Censorship – will they ever learn…?

Why are we having this discussion in a public forum?”

This is a statement I have read so many times over the last number of months and years on a number of Rotary related Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages and even in the comments section in RotaryBlogger.co.uk.

We are having these discussions because that’s the way things are done now-a-days; it’s called social media.

You see, increasingly I struggling to understand why so many of those in the Rotary Establishment fail to recognise that we are living in a new world of media where everybody with access to the internet has the ability to become a roving reporter; with a voice; an audience; an opinion; a right to be heard and a plethora of fora from which to report or broadcast.

So why then is it that Rotary as an organisation seems to be continually missing this point?

I am sure there are many of those in high office (and perhaps even some Regular-Rots) would have this blog censored – in fact, I am sure there are some who would rather it went further and that RotaryBlogger.co.uk didn’t actually exist – far less being censored. But it is here, and it’s purpose over the years has always been to encourage open, two-way thinking and discussions about some of the points which I believe are impacting on the success of this organisation, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland. Like many other publications out there around these islands.

“The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen” (Tommy Smothers)

One such publication was a newsletter for one of the Districts in RotaryGBI – which just happens to be the District in which I am a member of the Rotary eClub of East Anglia.

Rodney Howell has been Editor of a District Newsletter which has been a well put-together online communication circulated to members in District 1080 and beyond. Like many other District newsletters, the 1080 version has covered all the usual internal affairs of interest to its Regular-Rots. However, in addition the Editor has also reported on some of the wider RotaryGBI and Rotary International issues which he thought would be of interest to his readers.

Now, like RotaryBlogger.co.uk – I am sure the 1080 News, under Howell’s Editorship has, at times been a thorn in the foot of the RotaryGBI elephant throughout its publication lifespan. However, this blog has never been subject to discussion at the General Council meeting (well at least not formally) whereas the 1080 News actually does have that very special ‘badge of honour’. It is understood that concern was expressed regarding the content contained within the newsletter and the way in which the Editor was conducting business – and that both should be pulled in line. A request it would appear resisted by this year’s DG Derek Rothwell.

However, now it seems that incoming District Governor Robert Lovick has taken a different position and decided to grab his District’s newsletter by the proverbials and RotaryBlogger.co.uk understands the incoming boss has taken the decision to have the final say on what will and will not be published in the newsletter.

Surely this usurps the role of an Editor?

It’s interesting that right at the same time this four-way-test fracas is happening in District 1080, it is against a publicised backdrop by the RotaryGBI National Magazine’s new Editor Dave King, who is quoted in the last edition of the magazine:

I don’t edit by committee. I never have done in my 35 years as a journalist.”

Needless-to-say back in District 1080, Howell has taken a decision not to continue as Editor of what he describes as a “modified version of the current product.” Due to the fact that to do so he would have had to agree to the conditions, “that [the newsletter] contained only news originating within, and about the activities of, (sic) our District” and that everything published in the newsletter was to be “subject to the District Governor’s non-negotiable veto.”

The Editor signs off by saying, “Since I do not like to undertake a project that I know I cannot fully deliver and because I did not want to enter into anything that I knew in my heart of hearts was going to end in tears at an inconvenient time, I informed our District Governor Elect Robert Lovick that I would not be able to take part in this vision…

RotaryBlogger.co.uk tried to contact the incoming Governor of District 1080 to offer him an opportunity to clarify and elaborate on this ‘vision’ but received no response to the contacts made.

It seems a great pity that another Rotary publication that looked to report accurately to the membership – albeit sometimes in a challenge to the establishment – will now cease as a result of what appears to be ‘Rotary establishment censorship’. The like of which (in his own words) clearly wouldn’t happen to the national magazine Editor – so why should it apply to the Editor of a District newsletter?

The members of District 1080 and beyond are now, it seems to receive a vanilla flavoured circular that will no doubt move towards a self-aggrandising newsletter full of ‘grip and grins’, bling and cheque presentations.

