Reduce, reuse, recycle – electronic recycling made easy

Amy Robertson, Burwood Bulletin

ELECTRONIC waste. We all have it – stashed in cupboards, drawers or garages around our homes. Old televisions, outdated tablets and broken laptops, sitting on shelves, gathering dust. But what if there was a free and easy way to dispose of our unused e-waste responsibly?

TechCollect is a not-for-profit e-waste recycling service, established and funded by many of Australia’s leading computer and TV manufacturers and importers. They partner with local councils and waste disposal groups to recycle e-waste, by harvesting the raw materials for re-use in new products.

There are drop off sites throughout Australia, which can be found on TechCollect’s website. Most councils will not accept e-waste through hard rubbish collections. Residents living in Melbourne’s East are encouraged to drop off their e-waste to the Whitehorse Recycling and Waste Centre, 638-648 Burwood Highway, Vermont South. TechCollect accept laptops and cables, tablets and notebooks, computer monitors, parts and accessories, printers, faxes, scanners and televisions.

CEO of TechCollect, Carmel Dollisson, says at least 90 per cent of materials received at TechCollect are recovered and reused.

“It takes a lot of energy and money to manufacture these materials, so once they are manufactured we should keep them in the cycle, either through reuse or recycling”, she says.

“We’d like to encourage people to not only think about recycling, but responsible consumerism as well. Support the manufacturers who are sponsoring recycling programs [like TechCollect] and have strong corporate social responsibility.”

TechCollect was developed to support the Federal Government’s National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS), established in 2011 in response to the Product Stewardship Act. The Act became an effective regulatory tool for holding government and industry accountable for e-waste disposal, increasing recycling rates and reducing the environmental impact of e-waste.

Electronic devices contain several hundred materials, many being highly toxic. Today’s electronics contain cadmium, arsenic and brominated flame retardants, among other pollutants. Older televisions contain high levels of lead. Modern flat screen televisions contain significant amounts of mercury.

TechCollect aims to stop this toxic material from entering landfills or, even worse, incinerators. This is a huge win for the environment, human health and welfare, and even third world countries, where recycling workers are exposed to toxic materials with minimal safety standards.

Australians are some of the highest users of technology and electronic goods, and e-waste is increasing at over three times the speed of domestic waste.

Around 69 per cent of unused computers in Australia are being held in storage and only 1.5 per cent have been recycled. Australians purchase nearly one million new televisions each year and send 1.5 million to landfill. Seventeen million televisions sat in landfill in 2008.

Computers and televisions are the main source of e-waste, and both can be recycled through the TechCollect program.

Recycling isn’t the only option. We can reduce our consumption of electronics and refrain from unnecessary purchases, share items with friends, family and neighbours, and repair and reuse items – our inability to repair things and the ease of replacing them means a lot of perfectly good items end up as waste!

“Reuse is a better outcome on the recycling hierarchy, but if you can’t reuse it then it needs to be recycled. It’s important you don’t stockpile things in the drawer or garage. You must take an active step to ensure electronics are responsibly recycled”, Ms Dollisson says.

Recycling our e-waste has the potential to transform industry and guide us to a more sustainable and equitable economy and society. Safe, environmentally responsible, and without charge to the consumer, TechCollect is recycling at its best.

tech collect graphic


Robbie Thomson: XFRMR/MESS: LIVE gig review

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

People with pacemakers be warned – this show is not for the faint-hearted.

Hypnotic, futuristic and suspenseful, Robbie Thomson (The Influencing Machine 2016, Pendulum 2016) and the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio’s event ‘ROBBIE THOMSON: XFRMR/MESS:LIVE’, is a high-voltage show of electronica, light and sound.

Performed at the Substation as part of the Melbourne Festival, Glasgow-based artist Robbie Thomson makes electricity visible with his caged Tesla coil. This bizarre and unlikely instrument produces a dazzling yet ominous display of musical lightning.

This is music you can feel – and it will shake you to your core.

“I remember playing once in Edinburgh and there were a few walk outs. I spoke to people afterwards and they were like ‘it was too intense, we started feeling sick’,” Thomson says.

