'Media conscience' talking to Indymedia
I wrote to ask them their thoughts on the idea, this is a condensed version:
Would you consider supporting an initiative intended to correct the distortion caused by corporate control of the liberal media. The intention is to build a group of people who out of their own frustration have decided to be proactive in criticizing the 'liberal' media. My role, which is not restricted to me specifically, is basically to organise and inform any participants of issues arising in those publications I have chosen to address. This is not to say they are the only relevant publications, simply the ones I feel need the attention, and also the ones which should respond constructively. The criticism is to be directed in a polite manner to the editors of each newspaper for the purpose of constructive criticism. Therefore The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and RTE news are the outlets I consider most beneficial to monitor. My idea is formed with influence particularly from UK based Media Lens, Justice Not Vengeance (JNV) and US F.A.I.R. I have been involved in media commentary for the several years now, and have contacted the Irish Times Editor many times now, without much progress. This is why I think organized and informed criticism may have a greater impact. The frustration with the liberal media's reporting is quite evident on the letters page of the Times, however, the opinion and analysis does not reflect this. If you have any suggestions I would be grateful.
Firstly I'd like to thank M and T for their encouraging words, I think this form of activism has been quite successful for the Media Lens contributors as after much effort there has been a considerable response from the dominant media. I've been toying with ideas for a site to host the organization, possibly www.mediaconscience.org, as my blog will not be sufficient to allow discussion between contributors.
I am not sure whether you are familiar with how Media Lens works, so I'll briefly try and summarize their work. It is edited by David Edwards and David Cromwell, both write for the New Statesman. They produce 'media alerts' on specific topics, these then form a basis for medialens readers to form their own emails to be directed towards either/both the journalist or editor of said publication. This is quite different from Amnesty's copy, paste and sign format, and therefore more personnel and in my opinion more effective.
I would like to try and explain my thinking on how this would work. I have come up with two broad options. The first is for me, or whoever else, to take an article that they consider distorts the truth and provide their own criticism of it, while also providing relevant information for readers unfamiliar with the topic to form their own opinion. Then each reader/contributor puts together their own e-mail, as a 'member' of 'mediaconscience'. The main problem with this is that it may be the case that people would seek to undermine the effort by being rude or aggressive in their communication with editors/journalists. This would tarnish the whole community and make the effort pointless.
The second option, there are obviously more, is that within a forum on the website contributors are able to put forward their ideas as to what the relevant points are, with these in mind a letter is then formed by someone/a group of writers and then contributors/readers would sign the email jointly. There are problems with this approach too, some may feel their points are not given adequate prominence in the email, also the email my be easily discarded by editors as only representing one criticism..
T I understand your pessimism and agree with you. I try not to read the dominant news, however I have discussed the role of blogging and the internet based media with journalists and the response I get is 'until they get out into the field and do the digging' then they will have no effect. The problem with relying on the wires is that the sources will always distort the truth. One also relies so heavily on corporate/government funded research, for example, studies into depleted uranium. Therefore within the capitalist system a totally independent media is very difficult to establish without, as you point out, the dominant media 'jumping on the bandwagon'. I am convinced that the 'gap for dissent' is great enough for this type of activism to change at least a few minds and maybe give newspaper readers the insight to go and look for the truth elsewhere. Sorry I haven't more time to address your concerns properly.
Thanks for your thoughts P. In reference to independent media, I contribute to an independent publication when I have time, however I sometimes think it exists only to 'preach to the converted'.
The following may sound critical, however I don't intend it to be derogatory. The first problem I have with the independent internet media is one of awareness. The vast majority of people are not aware of indymedia and this is not necessarily the fault of indymedia promotion, the corporate media (and capitalism) serves to anesthetise the population and reinforce their prejudices. And in my opinion the internet is and will remain for the time being an elitist medium. Access to the internet is one constraint and having the time to use it is another. The second problem I have is that, if aware, many people do not trust these publications for the basic reason that they are not well known or long established like Amnesty. People are so consumed by branding, they will not place trust in an organisation unless it is well advertised and openly supported by celebrities/politicians/media pundits etc, the very people that make the dominant media so ridiculous. These problems need to be addressed by deconstructing the established media. Now, the initiative I am proposing is not intended to deconstruct the corporate media itself, it would simply serve to bring awareness to people of the protective structure that the corporate media relies on. If people can interact with the very people that have been standardised by it, they will hopefully gain insight into 'corporate protectionism for the pursuit of profit', ie don't rock the boat, allow only certain dissent, keeping 'the more aware' at bay/in check.
I understand there have been huge leaps in independent 'digging', but I am still unsure as to how the more costly research is to be tackled. For instance how could you force governments to control tobacco products if research wasn't available to prove its harm? Who pays for this research?
Until people realise that the corporate media is incapable of telling the truth then it will always be dominant. By providing an alternative, independent media, those who become disaffected by continual distortion can be enlightened. However, many/the majority are still unaware they are being duped. This is the purpose of what I propose, it is not until one realises one has been blinded by propaganda that he/she can search for reality. Changing the dominant media is neigh on impossible, revealing it for what it is, much simpler.
Media Lens has said "It seems clear to us that quite obvious conflicts of interest mean it is all but impossible for the media to provide this information. We did not expect the Soviet Communist Party's newspaper Pravda to tell the truth about the Communist Party, why should we expect the corporate press to tell the truth about corporate power?"
"We hope that this website will help to turn bystanders into compassionate actors."
FAIR state they want to "encourage the public…to become media activists rather than passive consumers of news."
This initiative represents only a stepping stone for people from corporate to independent and as such it is not an alternative to indymedia, it is simply a branch of it.
