Friday, 25 February 2011

The Problem with YouTube Interviews

An interview has recently become available on YouTube in collaboration with Aljazeera with the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron where people around the world are encouraged to send in questions through video or text that are then put to the PM.

Some of you die-harders will remember that I once took part in a similar project when good, old Gordon was the top man. Back then I probably partook in the feature without really thinking about it, it was a chance to partake in the ultimate democracy, for the head of the country to be held accountable directly to the people. Part of my own personal vanity was also knocking around at the back of my brain, "the PM is going to know who you are!" Admittedly, I did kind of like it when he said my name in his sultry, Scottish tones. I can't be the only one with a slight man-crush on big G, right?

However, in retrospect and after being reminded of the whole thing by this recent Aljazeera-YT collaboration, I now feel the whole concept of a YouTube based interview falls flat on it's face.

I remember my frustration when Gordon Brown answered my question but did what politicians often do; sidestep the issue and talked about something that suited him better.

With no-one to follow up the question, to hold the interviewee accountable for his answer, the politician is just going to be able to be, well, a politician. And all the while saying they have held up the beacon of democracy while taking part in a what is nothing compared to a good grilling on BBC Question Time.

The Aljazeera-YT interview took one step further and provided a ghost interviewer who would occasionally rephrase questions if David got confused. Unfortunately, the reporter would rarely follow up the answers of the PM apart from reminding him of parts of the question he forgets to answer or when talking about Isreal. The PM was often allowed to freely dismiss and 'reject' questions.

Another problem is that of the people asking the questions. They clearly have concerns about the government's policy that they are trying to get heard, questions about public service cuts and the selling of arms in the Middle-East, but they are so easily dismissed by the PM as rubbish because of the way the question was phrased, because they weren't allowed to clarify or because they didn't back their point up with statistics.

This format of using YouTube as a platform of interviews and connecting those in power to those who put them there is symbolically important and has great potential. However, that potential is not being harnessed at the moment. The interviewees need to be grilled and held accountable, better journalism is needed here. I also think live video links would be a better way for those asking the questions to get a satisfactory answer out of their representatives.

My criticisms should not take away from the fantastic potential of these kinds of projects. Symbolically it is a wonderful advocate for democracy. I still feel, however, that the art of the YouTube interview still has some room for improvement.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Big Society Multiculturalism

A BBC headline tells us that Cameron denounces state multiculturalism as a failure, following, no doubt, the recent comments that Britain has become a safe haven for terrorists.

No doubt liberals everywhere will be waving their hands around calling foul play, that will be calling for a celebration of our British, multicultural liberalism and a stop to the Conservatives’ attack on immigration. I don’t blame them, I would be one of them, IF Cameron had said that, but when you look at the content of his words rather than the attention grabbing headline that the Beeb went with then you will discover that wasn’t the focus of his statement.

In what I consider to be a questionable choice of words, the Prime Minister is in fact saying that integration of communities has failed, which in turn has not succeeded in providing,

“ … a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”

He also says that in British society,

“We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.”

On both these points, and it pains me to say this about Cameron, I largely agree with him.

In the fear of offending or excluding our multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities, Britain has failed to define itself as a culture and a society in the past half a century or so. It is this inability of giving young people who can no longer identify with the concept of fighting for Queen and empire in the Second World War a firm national identity that has created a society of segregated, angry youths that see blowing themselves up on public transport as an option.

Reading that back that is probably one of the most right-wing things I have ever said. Let me explain.

There is evidence that those that turn to violence, whether they be BNP supporters, Islamic extremists or IRA activists rarely or never come into significant contact with their relative opposite groups. I am a believer that anger towards another community, religion or social group can always be neutralized if you get those groups to interact. They don’t need to become bezzie-mates, but if you humanise the other side the animosity can be greatly diffused.

This is where David Camerons favourite made-up cultural phenomenon, The Big Society, can come in.

Locally or nationally based independent bodies can be used to bring different communities together; not only those of different religion or colour, but of other different backgrounds like class and region. This is where things like community groups like YMCAs, Mosques, schools and even sports teams and leagues can help to build bridges.

There is one problem with this and that is the fact that these organizations need funding. Right now, the communities that can really make a difference in what the media so often call ‘Broken Britain’ are having the cash at their disposal savagely slashed.

I used to work at the Waiyin Society in Manchester that mainly work with women from the Chinese immigrant community in teaching them English, getting them qualifications and providing an area for them to socialise and ultimately helping them to integrate into British culture better. They also worked with immigrants from other backgrounds, as well as having a very active youth department which gave youths a place to hang out other than out on the street. I saw all the fantastic good that this and other organisations have the potential to do, but have also seen them have to cut back massively since the recession hit in 2008.

Cameron should be commended in having the courage to bring up a sensitive issue that has been tip-toed around for too long. He is, however, key in the destruction of the resource that would be one of the most effective ways of breaking down the social barriers and the segregation that he condemns so harshly. The Big Society is all very well and good, but it don’t come for free, not because people can’t be bothered, but because they can’t afford to.