Breaking down the trends and rebels of today’s media landscape in Montreal and beyond.
I can almost remember the novelty of getting a home internet connection in the late 1990s—dial-up, Netscape and all—and can almost reconcile it with the present refrigerator hum of connectivity that permeates almost all communication and consumption.
Questions of how we can critically consider where we are now, and where we could be going, are both worth vital reflection.
As part of its conversation series with The Globe and Mail, Concordia hosted a talk on “Digital Life, Digital Identity” with Vancouver-based science fiction author William Gibson and Communications Professor Fenwick McKelvey on Thursday.
For the audience, there was a common active memory which stretches a significant transitional divide in media and technology. To this end, there was no one better to invite than Gibson.
Gibson coined “cyberspace” before there was an Internet, provided the original architecture for the entire genre (and eventually aesthetic) of cyberpunk and first anticipated the anxieties of interacting in shared digital spaces over thirty years ago. Over his career Gibson has set himself apart by not only writing about near futures which were visionary, but were also already tangible, lived-in, a little dirty and worn.
Questions asked by The Globe and Mail writer Erin Anderssen, the moderator for the evening, consisted of loose prompts for shallow think-pieces on contemporary technology and were essentially dismissed as irrelevant.
Gibson projected that the distinction between digital identity and “real life” would soon be antiquated, never mind even worth worrying about, and that the concern with shallow consumption of information in the internet age was “not particularly convincing.” Gibson and McKelvey were both able to overcome the given framework to provide insight on more interesting matters.
Loss—of technologies, of ways of life—permeated the discussion. Gibson compared the impossibility of trying to understand the effect of technology on oneself to the anthropological adage that one can never understand one’s own culture.
In a thought experiment, like how music could exist before recorded media, the conception will always break down when trying to imagine a “previous mode of existence.” McKelvey later reflected that in order for the “future to occur“—especially within the current context of capitalism and accelerated development—something else has to be relegated to the past.
And no matter how essential a current tool or medium is to present life, its relevance is fragile and will eventually fade away. Gibson spoke of once asking about the content of archived audio wires and learning that any possible information was no longer accessible and could never be known.
In terms of the future, there was no forecasting what kind of technology will emerge, or what kind of importance a given technology will take on.
Gibson refers to the standbys of futurism, particularly artificial intelligence, as “folk concepts,” constructs that anticipate what’s coming on the horizon but which always fall short because of their dependence on what’s familiar in the present.
Even in the age of venture capital-driven innovation, it was stressed that “the street has its own use for things,” which will define a tool above the intended motives of developers. The example of the use of pagers in drug deals was brought up, and Gibson and McKelvey riffed on how Uber could soon be co-opted along similar lines.
In order to write realistic, fictional technology, Gibson explained that the balancing act is between making the tools of future fantastic for the audience and entirely mundane for the user-character.
The mundane of today has to be conceptualised to be seen as fantastic. McKelvey elaborated that in designating our competencies and parts of our memories to devices, by definition “we’re all basically cyborg.”
And Gibson noted that what was once a throwaway line about “media-fasting” in his 1996 novel Idoru has, in less than two decades, become used in earnest as disassociation from the media landscape turned into a deliberate undertaking.
However, even an event seeking to contextualise the current paradigm of constant digital interaction couldn’t be removed from it. The evening began with a reminder to the audience that though phones were to be muted, online conversation through designated hashtags was encouraged to compliment the “meatspace” conversation at the front of the room.
The future of the public broadcasting corporation in Canada is in trouble, according to CBC president Hubert Lacroix. He discussed his views of the industry and other recent controversies to Concordia’s Journalism department last Wednesday evening.
Lacroix spent most of his presentation polling the audience on whether they watch programs and newscasts from the CBC, and whether the students take advantage of their mobile platforms and services.
Competing against privately owned television networks who have bigger budgets to spent is becoming more difficult as the CBC begins to see cuts in their funding, the President added.
In April 2014, the CBC announced they were cutting over 650 jobs in order to withstand a hit of over $130 million dollars in their budget during the next two years.
“I am unhappy with this funding line, compared to what the government’s been spending, and what private broadcasters are getting,” said Lacroix.
He also compared the costs between creating content for Americans and Canadians, and spoke on how private broadcasters spend less money for our southern neighbours than produce their own Canadian content.
For example, he revealed that the cost of one hour of production for the Netflix hit, “House of Cards”, was between five and seven million dollars. The Canadian show, The Border, CBC’s most expensive show ever produced, barely compares to those figures.
Lacroix even addressed losing one of CBC’s flagship programs, Hockey Night in Canada, to Rogers Communications, who struck a lucrative television deal with the National Hockey League for broadcasting rights before the beginning of the 2014-15 season.
