry.


The first, most obvious overall impression from watching the 20 newscasts was their national bias: apart from the broad issue of the financial and economic crisis, not one single item appeared the same day at all four channels. Four distinctly different national worlds were depicted. Thus, it appeared to be a shared feature of the newscasts that they were addressing specifically either British, Danish, German or Swedish citizens. At a closer look, however - focusing on ‘foreign news’ or ‘international affairs’ - the four different worlds appeared to have different horizons.

During the five days references were made to around 20 foreign countries in ARD, DR1 and SVT1, and to 15 in the BBC. The financial and economic crisis was very much on the agenda during this week in all four channels. This was clearly an international topic that could not be ignored. When crisis items were excluded, the BBC’s references to other countries went down from 15 to 8, while the DR1 and SVT1 references were only slightly affected (down by 3 and 1 respectively), while the ARD countings were not affected at all. When we excluded items that were either focused on domestic issues or promoted the achievements of fellow countrymen in other parts of the world, we ended up with references to 17 other countries in the German ARD, 16 in the Swedish SVT1, 11 in the Danish DR1 and 4 in the British BBC.

Research results such as these should, of course, be supplemented by systematic research - but we do believe that it would be difficult to identify a method of counting that would not lead to the conclusion that in this particular week of 2008 the BBC presented a far less cosmopolitan outlook, with significantly fewer appeals to trans-national citizens, than the ARD at the other end of the scale.

The international items in the BBC’s coverage were: Austria: the Fritzl-case; Congo: war and suffering; Iraq: the effects of war on historical treasures; USA: fires in California; USA: same sex marriages in California. (References were also made to Afghanistan, but they referred specifically to the death of British soldiers and to British policies. The latter applied also to references to China and Tibet.)

The international items in the ARD were : Africa: refugees arriving in Italy and Spain; Austria: the Fritzl-case; Britain: Prince Charles will be 60; celebrations on the day; China: earth quake; Tibet; Congo: war and suffering; new offensive; Cuba: hurricane; Italy: police officers on trial; Palestine: Israelis use video cameras to protest against warfare; Russia: EU summit: the role of Putin; Spain: digging after victims from the civil war; the USA: Obama and Bush; action artists falsifying New York Times. International, but not country specific: remembering the First World War; Miriam Makeba dies; UN statistics on population growth and analfabetism; interconnections between political systems and the world of finance; diabetes: American study raises doubt about received wisdom.

The First World War was also commemorated by the BBC, but clearly as a domestic issue.

The ARD item on the ceremonies was accompanied by the remark that they took place ‘regardless of the nationality of the victims’. The BBC item on the same ceremonies was accompanied by the remark that ‘one million British lives were lost’. The SVT1 item on the ceremonies was accompanied by the comment that ‘20 million lives were lost’. DR1 did not report the ceremonies.

Discussion and invitation

Internationalism is a feature which is normally taken to be characteristic of PSB as compared to commercial broadcasts. Our observations - although small-scale and too impressionistic to serve as scientific evidence - seem to indicate that marked differences in the coverage of international news may be identified between PSB channels, too. Given the international status of the BBC as a PSB model, the observations are surprising and may be seen as a cause for concern and further enquiry.

The BBC has served as a PSB model for decades, and a stocktaking exercise might be useful in any case. One possible approach would be to enquire among European journalists about the status of the BBC: to what extent is it considered a PSB model and on what criteria? Those criteria might then serve as a starting point for a larger-scale, European PSB comparison,

We would like to get in touch with colleagues who would be interested in cooperating on this research and/or who have made observations similar or contrary to our observations. The long-term aim should be to build a trans-European research group applying for funds to do comparative research into this fascinating and important field.

November 24, 2008

suicide video in the public interest?

Filed under: News, Headlines, media policy, journalism, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 9:10 pm

A judge has barred an Argentine cable television station from airing footage of a former police commander shooting himself on camera to avoid arrest on human rights violations. Judge Martha de Gomez Alsina banned Cronica TV from replaying the image - which it had already aired - after the Federal Broadcasting Committee requested the order, the state news agency Telem reported Sunday. Mario Ferreyra, 63, killed himself on Friday as police arrived at his home to arrest him on charges arising from the disappearance, torture and death of dissidents during Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship. The suicide was captured by a TV crew that had just finished interviewing Ferreyra. The images caused initial shock among viewers but little lasting debate in a country where graphic violence is common on television. But the broadcasting committee said the transmission constituted ’serious misconduct’ under Argentine laws against disseminating extremely violent or sordid images. (AP via ABC News)

