Category Archives: Vibewire

Buying Time From The Poor

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It can be difficult enough deciding whether or not to boycott clothes that have been outsourced from factories with abysmal working conditions. Boycotting may put workers out of a job but continuing to buy may encourage unethical sourcing methods. Replace ‘clothes’ with ‘human organs’ and the internal dilemma gets even more complicated.

Like a diamond ring or the clothes on your back, it is hard to imagine that a donated organ may come from a slum in India or a shack in Brazil. Only this time, an organ can give you what you didn’t think anyone could: time.

World Health Organisation statistics from 2011 recorded 112, 631 solid organ transplantations worldwide, which only satisfied about 10 per cent of global needs. With global demand significantly higher than global supply, patients may seek alternative routes and countries to desperately find an organ.

If you could get a life-saving organ from the slums of India or a shanty town in Brazil, would you take it?

A nephrologist (kidney physician) from the Netherlands, taking part in a 2013 study, showed empathy to those who buy. “It’s a matter of life and death.” “It is to be expected from a rational minded person that he will look for other ways to find organs”.

Image Credit: North Dakota National Guard

It can be a difficult decision whether to buy or die. Before he died, Steve Jobs spoke of the importance of death as “the single best invention of life.” “It’s life’s change agent”, he said. “It clears out the old to make way for the new.” So, when death comes knocking, do we fold or do we fight for another day? How do we know when, if ever, is the right time to die? In the context of global organ trading, some may be better equipped to fight for more time than others.

With technological advances comes the prospect of immortality for the rich, argues Elliot Leyton, anthropologist from Memorial University of Newfoundland. Leyton argued that the commodification of body parts, sold in a new world market, “offers the wealthy and the well-connected an indefinite extension of life, limited only by the abilities of current medical technology.” “[T]he rich now live forever (at least in theory)”, he wrote.

On the flipside, imagine you are living in poverty and have no money to pay for your daughter’s hefty dowry or for your children’s education. If technological advances and global networks allowed your body to become a new source of currency, would you use it?

Several academics have argued over the ethics of the global organ trade and whether the decision to donate an organ is autonomous or subject to exploitation. That is, whether organ commodification is an empowering means of escaping abject poverty or a mechanism that exploits the desperation of the abjectly poor.

Francis Delmonico, surgeon and president of the Transplantation Society, argued, “the vulnerable in resource-poor countries are exploited for their organs as a major source of organs for the rich patient-tourists”. Rich patient-tourists create the demand and the resource-poor become a source of supply.

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai . Image Credit: Kounosu

However, others may criticise this perspective as social paternalism, arguing that an individual should be free to choose what to do with their own body. “I would sell my own kidney if I could therefore feed my children or give them good education. I cannot be judgmental about that”, one nephrologist reflected.

Poverty is the problem, not global organ transplantation, Radcliffe-Richards argues. “Removing their option to sell leaves them poor and makes their range of options smaller still.” Rather, Radcliffe-Richards believes we need to combat poverty at its root and provide safer means of organ extraction.

Alternatively, Scheper-Hughes (2000) argues that selling organs is hardly a fair option to suggest in the first place. When considering the social and economic poverty faced by donors, she argues the “choice to sell a kidney in an urban slum of Calcutta or in a Brazilian favela (is) anything but a free and autonomous one.” The seeming ‘consent’ to commodify one’s organs is forced upon donors by crippling circumstances.

Veena Das, anthropologist from Johns Hopkins University, agrees that putting a market price on body parts in not a means of escape but rather, “exploits the desperation of the poor, turning their suffering into an opportunity”.

In an increasingly globalised world with advancing medical technologies, there comes greater opportunity to save and extend lives. But there is also the risk that this new market may further entrench global inequalities.

Published in Vibewire, 30 October 2013.

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Election Propaganda: The Advertisements That Will Make You Cringe

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Recent election advertising makes me wonder whether it is possible for any political party to make an ad that doesn’t look like propaganda. Maybe it’s from all the film analysis I had to do at school, but I sincerely struggle to see these ads as anything less than ridiculous.

Without further ado, the awards are…

Sex Appeal

Surprisingly, this does not go to Tony Abbott. No, the Greens have stolen it.

