Archive | October 2012

Ethical Persuasion in Documentary Film “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

    

Ai WeiWei

Ai WeiWei

     A period ago, I saw a documentary film named “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” which tells an inside story about a Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. The film is directed by Alison Klayman, who gained unprecedented access to Ai while working as a journalist in China.

     From the film, one can see that Ai Weiwei is portrayed as China’s most famous international artist and also most outspoken domestic critic. He is against a backdrop of strict censorship and an unresponsive legal system, and he is also brave enough to express himself and organize people through art and social media. Obviously, the filmmaker holds a positive attitude toward this artist and also employs several kinds of techniques to persuade audiences to accept her opinion. The persuasion techniques include interviews, visual and verbal materials etc, from which several ethical issues draw my attention.

     One of the most important persuasion techniques in this film is interview. In order to show that Ai Weiwei is an outspoken domestic critic, whose against-government actions are due to the dark side of government and the lack of democracy in the society while not due to Ai Weiwei’s own biases or personality, the director interviewed multiple sources, of which major ones include Ai’s friends—several Chinese famous artists, his former college classmate, several normal citizens, and American journalists and artists. Almost all of those sources comment Ai positively, regard Ai as a brave domestic critic, and praise his way of expressing himself and organizing people through art and social media. However, if we consider the justification model here, then it is easy to find that this persuasion technique is problematic in ethics and cannot be justifiable.

     Because justification is aimed at publicity, that is, “directed to reasonable persons, in order to formulate a workable test for looking at concrete moral choice.” (Bok, 1989, pp.92) Thus, justification has three levels, and the interview technique used in the film only reaches the second level, that is, the director considers opinions of people around Ai, or people who support him, while she does not consult persons of other side or all allegiances, which is the third level of justification. From Bok’s book, we know that public justification should be open and not closed to all but special interested groups of people, especially not exclude people from other side of opinions. As an audience, I could only see opinions from the same side of Ai, for example, his friends-they are all very famous artists in China, their fame and professional status may make people think that they are wise persons and thus tend to believe their opinions, but does this mean that they are sufficiently “public?” In my opinion, the answer is no. Just like Bok’s book has mentioned, in professional and powerful circles, those wise persons are most likely to support questionable scheme. Because they firmly believe in their “wisdom” and choice, as well as inherent morality of their group, the “authority” assumption would create bias and thus they cannot stand for sufficient public. Other interviewees include normal citizens, most of whom are the fans of Ai or those who have similar opinions as Ai’s. And also American journalists and artists, although they can stand for perspectives from foreign countries, yet it is also a part of foreign opinions, and the director does not include or indicate other side of opinions, such as those who holds negative attitude toward Ai. Besides, foreigners or outsiders, considering their limitation of deeply understanding the historical and cultural reasons behind a specific social context, their opinions would be influenced by the opinions of those whom they talk to. If foreigners do not have a complete and thorough investigation toward a social phenomenon, it is possible that their opinions would be biased. Thus, in my point of view, the interview technique in this film is week in persuading audiences and also not justifiable. It would also possibly lead to biases for a foreign society and may mislead audiences, especially those who first time get to know a foreign country, which are unethical.

     Another unethical persuasion technique is a series of private videos showing that one day, Ai Weiwei met the policeman who has ever hurt his head. And the policeman was wearing a pair of dark sunglass at that time and denied knowing Ai. Then, Ai came up with his cameramen and took off the police’s sunglass, and let his cameraman record the policeman’s face and then distributed this video through internet. I think the director would like to show audiences how brave Ai is to insist on his own standpoint and he is not afraid of any governmental pressure. But I am very surprised that the director even used this piece of video without putting on any hidden mark on the policeman’s face. Because, even if the policeman has really done something wrong with Ai Weiwei, his face should not be exposed to the public without his permission. This is a way of intruding a person’s privacy. Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance tells us when judging a person, we should step back from his social status or classes in order to guarantee fairness. So, from a standpoint of an ordinary person, showing his face or identity in public when he refuses to do so is absolutely unethical, any negative results brought by this public exposure would hurts the person and also his family.