August 12, 2008

Media fight looms on privacy laws

Filed under: ethical space editors blog, Headlines, media policy, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 2:11 am

The Australian newspaper and other media organisations in the country state that they ‘are readying for a showdown’ if the Australian Law Reform Commission recommends tough new privacy laws today:

The commission’s report could have significant ramifications for news reporting, especially on the lives of well-known people. Justin Quill, a media and litigation lawyer and director of law firm Kelly Hazell, said a privacy law would most affect magazines that specialised in reporting celebrity news, followed by shows such as A Current Affair and Today Tonight and then other news services. Gilbert + Tobin partner Peter Leonard expected the immediate effect of a privacy law would be ‘more cautious reporting around the personal life of celebrities’. For example, he said much of the reporting of former AFL footballer Wayne Carey might be disallowed if a privacy law existed. In its newsletter last week, Gilbert + Tobin said the ALRC’s report was expected to recommend ‘the most significant changes to the Privacy Act in the 20 years of its existence’.

The Right to Know Coalition, which represents Australia’s top media groups, including News Limited, publisher of The Australian, on freedom of speech issues - is against a privacy law. The coalition argued a statutory right to privacy would restrain the media’s ability to keep the public informed. Fairfax Media general counsel Gail Hambly said the evidence in Europe, where a privacy law existed, was that it was only used by high-profile people.

(The Australian)

June 5, 2008

Journalists lose right to maintain sources confidential

Filed under: News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, media policy, journalism — news_editor @ 1:10 am

Journalists in Portugal are continuing to protest against recent legislation limiting press freedom The new Journalist Statute strips journalists of their right to maintain the confidentiality of their sources, and contains provisions which prevent them from being paid fairly for the use of their work.

According to the legislation passed last September, journalists must now reveal their sources if requested to do so by a court investigating criminal offences. President Cavaco Silva, recognising that such provisions contravened provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure on professional secrecy, vetoed the bill in August, sending it back to parliament. However, it was subsequently passed by parliament after little more than minor adjustments. Provisions in the Journalist Statute also state that employers may now reuse the work of staff journalists, in any way within their media, without making additional payment to the journalists. This is as long as that reuse is within 30 day of the original publication.

Earlier, the Portuguese Prime Minister, Jose Socrates, came under fire following claims that the government had pressurised journalists after press articles questioned the authenticity of Socrates’ university degree. A poll taken at the time by Portuguese daily Diario Economico showed that 47 per cent of respondents had lost some degree of confidence in Socrates as a result.

Reed drops links to arms trade after journalists protest

Journalists at Reed Elsevier, publishers of more than 2,000 medical and scientific journals, have helped persuade the company to drop its ties to the arms trade. It represents a major victory for collective action to promote principled, ethical journalism. The company said on 29 May 2008 that it had sold the DSEi, ITEC and LAAD defence exhibitions to Britain’s largest independent exhibitions group, Clarion Events, for an undisclosed sum.

Reed’s decision to stop organizing defence shows followed a long campaign of protest by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and by many of its staff. In particular, staff on Reed’s top medical title, the Lancet, claimed the journal could not be linked in any way to the arms industry. In a September 2005 editorial, it commented: ‘On behalf of our readers and contributors, we respectfully ask Reed Elsevier to divest itself of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and well-being. Values of harm reduction and science-based decision making are the core of public-health practice.’

In addition, a group of internationally acclaimed writers including J.M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan and Arabella Weir, joined the protest, writing a public letter to coincide with the London Book Fair, a Reed-organised event. They were appalled their trade was ‘commercially connected to one which exacerbates insecurity and repression’. Shareholders also reduced their stakes in Reed promising not to re-invest until it cut all links with the defence exhibitions.


April 19, 2008

Symposium for scholars at Media Reform conference (Minneapolis)

Filed under: News, Headlines, media policy, journalism, conferences — news_editor @ 10:51 pm

This is a quick update and reminder about the symposium for scholars which will take place in Minneapolis on June 5th, a day before the National Conference on Media Reform.  The symposium is called ‘Academic Research for Media Reform’ and the program is now online. Otagizers are calling it a ‘unique opportunity’ to engage in a dialogue between academics and media reform advocates.

