Thursday, December 15, 2011

Of Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet, Zwart en wit loving Stephen Conroy, and an interim report to make Pinky and the Brain gasp in awe ...

(Above: go Sinterklaas).

First, with the war on Xmas fresh in mind, it's off to Slate to contemplate In Holland, Santa Doesn't Have Elves. He Has Slaves. (The racist Christmas tradition Dutch people have begun fighting about).

Truly the Dutch can be passing strange, and I make no reference to Andrew Bolt, who is of course Australian, and if you've never caught up with Zwarte Piet, and the peculiarities of a mythology which only began back in 1845, with the story Saint Nicholas and his Servant, then you're in for a treat.

I have to confess having discussed this phenomenon with otherwise liberal, rational Dutch friends, and received dismissive response, because outsiders and allochtoon can't understand a bit of harmless fun. You see:

In Holland, Santa, or “Sinterklaas,” as he’s known to the Dutch, doesn't have reindeer; he has a little helper named Zwarte Piet, literally Black Pete, who charms children with pepernoten cookies and a kooky demeanor while horrifying foreign visitors with his resemblance to Little Black Sambo. Each year, on Dec. 5, the morning before the feast of St. Nicholas, children all over the country wake up excited for gifts and candy while thousands of adults go to their mirrors to apply brown paint and red lips. In their Zwarte Piet costumes, they fill central Amsterdam and small village streets, ushering in the arrival of Sinterklaas who, in the Dutch tradition, rides a flying white horse.

If you've been good, you can then rush off to David Sedaris in Esquire, attempting to cope with the phenomenon back in 2002 in Six to Eight Black Men:

While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

Naturally singing Xmas Xian carols is an important part of the routine, as Sinterklass pulls into town.

So we look forward to Montessori schools including Zwarte Piet in their ethnographic survey of idiosyncratic Xmas rituals - for fear of alienating the Dutch - followed by an impassioned piece by Tracey Spicer in The Punch damning those outrageous leftists and liberals who cast scorn on the Dutch and their proud Xmas traditions.

And now, as they used to say when in search of a segue, time for something completely different, which is to say the Interim Report for the Convergence Review, which you can find in pdf form here.

First a reminder so you will recall the dark overlord currently in charge of the media in Australia:

Eek, more terrifying than Zwarte Piet.

On with the boring stuff.

The interim report might be called Senator Stephen Conroy's dreaming, part two, because one key section is all about regulating and tithing the full to overflowing intertubes for benefit of Australians and Australian content production.

What a grand, glowing, comprehensive and inclusive scheme it is.

Chapter four introduces us to the brand new idea of a "Concept Service Enterprise". And how would you know this new quark when you stumbled upon it? Well it delivers content, however and wherever, with:

- the viewer/user/subscriber base meeting a threshold
- the service originating in Australia or being intended for Australians
- the provider having the ability to exercise control over the content
- the operating revenue or commercial scale of the enterprise meeting a threshold.

It's the second part that catches the eye. "Being intended for Australians".

Cue YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, the Pirate Bay, whatever takes your fancy, as they beam in their content to hapless down under consumers.

And what should happen to these foreigners, as well as to local providers?

Regulation should be applied to Content Service Enterprises regardless of the technology or delivery platform used. It is proposed that obligations focus on the entity or enterprise that provides the service and the nature and scale of that service, rather than the mode of delivery. This approach is consistent with community views as reflected in recent Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) research. This research indicates that Australians expect branded online content to meet the same or comparable standards as offline content.

Uh huh. Regulation. And so be sleight of hand, regulation requires a meeting of the same or comparable standards as offline content. You know, like the movies, or television, and the Commonwealth Censor, and ... well Australia can lead to the world in applying standards to branded online content just to teach Google and YouTube how it's done.

But let's not be too hasty, let's add a few caveats:

However, it is not intended that all content providers be classified as Content Service Enterprises. Emerging services, start‐up businesses and individuals should not be captured by unnecessary requirements and obligations. Despite this, all content providers will still be subject to some requirements, such as those protecting children from harmful content.