     The last but not least is the name list of dead students in 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In order to memorize those students, Ai Weiwei made this name list, which records the names and ages of these students, and he even employed people to record pronunciation of each name and then put those materials on the internet. By showing the visual pictures of the name list and audio pronunciation of the names, the director would like to show audiences that Ai is an advocate of democracy and human rights. But the pictures of detailed information of dead students and audio pronunciations are another case of invasion of privacy, just consider whether every parents of those dead students are willing to expose their children’s names and information in public, and whether every parents are willing to hear their children’s names pronounced. Would it be a hurt to those families who are not willing to?

     In summary, although those persuasion techniques may add the richness of the film content, some of them are unethical and cannot be justifiable from moral reasoning.

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When Science Married Art

If science is a musical instrument you can play, a creature you could touch, a wonder you could watch, a rainbow you could paint on milk, a food you could make and taste, a piece of jewelry you could make for your own and write your name on it, then, do you still think  science is boring.

Back with deep impression of innovative ideas behind each exhibit in Wisconsin Science Festival, I made my first project for my multi-media class, based on the moments that touch me, the moments that I could see the marriage between science and art. I named the project: When Science Married Art.

Title Page of Multi-Media “When Science Married Art”

(Please see my multi-media on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs0srNAfTC0)

Due to the time limitation of my project, I am trying to condense a large festival into a small piece of multi-media work.  But there are indeed too many impressive exhibits during the four days, so many and so attractive that I could not include all in a short one-minute project. Thus, I am thinking of finding something in common. I keep asking myself what impressed me most during the four days, the innovative idea behind each exhibit, the interesting talk with people, the smile on the face of children and parents…among these, there is one thing impressing me all the time and through the whole festival, that is, art. I could find the sense of art in almost every exhibits, and the organizer has made science become something one can touch, feel, taste, hear and practice. When science married art, it becomse so close to people’s daily experiences, thus approachable. The most important, people can learn how science applied in our life and what we can use to solve daily problems or beautify our life. Examples exists not only in large lecture or exhibits, such as the feature exhibit ” How Chocholate Is Made,” but also small ones, such as “Milk Rainbow.”

When I went to the exhibit telling how chocholate was made, there are many people  of different ages showing up. Elder people went there because they like making chocholate at home and would like to learn some tips, younger people even kids went there because they were more interested in tasting the hotly made chocholate after the lecture session. Both audiences have learned something, both are satisfied, which could been found from their smiling faces.

And the “Milk Rainbow” is a simple exhibit, which shows how soap works to get rid of dirt. But instead of using soap and dirt, the exhibitor drop different color dye into milk, and then drop dishwashing liquid, the dye drops then suddenly mingle together and form a  “rainbow.” Many kids are attracted by the colors and the “magic,” and as they crowded to see, they know the reasons behind the “magic”, and know how the soap work to clean oil and dirt in kitchen. Is that an amazing way to arise kids’ interest in learning science?

In front of the table of “Measuring molecular forces” exhibit, I even find a physicist from Italy, she was also quite interested in taking part in the activity and guess which liquid has largest molecular forces. The more interesting thing is, the physicist also didnot guess the right answer until she really tried the experiment. Because sometimes, no one could completely know every real-world stuffs until doing some experiments. The physicist said she also felt attracted by the experiment design, simple but effective to allow people find answers.  Similarly, I also find many old people  trying to figure out  bumble bees’ living habbits and seeing insects exhibits. Some of them told me that they came to this exhibit every year, and although they have already known many general science knowledge, they still think they can learn a lot from science festival. Thus, the festival is for all ages and all professions.

The art element in each exhibit definitely draw science close to art, arising people’s interest and allowing people to see beauty of science and art simultaneously.

When science married art, it is so close to us and easy to touch.