Experiencing the Tesla coil is like waking up in an 80’s sci-fi horror film – but that moment in the film when you realise you are about to die.

Like Thomson, the directors of MESS have as much energy as they have electronica running through their veins.

Since MESS opened its doors in early April 2016, ‘MESS: LIVE’, produced by directors of MESS, Robin Fox and Byron Scullin, is the first live performance by the organisation.

Colourful laser light-beams bounce off of mirrors, as the audience hover around a towering cube of 25 synthesizers placed in the middle of the room.

Like being on a spaceship about to go into battle, or at a futuristic disco on acid, MESS was loud, eerie and intense.

The synthesizers range from the late 60’s until the present. They include large modular ‘synths’, like the Moog system 55, all the way down to the Triadex Muse, which sits at the top of the synthesizer cube.

Artist, composer and director of MESS, Robin Fox says the inspiration behind the show was to use the incredible machines at MESS and use them in a combination that had never been done before.

“Because we have such a weird collection. We have some particular synthesizers that were built in Melbourne in the late 70’s and only three of them were ever made,” Fox says.


Robin Fox at MESS studio. Photo: Amy Robertson

Synthesizers like the Transaudio Procase 6, which Fox’s step-father helped build in the late 70’s.

“It will be pretty much the first time a lot of these synthesizers have played together.”

As a technical challenge, Fox and Scullin wanted to see if they could synch them all together. They used a universal clock as a tempo, that would lock as many machines together as possible.

You can feel their music in your heart, literally. MESS blur the boundary between music and audience, artist and viewer. Their music becomes a part of you.


‘Synth cube’. MESS at ‘MESS:LIVE’. Photo: Amy Robertson

“We wanted to create a trance like situation – trance the psychological state. The idea was to create a motoric and relentless pulse that would morph over time and sort of locks into your heartrate,” Fox says.

Less than five minutes into MESS’ performance and a man is carried out of the venue, disorientated and confused. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Fox says his performances usually have a particular theme or atmosphere, but he never tries to influence an audience’s interpretation or response to a show.

“Some people make incredibly didactic artworks and meaning is at the centre of what they do. What’s much more interesting to me is experiential works,” he says.

Fox likes people to have an experience – “a somatic experience and a visceral experience, because sound is somatic and visceral.”

Like Fox, Thomson’s artwork and his Tesla coil are not intended to convey a message to his audience. It is about the experience and quality of sound, composition and light.

“It’s about exploring the music and the possibilities the tesla coil has as an instrument in its own right,” he says.


Robbie Thomson with his Tesla coil. Photo: Amy Robertson

As an artist, Thomson is interested in kinetic sculpture, music, lighting, design and technology. He started performing with the Tesla coil in 2012. It allows him to combine his interest in science and electromagnetic fields with his longstanding love of electronica.

“I remember getting the bus to school once in high-school and my mate gave me three mini discs – Aphex Twin’s ‘Drukqs’, Squarepusher’s ‘Go Plastic’ and the Prodigy’s ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ – I listened to those mini discs over and over again. I was hooked on electronic music after that,” he says.

Fox’s love of electronica and his involvement in MESS stems from his family. He inherited an interesting collection of rare and valuable synthesizers from his step-father, which are now available for use at the MESS studio.

While Fox was studying at La Trobe his friend discovered some synthesizers in one of the campus dumpsters, that his step-father built in the 70’s.

He recalls coming home from university to find his mother recording different noises and sounds around the house on various recording devices.

“She used to mic everything up and would be throwing things into buckets of water from a distance, and trying to turn her voice into a bird with electronic stuff. I used to think she was nuts,” he says.

The synthesizers Fox inherited from his step-father were sitting in a studio unused, so he created a space where the public would have access to these rare machines.


Buchla synthesizer at MESS studio. Photo: Amy Robertson

MESS, which is the brainchild of Robin Fox and Byron Scullin, has the best publicly accessible collection of electronic instruments in the world.

