26 March 2009

Is blogging journalism?

“Is blogging journalism?” is a stupid question. This is according to Mark Comerford, lecturer of new media in Sweden, as quoted by Matthew Buckland, GM of Publishing & Social Media at 24.com, in an article on this topic.

Until recently, we looked to the radio, TV and newspapers for news and information from the world around us. This was given to us by journalists whom we had no contact with. With the advent of the internet things began to change with the news being made available earlier, packaged with audio, video clips and the opportunity to interact even further by sharing our comments online. This last feature, which is largely responsible for assisting the popularity of blogs, is now increasingly being found on traditional media websites.

Glenn Fleishman, free-lance reporter for the New York Times, explains how: "Someone spots your article, which triggers a blog entry, which triggers further responses, and before you know it your blog becomes part of an interactive discussion that's being read and cited by thousands of people."

Another characteristic of blogs is that, compared to journalists, bloggers are not completely at the mercy of big media. Fleishman describes an entrepreneur interviewed in the New York Times, who felt that the article gave an inaccurate interpretation and promptly clarified his position on his blog.

The freedom to publish blogs easily and cheaply has been taken worldwide with initiatives like Global Voices, which calls itself a ‘participatory media news room for voices from the developing world’. It has more than 150 volunteer authors and claims to be helping individuals and media professionals around the world, gain access to the diverse voices from blogs. Global Voices have a team of bloggers from all over the world, which they feel ‘understand the context and relevance of information, views, and analysis’ being posted every day from their countries, to highlight things that other bloggers are saying but which mainstream media may not be reporting.

Global Voices, and other initiatives and developments in blogging, allow bloggers to self regulate and become more organised. “Blogging is a platform for opinionated people to publish opinion pieces. It has become a platform for citizen journalism and can be used to publish journalistic pieces that adhere to news writing or feature guidelines,” says Ayesha Mall, journalism lecturer at Durban University of Technology. Hence a distinction is made between no rules, no guidelines blogging and the loose term ‘citizen journalism’.

Vincent Maher, one of the judges of the Telkom ICT Journalist of the Year awards, argues that citizen journalism is not necessarily blogging because, while both are done by ‘citizens’, blogging lacks the essential methods and processes inherent in journalism. He claims that while blogging has not yielded a mass of citizen journalism, other online projects have. But Maher himself campaigned for the acceptance of blog entries into the 2006 Telkom ICT Journalist of the Year awards, which created the ‘community and citizen journalism’ category. So, as millions of internet users take on the role of columnist, reporter, analyst and publisher, blogging can be partly credited for creating this powerful new form of ‘citizen journalism’.

"Asking if bloggers are journalists is the wrong question,” says Mohamed Nanabhay, Head of New Media at Al Jazeera, “the question that should be asked is: How has the media ecosystem changed since the emergence of blogging and what opportunities does it bring?"

Good journalism is supposed to, amongst other things, empower people with facts, understanding, and perspective about important issues. Citizen journalists are sometimes able to perform these tasks better than traditional journalists for various reasons. During the tense hours of the hostage drama in Mumbai, citizen journalists were being closely followed online, as they were given up to date coverage with eye witness information, pictures, audio and video footage. The same happened with the recent Turkish Airline crash in Netherlands, with citizen journalists being interviewed by many news stations who didn’t have journalists on the ground. And perhaps to a greater level during the attacks on Gaza, when Israel didn’t allow journalists into Gaza, and the BBC and Al Jazeera relied on citizens in the area to provide content. These examples are perhaps the future of journalism, as traditional media and the new citizen journalist work together to provide good journalism.

Matthew Buckland argued that asking “Is blogging journalism?” is like asking “Is your telephone journalism?” Blogging is a ‘communication medium, a message, a culture and a way of life,’ but what is really important is the message.

21 March 2009

Islamic Finance as a solution?

“They are experiencing divine punishment. We are happy over that. The more they become unhappy, the happier we get,” proclaimed Ahmad Jannati, senior Shia cleric and secretary of the Guardian Council, to a crowd at the Tehran University in Iran. His Sunni counterpart Yusuf
al-Qaradawi was less dramatic: “The collapse of the capitalist system, which is based on usury and securities rather than commodities in markets, shows us that it is undergoing a crisis and that our integrated Islamic philosophy – if properly understood and applied – can replace the Western capitalism.”