As far as grasping and understanding how the modern world of social media and online communication works, Rotary seems to be stuck in an analogue rut in a fast-moving digital highway.

Those in Rotary who believe they can censor the online world of communication and discussion are clearly deluded

I have said before in this blog, that those who think they can control the messaging on social media; on blogs like RotaryBlogger.co.uk and other online platforms continue to delude themselves. The world is changing at a rate which Rotary appears unable to keep up – a world of 24-hour news and communications; a world where the individual on the street is now able to broadcast quite literally to billions of people around the world via a device they can keep in their pocket and a world where average people are able to speak directly to the Leader of the Free world in only 140 characters – and genuinely expect a reply.

So instead of trying to censor those trying to keep Regular Rots informed; instead of asking the question, “Why are we doing this in a public forum?” why don’t we focus on having those “uncomfortable conversations” within the organisation – and coming to some positive outcomes that are then implemented and not just done as a tick in the box to silence “The Mavericks*”.

In concluding, let’s give the last word of this blog to Dave King, Editor of that national RotaryGBI Magazine, who in the same response above referred to Lord Diplock summing up a case involving Lord Silkin and Beaverbrook Newspapers in the 1950’s saying:

The basis of our public life is that the crank and the enthusiast can say what he honestly believes, just as much as a reasonable man or woman.”

Perhaps some of those in Rotary in positions of influence either now, next year or in the future, and who think they understand modern communications should heed Lord Diplock’s words – and take a moment of reflection. Those words are every bit as important today as they were over half a century ago…perhaps even more so.

 

*(Remember the meeting of the great and the good summoned to Alcester earlier this year where they were giving the opportunity to “Fix Rotary in only Eight Minutes“…? What exactly was the result of that meeting other than allowing some existing egos to get bigger than they already were? Maybe we should keep pressing for the outcomes – as despite ongoing questions RotaryBlogger.co.uk certainly hasn’t come to any further conclusions about what that meeting achieved…

 

Images in order of appearance by Ben Raynal and thatguygil  by CC

 

Was that the Presidential Q&A…?

It was promoted as a live Q&A on Facebook with RotaryGBI President Eve Conway but turned out to be a half hour of Rotary Presidential promotion followed by more of a situation where the President ‘Avoided the Question and answer what she liked’.

The Facebook Live session this evening was hosted by Rotarian Kaz Aston, a Rotarian and member of the RotaryGBI Marketing and Public Relations Committee who it would appear was clearly well-rehearsed and primed to offer the national President every opportunity to talk about all the things that she wanted to.

The session (from a room that looked like and had the acoustics of a small yellow broom cupboard) experienced a few technical issues in terms of sound. With one participant claiming that his sound dropped every time the interviewer moved her arms – so he must have missed most of the broadcast – as she did a lot of moving her arms all the way through the Live session. [To be fair the tech guys sorted the sound out after about 15 minutes.]

When the sound was working, the first half hour of the Facebook Live session witnessed the audience receiving a lot about polio; about the President’s visit to India; about national immunisation days; about National Women’s Day; about Youth competitions; about Young Citizens Awards (created by the President herself); about Rotary Foundation and about Conference (have to say Eve’s way of spinning this year’s Conference was excellent – with not even a single mention or question about a certain Welsh female singer star).

So almost 30 minutes into the Question and Answer session Kaz Aston presented the first question of the evening from a participant which focussed around the use of Facebook across RotaryGBI and Rotary International. This prompted a response from the President which basically talked around the importance of using social media in Rotary and receiving full affirmation and endorsement of the interviewer – but yet still not really answering the question.

GRILLED: Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland President Eve Conway takes part in the first ever Facebook Live session on 28th February finding herself being interviewed by Rotarian and RotaryGBI Committee Member Kaz Aston

The second questioner asked the President what single major thing she would change in Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland?

