Blogging and human rights

Protest in Iran photo by Christopher Rose

In case you were curious, the word blog in Farsi looks like this – وبلاگ. Iranians who didn’t like the way things were going in their country started وبلاگ’ing (blogging) like crazy after the 2000 crackdown on Iranian media. Iranians who interact with the internet are by definition risk-takers.

As recently as late 2016, five Iranians were sentenced to prison terms for writing and posting images on fashion blogs. The content was decreed to ‘encourage prostitution’.

The Independent quoted lawyer Mahmoud Taravat via state news agency Ilna that the eight women and four men he represented received jail time of between five months to six years. He was planning to appeal the sentences handed down by a Shiraz court on charges including ‘encouraging prostitution’ and ‘promoting corruption’.

The immediacy of blogging appeals to those who live under oppressive regimes. They use the online diary to inform the world of the injustices in their country as and when they happen. I cited Iran (Persia) as just one example of a country where expressing strong opinions contrary to the agenda of the ruling government is extremely risky business.

The founder of Iran’s blogging movement, Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger, spent six years in prison (the original sentence was 19 and a half years), before being pardoned by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Derakhshan also helped promote podcasting in Iran and appears to have been the catalyst that spawned some 64,000 Persian language blogs (2004 survey). Clearly there is/was a level of dissent among people who think the right to free speech is worth the risk of incarceration or worse.

Blogging can be a lot of things in Australia, but risky it rarely is, so long as you are mindful of the laws regarding defamation and contempt of court. Not so for bloggers or citizen journalists of oppressed countries who try to get the facts out.

It is no coincidence that most of the countries guilty of supressing free speech are among the 22 countries named by Amnesty International as having committed war crimes. They include Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and, closer to home, Myanmar, where persecution and discrimination persists against the Rohingya. Amnesty’s national director Claire Mallinson told ABC’s The World Today that not only are people being persecuted where they live, 36 countries (including Australia) sent people back into danger after attempts to find refuge.

Amnesty’s Human Rights report for 2015-2016 does not spare Australia from criticism, particularly our treatment of children in custody, with Aboriginal children 24 times more likely to be separated from their families and communities. We are also complacent when it comes to tackling world leaders and politicians accused of creating division and fear.

Still, at least if you live in Australia you can openly criticise something the government is doing (or not doing), apropos this week’s Q&A and the Centrelink debt debate.

According to literary types who seem to have warmed to my turn of phrase, FOMM is not a blog as such, but an example of ‘creative nonfiction’ which I am told is not only a genre, but also something taught at universities.

I never knew that.

Bloggers in comfortable democracies like ours use blogs to write about cats, dogs, goldfish, cake recipes, fashion, yoga, raising babies, travel adventures and produce how-to manuals about anything you care to name.

The definition of a blog is ‘a regularly updated public website or web page, typically run by an individual or small group, written in an informal or conversational style.’

Scottish comedian and slam poem Elvis McGonagall, who you met last week, satirises the blog format with this entry.


Woke up. Had a thought. Dismissed it. Had another. Dismissed that. Stared at the cows. The cows stared back. Scratched arse. Shouted at telly. Threw heavy object at telly. Had a wee drink. Had another. Went to bed.

Tuesday to Sunday – repeat as above

The definitive blog is an online daily diary, kept by people while travelling, carrying out some stated mission like preparing for an art exhibition, producing an independent album, dieting or training for a triathlon. Most of these literary exercises are abandoned at journey’s end, or on completion of the mission. A fine example of this is folksinger John Thompson’s marathon effort to post an Australian folk song each day for a year. He did this from Australia Day 2011 to January 26, 2012.

Some of the tunes have ended up on albums by Cloudstreet, Thompson’s musical collaboration with Nicole Murray and Emma Nixon.

The social worth of a blog, though, is when an oppressed human being writes a real time account of what atrocity or infringement of human rights is happening in their third-world village, right now.