The idea behind MESS was to give the general public access to instruments they could no longer afford to buy.

“We realised there wasn’t really anything like this in the world. We wanted members to be able to buy a yearly membership and have incredibly affordable access to an incredible collection of instruments,” Fox says.

Their collection includes both East and West Coast synthesis. East Coast synthesizers were refined, functional and practical. West Coast were radical, experimental, “music of the future”.

“We’re really influenced by some of the people who looked at electronic music as a possibility for redefining music,” he says.

“There’s a real utopianism attached to electronic instruments, there’s a sense that people are trying to create a better future.”

When synthesizers first emerged there was paranoia they were going to completely obliterate the livelihoods of working musicians. Musicians would be irrelevant because music could all be done electronically.

“What happened was much more interesting,” Fox says.

Electronic music became its own form and genre, completely unrelated to the attempt to replicate acoustic instruments.

MESS and Thomson’s passion and understanding of electronic instruments is evident in their performances. This show will make you appreciate the dedication, passion and technical prowess involved in performing electronica live.

‘ROBBIE THOMSON: XFRMR/MESS:LIVE’ is a dizzying, unsettling, yet intoxicatingly beautiful experience. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted.

‘Climate Change’ with Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Jared Thomas and Jacynta Fuamatu

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

“Climate change is not simply an environmental issue but a matter of livelihood and cultural survival. It is a human issue, affecting our communities.”

Canadian Inuit environmental and human rights activist, Sheila Watt-Cloutier (The Right to be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and Whole Planet 2015), a writer who explores the impact of climate change on the human rights of the Inuit, perfectly encapsulates the vulnerability of Indigenous people to climate change and industry.

How can an Indigenous person utilise their right to hunt and fish if their land has been disseminated and the local water is polluted?

What is the purpose of conservation and protection of Indigenous lands if those rights can be overridden by western destruction, and their land occupied without informed consent?

This was the centre piece of an event called ‘Climate Change’ at Deakin Edge as part of the recent Melbourne Writers Festival.

As the title reflects, the event examined the impact of climate change and industrial expansion on Indigenous communities and land, reframing it as a human rights issue.

Moderated by poet Tony Birch (Ghost River 2015), other panelists included Indigenous writer Jared Thomas (Calypso Summer 2014), whose novels have received worldwide attention for their universal themes, and 350 Pacific activist, Jacynta Fuamatu, whose stories highlight lived experiences of those in the Pacific.

Indigenous communities like the Inuit and Pacific Island people are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and have invaluable traditional knowledge about the issue.

The panel called on governments to allow their communities to have a greater say in international decision making around climate change.

Fuamatu and Cloutier offered the most devastating examples of industry exploitation and climate change effects on their communities, eliciting gasps and moans from the audience.

Fuamatu begrudgingly described the plight of Indigenous groups in West Papua, whose rainforests are being deforested for timber without the consent of locals, and where people are being exiled and misplaced.

Cloutier presented a vivid description of life in the artic and talked about the loss and thinning of the ice, which becomes a safety issue for the Inuit – “The ice, the snow and the cold are a life-force for us.”

Melting permafrost and coastal erosion forces people to relocate their homes, Cloutier said. Ice breaks earlier in summer and forms later in winter. These factors impact the Inuit ability to hunt and fish, as conditions are no longer predictable and traditional knowledge becomes superfluous.

As the moderator, Birch was informed and passionate about the topic and kept the audience engaged with compelling and thought provoking questions.

However, the panelists did not acknowledge the challenges to Indigenous engagement in regards to climate change activism, like the acceptance of environmental degradation in exchange for financial security or job opportunities provided by mining or extractive industries.

Despite this the ‘Climate Change’ event at MWF was motivational as a call to arms to confront climate change through a human rights lens. It also pinpointed the value of Indigenous engagement and knowledge on climate change.

Indigenous and human rights, and the treaties that protect them, represent the most powerful barrier to protect our environment and create a sustainable future, the panel suggested.

In the words of Sheila Watt-Cloutier, “we protect what we love.”