When I first saw this Greens ad, I genuinely thought it was a joke. On second look, it has the perfect amount of, in the words of Tony Abbott, “sex appeal”, to keep the viewer hooked until the punch line at the end. It even incorporates an iPhone to show that the Greens are hip and down with the young people and there are enough close-ups of screaming faces at the end to make sure you understand the emergency of the situation.

Most Natural Performance

“I believe that investing in local schools (pause), like this one here, ” he says, pointing behind his shoulder while his eyes remain fixated down the barrel of the camera. The seamlessness of Kevin Rudd’s performance deserves an Oscar. At the very least, he could give weather presenters a run for their money.

Most Inspiring

There stands Prime Minister Rudd on a sunny day amid background shrubbery. His voice, of course, is accompanied by happy music, which crescendos as the video progresses to match the rising level of inspiration. “I know for sure that the old politics of negativity Just. Won’t. Work”, he says with a sort-of-smile on his face and hand gestures to match.

With this positive outlook in mind, I bring the next award.

Best Horror Film

Cue the doomsday music you often hear in horror films when the killer is hiding behind the curtain. A high angle shot looms over Tony Abbott’s helpless victims. A gloomy voiceover croaks into your ear as the stage light is symbolically switched off over the glum-faced ‘losers’. The simple slogan “If he wins, you lose” evokes the appropriate amount of edginess in anyone who doesn’t like losing. Most importantly, a dark shadow is cast over Abbott’s sinister face, looking more like a character from The Godfather. Real subtle, Labor.

Heartbreaker
This Liberal ad speaks to the sentimental among us, marking the third anniversary of “Labor’s Carbon Tax Lie”—there’s even a cake and a candle! The sombre music and slow-motion montage bring back a flood of haunting memories.

If you look carefully at the bottom-right, you can even spot a sneaky Kevin prancing and laughing jubilantly, followed by his best pal, Julia, after the carbon tax is passed. The ad even sneaks in that awkward photo of what looks like Kevin and Julia smooching.

Best Disney Remake

I sense Walt Disney won’t be happy with how similar the background music of this Liberal ad sounds to ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It has the magical feeling of a Disney movie with smiling faces and a sprinkle of Australian slang—“having a go” and “land of opportunity”—in true Tony Abbott style.

At the end of the ad, there sits Tony on an airplane (in what looks like Business Class), looking out the window with hope as the light shines on his face (hint: symbolic for the promising future under the Coalition).

So there you have it – the ads that are supposed to inform the electors. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I would rather political agendas be sensationally blatant than perniciously subliminal. Use all the dramatic music and plastered smiles that you want – just don’t expect us to take your ads seriously.

Published in Vibewire, 24 August 2013. 

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Australia far from settled on refugees

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In a sea of political rhetoric, phrases like “stop the boats, “refugee rights” and “queue jumping” seem to constantly get splashed around. Problems, causes, symptoms and solutions get swirled together, often making it difficult to grasp the complexities of the asylum seeker issue.

Rudd’s PNG Solution gave fresh lungs to voices across the political spectrum. Over a month later, the Coalition has finally made its move.

Early on, the left voiced outrage at Labor’s PNG solution with Greens leader, Christine Milne, accusing Rudd of lurching so far right that he leapfrogged Tony Abbott in cruelty.

In a political standoff, the right found itself facing a Labor policy that looked uncannily like its own – ‘offshore processing’ and ‘stopping the boats’ seemed to be the phrases of the day. Abbott’s initial response seemed baffled and ambiguous. “I welcome it, but it won’t work under Kevin Rudd, ” he said. Later, at the federal debate 11 August, in almost schoolyard “you copied me” style, Abbott said: “let’s face it, we invented off-shore processing.”

But on Friday 16 August, Tony Abbott came out with bigger guns and a more coherent response in an attempt to distinguish Liberal from Labor and secure the conservative votes.  Firstly, Liberal will deny asylum seekers the right to appeal to the courts for refugee status. Secondly, any legitimate refugee found among the 30, 000 asylum seekers who have already arrived will only be granted temporary rather than permanent visas.