The Western (conventional) banking system is built on a foundation of ‘Riba’, usually interpreted as usury or interest, which is firmly forbidden in the Quran. The collapse of leading Western financial institutions amid the current global financial crises and imminent global economic recession has encouraged economists world-wide to consider alternative financial solutions and new approaches to banking and finance.

According to Joseph DiVanna, finance expert for The Banker publication, Shariah compliant banks were performing better than conventional banks. He said that more Islamic banks and financial products have been launched worldwide since late 2008, despite the banking crisis that restricted conventional banks from doing so.

Daud Vicary Abdullah, of International financial consulting firm Deloitte, expects double digit growth in global Islamic finance in the next few years. “Countries like Japan, South Korea and Singapore are showing more interest in the Islamic finance because of the value of the products offered and also the transparency of the transaction.”

Another finance expert, Professor Rodney Wilson of Durham University, claims that in the current crisis no Islamic bank has failed, and in contrast to conventional banks, none have needed government funds to save them from collapsing.

Some claim that Islamic banking provides a viable alternative to conventional banking. The spread of Islamic finance into western markets shows that it is being treated seriously by government and finance authorities.While the Islamic financial system is being increasingly sold as the best alternative, it is widely recognised that the Islamic system itself has been largely modelled on its interest-based western counterpart. Both share the same material goals
and adopt the same institutional structures, with the result that the products promoted by the Islamic finance industry are sometimes indistinguishable from those of interest-based institutions. These similarities have led some to claim that the Islamic banking and finance industry has failed to properly implement Islamic ideals.

In the Islamic finance industry, despite the prohibition on Riba, loopholes may exist. For example, a Muslim may earn a profit by selling an item for more than he paid for it, provided the two transactions are kept separate. A current Islamic finance mortgage may involve a bank buying the property on behalf of the customer, who then pays off the principal loan along with “rent” or a “fee” for using the property until it finally transfers into his name when the loan amount is fully settled.

In some Islamic mortgages, the home-owner is in debt to the finance company just as he would be in an interest-based mortgage. Should he fail to make payments when due, the home-owner faces the same threat of repossession and loss that clients conventional banks face.

The religious teaching underpinning Islamic finance is concerned with justice in financial contracts to ensure that none of the parties is being exploited. Riba is one source of exploitation, where high rates are charged to lower earners. Such discriminatory charging by conventional banks is justified as being a reflection of the risks involved.

The soundness of Islamic banks is perhaps accounted for by the fact that they use a classical banking model, with financing derived from customer deposits. Islamic banks are less susceptible to economic downturns, as instead of paying interest to depositors, those with investment (mudaraba) accounts share in the bank’s profits. This profit sharing reduces risk for the banks and means they are less likely to become insolvent.

Muslims scholars are claiming that had the requirements of Shariah been properly implemented, a financial crisis of the present kind would not have occurred. For example, if commercial banks were required to share the risks as well as the profits and losses of their clients, whether on business investments or home purchases, they would be more careful when choosing which deals to finance. This is because their financial returns would depend on the performance of the projects that they finance.

However, the fact that Islamic finance has copied the Western template of finance raises serious questions around its ability to point to a viable alternative at this time of crisis. Besides the fact that Islamic investment funds tend to invest in better performing companies by avoiding investing in companies that are heavily indebted with interest based loans, a closer look at the industry might explain the reasons why the Islamic finance industry is performing better. Islamic banking, primarily in the Gulf where it’s predominately based, benefits from the flush of cash inflows from recent high oil prices, and is relatively smaller than its’ interest-based counterpart. These characteristics allow the industry to deal with problems quicker and without huge public bailout packages.

Tarek el-Diwany and Haitham al-Haddad, leading critics of the Islamic finance industry, thus argue that the Islamic banking and finance industry is partially just a soft version of the secular system. According to them, if the Islamic finance industry continues to develop in the manner that is has, it will suffer from the same systemic problems as the conventional system. They call for a total reconsideration of the objectives, frameworks and methodologies of the modern Islamic banking and finance industry before it is presented as a viable alternative. Muslims firmly believe that Islam has the solutions to the world’s problems, and now is the ideal time to start truly demonstrating thus.

