Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Amateurs for human rights in China

Tony Long, in his Luddite column at Wired, has registered another traditionalist's complaint against Web 2.0 and in moderated support of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture.

To Long, the Internet ("a narcissist's dream come true") has performed a disservice by supplying amateurs with tools for reporting on events that only trained professionals should have access to.

He complains that "opportunity and desire alone do not professional historians or journalists or pundits make. There's this process known as 'learning your craft' and 'paying your dues' that all professionals must endure. Sorry, but trolling the web and blogging from your darkened study doesn't qualify as on-the-job training."

As someone who spent eight years of postgraduate work earning my doctorate, I wholly support the idea of "learning your craft" and "paying your dues" toward your professional credentials. What I can't credit is Mr. Long's assumption that our professional historians, journalists and pundits are doing a swell job without the interference of the untrained, poorly informed masses.

The media may be chock full of professionals; but in these days when even NPR has begun parroting the Bush administration's recent, transparent act of propaganda in labeling every insurgent in Iraq as "Al Qaeda," many of them don't seem to be measuring up to their responsibilities.

It seems to be the professionals, rather than the amateurs, who are "killing our culture."

But never mind about the American situation, for a moment. Imagine instead a country where media is overtly controlled by the government and the elite, where ordinary citizens have no hope of drawing attention to gross injustices because the press has been ordered not to report on them. That's the point of a heartening story at Breitbart.com, about 400 Chinese parents turning into "citizen journalists" to rescue their children from slave labor conditions in brickyards.

"The parents' Internet posting was part of a growing phenomenon for marginalised people in China who can not otherwise have their complaints addressed by the traditional, government-controlled press," Breitbart reports. In another case, police riots aimed at flower sellers in Zhengzhou were recorded on someone's cell phone and eventually posted on YouTube.

In response to this growing power in the hands of a previously powerless group of people, the Chinese government has called for a "purification" of the Internet, and has tightened its crackdown of "cyber dissidents."

That's probably the best way to deal with amateurs. They ruin everything.

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