Analysis of the representation of factory farming and farm animals in the Australian media

Amy Robertson

This essay will examine how factory farming – and farm animals more broadly – are represented in both mainstream and alternative Australian media and make recommendations for improvements in reporting. Public interest regarding social issues and subsequent participant mobilisation is largely determined by media coverage and framing. Through the use of content analysis, findings suggest media reports on factory farming generally conform to typical narrative and frame structures, and these media frames largely fail to mobilise readers or incite social movements. Furthermore, journalists rarely independently seek out information, verify truth claims or investigate the issue of factory farming. It will be argued that in order to produce valuable, high quality journalism, and for journalism to fulfill its democratic obligations, journalists must be willing to take risks, subject conflicting claims to scrutiny, and break free from formulaic news coverage that conforms to certain notions of ‘newsworthiness’ or ‘objectivity’.

Through media framing, the media focuses attention on specific events. The way in which the media frame an issue can determine how seriously the public take it (London 1993). Findings suggest reports on factory farming are formulaic – following rigid formulas, values and structures – and encourage a restricted and insufficient reading of events (Moeller 1999, p. 14). Most reports on factory farming are reactionary in nature – reacting to a specific event by delivering the facts, but providing little analysis. This type of reportage is what Snow and Benford call ‘diagnostic framing’, meaning it identifies a condition or event, but offers scant analysis or solutions, and largely fails to mobilise readers. Diagnostic framing generally achieves consensus – “we all agree this is wrong” – but action does not automatically succeed diagnosis and consensus (Snow & Benford 1988, pp. 199-201). It is argued the generation of motivation is separate and distinct from diagnostic methods of framing; it is not enough to diagnose a problem, an audience must be convinced of the need for action – what Snow and Benford refer to as ‘motivational framing’ (Snow & Benford 1988, p. 202). Regarding the issue of factory farming, this need must stem from moral considerations; given that factory farming is human caused, we have a moral imperative to act on it.

It is argued that ‘motivational framing’ mobilises people most effectively – “…diagnostic frames alone, no matter how richly developed, do little to affect action mobilization…” (Snow & Benford 1988, p. 203). Strict adherence to objectivity is not always desirable; in contrast to a diagnostic, neutral and dispassionate approach, motivational framing uses emotion to inspire change – “emotions do things, they align and bind individuals into communities” (Rodan & Mummery 2014). Effective motivational framing will address people in a way that encourages them to be morally responsive. Journalists are not slaves to one explanatory approach or framing method; many methods are available and journalists should be adopting as many styles as possible in order to stimulate citizens to take action on issues that do not affect them directly (Adam 1993, pp. 34-35).

Another feature common to reports on factory farming is the ‘he said, she said’ style of reporting. ‘He said, she said’ journalism, a term coined by media critic Jay Rosen, is the presentation of news in the form of a back-and-forth dialogue between interviewees, with no independent assessment over truth claims made by the journalist. It is a cheap and efficient method of reporting, mostly the result of newsroom practices and timeliness pressures (Rosen 2009). This formulaic method arises out of the need to condense information (Moeller 1999, p. 47). The problem is news stories are almost always more complex than the coverage they receive; it is not sufficient to blame ‘time poor audiences’ for shoddy journalism. Reactionary and ‘he said, she said’ reporting are lazy forms of journalism in which the journalist ‘plays it safe’. But quality journalism requires journalists to take risks. Journalists must be capable of making sharp judgements. With an issue like factory farming, it is up to the journalist to make an independent assessment and subject conflicting claims to independent scrutiny (Environmental Reporting n.d). Journalists all too frequently offer no analysis and force the reader to decide what is right by providing a balance of sources from either side of the debate.

Providing a balance of sources from each side of the argument or offering equal treatment is hardly impartial or objective when the truth falls almost completely on one side. It is common for reports on factory farming to rely on sources who have vested interests in how farm animals are treated and used. Those who have financial ties to factory farming receive equal space in the media, albeit they often feature less prominently in written reports. Balance is not necessarily ethical – “Journalists associate the middle with truth, when there may be no reason to” (Rosen 2009). Journalists must be capable of rejecting the notion of balance when balance becomes bias (Environmental Reporting n.d).