The public broadcasting president felt that holding on to these rights would cost the corporation too much money.
“There is no public broadcaster that can justify spending $5.2 billion on hockey games,” said Lacroix.
Following his presentation, Lacroix addressed the recent controversies surrounding the CBC, including the Jian Ghomeshi and Amanda Lang scandals.
On his relationship with Ghomeshi, the President said he “loved him” and connected him with as many people as he could within the CBC and Radio-Canada. Due to “legal issues,” his comments about the allegations were limited.
As for Amanda Lang, the CBC journalist who provided favourable coverage to two companies who offered her paid speaking engagements, Lacroix said that the CBC is considering the allowance of employees to possibly engage in paid appearances.
Days after his presentation at Concordia, the CBC announced that they would no longer allow their journalists to do any paid speaking appearances.
Wednesday morning in Paris, two masked gunmen attacked the Charlie Hebdo weekly newspaper headquarters located in the heart of the French capital.
Eight of the paper’s cartoonists and writers were killed by the attackers, as well as two policemen who were among the first to arrive on the scene, a visitor to the paper’s office and a maintenance worker.
The magazine headquarters are said to have been targeted because of their reputation for publishing socially and politically sensitive comics and articles. Police believe the motive behind the bloody assault was the magazine’s publishing of caricatures mocking and satirizing Islam and important Islamic figures, including its prophet Mohammad.
A video of the attack shows the assailants just after having committed the massacre in the magazine’s offices as they roam the streets preparing to leave. One of them shouts “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is the greatest” in Arabic. One gunman walks up to a policeman whom they wounded as he’s lying on the ground and shoots him point-blank in the head, executing him.
After having fled the scene in a black car, a massive manhunt began to find the two suspects, later identified as brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi. After taking a hostage in a last stand at a printing business near Charles de Gaulle airport, they were killed in a shootout with armed forces, their hostages rescued.
An accomplice, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a female police officer in Montrouge on Thursday, was also killed in a shootout with officers after holding his own set of hostages at a kosher supermarket east of Paris, four of them were killed.
The brothers were on the U.S. terrorist watch list, according to U.S. officials. Chérif Kouachi was part of a group that would send would-be jihadists to fight for al-Qaeda in Iraq.
“Today, France has been attacked at its heart – in Paris. Caricaturists of great talent and courageous writers have died. I want to tell them that we will continue to defend their message of freedom,” said French president François Hollande at l’Élysée palace on Wednesday, following after the attack. _Charlie Hebdo_’s head editor Stéphane Charbonnier, better known as “Charb,” was among the victims.
“The one thing that I’m very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, a universal belief in freedom of expression, is something that can’t be silenced,” said U.S. president Barack Obama. “I think it’s going to be important for us, going forward, to make sure that we recognize these kinds of attacks can happen anywhere in the world.”
This attack on journalists has resurfaced disturbing realities regarding the fragility of freedom of expression in this day and age. It evokes painful memories of the 2004 murder of Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who was killed by a Muslim fundamentalist for producing a short film that addressed the abhorrent treatment of women in Muslim culture.
It certainly feels, at this point, that a war has been declared on those who embrace their freedom of speech by those who wish to extinguish it.
Many brilliant minds were erased because they believed in the fundamental right to liberty of expression. But, as appears to be the trend, cut off the head and five more will grow.
As Tom Toles of the Washington Post wrote, “But the pen will endure.”
Drug War Capitalism is Vancouver-based journalist Dawn Paley’s first book. She has written on extractive industries and crime, and is a doctoral student at the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico. Photo Mattha Busby
The Drug War Capitalism book launch event in Montreal was the last stop in Dawn Paley’s book tour. Photo Mattha Busby
Dawn Paley presents her book Drug War Capitalism at an event organized by the Concordia Student Union and QPIRG Concordia. Photo Mattha Busby
Dawn Paley, a Mexico-based journalist from Vancouver, concluded the East Coast leg of her book tour for Drug War Capitalism at an event hosted by the Concordia Student Union earlier this month.
Paley expanded on her book’s broad premise that the so-called “war on drugs” is in fact something which allows the state to disguise their real intentions.
“ Drug War Capitalism proposes that the war on drugs isn’t actually a failure; it proposes that it’s a success,” said Paley. “We’re using the wrong metrics to evaluate it.
“It’s certainly not a success in terms of people’s lives and peace, but it’s a success in terms of expanding the social and fiscal territory available to transnational capital.”
Many of Mexico’s federal police officers roam the country bringing violence and murder to the towns where they stay while pillaging communities for food and generally oppressing their compatriots. They facilitate the drug trade as they ride with drug cartel members complicit with their actions, the book explains.