Some thoughts about women journalists after reading a report

     In 2001, International Federation of Journalism (IFJ) (Peter, 2001) reported a survey on the status of women journalists. The survey employs questionnaire to investigate IFJ member unions about the concerned issues of the statistics of women journalists, the condition of equal pay and the portrayal of women journalists. The survey (Peter, 2001, p.3) is based on answers from 39 countries which represent 70% IFJ members and 37% IFJ countries, showing that there are significant improvements for female journalists’ condition compared to ten years ago. For example, the average percentage of female journalists has increased from 27% of ten years ago to 38%, and some countries such as Finland, Thailand and Mexico reach up to 50% (4). Policies and social structures are also established in many countries that improve representation and participation of female journalists. In Canada, 28% of newspaper journalists and 37% of television journalists are females. In United States, the number of women journalists in newspaper increase from 30% in 1970, to 40% of 1980, and to 48% by 2001. (Hemlinger, 2001  page)

        Although great progresses have been observed in recent years, inequality condition and subsidiary status of women journalists still remain. For example, although the average percentage of women journalists (Peter, 2001, p.4) is 38%, the percentage of higher positions, such as women editors, heads of department or media owners is only 0.6%. Besides, although IFJ have suggested setting up policies and structures to improve the representation and participation of women in journalists’ unions around world, only 40% (Peter, 2001, p.6) has women’s committee or equality council, and only five unions, like Australia, Germany etc. have quota system to guarantee the equal representation of women in the union’s government body. Moreover, even many countries have national law or collective agreements to ensure the equal pay for equal work for men and women workers, employers’ unfair distinction between men and women still keep equal pay as a problem for journalists’ unions, and law also does not enable unions to fight the discrimination effectively.

      Generally speaking, inequality status of women journalists embody in the aspects of salary, promotion chances, and treatment by managers, which is similar in any kind of cultures.

     As we can see that, in recent years, there are indeed improvements for the conditions of women journalists—the ratio of women in newsroom is increasing and journalists’ unions help implement more and more measurement and policies to guarantee the gender equality in newsroom. And the literatures reviewed in my paper are all trying to find the reasons or exclusion mechanism that lead to poor conditions of women journalists or drive women leave the newsroom. On one hand, from global level, the reasons such as male-dominance profession, prejudice for women’s ability, unfair treatment in salary and job assignment, marginalization, traditional role or responsibility of women etc are almost similar in every country, on the other, different culture also has different obstacles for females journalists, some of which, such as traditional view of women’s inferior status and traditional way of doing journalism practice, are making female journalists even harder to achieve their goals.

      Although the ratios of female journalists in news industry are still minority and unequal conditions still remain, there are many journalists unions working on proposals to correct the improper practice. By setting up regulations and quota systems, journalism organizations could gradually guarantee the participation of female journalists and provide more equal job opportunities for them.

       In my point of view, the solution for sex discrimination does not only rely on the female’s part or setting up regulations or systems, I think there is also necessity to increase their male colleagues or media owners’ awareness of the intellectual and talents of women journalists. There is no doubt that the variety of talents and thinking patterns can greatly improve the quality of media product and attract variety of audiences. Neglect of contribution from women, who have different talents and intellectual from men’s, would not only reach limitation in creativity of news production, but also would have problems in reaching larger readers’ pool, like one of the literatures finds, which are disadvantageous for media industry from a long-term view.

Reference:

1. Peters, B. (2001). Equality and Quality: Setting Standards for Women in Journalism. (n.d.). International Federation of Journalism. Retrieved from http://www.ifj.org/pdfs/ws.pdf

 2. Hemlinger, M.A. (2001). Women in Newspapers: How Much Progress Has Been Made? Evanston, IL: Northwestern University, Media Management Center.

Compare Two Favorite Newspapers

     Having been interested in the two newspaper–Sydney Morning Herald and New York Time– for a long time, I would like to compare their differences and similarities. The reason of choosing these two newspapers to compare is because Australia is an English-Speaking country, and its practice in journalism should have many similarities with Britain and United States. However, due to its political and cultural backgrounds (for example, Australia journalism lacks both a bill of rights and an explicit rights to freedom of speech in the Australian constitution.2 The 2006 Reporters Without Borders survey ranking the countries of the world in relative press freedom listed Australia as number 35 behind Ghana and Mauritius. Different from Australia, American journalism is the representation country of well-known “liberal model”), Australia also has its own journalism features. Thus it should be interesting to investigate the similarity and differences between the most popular newspapers in the two countries. In this paper, the on-line forms of SMH and NYT are studied and compared.  

     Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) is a daily broadsheet newspaper published by Fairfax Media in Sydney, Australia. Founded in 1831 as the Sydney Herald, the SMH is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Australia. The newspaper is published six days a week and is one of the most leading newspapers in Australian media. The New York Time (NYT)is an American daily newspaper founded in 1851 as New-York Daily Times and continuously published in New York City since then. The New York Time has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes and the print version is the third largest newspaper overall, behind TheThe Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Its website is also the most popular American online newspaper website with more than 30 million unique visitors per month 1.

     Generally Speaking, the content of NYT is organized in three sections: news, opinion and features. Each section includes subsections. For example, news section includes wolrd, U.S., N.Y./region, business, technology, science, health, sports, education, weather, and obituaries etc. Opinion section includes editorials, Op-Eds and letters to the editor, and features includes arts, movies, theatre, travel, NYC guide, dining & wine, home & garden, fashion and style, crossword, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Sunday Review.

      In the home page of NYT, they provide the most attractive and significant topics for audiences to review. Seven days’ investigation makes me find that these topics mostly involve politics, laws, international economy, health, science and video news. There are also spaces for market, travel and fashion, but compare to the previous topics, they take smaller ratios.

      The content of SMH is also divided into many small sections including new south wale, national, world, business, sport, environment, national times, tech, digital life, entertainment, life and style, travel, cars and exec style. However, the homepage topics seem to be more diverse. One can read almost every kind of topics from homepage–political news, local news, video news, economy, wars, Rugby world cup, local food, entertainment, TV guide, property, travel, cars and executive style. Besides news, there is also a small window on the left-side top of the page to let you personalize your weather.

     Diversity of SMH can also be found inside each subsection. Take the subsection of “World” as example. In NYT, the “World” news mostly focuses on international politics, economy and wars. Inside the section, the content is divided into different geographical area–“Africa,” “Americas,” “Asia Pacific,” “Europe” and “Middle East.” While in SMH, the “World” section is divided by two ways. The first way is by content, which divide world news into five kinds–“Enviroment,” “Strange But True,” “Science,” “Multimedia,” “Blog Central.” The second way is by international places (countries and cities), people and organizations. And one can also see that except covering the most regular topics as many other newspapers do, such as topics of international politics, economy, wars, and hot social event, the “World” section of SMH also involve some kinds of news that are close to people’s life or even anecdotes, such as a children abuse case of a women, “Ordinary ‘heroes’ pull biker from beneath burning BMW,” and “Prison break for mother” etc.

      Another feature that makes SMH different from NYT is its large quantity of classified advertising sites, such as The Guide (television), Good Living (food), Domain (real estate), Money (personal finance), Drive (motor), Stayz (rentals) and RSVP (dates) etc., which have close relevance to people’s daily life. Also, it seems that SMH prefer to adopt larger photographs on website than NYT.

     The writing styles of news presentation in both newspapers have much in common. Print journalism has long embraced the inverted pyramid, especially for “hard” and breaking news. However, there are also exceptions.: in NYT, the feature pages, letters or opinion are more in narrative styles; in SMH, except for letter and opinion, “Timelines”(obituaries), “Stay in Touch” (gossip), “Arts & Entertainment,” “Insight,” “Eco,” “Film guide” and “Television” were written in specific styles, either feature, commentary or gossip style and were marked by page banners.

     Another feature of NYT is when referring to people, The New York Times generally uses honorifics, rather than unadorned last names

      In addition, the difference of how the news is presented in SMH and NYT may also be due to their different political viewpoint. The SMH has been a conservative newspaper in history until 2003 and then in recent years switched to spearhead political campaigns. However, in 2004, SMH declined to endorse a party at the 2004 federal election and decide that it would not endorse any part at election. While the NYT has been variously described as having a liberal bias or described as a liberal newspaper. These differences, to some degree, can also produce influence in news presenting.

     No matter in NYT or in SMH, one can see the frequent use of the Big Three—The Associated Press, Reuters or Agence France Presse. SMH adopt photographs or some news from the Associated Press and Agence France Presse, while NYT uses the Associated Press more frequently.

Reference:

  1. Adams, Russell, “New York Times Prepares Plan to Charge for Online Reading,”The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2011.