There are many stages in an asylum seeker’s journey to Australia. Every stage remains controversial. This is the story Australians tend to hear: a person is manipulated by a conniving boat smuggler into hopping onto a rickety boat without a visa, placing their lives at the mercy of the turbulent high seas. If they survive, the asylum seeker is taken into mandatory detention where their claim for refugee status is processed. If the claim succeeds, questions remain over where they will be settled and what rights they will be given.

Should the boats be stopped?

Both Labor and Liberal have echoed a resounding “yes”.  Australians are no stranger to stories of disastrous boat journeys and deaths at sea. Like most politicians, when Rudd announced his hardline deterrence policy, he framed it as a compassionately motivated attempt to end an exploitative system of boat smuggling. “There is nothing compassionate about criminal operations which see children and families drowning at sea, ” he said.

However, many refugee advocates denied these moral claims, arguing that such deterrence methods merely punish the most vulnerable.

Daniel Webb from Human Rights Law Centre told Fairfax Media that deterrence was the wrong policy. He said deterring boats only addresses the symptom of the problem. The problem, he said, is that there are people in our region who desperately need protection and who lack a safe, viable, alternative pathway to access it. “Now you can shut Australia’s doors but that doesn’t resolve their underlying desperation and their underlying need to obtain protection”, Mr Webb said.

Like Rudd, Abbott seems determined to stop the boats, expressing sentiments of effective border protection. ”The essential point is, this is our country and we determine who comes here, ” Mr Abbott said.

Detention and Processing Claims

With both major parties now supporting offshore detention, the Liberal party has hardened their stance on the processing stage. Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, expressed a desire to end Labor’s “tick and flick” approach by removing asylum seekers’ right to appeal. In the March quarter, Labor’s court appeal system saw an increase of approved refugee statuses from 65.3 to over 90 per cent. According to Mr Morrison, this appeal process was being “promoted by the people smugglers to put people on boats”.

Settlement

There are currently 30, 000 asylum seekers “that Kevin Rudd’s already let in”, said Mr Morrison. From these, any legitimate refugee will be denied permanent residency under the Coalition.

In the words of Mr Morrison: “You don’t get the right to stay in Australia forever, you don’t get the right to apply for citizenship, you don’t get the right to bring your family here, you don’t get the right to come and go from the country as you please.”

Refugees on welfare will be signed up to the ‘Work for the Dole’ program where work experience must be completed in order to receive continuing income support from the government. This is because “you shouldn’t get something for nothing if you’re coming to this country, ” said Mr Morrison. According to the government website, this program aims to “give eligible job seekers the opportunity to learn new skills, get work experience and improve their chance of finding a job.”

When a temporary visa expires, refugee status will be reassessed according to whether a person’s home country has improved enough for them to return home.

#AUSylum Conversation

The questions are complex and the answers in Australia remain divided…

Should the boats be stopped and if so, how?

Will policies of deterrence support the greater good in dismantling a boat smuggling system of exploitation or does it merely punish vulnerable individuals? 

Is this a matter of border security, humanitarian obligations or both?

Is ‘queue-jumping’ a myth used to demonise desperate boat people?

Is a system of (potentially indefinite) detention humane and economically viable?

Should asylum seekers be processed on the mainland or offshore?

Should refugees be granted permanent or temporary visas?

Whether you want to learn more, or you want to have your say on these issues, join the #AUSylum Twitter conversation. To tackle these complex questions with you, Vibewire will be hosting these panellists:

  • Joe Hildebrand, journalist from The Daily Telegraph
  • Graeme McGregor, National Refugee Campaign Coordinator of Amnesty International
  • Sara Saleh from Amnesty International
  • Gemma Amy-Lee from I am a Boat Person

Follow the twitter feed and add your piece to the puzzle as we explore these complex issues in 140 or less characters.

Published in Vibewire, 21 August 2013.

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Shock Greets Rudd’s New Refugee Policy

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Rudd’s new asylum seeker policy has sparked fresh anger among refugee advocates on an issue that continues to divide the nation. 
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Racism on Public Transport: The ‘Real’ Australia?