There is little variation in the types of sources used and how journalists structure stories and their sources; this can lead to a type of cognitive or confirmation bias in which people see only what they want to see or believe – “Cognitive bias can become a collective media phenomenon when a large number of journalists approach an issue from a similarly biased angle…” (Nikkanen 2012; Jost et al 2009, p. 173-194). Journalists have a myriad of sources at their disposal – policy experts, economists, ethicists, agricultural researches, social scientists, animal behaviorists, government officials – and should be utilising as many as possible. “Diversity is not just there, it has to be constructed…” (Couldry 2015, p. 50).

Media framing of an issue shapes public understanding and possible solutions. As is typical of diagnostic and reactionary reporting, solutions to the problem of factory farming are rarely espoused due to an overemphasis on diagnoses (Snow & Benford 1988, p. 199), and when discussed, solutions are narrow in focus. At best, reports on factory farming connect individual behaviour to the perpetuation of factory farming, but it can be dangerous to reduce social patterns to individual behaviour, or explain away and simplify the existence of a system like factory farming by reference to consumer habit or individual choices. Framing factory farming as an individual problem with individualised solutions stifles public debate, simplifies the issue, discourages collective action, neglects the political and economic nature of the issue and leads to narrow solutions (Snow & Benford 1988, p. 204). The unintended consequence is that “the reader is left worried by a system exposed, but ultimately unsure of what to do” (Pearce 2011).

This type of reporting approaches people as consumers rather than citizens and is in line with Western and liberal democratic values and their over-emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, freedom and autonomy – “…a liberal democratic framework minimizes the strong sense of shared purpose needed to undergird participation in joint deliberation and action” (Steiner & Roberts 2011, p. 193). By addressing readers as individuals free to make their own choices on factory farming, audiences are atomised. There is no sense of community or shared purpose amongst readers. Encouraging people to face social issues as democratic citizens, rather than consumers in a marketplace, can help foster greater moral and social responsibility, encourage civic engagement, create communities and enhance democracy. Society’s most entrenched social problems require a broadening of discourse and cross-sectoral solutions. Attempting to write about social issues from a collectivist perspective is one way in which this can be achieved (Basu-Zharku 2011). Public or civic journalism highlights how citizens can help solve a problem, and addresses readers as part of a larger autonomous public – a public sphere” – capable of joint participation and action (Atton & Hamilton 2008, pp. 87-88). However, a lack of solutions in reporting is not unique to the reporting of factory farming, but to social issues more broadly (Adkins Covert & Wasburn 2009, p. 56). When issues are sufficiently and robustly discussed, we can begin to find truly effective solutions (Atton & Hamilton 2008, pp. 92-93).

Ultimately there are a lack of journalists willing to investigate or report on factory farming or the welfare of farm animals. The majority of investigative work regarding factory farms comes from whistleblowers or animal activists, and the majority of articles on factory farming are simply a response to the absolute worst cases of cruelty obtained on camera. No coverage means little understanding and minimal interest amongst citizens – “Public response…is in direct correlation to the publicity an event receives” (Moeller 1999, p. 13). High legal costs, lengthy court processes and ag-gag laws can be debilitating to journalists and media outlets, thus, investigative work of this kind can be threatening (Nikkanen 2012). Time and resource considerations further restrict a journalists’ ability to report on factory farming. Newsroom structures and practices encourage formulaic, generic coverage. News groups are guided by budgets, thus, they select crowd pleasing stories that require minimal resources (Moeller 1999, pp. 19-20).