“The drug war is less about cocaine or marijuana than it is about social, economic, and territorial control,” writes Paley in Drug War Capitalism.
The drug war in Mexico has largely failed to stem or reduce the amount of cocaine that is trafficked into the U.S. every year.
“It started in Colombia, then Mexico and throughout Central America where the same pattern has emerged,” Paley told The Link. “In places where there is U.S. funding of a war on drugs, that actually leads to increased violence, increased foreign direct investment and increased militarization and paramilitarization of all these countries.”
There is evidence that U.S. private contractors have supplied training in torture methods to the Mexican police while the U.S. increases weapons exports. To a certain extent this is just the U.S. fuelling the demand for arms in order to stimulate their military industrial complex, Paley explains.
In Mexico, 7,000 people are unidentified in morgues, 27,000 people have gone missing since 2008, and 43 students that have recently disappeared are suspected to have been murdered on municipal police orders.
In the case of Mexico, Paley describes how Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, provides the Mexican government—a notoriously poor collector of taxes—with the funds for around 70 per cent of their annual budget.
Pemex pays 99 per cent of its profits each year to the government, which prevents the company from modernizing and expanding, says Paley.
With plans to open the country’s oil to foreign investors, the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C.-based foreign policy think-tank says that “accelerated foreign investment will generally improve the lives of its people.”
The Atlantic Council’s Latin America research centre says the move would “transform Mexico into a major energy and industrial power” in a report early this year. But these predictions and the report were released before the oil crisis.
Pemex will be entering an oil market that has consistently fallen over the last months, and its privatization leaves a hole in government coffers.
Fewer funds from Pemex increases Mexico’s reliance on U.S. funding for the war on drugs. To pacify the population, police and the military will expand their activities.
Paley provides readers of Drug War Capitalism with a unique journalistic perspective on the war on drugs and attempts to “reveal the tyranny at work.”
“These issues aren’t really being covered [by the mainstream Western media],” said Paley, who hopes that the book will inspire more people to take their research into different places and to continue a deeper analysis of the drug war.
“[The book] was partially inspired by the idea that people protest the Iraq War [and denounce] wars for oil,” Paley explained to The Link. “Why is it that the war on drugs [doesn’t] get protested in the same way?”
Proverbial shots were fired at CBC/Radio-Canada president Hubert Lacroix Wednesday during CBC’s Annual Public Meeting as employees fiercely voiced their discontent regarding budget cuts to the society. The cuts, announced a few weeks ago, have dismissed nearly 400 employees.
But the one who launched the most virulent of verbal attacks towards Lacroix came as a surprise: Charles Tisseyre, host of weekly science news program Découverte on Radio-Canada for over 20 years, gave a heartfelt outcry regarding the state of the public broadcaster following massive layoffs. Tisseyre has always been known as a calm, composed and well-spoken man of science, yet his intervention came with great fury.
His message was simple: youth in this business matter, and without youth, we can’t keep up with the ever-evolving media world. He was outraged by the fact that the compressions at CBC/RC affect particularly young employees.
“Both Radio-Canada and CBC, in their respective languages, form a fundamental institution in the Canadian landscape,” he told the assembly. “And this institution must be supported by governing powers.
“When La Presse invested in its digital remodelling, they invested $60 million to accomplish it,” he continued. “But what do we do for our digital remodelling? We cut!”
But what owed him a standing ovation from the crowd was a reference to adjustments to his own main TV opus.
“At Découverte we are currently remodelling ourselves—with limited means, mind you—to adapt to this new digital era. But at the same time, the bright young minds who should be the motor of this transition are being laid off!”
Tisseyre touches a very sensible chord. The cuts currently happening at CBC/RC are particularly affecting the new generation of journalists. I, for one, am uncertain of the future when I hear Concordia journalism students that graduated three years ago lost their jobs at CBC/RC less than two years after being hired.
I briefly spoke with Charles after the conference. He told me, on the bright side, that he’s very confident about the future of scientific journalism at Radio-Canada.
“It’s been, since its very foundation, the duty of CBC/RC to provide the public with scientific-oriented programming,” he said. “Although CBC/RC are not investing as much as us scientific journalists would need to efficiently transition our programming into a multimedia, digital platform, the feeling at 1400 Boulevard Rene-Levesque Est is that scientific journalism still has a well-deserved space within these walls.”
Tisseyre’s outcry is incredible motivation. For someone with such experience and wisdom to be speaking in the name of young journalists, it shows we are not alone in this fight.
Thank you, Mr. Tisseyre, for being our voice.