Archive for July 22nd, 2011

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Transparency and benchmarking‏

July 22, 2011

Elsewhere in cyberspace during a discussion on the televised court proceedings of Yulia Tymoshenko v State of Ukraine, I gave the view that it at least gave some transparency to the proceedings (despite being something of a circus due to the antics of both prosecution and defence, not withstanding several actions of the defendant herself that in a UK court, would have been deemed contempt of said court) particularly as it as being aired live on Kanal 5 which is deemed to be unbiased by the international community and relevant international media surveyors/monitors.

Of course the fact it is being shown live should negate any editorial influence and make the fact it is being shown live on an internationally recognised channel as “unbiased” completely irrelevant.

These are, however, strange times when the public not just in Ukraine, but globally, is suffering from large scale disenfranchisement of government and politics and also increasing distrust in the MSM media/4th Estate. Unfortunately the fringe media is not exactly a source of reliable and unbiased media either. It is left to us to pick and choose who and what we believe from the never ending amount of commentary in cyberspace, broadsheet and tabloid.

It therefore follows, in a politically charged atmosphere, more so it seems from international on-lookers than the public of Ukraine (at least for the present) that an “unbiased” channel would seem to be appropriate before the conspiracy theorists, hard-line (almost extremist) supports and detractors of Ms Tymoshenko and ever biased (one way or another) NGOs (due to their sponsors) make claims of some sort relating to editorial influence through technical shenanigans, if it had been shown live on Inter channel for example.

My statement that Kanal 5 was internationally recognised as unbiased drew a little ire from the alternative media participants that it was far from unbiased.

Whilst that maybe their perception and indeed may actually be true, my statement was based upon a citeable and recognised source. It of course does not mean that source accurately reflects reality any more than the Freedom House Index accurately reflects the reality of perceived and real freedom in a nation.

What matters is how such statements and benchmarks are arrived at, the disclosure of how those gradings are reached and the ability of those looking at the gradings to understand the fallibility of how they have been reached.

Freedom House is quite clear, if you read the small print, that their index is not complied by surveying a huge number of the general public in any nation. They make clear it is reached by no more than a few thousand surveys returned by NGO’s, academics, internal and external, and various parts of civil society such as certain parties within the 4th Estate. As all these people have an active interest in politics, depending upon who you send the survey to and how they answer (in line with their politics or trying to remain unbiased when completing such surveys) will influence the outcome.

Therefore simply by selective mailing you can get a result biased one way or another by knowing the personal or organisational politics of the recipients.

Without looking, one can make an educated guess that the international media surveyors look at media time given for those in power as to those in opposition, the editing and perceptions given to the public in comparison to other providers both for and against one party or another, the opinion of those reporting the stories, how many and what stories are quashed against those that are aired and why etc.

Again, no major surveys of the public or direct input from the public should that be the case. It is though delivered as a “state of the nation” report and used to influence the public that have not had a much input into the report at all. It is also easy reference for governments to cite (unless they themselves fall foul of the same surveys and index of course).

There is nothing wrong with any of this as they at least provide citeable sources and benchmarks. Whilst they do not advertise how such statements are arrived at very overtly (and certainly do not list who or what was invited to take part in the surveys), they do, somewhere in the small print, mention how results were reached. It just doesn’t pay to overtly advertise the fact that the results are more than a little fallible and certainly not obtained from the hoy polloy, thus actually they may not represent the public opinion at all.

It is therefore the responsibility readers of such statements and indexes, when citing them, to understand how they are reached. There is an inherent opaqueness in transparency when it comes to statistics and indexes the vast majority of the time. Nevertheless, benchmarks (national and international) are very much part of our society whether subjected to public scrutiny via the inquisitive mind or just blindly accepted.

The questions, then, are should we give such benchmarks any credence at all given only a little investigation shows the opinions of the average citizen are simply not included (or not included to a level to have any influence) and the results are generally driven by academics, intelligentsia, NGOs and other luminaries, many of whom are distinctly removed from the public?

Do we need such international benchmarks at all even if driven by the hoy polloy?

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