In a sense, journalists are not ignorant on the issue of factory farming, they are what writer Margaret Heffernan dubbed ‘willfully blind’ (TEDxDanubia 2013). To be willfully blind is to have access to important information but to choose to ignore it – “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…” (Alterman 2003). Factory farming is a deeply embedded practice, commercially unpopular to report on, and a topic capable of making its readers uncomfortable; this is likely to raise concern within news organisations whose main objective is to produce news that will sell. However, the media cannot justify its role as ‘fourth estate’ if its primary concern is to avoid inconveniencing or angering readers with inconvenient truths – “…dominated by reporters anxious not to inconvenience the authorities and their readers” (AFP 2015). Many topics have the potential to offend or upset people, but this should not deter journalists from reporting on them. Nor should journalists always be encouraged to take an unemotional, dispassionate approach, with strict adherence to objectivity (Alternative Journalism, p. 86). Empathy and objectivity are not mutually exclusive (Blank-Libra 2012). As discussed in relation to sources, a preoccupation with neutrality and balance can create information bias. Society needs hot-headed journalists (Tumarkin 2010).

Remaining silent or apathetic in the name of commercial interests or reader satisfaction poses a serious threat to justice and democracy (Howley 2008). Stories should not be neglected simply because they are unpopular or difficult to report on – to do so is to dilute discourse that is essential to democracy. Journalists should instead engage in moral scrutiny and report on unpopular topics in new and interesting ways. A democratic society cannot exist without a well-informed citizenry (Steiner & Roberts 2011, pp. 192-193). If journalists are unwilling to report or investigate factory farming, they should encourage greater civic and public engagement with the issue, or work more closely with citizen journalists and animal activists to report on it. A genuinely democratic society requires an open and democratic communication system – a media system in which a politics of voice, analysis and dialogue can flourish. Journalists in Australia are predominantly free to write and publish information without fear of punishment or persecution – but freedom doesn’t exist if you don’t use it.

The neglection of farm animals and factory farming from media discussion is unsurprising; farm animals have consistently been neglected from our moral community, and this is justified by the divide we create between ourselves and non-human animals, common in the West and extending back to the philosophy of Descartes – that animals lack sentience – and thinkers such as Immanuel Kant who emphasised human rationality (AFP 2010). Carnism, a term coined by psychologist Melanie Joy, refers to the idea that eating meat is a choice, and choices always stem from beliefs. Thus, meat-eaters, consciously or unconsciously, adopt an invisible belief system, or ideology that conditions them to eat certain or specific animals within different cultures and societies – hence, ‘carnism’ (What is carnism? n.d). This concept ties in with the phenomenon of ‘affected ignorance’, in which people deny causal connections between their actions and the suffering of others, choose to remain uninformed and uncritically accept societal norms and customs (Bergmann & Maller 2009, p. 2). Regardless of the reasons, the animals we use in production are largely invisible to us.

The schism created between ourselves and farm animals unconsciously seeps into language use, from which journalists are not immune. Specific language normalises treatment of farm animals. Farm animals are frequently commodified and discussed ‘en masse’ through the use of terms such as “cattle”, “livestock” and “beef”. Industry language such as “livestock” creates a dichotomy between ourselves and non-human animals; one distances themselves from animals by failing to individualise them. “This ‘massification’ of individuals, which robs them of any feature which might elicit sympathy or care, allows more readily for their exploitation” (Walters 2012, p. 105). Animals are, in language, defined by their utility to humans – hence terms such as “dairy cow” and “lab rat”. These terms are largely unnoticed or uncritsised as language use of this sort is routine and normal. Repetition has made them commonplace. But these terms are hardly natural – it stands to reason that dairy cows are not dairy cows by nature, but because of what humans do to them. Rather than use terms that define animals solely by their utility to humans, perhaps we could challenge the human definition inherent in these terms, for example, one could say – “cows used for dairy” or “rats used in research labs” instead of ‘dairy cows’ and ‘lab rats’. This reformed use of language more accurately describes the relationship between human and non-human animals used for consumption – not as a voluntarily entered into contract – but a relationship in which freedom of choice and agency are extremely one-sided. It also challenges the false conception that animals can only be described and understood based on their utility to human beings.

