Wednesday, May 27, 2009

European Union Elections and the Fear

"We build the knowledge society" - Election poster from the Swedish Pirate Party, Umeå May 2009.

On June 7th those adults living in the European Union who have not submitted a postal vote already go to the ballot boxes for an election of members to the EU parliament. Sweden is of course taking part in this process and I tell you things could not be more interesting if you are a researcher in digital culture and textuality.

Since January the membership of The Pirate Party in Sweden has risen from 14000 to 55000. If current polls are reflecting how people will vote they are now a serious contender for seats in the EU parliament. The problem for the PP in the 2007 Swedish general election was few of its supporters actually voted. This may change on June 7th but it is not for certain. In a recent poll, the Pirate Party Showed 5.1% of the vote. The second largest party for Sweden in the 18-29 age group and the fourth largest for the 30-44 group.

All this attention has not gone unnoticed by the larger parties. The Vanster (Left) party are the only one of the other serious contenders for EU seats which is adopting a position even sympathetic to that held by the PP. The center left Social Democratic Party is against the digital surveillance and copyright laws passed recently by the government in principle, but have failed to take a strong stand by providing any sort of dramatic alternatives. The Green Party of Sweden (Miljöpartiet de Gröna) are somewhat silent on the issue of file sharing, and their coalition with the Social Democrates probably has something to do with it.

The center-right coalition which forms the government in Sweden is not silent on the issue of either surveillance or P2P file sharing. This afternoon I listened to Hans Wallmark, a Moderate Party candidate for the EU parliament speak about

"Where is the limit for freedom on the internet? Shall we accept child pornography and drug trafficking on the internet? I believe freedom has its limits on the internet. Just as one warns of integrity but one must also give answers to the questions. Drugs on the net? Child pornography on the net? What is permitted?"

Serious questions but it all sounds very familiar to one who follows the news on the other side of the globe, and the net filter that is currently being debated, often irrationally, in Australia:

"There is no political content banned in the existing Broadcasting Services Act," he said.

"We are not building the Great Wall of China. We are going after the filth - like child pornography. Its been done around the world and it can be done here."

How it is done "will be guided by the outcome of the trials."

Most of the assertions otherwise are "patently a scare campaign [against] a policy objective we think is fair and reasonable," he said.
Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy

Fear is the key to this, as Senator Conroy points out. Fear is also being peddled in Sweden. Fear of lawlessness and the idea that in order to be safe media must be controlled and those who use it monitored. If we go further back we can easily find connections between media, fear and politics:

"Something that stood even deeper than the fear of Protestantism was also at stake in the great refusal of 1496. The decision to stand by the Vulgate, to veil the gospels, and stress lay obedience over lay education was certainly framed as a reaction to the Protestant threat. Fear of the threat of the spread of Lutheran heresy undoubtedly loomed large in the debates. Actions taken by Catholic churchmen, however, were designed to counteract forces which had begun to subvert the medieval church before Luther was born and which continued to menace the Roman Catholicism long after Protestant zeal had ebbed.
It was printing, not Protestantism, which outmoded the medieval Vulgate and introduced a new drive to tap mass markets."
The Printing Press as an Agent of Change By Elizabeth L. Eisenstein p353

The account of the printing press and the revolution it brought about, while often verging on a tale of technodeterminism, is undoubtedly worth considering when listening today to the members of the Pirate, Left, Moderate, Green, Social Dems and so forth on internet controls. Those with an insight into the long term effects of what we, in the economically developed parts of the world, are experiencing in media ecology should not resort to fear in order to express themselves.
And don't forget to vote.

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