There are millions of blogs circulating on the worldwide web, many of which are concerned with marketing, selling, promoting and luring readers into subscribing to the bloggers’ products and/or clicking on sponsors’ links. It is nigh-on impossible to find a list of blogs independently assessed on quality, although some have tried.

The Australian Writers Centre held a competition in 2014 to find Australia’s best blogs, dividing entries into genres like Personal & Parenting, Lifestyle/Hobby, Food, Travel, Business, Commentary and Words/Writing. The competition attracted hundreds of entries which were whittled down to 31 finalists.

The AWC told FOMM it has since switched its focus to fiction competitions but has not dismissed the popularity of blogging. Even so, continuity is an ever-present issue.

The 2014 winner, Christina Sung, combined travel and cooking, two topics which spawn thousands of blogs worldwide, into The Hungry Australian. But as happens with blogs, the author has somewhat moved on since then. As Christina last posted in September 2016: ‘Hello, dear readers! Apologies for my lengthy absence but I’ve been working on a few writing projects lately.’

Likewise, the author of The Kooriwoman, the Commentary winner for a blog about life as an urban Aboriginal in Australia, has not posted since January 2016.

It is not uncommon for finely-written blogs like those mentioned to have a hiatus or disappear without notice, for a myriad of reasons linked to other demands and distractions in the authors’ lives.

The few lists of Australian blogs you can find tend to rank them on popularity (numbers of followers or clickers). The top 10 blogs in this list are all about food or travel.

Hands-down winner Not Quite Nigella is a daily blog curated by Lorraine Elliott who according to blogmetrics has 28,523 monthly visitors. It’s not hard to see why – the blog is constantly updated with recipes, restaurant reviews, travel adventures and the like, featuring mouth-watering photos and a chatty prose style.

So there are those like Lorraine who make a living from blogging and those who start with a skyrocket burst of enthusiasm and fall to ground like the burnt-out stick.

Whatever your absorbing passion in life happens to be – cross-dressing, wood-carving, wine-making, writing haikus, collecting Toby jugs, quilt-making, proofreading or growing (medicinal) marijuana, you can bet someone out there has created a blog.

Just yesterday for no reason other than a bit of light relief after months of heatwave conditions, I searched for ‘grumpy spouse blog’ and got 22 hits. Have a look at this one – it’s choice.



You’re blog go viral easy

Spam signEvery so often I go to this WordPress website and read flattering messages from people who say they can give me a virus. That is to say, they think my blog could go viral easy, excoriating the worldwide web with my witticisms (I added that bit).
“Your very good,” (sic) reads one. “You can get monetize easy for small investment.”
“Very admiring of your postings which go viral easy with good back links,” says another.
“Viagra, Viagra,” said one message, which somehow reminded me of that obscure Canadian movie about a girl with Tourette’s and her petty thief boyfriend going to see one of the wonders of the world.
I usually delete such messages as the email address is often not recognisably kosher and if you follow the links (independently) it leads to some e-consultant who promises to lift your voice above the clamour. I have done research on SEO, tags, back links and so on. I do the basics then go to see if the postie’s been.

Ninety percent of the real feedback comes direct to my email inbox from people on the list to which this weekly rant is sent. Some have their heads around the possibilities of commenting online and do so. The protocol is you are supposed to reply and perhaps a debate will ensue. When first starting I made it possible to comment on every online column, but this attracted a vast volume of spam. Correspondence is now restricted to the last two columns, but even so, the spam has to be winnowed out from the real insights.

Chariot before the steed, ahem

Most people start writing a blog then ask people to subscribe. I already had a list, so I emailed FOMM to them and put it on the website as an afterthought. The email list has grown exponentially through friends of friends, so I feel a sense of validation when someone completely unknown to me subscribes online (and stays subscribed).
I should be flattered they found FOMM inside the vast galaxy of facts, factoids, opinion, porn, trivia and Content we still call The Worldwide Web.
So here’s a few insights from the people who write directly to me – on average 20 emails a week and not always from the same people. Let’s continue the practise of inventing nicknames to sort of preserve their privacy. If you think you recognise people, you sort of probably do.