This article was originally written for and published in the Al-Huda Magazine. Contact [ alhuda at live dot co.za ]to get a copy.

19 March 2009

Julius Malema fails Rhodes

“Julius Malema is a bit of an idiot,” claimed Jon Griffits, a cartoonist and Rhodes student, while waiting outside the General Lecture Theatre for the 5pm lecture by ANC Youth League (ANCYL) National Chairman, Julius Malema, at Rhodes University on Thursday 19 March. By 4.45pm already, dozens of students were gathered at the entrance of the lecture venue trying to get in. “But the scary thing is that he apparently has lots of power and influence”, said Griffits.

Policemen blocked the doorway and were not letting more people in ‘because the venue was full,’ said a waiting student. ANC members were upset at a group of activists from the Gender Action Project (GAP), that were inside the venue holding up placards with controversial statements made by Malema and Jacob Zuma.
Lecture organisers announced that ‘Malema was prevented by the University for coming to speak’ and some people left, but most ANC members remained and were singing and dancing. They sang political songs and then became aggressive to the GAP members and sang ‘Umshini wami (Bring me my Machine Gun) and other war songs.

A speech was delivered by Buti Manamela, secretary general of the Young Communist League (YCL), who encouraged youth to vote and campaign ‘door to door, night club to night club’ for the ANC. He ridiculed UDM leader, Bantu Holomisa, and had the crowd hysterical with jokes about COPE and other political parties.

Manamela said that ‘Rhodes (University) exists within a community and is not an ivory tower. It is part of South Africa and part of Grahamstown, and it needs to be a reflection of this community’.

Manamela again claimed that Malema had been prevented by the University from speaking. Larissa Klazinga, Student Services Officer, claimed that this was not true. Luzuko Buku, Chairperson of the YCL, later confirmed that the University did not prevent Malema from speaking. Despite video footage from news reports confirmed that the organisers announced that ‘Malema had been prevented’, Buku denied that such claims were made.

The national anthem was sung immediately after the speech and the event called to a close. The GAP members were angered by the absence of a Q&A session and shouted out. They claimed they had been quietly waiting to ask questions and ‘this was their right’. This led to a verbal confrontation between the activists and ANC members, which had to be diffused by campus security.

06 March 2009

Nothing new about new media!

Disclaimer: this is not a news item- its a class assignment.

“Mobile phones are the future of media”, said DM, Publications and Media Manager at Newscli, addressing a boardroom of Rhodes university post graduate journalism and media students on Monday this week. You are probably one of the 95% of people in this country that have access to a mobile phone, compared to the 12% to 20% of South African internet users, yet you can’t be blamed for being baffled by this statement, or the flurry of facts that he poured out in his presentation.

The way media works has been radically revolutionised by the internet. With blogs, social networks and other interactive platforms, newspapers are now increasingly sourcing news content and opinions from their readers. And then using these same online tools, newspapers are presenting the news online, almost as it happens, audibly, visually and interactively.

Citizen journalism is the latest concept rocking the media world. From multiple users contributing to update the world during international events, media houses have realised that those who have journalists on the ground as soon as the news happens have an advantage- and internet users are increasingly proving themselves to be suitable candidates for these tasks. According to DM, internet users are being encouraged to use online tools to submit photos, videos, sound clips and raw information from their computers.

DM also introduced the concept of ‘Platform agnostic journalist’- the journalist who carries his camera, laptop and other gadgets to cover stories; thus enabling him to promptly publish online versions of stories complete with photos, videos and audio. Besides being multi-talented in order to write a good article, edit a decent video and take an evocative photograph; this modern journalist needs to be make use of various online tools and platforms. South Africans are browsing an estimated 1.5 billion pages a month and with 10 million unique users making 350 million page impressions a month on media sites, this is an enormous market that no media institution or professional can ignore.

With phones now increasingly being used to access the internet, and media institutions developing content specifically for the mobile, it is expected to be the best means of internet access for a majority of South Africans. While South Africa is many years behind most developed countries in terms of mobile phone technology, local mobile phone networks are constantly updating their services. With the majority of the South African public having access to mobile phones, DM predicts that mobiles phones are the future of the media.