Another issue is the use of biased language such as ‘supposedly’ and ‘allegedly’ to influence interpretations when describing statements made by animal activists. Terms such as these delegitimise the claims and arguments of animal activists (Drake 2004, p. 53). They invest one side of a debate with value while disparaging the other. Altering language to deny reality is a phenomenon the media are willingly complicit in – perhaps more a product of laziness as opposed to deliberately conscious bias. However, compliance allows terms to enter the media unchallenged. Journalists must respect the subconscious influence of words and the ideas behind them.

The media has an important role in determining social problems and shaping public discourse and subsequent public interest. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative analysis on the coverage of factory farming in a variety of mediums, research has indicated that most forms of media give minimal coverage to factory farming. Furthermore, coverage is narrow in focus, with a heavy reliance on monolithic narratives that pit one group against another and present only a chronology of events. Social issues cannot be reduced to single narratives. Narrative is flexible and not bound to immutable, rigid formulas; coverage must transgress passive, formulaic structures.

The success of any social movement can be determined by the extent to which it mobilises the public toward social change; in regards to factory farming, the media have largely failed to inspire audiences to take action. Today’s media environment fosters an ethos of conformity, neutrality and objectivity and has quieted the conscience of journalists. But for journalists, there should be no neutrality about social injustices. An informed citizenry requires morally responsive, politically engaged reporting. Investigative journalists must be willing to challenge and critique injustice or abuse – the credibility of the profession relies on this.



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Tumarkin, M 2010, What it means to be a real journalist, Inside Story, viewed 16 September 2015, <;.

What is carnism? n.d, Carnism Awareness and Action Network, viewed 26 October 2015, <;.

Film review: ‘Unlocking the Cage’, animals are persons too

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

“Are you human? You have rights. You’re not a human? You don’t.”

What would it mean for a chimpanzee to be granted personhood or have legal standing?

Award winning documentary team Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker’s (The War Room 1993, Town Bloody Hall 1979) documentary titled ‘Unlocking the Cage’, premiered at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival.

The film follows the U.S lawsuits of animal rights lawyer Steven Wise and his challenge to obtain legal personhood for non-human animals.

Unlocking the Cage is a work of animal advocacy. It is a powerful and emotive topic, which provides an interesting perspective of animal rights from a legal standpoint.

This animal rights lawyer is not advocating improved animal welfare laws, but is fighting for rights that are currently absent from the U.S legal system, namely, the right of bodily autonomy and liberty under the writ of habeas corpus. Wise attempts to achieve this by filing suit on behalf of individual chimpanzees.

In the film the crew follow Wise on his legal campaign, which involves lengthy court scenes and discussions among his legal team. Wise is also seen visiting captive chimpanzees he hopes to represent in court.

Hegedus and Pennebaker’s decision to film individual chimps in captivity, providing background information on their story, helped to individualise the issue and makes it easier for audiences to empathise.

There are heart breaking scenes of Tommy, the chimpanzee who lives in isolation in a small cage, with only a television for company.

Wise’s personhood status is intended for animals with a certain level of cognitive complexity – chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants.


Steven Wise in Unlocking the Cage. Photo: First Run Features

Unlocking the Cage is not a discussion about whether non-human animals should have rights, but rather it’s a call to action to have certain animals recognised as legal entities as opposed to legal ‘things’.

It is designed to shift our worldview towards a deeper appreciation of the inner life and complexity of specific non-human animals. The film also challenges the anthropomorphic attitudes that enable us to draw a sharp divide between human and non-human.

In the film Wise’s courtroom challenge of extending personhood to non-human animals is unprecedented and somewhat controversial.

The footage and cinematography seems dry. There are a lot of scenes that involve Wise talking on the phone, driving his car, or sifting through papers – and the film is dully factual.

The legal points raised are fascinating and may act to generate awareness among the audience. However, Unlocking the Cage is not as emotionally gripping as it could have been and the court case remains unresolved.

Despite its inconclusive ending, the documentary will leave audiences with a sense of optimism and hope.

Rating: 3/5

Living with fibromyalgia

Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism

Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition with symptoms that include widespread chronic pain, as well as joint stiffness and severe fatigue. Two sufferers share their story.

All footage filmed and edited by me.