The President said that change was important and then quoted Paul Harris the founder of Rotary. However, she answered that she felt Rotary needed more women and more diversity in the organisation – to a whoop, a cheer and a one-woman mexican-wave from Kaz Aston as she threw her hands in the air to celebrate the President’s response – sadly for one participant probably cutting of the signal again…

The next question was a follow-up by the same person and asked about the legacy Rotary will hand over to the next generation?

To be honest, I’m not sure the question was actually answered directly. The President did talk a lot about the new way to do Rotary, citing some new Clubs that seem to be doing things well and attracting members. But the interviewer then took the conversation away from the question and prompted the President to start answering questions about general Rotary clubs. And although not answering the question asked, Eve Conway did sum up as if she had by saying about Rotary in these islands,

We’re adjusting to the way that people live today and giving them options.”

A further question came from a participant who was watching the Live Cast asking why the dedicated President’s Facebook page is no longer being used. To which the incumbent effectively said, it was nothing to do with her – but a decision taken by the RotaryGBI Marketing and Publicity Committee. Outlining that the RotaryGBI online strategy is for all communications to go through the main Facebook page.

The President was then asked what should change about the Presidency? To which she responded that it should be outward facing – and then went on to outline a list of her achievements – and most definitely not answering the question at all. Probably the most body-swerved question of the night – with an occasional nod back to the question and reiterating her position that the President should be outward facing.

The final question came from another online participant asking for a definitive answer as to the definition of a satellite Club?

Kaz Aston again got quite excited about the fact her Club had a satellite Club but was then put firmly in her place by the President who told her that in fact what she thought was a Club was in fact a satellite group. However, the interviewer got her own back by firmly (albeit slightly excitedly) speaking over the President and demanding that she therefore explain the difference between the two.

I have to say that by this point in the question I had lost the will to live as the answer was once again in true-politician style the response that Eve Conway wanted to give and not really an answer to the question that was asked.

In amongst all the comments made throughout the hour-long session there was no real references to:

  • Membership initiatives;
  • The structure of RotaryGBI;
  • How the organisation may look in the future;
  • Involving Rotaract in the future of Rotary;
  • The finances of RotaryGB
  • And there was certainly no mention of ‘The Ten’ meeting in Alcester about the future of Rotary…?!?

The President was asked to finish (well kind of) the session by summing up Rotary using only one word which she described as ‘inspirational’. Which was kind of ironic in terms of the Live Cast.

…and that ladies and gentlemen was effectively it.

This was a great experiment – and there was a lot of information about Rotary given over in an hour. I’m not sure as a BBC Journalist Eve will be overly happy with the way in which the final interview will look when she plays it back. Yes, she got all her points across and answered the questions in the way she wanted – but it all got a bit messy at stages with the interviewer talking over the President throughout and not enough time allocated to ‘questions from the floor’.

Perhaps that was why there was a little bit of confusion as to who was going to take control at the end to wrap the interview up – who knows? But ultimately President Eve got the last word…

So in my humble opinion, or as the social media chaps say, IMHO this was not really a proper Q&A session. Far too much of it was about Rotary in general; the President; about her year in office; about her key topics and interests (such as polio) ergo insufficient time was given to the actual Question and Answer session.

You can watch and judge for yourself by watching the Live Cast here. Just a word of warning; try to ignore the interruptions, the increasingly annoying affirmation sounds and the signal-cutting hand-waving and fidgeting then you may enjoy it. However, I’m not sure you’ll learn anything or hear anything new.

Well done to those who organised this Facebook Live session. Great to see the technology being used in this way lets hope it’s not the last one we will see.

RotaryBlogger.co.uk ratings:

Information about Rotary in General = 8/10

Information about President Eve Conway = 9/10

Response to questions = 2/10

Enthusiasm of presenter = 10/10

Expectations met = 3/10

Use of social media/technology = 8/10

OVERALL EXPERIENCE = 4/10

Despite this, if the session was to be run again, I’d definitely tune in – it was a great starting point with improvements to be made and lessons to be learned.