Independent Filmmaking Blog
2013 has walked defiantly out door and I have to admit that it has been one of the most adventurous years of my life thanks to all the people who have helped and loved me.
In April I travelled to Israel- Palestine from London to film and investigate more for Finger Pointing to the Earth, a film about the existential message of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Unsurprisingly I am finding this film very difficult to formulate but here is a draft of the trailer. Constructive criticism welcomed. Arabic interpreters desperately needed!
Then I went to Malta for a few months, back to the UK and now I am visiting my mum and other family in Australia and will return to the UK on January 26th.
Its been a great year for travel!
Since my last blog in November, I have produced 4 pieces of video work as well as becoming more involved in the Occupy London website introducing separate pages for working groups. (see sidebar if interested)
The activist related videos were firstly a short video piece advertising the forthcoming demonstration outside the BBC on Nov 16th 2013 as part of a global day of action called March Against the Mainstream Media which had been initiated in the US. Unsurprisingly after that I made another video based on the actual demonstration. On that day people came up to the microphone to ask the BBC questions. I feel it was a very classy and informative demo and in the end the security guards guarding Portland Place from us thanked us for having taught them things they did not know! I felt the same! Please take the time to have a look and spread.
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My initial motivation to help organize the demonstration was fuelled by my discovery that the BBC was not covering the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) at all.
The TTIP is the largest free trade agreement ever negotiated and it is being done so in secret, which although is not unusual in International Law, in this case we have good reason to be concerned. Thanks to Wiki Leaks there have been leaked documents which show us that the premise that 'what is good for business is good for the public' is being taken to a whole new level that threatens workers’, consumers’ and environmental rights enormously and terrifyingly. It is hard to resolve how the BBC can justify their silence in regards to it amongst other issues.
When you consider that the BBC is funded by a TV license of £130 paid per year by every household in Britain there really is no "corporate run" excuse that the BBC can hide behind. So why are they so slack on issues that involve the TTIP, sustainable energy, tax havens and alternative economic models to the austerity measures?
It is embarrassing to admit but at the time of the demonstration I had no idea that the Public Accounts Committee had been conducting a hearing into the severance pay of the BBC's senior management. It was all over the Guardian. On December 16th PAC published its report. The following is a poignant excerpt from the summary:
"...We were therefore dismayed to find that many departing senior managers received 'sweetners' in their severance packages that far exceeded their contractual entitlements. Both the BBC Executive and the Trust have let down license fee payers by allowing this culture to develop. The unedifying spectacle of witnesses from the BBC Executive and the BBC Trust disputing each other's evidence on severance pay revealed a serious breakdown in governance, record-keeping and accountability"
An excerpt from the conclusion:
"In a report published in July, the National Audit Office found that the BBC had paid £25m in severance payments to 150 senior staff. Furthermore, it showed that the BBC had paid 14 staff more than it had been contractually obliged to"
My burning question is why is senior management given such vulgar pay outs when the BBC production is always crying poor?
Everyone's curiosity seems to be stunted at the acceptance that the money is given for money's sake. I am not so convinced.
Could the lack of coverage and investigation into the US-EU Free Trade Agreement, tax havens, alternative economic models, sustainable fuel, be connected to these large pay outs? It is frustrating to be locked in speculation. There is also something shoddy about asking questions that may be interpreted as sensationalist and ungrounded. But let us take Lord Chris Patton as an example.
The relationship between the 13 other jobs that Lord Patton, the Executive Chair of the BBC Trust, has which include:
1. Member of BP International Advisory Board.
2. Member of the EDF Stakeholder Advisory Panel.The UK's biggest producer of electricity provides power to 25 percent of the population (The Guardian)
I find it curious that PAC fails to recommend an introduction (or a massive re-haul) to the conflict of interest clauses in the contracts I presume people in his position are expected to sign, before embarking in their position as leaders of the most trusted global news new network in the world.
I have a personal first hand experience of the ABC in Australia accepting my one and only feature documentary to date and then 2 months before broadcast, (i.e. 10 months after acceptance) self censoring it off its scheduled time. This was the first time that this had occurred in ABC history. Of course there was quite a song and dance connected to all of it back in 2009 -10, but it showed, in a manner very difficult to prove but impossible to ignore, that the ABC was/is not free to make its own decisions.
Is the BBC shackled to the same ball and chain? Is it systematic, part of an unavoidable culture of journalist technique married to an audience with a microscopic attention span or are there specific gatekeepers who hold the key?
I don’t know the answer to that but I am convinced that various forms of activism can break the lock.
What is of concern to me however is how tightly the noose of cynicism is wound around the necks of the discerning, debilitating their motivation to write letters, form campaigns, engage politically, and maybe even join a protest. I see a connection between their cynicism (and believe me, I am not fully immune to this) and the shallowness of the media that breeds apathy by (in my opinion) not covering issues in a depth that satisfies our intellect and thus keeps us engaged.
For example, mainstream media, including the BBC, always covers a protest by giving its viewers details of the logistics of the protest, at times focusing holistically on any irrelevant violence that may have erupted on the day. The details of what the protest is actually about relative to the power structure of our economy or parliament or the community or the capitalism (etc) would be more engaging but they consistently fail to do so. That would be considered an 'opinion'.
A critical realist approach as is promoted in Jake Lynch's 2013 A Global Standard For Reporting Conflict. may point journalism in the right direction. The tragedy of journalism drowning in shallow waters is gruelling to experience first hand. Jake Lynch is a promoter of peace journalism and has recognised that the voice of peace in any warring situation is almost never given coverage . Take the Israeli - Palestinian saga for example. Journalists tend to cover what the Palestinian Authority says about an issue and what the Israeli Authorities say about it and almost never what the growing peace movement in the area has to say. This movement is not under one umbrella but there are respected factions within it and there is no hiding that the workers in these movements are activists. Unaffiliated to political parties with one thing in mind usually - to end the occupation.
I am the first to admit that activism has its fair share of unrealistic, uninformed, self appointed experts of nothing whose lack of humility is problematic to any serious campaign but nevertheless activism and grass roots movements are one of our only hopes for change. What all campaigns have always needed is more willing and respectful participants.
Activism and protest come in many forms other than chanting in a street with placards. We can no longer trust the BBC (UK) or the ABC (Australia) unfortunately to uphold its responsibility as the 4th estate in our current power structure. However as much as independent media is needed, there are times when we must leave the safe world of the relatively anonymous internet and put our bodies in the picture by fronting up to meetings, engaging in processes and demanding change. The more of us that do this the more likely our grandchildren will have clean, free, water, air, and food.
May it be the year of maturity for activism.