The program offers an expansive presentation of scholarship on the most pressing issues in the media reform community.  The program committee - through a double-blind peer review process - generated eight sessions of papers submitted by leading academics from the US’s top schools.  The sessions will focus on media ownership (and the FCC’s research effort), sustainability of independent media, access to dominant platforms, network neutrality, international media reform efforts, and the media reform movement itself.

The symposium also features two special sessions.  There will be an opportunity for a roundtable discussion with members of the ‘future of American telecommunications working group’. This group is currently designing a new media and telecommunications policy framework for the new administration in 2009. In addition, there will be a session on ‘copyright and free speech’ in which Neil Netanel will present his new book Copyright’s Paradox.

All registrants to the symposium are eligible for the early-bird fare for the NCMR itself.

Amit M. Schejter, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Telecommunications Pennsylvania State University
Ben Scott Policy Director Free Press

April 9, 2008

Adbuster fights to show ’subvertisements’ on Canadian TV

Filed under: News, Headlines, advertising ethics, media policy, human rights — news_editor @ 10:01 pm

The media activism site RINF reports that one of Adbusters’ founders is fighting TV owners in the courts for the right to buy advertising time from them, arguing that, in exercising their editorial control, they are restricting the public right to communicate over the airwaves. RINF’s reporter James Ewart writes:

Kalle Lasn is a fighter for the right to communicate. A privilege, says the founder of Adbusters magazine, that goes one step farther than the freedom of speech.

‘You can stand on the corner and shout at people as they are going by,’ Lasn says. ‘But if a handful of corporations have media in their pocket, they can totally hoodwink the public.’

From his home in Vancouver, Lasn himself communicates to the masses on the pages of Adbusters—a 10-year-old culture-jamming magazine published through the Adbusters Media Foundation.

On Feb. 18, the Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed a case that Lasn brought forth, which argued that Canadian TV conglomerate CanWest Global was obligated, under the Canadian Broadcasting Act, to sell television advertising time to Adbusters.

The court’s dismissal reiterated the rulings of North American courts that have found private TV broadcasters under no obligation to allow the public access to public airwaves.

‘This case goes right to the very heart of democracy—[about] who has a voice and who doesn’t,’ Lasn says.

Of the major broadcasters, only CNN has aired Adbusters’ ‘Buy Nothing Day’ commercials (or ’subvertisements’) that tell people not to go shopping the Friday after Thanksgiving.

One of the subvertisements mocks Calvin Klein’s black-and-white underwear ads. This 30-second parody concludes with an ultra-slim model replaced by a more normally proportioned woman bent over a toilet as if giving into a bulimic impulse. ‘Why are nine out of 10 women dissatisfied with some aspect of their own bodies?’ the narrator asks blankly. ‘The beauty industry is the beast.’

(The rejected ads, along with the tape-recorded refusals from major media organizations, are available at

Lasn first filed his suit in 1995, after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) terminated an advertising contract when the automobile industry complained about an Adbusters anti-car ad. The Supreme Court of Canada, however, chose not to hear the case.

In 2004, following a string of CanWest refusals to air any of Adbusters’ 30-second TV parodies that ridiculed the forestry, fast food, pharmaceutical and high fashion industries, Lasn filed suit against the corporation, which owns three major daily newspapers and a majority of TV stations in Vancouver.

‘We just want this high-minded, legal right to walk into a television station and buy airtime under the same rules and conditions as advertising agencies do,’ Lasn says.

Adbusters is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada—again.

‘We’re not just trying to win a legal battle,’ Lasn says. ‘We’re trying to create a sort of media literacy lesson for all the people in North America to show the fact that there is no democracy on the public airwaves.’

‘It’s pretty ridiculous that a nonprofit, public interest group can’t buy advertising on the public airwaves,’ says Steve Anderson, coordinator of the nonprofit Canadian Campaign for Democratic Media. ‘What’s interesting is that the CBC, specifically, wouldn’t allow this, because the CBC, unlike PBS [in the United States], runs advertisements.’

Lasn is optimistic about efforts to democratize the public airwaves, and says he may bring suit against U.S. broadcasters under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rather than on constitutional grounds, where U.S. courts have consistently sided with broadcasters.

Currently in development is an ad for Adbusters’ Blackspot shoes, which are made at a union factory out of organic hemp and old tires. When the Blackspot ads are finished, Lasn plans to pitch them to MTV. Unlike previous ads, the Blackspot ad will promote a product, and therefore not be restricted by broadcasters’ advocacy ad guidelines.