All the little birdies go…

“You need to get on Twitter,” Mrs Kissinger wrote quite some time ago. “It’s where all the intelligent thinkers are.” The column is posted on twitter every week but that’s about the sum of my twittering, although lately I have taken to retweeting (relaying something you find interesting to friends on Twitter, Facebook etc).
My music specialist, who shall go by Franky’s Dad, maintains a music trivia website where he uses contacts all over the world to get to the bottom of such arcane material as Chubby Checker’s little-known dope smoking song, “Stoned in the bathroom”. FD already told me he didn’t follow that genre, but went to the trouble of finding someone who does.
He said last week’s column about Allegri’s Miserere sent him searching for the CD and, while he was at it, looking for other sacred music pieces (including Stabat Mater), which he’d often listen to after a hard day in the classroom. I relayed this to our choir director Kim (his real name), who is always looking for a musical challenge.
Kim is almost always first to respond on Fridays. He and Big Hand (who frequently gives me the big blue thumbs up on FB), reply within minutes, it seems, using a few choice words: “Awesome. Funny. Spot on. Good one, Bob, or “You need to get out more.”

Carpe noctem

Apropos of last week’s missive, I had no idea how many people actually studied (and enjoyed) Latin at school. Auntie Dee reckons the medical world is full of it (Latin) and it is also a useful language to learn if you plan to study the sciences, said Barbs, who tried to encourage her son by incorporating mottos like nils desperandum into everyday conversation.
Mr X reminded me about mens rea which in a criminal case means the prosecutor has to prove an intent to commit the crime, rather than whatever you did being an accident. Fiddler on the Roof, who communicates rarely, had only this to say: Si hoc legere scis nimium erudittionis habes! (Google translate: “If you can read this you are erudite.”)

Longreads anonymous

If erudition is your thing, there are places on the worldwide web where you can find lengthy intellectual essays. I find it a little disconcerting that some of the keenest FOMM readers prefer essays that run to 6,000 or 7,000 words. The well-read Consiliumque Oppido subscribes to longreads and thebigroundtable, both of which welcome well-researched articles of that length.
The international standard word-count for a well-known newspaper columnist is around 700 words. Good writers can do a lot with that, but they can’t go off on a tangent and come back again, as I sometimes do within 1,200 words.
Long reads are something to which we writers should aspire; they win awards, get republished and some even pay money.
It is not the finding of the article that counts, though, rather the time it takes to read and digest a 6,000-word essay. There is a reason why the most effective Facebook post is 40 characters.
Finding quality reads online is a laborious process, so make sure once you have found a reliable essayist like Gwynne Dyer, bookmark the website.
Or, as Big Hand and Franky’s Dad do, enlist the help of Instapaper or Pocket to save interesting things to read later on your Iphone, Ipad or Kindle device.
Large commercial websites like The Monocle, The New Yorker, Longreads,, The Monthly, The Huffington Post (which has this week launched an Australian edition), are easy to find. They have marketing budgets and IT people who know how to go viral easy.

Bloggers – an exciting new franchise

The blogosphere is harder to penetrate as there is no high street shop with a neon sign saying Bloggers. Many people start a blog then do not persevere for a variety of reasons, so the link is out of date or 404. Or the blog had a shelf-life (Notes from our 2008 Tour) and is now just an archive.
The Australian Writers Centre in Sydney has invited blog submissions for the past few years so their judges could decide who is “best in show”. The regular winners of the AWC competition are usually travel, cooking, health and well-being or raising children blogs. There are some interesting news/comment blogs nonetheless, including News with Nipples. Koori Woman and The Flying PhD.
The AWC is not running the competition this year, but is promising a new blogosphere initiative. They should definitely think about encouraging young writers.
Essays by the winners of the Whitlam Institute’s What Matters competition, open to senior high school students, are well worth a look. The 2014 winner wrote about rape in a most compellingly personal, but allegorical way. The runner-up’s iconoclastic take on heroes and villains was quite original. If we have thinkers like this coming into adulthood in Australia, there’s hope for us yet.