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

 

How to fix Rotary in only Eight-Minutes

This time two years ago – I published a blog which asked the question “Would you Join today?” The blog post basically posed the question, if you knew then what you know now – would you still join Rotary International?

Two years on – has much changed?

Well to be honest – not really.

The organisation in these islands still seems to be perilously close to the soft sands of the beach with an increasing number of deserters taking their chances and jumping ship to find other ways of doing ‘their Rotary’ in local communities around the country that doesn’t involve wearing a tie, attending lunch or sporting a small lapel pin. In other words – doing Rotary without being a Rotarian.

So what is being done to get the ship afloat again?

Well, credit where credit is due to whoever had the idea of bringing together a bunch of individuals around a table at RotaryGBI Headquarters in Alcester a couple of weeks ago to discuss the future direction of travel for Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland.

The group was made up of a cross-section of individual Rotarians – all understood to be representing themselves and with no delegated authorities from their Districts or Clubs or other groups. It seems the average age in attendance was over 60 and around half to be Past District Governors. However, the one common-denominator in those invited to attend being that they all currently or previously held strong views regarding the way in which Rotary in these islands was being managed and operated.

Was this an internal attempt to curtail the ‘keyboard warrior Rotarians‘ or perhaps even to divide and conquer a perceived bunch of ‘mavericks’ – who knows? But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it was a positive step forward in considering how RotaryGBI will be positioned in the future.

The group was chaired by Rotarian David Hodge, Leader of Conservative led Surrey Council – himself a focus of national news surrounding alleged “sweetheart deals” on the very week of the future direction meeting. So he may have had other pressing issues on his mind over and above the management of a bunch of Rotary egos. But from all accounts – he seems to have been able to keep focussed and has been credited with chairing the reasonably meeting well.

In terms of who else attended in addition to those who received their personal invites; conspicuous by their absence was the RotaryGBI future leadership. It does seem strange on the basis that this meeting was about the future direction for RotaryGBI that some of our incoming Presidents were, well, to put it politely under-represented? Just a minor thought…if we are looking to the future would it not have been appropriate for those receiving the chain of authority to have been in attendance – even just as observers?

So RotaryBlogger.co.uk understands that in a meeting which was concluded in under four hours; those in attendance were given eight minutes to make their ‘pitch’ on what they thought was needed to improve the organisation – and give it a better chance of survival as we move towards the second decade of the new millennium.

What were they hoping to achieve in such a short window? Only they will know…

Anyway, having given it some thought if I had to make an 8 minute pitch – here are some suggestions that I would have presented:

  1. Openness, transparency and accountability – there are still too many meetings and sessions taking place in camera. The world in which we now live expects and requires meetings to be undertaken in public. From our Parliaments to our local Council’s – ‘the people’ can now watch either in person or online. So should we expect anything less from a modernising Rotary? Whether interpreted rightly or wrongly – there does appear to be a level of secret-operations in what is going on behind the scenes.
  2. Operated as a business – yes, RotaryGBI is a membership organisation, but there are a number of issues around the way in which the finances are being operated. For example, how many members realise that the Annual RotaryGBI soirée – otherwise known as the Conference has consistently returned a sizeable loss? In business one may get away with that position for a year, but in year two it either washes its face/turns a profit or it’s binned. There needs to be a review in terms of how the organisation works to make sure it – at the least – breaks even.
  3. Remove the position of RotaryGBI President – the organisation already has a worldwide President, is one not enough? Is the actual Rotary International President not good enough for these islands? Why do we need our own? Does this not simply create an additional layer of administration and unnecessary bureaucracy? Have we ever measured the Return on Investment of the national President? Surely a saving to be made there…
  4. Create a ‘Board’ – part of the problem as I see it with Rotary is the fact the ‘Administration’ changes annually. In fact for those in the know, the Administration team only really have nine months to do their ‘thing’ before they become yesterday’s news. The creation of a Board that would allow longer-term governance in a more strategically structured manner – with more business and less ego involved in driving RotaryGBI forward. Oh, and one more thing – Board members should be the right people for the job, not those who have previously held senior positions in the ‘old guard’.
  5. Let District Governors run their Districts – Number 4 removes the need for a General Council of District Governors. Let them play with their own District and leave the national positioning and strategy to the Board, dovetailing with other Rotary International worldwide initiatives.
  6. A clear membership strategy – Not some gimmicky initiative which on paper looks like a success but out there doesn’t actually put more ‘bums on seats’. We need  rethink about how we can engage communities and individuals to make them want to become part of Rotary again, which leads me perfectly onto my final point…
  7. Allow Rotaract to become part of Rotary – This is probably the one for which I would have made the strongest pitch.If Rotary is to survive then we must look to the younger generations. And unlike many other membership organisations, Rotary has a ready-made organisation right under our noses – It’s called Rotaract. However, all too often, Rotaractors are ‘kept down’ or patronised as ‘the youngsters’ by the Rotarians who are actually trying to support them in other ways.Isn’t it interesting that for a meeting looking to think about the future of Rotary that there were absolutely no Rotaractors at the table a couple of weeks ago? Why?I spoke with someone earlier in the year about the role of Rotaract in the future of Rotary – and they were keen to have them at them involved – but only as an observer! Really? Yes, why not bring them along, let them watch how the ‘adults’ do it and they can learn from us. They can observe but not contribute! How very patronising…I’m not sure I know many Rotaractors who would sign up to this ‘non-participative’ position. The Rotaractors I know are actually more into ‘doing’ than most Rotary Clubs.

There are many more issues (as you’ll find trawling through previous blog posts) but those would be my thoughts in terms of the key priorities to take the organisation forward.

The meeting referred to earlier in this post took place the day before a General Council meeting – and it is understood a report on what was discussed was then issued to District Governors at their meeting the following day. What impact can a ‘hot off the press report’ make to a General Council meeting? Will the notes/minutes be revisited in the future? I guess what becomes of the original meeting remains to be seen?

So, I’ll end as I started – and will say well done to those who made the effort to have the meeting and for having the courage to look to the future of the Rotary Product in these Islands. Well done for ‘fessing up face-to-face with some of Rotary’s more vocal contributors who have actually been critical of some of the ‘Establishment’ sitting in the room. What happens next? Who knows.

And anyway, does it really matter? Do the Regular Rots out there actually care what is going on beyond their own Club providing Rotary survives? In all honesty, probably not. But that is for another blog on another day.

Either way, let’s make that first meeting in Alcester earlier in February the start of a process and not just another tick in the box, purporting to be a consultation session like many that have gone before and then found themselves ultimately destined to File 13.

 

Images in order of appearance by Stewit by CC