‘This actually happens fairly frequently [in the United States], that groups try to buy ad time and networks refuse to sell it,’ says Angela Campbell, a law professor at Georgetown University and director of its Institute for Public Representation, a program at the school that specializes in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issues. ‘The court almost always sides with the broadcasters,’ she says.

Campbell points to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in CBS v. Democratic National Committee. Major news networks were pressured to air ads opposing the Vietnam War, and the high court ruled that broadcasters can control editorial content, and are thus free to choose what ads they want to run.

Campbell says the court cited the Fairness Doctrine, which obligated broadcasters to air different perspectives on an issue. And because the networks’ coverage of the Vietnam War was already in accordance with the statute, it was not necessary for the public to see ads against the war.

‘Subsequently, our FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine,’ she says, ‘and one could argue that today, when we don’t have the Fairness Doctrine as sort of that backstop, it’s questionable if the case would come out the same way.’

In theory, broadcasters are supposed to serve the public, and that is the standard the FCC uses for granting and renewing broadcast licenses for networks to use the airwaves.

‘The majority of the FCC today takes the attitude that public interest means whatever the marketplace will bear,’ Campbell says. ‘There are some public interests they are concerned about, but they don’t have very many enforceable standards. So the stations can do pretty much whatever they want.’

Ultimately, Lasn hopes to begin dismantling media conglomerates with antitrust lawsuits, demanding the media devote at least a minute of public airtime for every hour devoted to corporate interests, and establishing a new human right—the right to communicate.

‘How come we the people don’t have access to one of the most powerful social communication mediums of our time, the television?’ Lasn asks. ‘There is this new human right in the information age, this right to communicate, which goes farther than freedom of speech.’

March 12, 2008

Promoting new forms of ethical reflection

Communication Ethics Now, which draws together articles from Volume 2 (2005) of Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, is to be published on 15 July 2008. In a foreword, Cees Hamelink, Professor Emeritus of International Communication at the University of Amsterdam, comments: ‘Ethical inquiry needs to be more creative and deconstruct situations that look like dilemmas into configurations of a wide variety of moral options and challenges. We are very fortunate to have such important platforms as Communication Ethics Now for this exercise in new forms of reflection!’

He adds: ‘This book convincingly demonstrates how lively and relevant today’s ethical reflections on communication can be. The chapters of the book cover such an exciting and broad range of topics.’

Edited by Richard Keeble, joint editor of Ethical Space, the 25 chapters are divided into five sections. In the first, which focuses journalism ethics, John Tulloch examines the British press’s coverage of the CIA torture flights (better known as ‘extraordinary rendition’) while Julie-ann Davies reports on the media’s increasing use of anonymous sources. Jane Taylor takes a particularly unusual look at the media’s obsession with celebrity focusing on the coverage of Carole Chaplin, Cherie Blair’s ’style guru’ and broadcaster, novelist and columnist Libby Purves expresses outrage at the media’s daily diet of ‘unkind intrusions and falsifications’.

In an international section, leading Nigerian academic Kate Azuka Omenugha explores the representation of Africanness in the British press, Susanne Fengler and Stephan Russ-Mohl express concern over the slump in media standards in Germany while Angelika W. Wyka focuses on journalistic standards and democratization of the mass media in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

In a section that takes a historical perspective on journalism ethics, Jane Chapman’s chapter looks at ‘Republican Citizenship, Ethics and the French Revolutionary Press 1789-92′ while Martin Conboy’s focuses on Wooler’s Black Dwarf, a radical journal of the early 19th century.

Another section on communication ethics and pedagogy draws on papers at the 2005 annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics with contributions from Raphael Cohen-Almagor, John Strain, Brian Hoey, Brian Morris, Simon Goldsworthy and Anne Gregory. The philosophical dimensions of communication ethics are explored by Karen Sanders, Hallvard Johannes Fossheim (in an interview with Kristine Lowe) Robert Beckett, Moira Carroll-Mayer and Bernd Carsten Stahl. In the final section on business and communication ethics, Kristine Lowe interviews Paul Jackson, of Manchester Business School.

