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Theorising the Net as a Universal Public Service

The final speaker at AoIR 2010 is Sebastian Deterding, who is interested in reframing Web 2.0 as a public service right to communicate. One example of the debates around this is the French HADOPI three-strikes law around filesharing, which would remove Net access from offending users; others have framed Google or Facebook as universal public services, and describe broadband access as just as important as water or electricity.

The Internet is now a core communicative backbone for various communication networks, then – but how might we think about the Net as a public service in a more systematic, technology-neutral manner? First, public services are generally seen as services of general public interest that are subject to specific obligations or regulations. While usually the market provides, these are essential services where public needs may not be fully satisfied by markets alone. Indeed, the Net even serves as a backbone for some of the more conventional public services now.

e-Government? First Educate Politicians about ICTs

The next speaker at ANZCA 2010 is Julie Freeman, whose interest is in impediments to local e-government development. She suggests that there needs to be further education about ICTs of policy makers; one of the councillors of the city of Casey, in the south-east of Melbourne, whom she interviewed asked whether email was considered to be Internet use, for example.

The current population of Casey is around 256,000 residents (on 400 square kilometres), and continues to grow; some 89% are under 60. There are 11 councillors representing residents in the city council. The city has an extensive and sophisticated Website (with multilingual information and mobile versions), and its Twitter account (@CityOfCasey) has some 500 followers; there are significant visitor numbers (over 700,000 in 2008/9), while call centre calls are slowly declining. There is also a civic networking site, and the overall e-government costs are around $10,000 per annum.

Harnessing Community Resources in Public Policy

The next paper at ANZCA 2010 is by Jocelyn Williams, who shifts our interest to the question of opinion leaders online. This is in the context of a qualitative study of free Internet access for low-income school-based families, which also pointed to other difficulties and barriers for Internet uptake by low-income families; what can account for differences in uptake even between different case studies in this research project?

One likely explanation is the role played by key individuals who had influence on their peers and may have acted as role models in taking up Internet usage. What needs to be considered as a framework here is the study of the social dimensions of knowledge or information - society plays a central role in the knowledge formation process. Knowledge is socially constructed by people in relation to one another, within specific contexts; research therefore also needs to consider multiple realities, stakeholders, and angles on the research problem.

Improving the Print Literacy of Apprentices?

The next paper at ANZCA 2010 is by Frank Sligo, whose focus is on how apprentices develop print literacy. Modern Apprentices is a New Zealand government programme to help apprentices find places in various industries in the country. However, print literacy, language, and numeracy was identified as a key problem in apprenticeship training. This is why a new network of literacy support providers was set up across the country. Apprentices could access up to 30 hours of tuition time. The research project set out to evaluate this programme.

The Shape of an Emerging Monitory Democracy

Another day at ANZCA 2010, another keynote: we're starting this last day of the conference with a keynote by John Keane, whose theme is monitory democracy. He begins chronologically, in 1945 - when there were only 12 parliamentary democracies left in the world. Democracy was a beleaguered species.

John himself is in search of a 'wild category' - a category that provides a new way of seeing conventional wisdom, provides alternatives to traditional ways of ordering thought. We need a new term for describing the dynamics, changes of language, shifts in institutions, of democracy - and monitory democracy is the term he offers. We need a new term to describe these novel trends (which exist all over the world, especially also outside the traditional democratic countries), and in particular to better understand the intersections of democracy and communication forms.

Radio Networks and Local Content

The next speaker at ANZCA 2010 is Harry Criticos, whose interest is in regional radio. He begins by introducing the Super Radio Network, which has taken advantage of the deregulation of the radio industry, and he studied this through observation of and interviews with staff at a regional station that acts as a hub for AM and FM SRN stations, focussing on breakfast shift journalists and afternoon and drivetime announcers as well as managers. All were very interested in being involved - and the focus of the study was how people sourced and used information.

Parodic Self-Censorship in Singaporean Online Discussion Fora

The final presenter in this session at ANZCA 2010 is Michael Galvin, whose focus is on Singaporean politics - and he begins by pointing to Manuel Castells's discussion of power and counterpower in the network society during his 2006 ICA keynote. Castells's proposition is that the development of interactive horizontal communication has contributed to the rise of 'mass self-communication', shifting the public sphere from the institutional realm to the new communications space.

Michael's study applies this thesis to the online site for citizen journalism of the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore, STOMP. While the Times is essentially an organ of the Singaporean government, which has long openly promoted self-censorship in the media, this site for horizontal interactive communication - according to Castells - should provide a space for the operation of counterpower; for Castells, this is a given and indeed a result of a 'natural law' of society.

Achieving Change

We're now about to start the second day at ANZCA 2010, in a still very chilly Canberra. First up is the second conference keynote, by Robyn Archer. She begins with the question of what drives change - such as individual aims and ambitions; collective needs gathered in democratic processes or popular revolutions. Conservative powers will resist such change - and the mechanisms of mass communication will provide a stage for such struggles to be conducted. The matter of change still depends on how we act on the information we receive, and the technology at our disposal. This is as true for arts and culture as it is for politics.

The Strength and Folly of Democracy

After yesterday's CCI Symposium, I've made the trip down to frosty Canberra for this year's ANZCA conference. We start this morning with the first conference keynote, by John Durham Peters, who begins by considering democracy as a political category - for a very long time, it has been seen as an impossible and preposterous, so for it to be seen as a sine qua non is remarkable.

There are various obstacles to democracy, of course: chiefly, scale and human nature. For the ancient Greeks, democracy had to be small - even Athens was seen as too large, and democracy was thought to be able to be workable only if all participants were able to get to know one another personally. For Plato, the ideal number of citizens for a functioning democracy was precisely 5040, in fact. At the same time, small size was also seen as making democracy unsustainable. So, democracy was seen as most workable where citizens could meet one another in political assemblies.

Publication Update: Three New Chapters

With the Internet Turning 40 and International Communication Association conferences completed, I'm briefly back in Brisbane, before setting off for the Australia/New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference in Canberra next week (hopefully with a recharged audio recorder!).

In the meantime, here's a quick update on some new publications I've been involved in - a number of my recent book chapters on a range of topics have now been published:

First, with a chapter on "News Blogs and Citizen Journalism" in e-Journalism: New Media and News Media I'm introducing my work on gatewatching and citizen journalism to an Indian readership - the book was edited by Kiran Prasad, who was my office mate at the University of Leeds while I was there in 2007 to do some research for the produsage book, and was published by B.R. Publishing in Delhi. I don't think the publisher actually has a Website - but there's a good overview of the collection at Cyberjournalist, and it also includes contact details for BR Publishing.


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