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Ada Lee

A woman will face court after she launched a racist tirade against an Asian schoolboy on a Sydney bus.

Inside the bus

Video footage, recorded by an onlooker, went viral across mainstream and social media earlier this month. The video shows a 55-year-old woman telling an Asian schoolboy to get a passport and educate himself after he refused to sit down. “Go back on your f—ing boat and f— off, ” she said. “There’s a lot of Aussie passengers on this bus and I’m telling you, they’re totally not going to agree with you…and I’m one of them… Come to this country, you [think you] can do whatever you want. Well you know what? You can’t!”

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Who Should Tell Indigenous Stories?

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To represent a story truthfully is a complex task—particularly when unravelling something that remains a “great mystery” to many Australians. In reporting on Aboriginal issues, I’ve often wondered if I, as a non-Aboriginal Australian, have any right to tell their stories.
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Racist or Just Ignorant?

Published in Vibewire, 29 May 2013.

Click here to see the original.

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racist or ignorant facebookracist or ignorant twitter

A young spectator’s racist slur to indigenous AFL player, Adam Goodes, has sparked debate about racism in society.

13-year-old Collingwood fan, Julia, shouted “Way to kick the ball ape” before being escorted out of the MCG stadium in Melbourne. Goodes said at a press conference that he was “shattered” by her remarks. “It’s not the first time on a footy field I’ve been referred to as a monkey or an ape, ” he said. “It felt like I was in high school again, being bullied.”

For many people, the fact that Julia is only 13-years-old has proved to be particularly shocking. Adam Goodes said, “When I saw it was a young girl, I was just like ‘really?’. I was just like ‘how could that happen?’”

North-West indigenous footballer, Kent Jackson, told The Advocate: “The fact that the slurring came from a 13-year-old girl really hits home and shows you how deeply ingrained into our culture this sort of thinking is”.

Those who defend the young girl argue that she was unaware of her actions. Among her defenders is Adam Goodes himself. The Aboriginal AFL player said: “It’s not her fault. Unfortunately it’s what she hears, it’s the environment she’s grown up in that makes her think it’s OK to call people names.”

In defending the girl, many have pointed to the complicity of her environment in fostering her ignorance. The girl’s mother, Joanne, told Nine News, “She’s only a 13 year old young girl that lives in a country town, that doesn’t really get out that much, going to the cities”.

Collingwood president, Eddie McGuire, told ABC radio that he had spoken to the girl; she “didn’t even know that it was racist”, he said.

It is questionable, however, whether ignorance can always be used to excuse racism. As a young girl, perhaps she did not know any better. Perhaps she is merely the product of a society that never told her that calling Aboriginal people “ape” is unacceptable.

But at what point are we as people to be held responsible for our own education? After all, racism itself is often rooted in ignorance and a misunderstanding of other cultures. Would the public reaction be different if it had been an adult who called “ape” from the stands? What if this adult grew up in the same environment as the 13-year-old girl?

It is true that you will not learn anything if no one tells you. But at the same time, you will not learn anything if you do not look and listen.

Goodes points to the broader picture: “It’s not a Collingwood issue. It’s not an AFL issue. It’s a society issue”, he said.

Goodes and Jackson say parents should be held accountable. Jackson told The Advocate: “How is anyone expected to penetrate the heart and minds of children more than parents can at the family table?” He said that better schooling could help address the issue but ultimately, family values needed to change.

Collingwood president, McGuire, points to politicians, the media and our own situation in revving up racism. He particularly blames political rhetoric on issues such as asylum seekers. “Politicians set the tone for the type of country that we will get and the voters go along with it. We all have to decide whether we’re going to be a red neck, hick country, or we are going to be a country that is very much involved in tolerance, ” he said on ABC radio.

Undoubtedly, all of these groups play a role in shaping society. More important than playing the blame game, the question stands: are webuilding a society that listens to other cultures or ignores them?

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An Insider View on the Tharunka Prank

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The USYD assignment asking students to prank UNSW publication, Tharunka, has triggered impassioned debate about the ethics of journalism and teaching.

USYD Media Politics lecturer, Peter Chen, asked students to submit a “false story” to Tharunka. As someone enrolled in this unit, I can give some insight into the workings of the assignment.