Editor Richard Keeble, in an introduction, says: ‘The Institute of Communication Ethics (ICE) stresses in its mission statement: “Communication ethics is the founding philosophy for human interaction that defines issues according to their impact on human well-being and relationships.” And it is this caring for people - the desperately poor, the inarticulate, the oppressed - along with a sense that honesty, integrity, clarity, respect for difference and diversity are some of the core principles underlying human interaction and, ultimately, communication ethics that drive the many writings in this volume.’

  • Communication Ethics Now is published by Troubador, Leicester, for £12.99. It follows the success of Communication Ethics Today, also published by Troubador, which drew on articles in the first volume of Ethical Space.

March 10, 2008

Conference on moving Australia towards a cosmopolitan society

Filed under: Uncategorized, News, Headlines, media policy, politics, conferences, human rights — news_editor @ 2:36 am

The 4Rs conference, to be held in Sydney on Sept 30 - Oct 2, frames Australia’s future as a cosmopolitan civil society. Focused on the themes of rights. responsibilities, reconciliation and respect, it explores the internal debates and the relationships between crucial social, political and cultural questions, with their relevance to public policy, community development and societal cohesion.
The conference is organised by the Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies, University of Technology Sydney , SAVE Australia Inc, the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts and the Institute for Cultural Diversity at a critical time for Australia, when the opportunities and desire for change abound, yet older fears still persist.
The conference is designed around the four themes and their interaction- human rights, Indigenous advancement, inter-communal relations, and active citizenship.


Australia remains the only Western democracy without a national human rights framework, yet it is a society in which the struggle for rights has been a central part of history - for Indigenous people, women, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities and those involved in same-sex relationships. The Rights stream (R1) invites contributions that discuss global, national and local concerns across the full range of human rights issues, from the initial engagement with political rights, through social and cultural rights, to the most recent questions raised by action on disability and indigenous rights. It encourages philosophical as well as political and legal approaches. It explores the practical politics of achieving a national human rights framework within the international community.


Wherever colonial powers have settled their populations on the lands of indigenous peoples there have been ongoing crises and conflicts. Reconciliation (R2) seeks to understand the truth of those histories and devise ways through which people from both indigenous and immigrant origins can work and live together in a shared society. Australia has faced a particularly difficult period as it has struggled with both symbolic and practical forms through which reconciliation should be advanced.

The reconciliation stream invites contributions that explore the challenges, success and failures in reconciliation across the world, and the specific dimensions of reconciliation in Australia. It welcomes community presentations, and joint presentations between scholars, policy groups and Indigenous activists. It particularly looks towards younger people and their perspectives on future directions for reconciliation.


In the often-heated conversations about relations between ethno-religious communities in pluralist societies, in the past framed by ideas about multiculturalism and tolerance, a key concept is that of respect. Respect (R3) requires recognition of the validity of different approaches to everyday life, and a desire to understand those differences. Respect is multi-directional; it calls on all members of a society to recognise the value of all other communities. In democratic societies it also points to the critical role of respect for individual human rights even though at times this may strain inter-group relations. Australia has experienced serious challenges to the place of respect in societal discussions about diversity, as have many other western societies.

The respect stream invites contributions that explore the tensions around the idea of respect, its representation, and its presence or absence in the discourse of difference globally and in Australia. It welcomes collaborative presentations that explore either comparative cases or innovations in community, arts and other practices in which respect is mobilised as a positive value.


Societies are made up of reciprocal relationships of responsibilities, in which various benefits are received and various obligations incurred. Citizenship, both political and cultural, provides the context in which debates about responsibilities most often occur. This Responsibilities theme (R4) addresses the debates about citizenship and how these have been affected by the transformations in world society in the current generation. Citizenship has been considered as a purely political question, relating to the legal status of individuals in their relations to nation states. It has also reflected broader concerns with social citizenship, active citizenship and cultural citizenship, where the broad range of human rights are considered to be part of the dynamics of citizenship. It explores the responsibilities citizens have for each other, for the well-being and protection of the state, and the responsibilities the state has for the well-being and freedoms of its citizens.

The responsibilities theme invites contributions that explore these multiple meanings of citizenship, and that can expose connections to the other themes of the conference. In particular it invites debates regarding the imposition of various tests for citizenship and what they reveal about the status of the citizen in the contemporary world.

Cross Theme proposals

This track supports innovative approaches to issues that bridge more than one theme, and involve participants from differing backgrounds and perspectives. It can also provide a location for arts-based presentations, performances and workshops.

Andrew Jakubowicz
Conference Convenor
Maqsood Alshams
Conference Secretary


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