27 December 2007

My Christmas Speech

A number of things have happened throughout the year that have made me more aware than normal about the privileged life that I lead. By a quirk of fate I was brought up in a western, first/minority world environment, had access to free secondary and subsidised third-level education, and fell into a succession of jobs in the right industries at the right time to be able to afford to live a fairly sustainable life.

The recent UN Climate Change Conference in Bali almost failed completely due to the intransigence of minority world countries (primarily the US) to accept the concept of emissions targets, prompting Kevin Conrad, a delegate from Papua New Guinea to implore the US to "get out of the way" if it is not prepared to take the lead on climate change. In a similar vein I have been examining whether I am an enabler or an inhibitor in many of the social issues I express concern over - am I part of the solution or part of the problem?

A few weeks ago I went to dinner with P. Sainath, rural affairs editor at The Hindu and a serious opponent of globalisation, after hearing him speak on a number of topics, including Thomas Freidman's appalling neoliberal treatise "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" and the responsibility of journalists to highlight inequality and injustice. Freidman's book, along with "The World is Flat", has long been top of my list of Books That are Evil, and it was interesting to hear someone speak directly to the myth of Indian economic prosperity that Freidman uses; basically, as with the Celtic Tiger in Ireland, the overall economy might have grown but the gap between rich and poor has increased at an alarming rate, leaving wealth concentrated in the hands of a small minority and increasing the numbers living in abject and dire poverty. He also had some interesting comments on the subject of blogging - along the lines of the limited effectiveness of blogs resulting from the small readership and insular nature of the audience; most blogs are read by only a few people who are already of like minds with the writer, whereas traditional print media reaches a larger audience who may not already have been aware of the issues raised and thus has more of an educational effect.

Around the same time I had a conversation with an Irish government minister on online advertising and old media. One part of the conversation was on the move by many news organisations towards advertising-supported rather than subscription-based online editions (as the NY Times recently did) and whether increased dependence on advertising compromised the integrity of news organisations as they were less likely to print articles critical of key advertisers. My own feeling is that online advertising no more compromises news organisations than off-line advertising, but that is just a way of not addressing the basic question of how true journalism can exist in any for-profit media group.

In the Q&A after his lecture, a journalism student asked P. Sainath basically the same question, how can a journalist keep true to their ethics and get meaningful stories published? He replied that the struggle for one's soul necessitated what he called 'guerilla journalism', that for every two stories that you want to do, you need to do eight stories that your editor wants. Thus inherently the role of a journalist involved some compromise, and choosing which battles you fought. Seeing the number of column inches devoted in the last month in Ireland to the overdose and death of an Irish model, at a time that the Bali conference, the war in Iraq, and humanitarian crises throughout the majority world continue unabated, it is easy to see that many journalists have surrendered altogether in the battle for their souls.

All of this affected me in two main ways, both driving me to become a bigger part of the solution, and less part of the problem. The first is to tithe in 2008, and by this I mean to try and direct a percentage of my income to Things That Will Make a Difference (TM). In late 2007 I did this on a small scale, financially contributing to the production of a number of dvd releases by investigative journalists, releases that will hopefully fund further investigations. I want to go further than this in 2008, and figure out a more organised and scalable way of doing this.

The second change involves a transition in work responsibilities, and will see me moving away from driving revenue generating activities for my company to focusing almost exclusively on the area of corporate social responsibility. I've been involved already with a number of sideline projects within the educational sector and community health groups, providing training and support from our company. Starting in January I hope to be able to bring more resources to bear on some of the local and global issues that up till now I have observed, rather than participated in.

I've always been rather smug about the ways in which I have contributed by not contributing; my carbon footprint is low because I don't have a car, we run the house on solar and geothermal energy, so we don't draw power from the grid, etc. What I need to do in 2008 is to contribute by contributing, it's not enough to simply not be a part of the problem, you have to actively be part of the solution.


At 2:59 am, Blogger Unknown said...

Well said.


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