Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Exposing the Invisible - digital technology for social justice

Unseen War ... one of the trilogy of Exposing the Invisible films.

By DAVID ROBIE

IN A remarkable “before we are launched” event organised by the fledgling Sydney Democracy Network in one of Australia’s oldest lecture theatres, a digital technology collective has demonstrated dramatic and progressive examples of the global “information war”.

The Berlin-based Tactical Technology Collective co-founders, Stephanie Hanley and Marek Tuszynski, treated a packed theatre at Sydney University to a smorgasbord of video and technology at the forefront of ground-breaking social justice information collaborations.

The video Unseen War was an inspiring and provocative investigation into the use of drones for illegal targeting killings in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan – far from the glare of media publicity.

An estimated 2500-3500 civilians have been killed in this “unseen war” through drone attacks on urban areas.

Twelve journalists have also been killed in the past decade, many as a result of investigating these targeted killings.

Exposing The Invisible.
 “I am pleased that this forum is naming things as they really are – too rarely is the word assassination used to report these state-sanctioned murders,” said Professor John Keane, one of the organisers of the Democracy Collective and director of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

Introducing the video and strategies, Marek Tuszynski described his group’s work as representing new forms of investigative collaborations “outside the box”
.
Unprecedented scale
“The internet, mobile phones and digitisation of data have enabled collaborations between activists, researchers and journalists on an unprecedented scale. These collaborations have led to exposures and revelations that were once unimaginable.”

In another video, From My Point of View, a story is told about the coordination and mechanisms behind the Palestinian land confiscations.

Another video, Our Currency is Information – not shown during the seminar but is available on the collective’s website – offshore banking, organised crime and government corruption is exposed in Azerbaijan, Lebanon and across Europe.

The collective has also published a book on information design and networks entitled Visualising Information for Advocacy, which has a stunning and shocking frontispiece image of the slave ship Brookes used in the anti-slavery mobilisation, regarded as the world’s first social justice campaign.

Human Rights Watch's Elaine Pearson speaking at the Sydney
seminar. Other panellists (from left) Stephanie Hankey,
Wendy Bacon, Jeremy Donovan and Gemma Pitcher.
Photo: David Robie
Following the screenings, a panel of speakers shared how various advocacy groups and journalists are using digital technologies:
  • Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch showed how video documentation and satellite imagery has been used to expose human rights violations in Asia, particularly the genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.
  • Gemma Pitcher of Action Aid Australia talked about “mapping for advocacy in Kenya” with Kibera as a case study.
  • Generation One’s Jeremy Donovan spoke of “making visible indigenous and non-indigenous disparities” in Australia.
  • Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) professorial fellow and investigative journalist Wendy Bacon discussed investigating “invisible issues” in the media and she highlighted a case study of coal and climate change on her blog.
  • Stephanie Hankey talked about land grabs” and the Land Matrix Project.
Local empowerment
“The most important outcome we find from our work is the empowerment of local people,” she said.

“When people discover their information can actually change things, their attitude to power changes.
“This advocacy tool is the most powerful outcome of all.”

An example of this in Unseen War was the drawing of a fullsize drone on the ground with chalk in local communities, showing just how big they were, encouraging people to act.

Professor Keane noted that the seminar was a reminder that there were “plenty of crocodiles” among the power elites.

The powerful were able to exert control through “blind, wilful, lazy consent” by the public.
Turning his attention to the conservative Abbott government in Australia - which has been in office just five months - he said this autocratic administration was already displaying “strongly Putinist qualities”.

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