Cry havoc and slip loose cyber dogs of webwide war.

 

Or so might be hoped from a blog contest giving global awards for the two “most controversial” opinion pieces, focused on worlds, rarely dull, of communications and media.

 

Think spin-doctors, public relations flacks and news hacks.

 

An ever entertaining pack-fight of dog-eat-dog propaganda, politics and the press; barking, biting, snarling and yelping, clawing back and forth.

 

This inaugural BBC 2011 communications blog contest appears to air an invitation to similarly full, free and frank exchanges of opinion.

 

There's the BBC itself, the BBC World Services Trust, running the contest with DNCI, the Development Networks Communication Initiative, a non-profit partnership boasting28 heavyweight development organisations, including bodies like UNDP and UNAIDS.

 

Some 75,000+ members are claimed, worldwide.

 

What keeps members coming back is an expanding range of global contacts. After a year or two of the user getting used to the archaic interface, this frequently faulty site proves a gateway for practitioners to take it to the next 'level'. Including writing the world's most controversial blog post, from a perspective of communications, media … well, you know the rest.

 

Hmmmm.

 

So far, strong opinion remains rare on this BBC blog contest, at any level, the deadline for this blog contest, Tuesday 15 March 2011, looming fast.

 

Slicing and dicing, some sample headlines offer brief suspense.

 

A FLAME THAT BURNS VERY FAST ” posted in capital letters, suggests some jihad-style frission:

 

“Dictators, autocrats and other local strongmen are always setting up their anti-democratic ideologies in developing countries, speeding the tracks on collision course with their people."

 

Promising start, although policy makers note careful use of the "local" qualifier. Sadly, the author veers off into a digital delirium of delight at downfallen dictators.

 

"This ... [is] ... why social networking gained ground so quickly in Egypt and Tunisia. People need training in the strategic use of media and communication in the quest for personal dignity and liberty. Once trained, they have nothing to fear in standing up against other Ben Alis and Mubaraks.”

 

Mention of the word "training" is well known for setting off Pavlovian drooling among the well-heeled policy set but, while all this is perfectly true enough, doesn't ring any controversy bells.

 

Apart from that "nothing to fear" bit - Gaddafi, maybe ?

 

Bullets and the media” offers a more realistic sounding headline, all lowercase menace.

 

But, again, no.

 

“We cried a lot. Not because we are weak; we cried because we are human beings. Our tears were the bullets that killed 30 years of injustice.”

 

Yes, yes, this is Wael Ghonim, the man who set up a Facebook page helping spark the Egypt uprising, interviewed on CNN a few minutes after Hosni Mubarak resigned. All terribly touching, there, there.

 

Both posts gain good ground truthiness, written by Tyokunbo, a username striking a resemblance to this profile at Africa News, linked to an indepth profile at this name blog,Adetokunbo Abiola, amiably forewarning readers about "writings of an intense journalist".

 

But controversial? Moving on.

 

"Media stagger as governments snooze on food safety policy" cuts pretty close to the bone, a headline no doubt cause for a squirm or two of discomfort among policy developers from NZ to the US.

 

Fortunately for first-worlders, the post is again about Africa, written under an otherwise anonymous username, a Makori who may or may not be someone like Peter Makori, analumni from 2006 of the media-friendly Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship for 25 to 35 year olds.

 

For the sake of argument, then, set aside argument over a near habitual geopolitical gerrymander, surrounding the BBC on a constant crisis basis; or histrionic allegations ofwar mongery. Such frippery is the province of politicians, the pundit; not policy makers.

 

No, argument made here relates to this site misfiring as a flawed nexus for more than two dozen of the world's biggest aid and communications organisations, with annual budgets in the billions.

 

One way the BBC helps dampen controversy is by partnering with a site that is user unfriendly, ensuring membership attains to only the well connected or most persistent.