Essentially, students were to figure out what makes stories publishable. To complete the assignment, we had to test our hypothesis on ‘what makes the news’ by constructing several false articles that covered a scope of topics with varying levels of quality and sensationalism. In doing so, we tested the role of media as gatekeepers of information and whether they were susceptible to ‘spin’ and manipulation. The assignment sheet said we were to “reflect on the practice of PR that uses an understanding of media practice to promote particular messages”.

GOVT2603 Unit of Study Outline

On 6 May, Tharunka discovered the truth via a whisteblowing student and on 8 May, Tharunka revealed all in an article by editor Lily Ray. Editors recalled their surprise at the sudden influx of student submissions—even those from USYD email addresses.

Lily Ray even wrote that Tharunka was happy to receive submissions from students of other universities. The point of concern, however, seemed to rest in the assignment requirement that students post falsestories.

The whisteblower from the GOVT2603 subject, Josh Tassell, told Crikey,“I have a major ethical problem with trying to print lies. I don’t see the point. I honestly don’t think it taught us much at all except terrible habits.”

The same day that Tharunka, Crikey and The Australian picked up the story, the GOVT2603 twitter and tumblr accounts were deleted.

Over the semester, Dr Chen has become a familiar face—particularly notable for his Mohawk which changes colour every week. He asks students to engage via twitter, tumblr and text messages. At times, he spoke about his involvement in the NTEU Sydney University strikes. In lectures, he got us to watch a documentary critiquing Fox News sensationalism and another that explored election campaign tactics in New Zealand.

When we got the assignment sheet, I noticed mixed reactions. There were five different topic options. Others included creating an online protest page for a “fictitious” cause or trying to get calls through on talkback radio. We were told in our tute that all five topics had to be covered. In response to the Tharunka exercise, some students thought it was hilarious, some a useful exercise and perhaps, others worried about the ethical boundaries it pushed.

Whether the assignment was successful in teaching any sort of lesson, I think it is fair to say Dr Chen did not intend to teach his students how to be lying spin-doctors. Rather, the lesson was more in exploring the potentially powerful role ‘spin’ can play in today’s media system. Here, it is important to note that this is a ‘Media Politics’ not a journalism unit.

Granted, if this was the purpose of the assignment, Tharunka editor, Renee Griffiths, makes the point in the Crikey comments section:

“wouldn’t it have been more fruitful to make students target the multitude of organisations that are better resourced and deal more extensively with said PR injecting?” On Twitter, editor Lily Ray said the assignment “victimized” Tharunka.

Image Credit: Tharunka

James Davey, another GOVT2603 student, disagrees.

“I don’t understand why [Tharunka is] making the ‘victim’ call on this one…I don’t think it was a targeted attack against Tharunka…[The assignment’s lesson] could be learned through any news organisation. It just happened to be Tharunka.”

The ensuing upheaval has been met with a variety of responses from Media Politics students. Some worry about the academic ramifications. Some believe Mr Tassell over-reacted whilst others thought he could have handled the situation better.

Mr Davey defended the assignment. He said:

“It is up to the editor of a news organisation to vet any and all submissions. The fact is that Tharunka found itself with articles it was willing to run. When someone informed them of the ‘prank’, they got embarrassed. Cue retaliatory article. The reality of the news landscape is that it is competitive. It was on point and a relevant assignment.”

In July last year, UNSW SRC students actually launched a similar prank. A UNSW Foundation Day hoax falsely announced that UNSW planned to bid $1.2 million for the Sydney monorail. The difference? This story actually succeeded in getting published. It grabbed the attention of ABC News Radio, took 25 minutes of David Oldfield’s 2UE show, sat on the front page of the MX and finally, got uncovered by Media WatchTharunka itself reported that the hoax “catches” students and media.

Regardless of whether it was ethical to encourage students to print false stories, an important question is posed by this exercise: if these stories, embellished with spin and falsified facts, succeed in getting published, what does this say about the quality of journalism today? The assignment put the quality and legitimacy of media to the test.

Published in Vibewire, 10 May 2013.

For my opinion on the Tharunka prank, click here.

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