Uh huh. All content providers. So every provider of content will be subject to regulation and standards - beyond the current laws of defamation and criminality - never mind if it's a service originating in Australia, or merely intended for Australians, or if it's big or teeny weeny small, it'll be subject to "some requirements", and Conroy's old favourite, won't someone think of the children, heads the reasons. Watch out Sinterklaas!

Quick, someone call the Chinese, we're in urgent need of a way to regulate everything. (Hang on a second, do the North Koreans do internet consultancies?)

Well as noted, this is all very grand, but let's not be megalomaniacal about it:

It is acknowledged there may be challenges in attempting to regulate overseas enterprises.

Like the Australia United States Free Trade Agreement? Like the bit where it says:

In respect of all categories of intellectual property covered in this Chapter, each Party shall accord to nationals of the other Party treatment no less favourable than it accords to its own nationals with regard to the protection and enjoyment of such intellectual property rights and any benefits derived from such rights.

No, no, silly:

... the concept of a Content Service Enterprise is likely to capture international brands supplying content services to Australians. There are legal and financial avenues as well as strong brand and market incentives to encourage these enterprises to comply with relevant Australian regulations.

Yes, thanks to the North Koreans, if they don't toe the line, we'll be able to lock them out of the marketplace, treat them like cigarette manufacturers and other suppliers of poison to the body and mind ...

And what will we do once these wretches realise the errors of their ways, and come to heel? Why shake them down of course:

It is recommended that all Content Service Enterprises that provide audio‐visual content, whether linear or non‐linear, be required to support Australian content either by:
- committing a percentage of total program expenditure to specified Australian content OR
- if this is not possible, by contributing to a converged content production fund.

Uh huh. So we'll just tithe Google and all will be hunky dory.

Why that's just like the current Australian content requirements, and networks' funding local content, but we'll apply it to the entire world.

But hang on a second. Didn't the AUSFTA propose tit for tat, fair dibs, and what happens to one set of nationals should happen to the others?

Simple. We'll just start funding Hollywood ... and not the mealy mouthed stuff we currently do, provided a Hollywood movie employs a Baz Luhrmann or an Alex Proyas. No, we'll help fund anything the Americans want ...

There's more, much more, about regulating content, and standards, and a new regulator, and in the background the FTA broadcasters slobbering at the thought of not having to pay licence fees, but reading the recommendations and discussions gives the impression of a dead duck walking ... and quacking.

There's one good idea - to get rid of the hopeless ACMA and replace it with a new body with independence and security of funding - but there's also an over-riding silliness in that any new body will have the entire intertubes to regulate. Unless of course you happen to be Senator Conroy ...

Already the rumbling has started. Bernard Keane at Crikey delivers a generally negative review, in Convergence review: time to regulate the internet, with the note that:

It represents the most far-reaching proposals for internet regulation since the Howard government banned online gambling and goes well beyond the internet filter proposal that notionally remains government policy.

And also the most deluded.

Persuading the government to give up licence fees, and its current regulatory models for a 'pie in the sky' model of regulating every form of digital content and content service providers that move will be an interesting test of political will.

Even more optimistic is the idea that local content providers on the intertubes will be able to generate a meaningful amount of production funding for use by Australian producers of content.

Even major newspapers can't keep their old act together online, while conventional broadcasters continue to rely on their old advertising models (and continue to do well, unless in the hands of private equity sharks who loaded them up to the gills with debt). The only way it would work is if the likes of Google were to be tithed ...

The end result? A bit of squawking, a certain amount of re-writing, a full report in the new year, and a conspicuous place on a bureaucrat's shelf. Oh and the chance to download it as a pdf and have a good chuckle. Like so many Department of Communications reports shelved before this one ...

Meanwhile, Conroy battles on, Zwarte en wit Collingwood supporter that he is - oh won't someone think of the children - and he's got the interim report he wanted just before Xmas. How kind of Sinterklaas.

And how kind of Sinterklaas to remind the pond why hell will freeze over before we and the current federal Labor government are one ...

(Below: with students obsessed with their HSC results, what better time to remind everyone of Stephen Conroy's own special award, found here at the invaluable Somebody think of the children, The pond hereby updates it ex tempore to 2011-12).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.