‘Shadowlands’ by Purple Planet Music available at… under a Creative Commons Attribution.

‘The Blossom (PON III)’ by Kai Engel available at… under a Creative Commons Attribution.

The real barrier to effective climate action

Amy Robertson

Negotiators in Paris reached an agreement last night on global climate target reductions – to keep global temperatures below 2C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, as well as provide $US100b annually to countries most affected by climate change, to guide them in sustainable development. All efforts to curb emissions are voluntary. The agreement does not mandate specific measures or targets, nor is it legally binding.

As the world celebrates the recent deal, policy makers have once again failed to discuss the real barrier to effective climate action.

The problem is that climate change is not a market failure but a market system failure; some slight tweaking of that system – by the way of emissions targets, emissions trading systems or carbon offsetting – will not suffice in the quest to control climate change. World leaders are reluctant to scrutinise fully the economic and trade systems that got us into this position, and policy makers rationalise we can adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change under the same economic system that caused it.

Data confirms the link between economic growth under neoliberal policies and rising CO2 emissions. Before neoliberalism, global emissions had fallen – from an annual 4.5 percent increase in the 1960’s to just 1 percent in the 1990’s. Between 2000 and 2008 that rate reached 3.4 percent. After a slight decrease in emissions in 2009 due to the financial crisis, emissions reached a historic 5.9 percent annual increase in 2010 (Klein 2014, p. 80). The pursuit of economic growth in Australia and other developed countries has had a profound effect upon our environment (UN News Centre 2007). Under neoliberalism, the world is using an unprecedented amount of fossil fuels.

Naomi Klein in her most recent book ‘This Changes Everything’ argues that serious climate action – the kind required to keep warming within 2C, as recommended by climate scientists – is incompatible with our current political and economic system, that of capitalism and market fundamentalism.

“We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.

  • Naomi Klein, author and activist, 2014

Neoliberal values – deregulation, low taxes, privatization of the public sphere, and a de-emphasis on collective action – are in direct opposition with what needs to be done to avoid the most serious effects of climate change, and are effectively blocking genuine climate action. Neoliberal policies encourage an emphasis on wealth creation, and this annihilates concerns for anything seen to interfere with that, such as environmental issues (Flannery 2005, pp. 3-4).

Clive Hamilton in ‘Requiem for a Species’ argues that environmentalism is economically threatening for economies and big business. It challenges the values that underpin capitalist societies. It threatens the assumption that “growth is good” and the free market philosophy of ‘growth for growth’s sake’, which ignores concerns such as the environment, social well-being, health and equity; these issues are seen as mere hindrances to economic growth and progress (Hamilton 2010, pp. 100-101).

Critics of global capitalism claim it promotes a ‘race to the bottom’ between nations in environmental standards and regulations, as countries focused on investment and corporate activities, who are in competition with one another, want to sell the cheapest goods to keep up with competition, and typically the cheapest methods are the most unsustainable (ed. Healey 2004, p. 30-31). Hence developing countries’ reluctance to curb growing emissions.

Economic systems reflect the values, priorities and goals of a particular culture. Capitalism is growth-orientated and carbon-intensive. Effective climate action requires an economic system that prioritises human life and well-being and environmental concerns over accumulative economic growth.

“Aggressive growth is impossible ecologically and implausible economically. We need economic strategies at the local, state and national levels that prioritize community benefit over corporate gain, and which presume a need for local resiliency instead of depending on uncontrolled growth.”

  • Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy, 2014

Endless growth and material wealth puts us at odds with our environment. In failing to address the main driver of climate change, and the principal barrier to effective climate change action, policy makers, particularly the political right, are literally jeopardizing the continuation of human existence on earth.

Will politicians, in solving climate change, support “business as usual”? Or will they shift their goals – from growth and trade to environmental, economic and human well-being? Individuals, governments and organisations must be primed to adjust their values, beliefs and political stance when necessary, even if this requires a transformation of one’s theoretical and conceptual framework; climate change and the survival of human civilization is too serious an issue to be filtered through the lens of ideology.