 

In between auto log-outs, registration alone can turn into an epic battle against the very people that the Development Networks Communication Initiative claims to be aimed at.

 

Digital divide and conquer.

Some make it through the html haze.

Probably most accessible for a policy development crowd is Bhumika Ghimire, posting a series of insightful reports from mists of Nepal.

If commonalities with local examples strike a chord among a wider global audience, the author makes universalism clear in his latest post - a political economy where large corporate "news" networks can "spew venom", without even of a code of ethics.

Let's not get caught up in all that journalism crisis stuff, and get back to nuts and bolts communications, like the lack of a Facebook link-in. Or a simple email-only sign-up page for rural and remote communities, with posts and comments enabled via return email.

 

Oops, DNCI logged me off again.

 

Less jihad, more juggernaut, the DNCI partner list adds up to hundreds of millions in communications spending, raising concern about chilling effects such a gigantic non-profit partnership might have on a free flow of information.

 

Like arms deals, billions in aid-funded "communications" contracts are at stake, going to bidders from China, Europe and the US - a free market of varying influence and conflict of interest.

 

Against this background, it is hard to imagine a single communications or media practitioner committing career suicide by posting the world's "most controversial" blog on ... anything, really.

 

Not for 50 UK pounds, probably not, no.

 

That and a nice pat on the head for controversial bloggers "to acknowledge ... skill in inspiring dialogue."

 

But no invite back.

 

"Most popular" blog post authors get paid 240 UK pounds, and are asked to write three more blog posts. Most controversial?

 

Pat, pat, pat.

 

Subtle, but undeniable undertones.

 

' ... don’t let the door hit you on the ass ... we don’t want ass prints on our door'

 

Residents in the US sphere might recognise this model of social engineering earlier than others. Attracting controversial content requires considerable upping of ante.

 

Let's start, say, with a year's fully paid residency, professional trauma counseling, peer debriefing and cutting-edge retraining; communications lecture tours, guest editorships, along with the rest of the developmental gravy train, yes, that might near adequate compensation for a blog contest that involves throwing one's life away.

 

Points illustrated here are resources, and capacity.

 

Writ large, using an individual blogger as an example of a wider information issue, policy developers gain an understanding of social and economic challenges facing all independent journalists and human rights communications workers.

 

From a financial viewpoint, policy analysts might start by charting differences in funding between the first, second, third and fourth estates, and see how little the press gets.

 

Back from ideal scenarios, however, across an abyss of dismal media reality, policy developers and writers might more realistically start seeing the depths and breadth of communications crisis.

 

Policy makers wanting to help conquer the digital divide might start supporting an urgent revamp of this site itself, starting with a custom refit for the registration form, now currently featuring half a dozen fiendishly compulsory fields, cunningly hidden among more than 150 other options boxes. Each marked only with the teeny, tiniest of little red asterisks.

 

Picture a case study:

 

A third world communications practitioner.

 

Remote community. Sweat from the wrists smear across the Formica tabletop. No air conditioning. Water is expensive. Tools are pen, paper. Limited time at a buggy, dusty, community desktop.

 

Keys are missing. Searchbars crowd the web browser. Off, on, internet symbols blink, more off than on. Slowly onscreen, inch by inch, down crawls a page for … registration to membership at the Communications Initiative. Almost at the end - and - the internet connection cuts out. Windows helpfully pops up an error box and asks -

 

“ Redial ? “

 

Screech and squawk, the modem redials.

 

“ Connection not found. Redialing in 99 seconds ... ”

 

Suddenly the screen goes blank. Spyware conflicting madly with malware, the desktop decides to reboot. Half a minute later, the old floppy slot, a magnet for dust and small children with small slot sized lollies, grinds into action. This sound signals a half hour wait, hour glass spinning, Windows reloading all the buggy spyware and malware. At which point the user clicks -

 

“ redial ? ”

 

- again.

 

End of imaginary picture. A dog barks, somewhere.

 

. . .