If you can dismantle the trust given to broadsheets you can make people question everything they 'know'. Just as the media is a medium, the broadsheet is "an advertisement (usually printed on a page or in a leaflet) intended for wide distribution."
I am aware that indymedia readership is growing, but the dominant news is also thriving on the internet: "The Sun continues to struggle with the success of its own website, latest figures suggest. More than five million users visited the site in January 2005 - a year-on-year increase of 56 per cent." The numbers of people marching against war was as much a show of peoples in-built questioning of power as well as their ethical stance against aggression, it was a victory for independent medias. However the response from 'power' was damning and I think it may have made those 'beginners' disillusioned as to what influence they have, even as a collective majority.
With regard to workshops, this seems to be a great idea, but my pessimistic side wants to ask who are you meeting with? Does this sometimes involve 'preaching to the converted'? In my immediate group of friends, there is a group of people who think along similar lines to me in almost every way and yet my interest in alternatives to the dominant news does not extend to them. Some I have 'converted' over time, others have found it themselves eventually. But the majority are completely uninterested or suspicious. In wider circles, from varied backgrounds and interests, I know very few who are informed via the independent media. This is my main concern, if one can't get the people who are already aware of the distortion of the mainstream media to seek alternatives, how do you get a Sun reader?
As for indymedia hosting corporate criticism, I still believe that for the reasons I outlined, this form of contribution to the deconstruction of the corporate media must be separate to the indymedia collective and publications like counterpunch etc. However, indymedia, for instance, is just as appropriate a place for criticism of the dominant mediums.
As to why people would trust this watchdog, I think I outlined this in how the site would work, the site exists only through reader input, the readers themselves are the ones criticising the media, it is their arguments that make up the content.
To address the passive readership it might be productive to host a message board, where people who are unsure whether their views are relevant, or for those that may be afraid to comment/criticise an article for fear of sounding ignorant.
In pointing out that the Sun readership is also growing, I was simply remarking that growth in Independent readership is only relative to overall change. And unfortunately it is not just the 'tittys' that attract people to the Sun, the delusion of US Fox viewers evidences that. I don't think its sensationalist stories that will attract viewers though, although much more interesting reading, there is a massive void between those institutionalised by years of propaganda and the reality of inherent corporate corruption. With reference to M's discussion of pharmaceutical monopoly/tax breaks (evasion) etc there is only so much one will accept. The common notion is that low taxes and subsidies bring big multi-nationals into the country, providing jobs, security, lower cost of goods and services and the rejuvenation of 'dying' communities. Any sleaze or mis-management is simply extra ordinary, bad eggs in an otherwise positive community enterprise. The problem with getting people to read indymedia etc is that theres just too much reality, one can't be subjected to news that the corporation supplying their extravagant/comfortable/basic lifestyle is also contributing to death and suppression. Even publicity of the cost of global warming is not enough to curb the promotion of lifestyle luxuries like air travel. The new airbus being a prime example, how many people recognised the contradiction in this new gas guzzler and the concern for polar ice cap melting on the next page? Years of reading about CEOs stealing millions and rogue traders making pensioners penniless are closely followed by flicking to the finance section to see how much you made or lost in the stock market, for those who are privileged enough anyway. Just as the trade unions have not been performing, so have people been under performing in their support for them. Literature has always sought to undermine the trade union, to demonise it, and in general this view seems quite prevalent although again contradictory in most mainstream papers. On the one hand you have articles calling for the need to increase teachers salaries and reduce doctors hours, and then on the other you have condemnation of striking workers. The same is true of opposition to the war. From one page to the next the Times changes its tune from outright support, bordering on xenophobic scaremongering to accurate and insightful reporting of what is really going on in the middle east. Either this is the journalists real agendas slipping through or simply the market forces allowing certain forms of dissent to appease those 'left wingers' needing some balance or the 'right wingers' calling for stability, privatisation and the 'free market'. Even the supposed bastions of liberality, the colleges, are businesses. The corporate media exists because of the way we live not the other way round. For this reason the critique and analysis of the corporate/institutionalised media is news in itself. This ramble is obviously not news to any of you, and I have managed to drag this discussion way off course.
There is a hundred reasons why I think this initiative needs to exist, separate or joined to indymedia (for one), it is collective dissent, and it has an effect. It has to, after all corporate media is a business, that is its fatal flaw, it will destroy itself or adapt in pursuit of profit. It exists only through readership, if the readership is vocally dis-satisfied with the product, it has to change, this is its obligation to its shareholders/advertisers. It cannot function only as a tool for propaganda.
One reason, is Myers in the Times: "The standard liberal way of discussing immigration in Britain is to misrepresent the arguments of those who counsel caution and control....[he then goes on to issue caution and control] who is the more likely to have an interest in reviving an Auschwitz? ...Answer: in large part through an ignoble and doctrinaire multiculturalism."
Or worse still, respected journalists like Vincent Browne, using a document which has been deemed a "complete forgery" by the attorney General's office to argue the illegal nature of the war in Iraq. Something that should have been straight forward to prove, he manages to undermine. No admission of error was made and no correction. A complete lack of accountability seems to prevail in Irish journalism.
I don't consider it 'passive reaction' either, it is public condemnation. Media Lens for instance is very well known (by journalists anyway), the editors were given space last year in the Guardian to criticise the publication. Some may consider it just a ploy to appease them, either way it is a small victory. The second reason is that in writing an email to a journalist you are in direct contact, they 'at the end of the day' human, with the possible exception of Mark Steyn. I don't think you should underestimate the impact of several hundred angry and informed protests from readers, this isn't going to sink the ship, but it may rock a few egos. My own responses from the dominant media have been few and far between, with only one letter seen fit for publication (although heavily edited):
"Does Mark Steyn realise that although he may be right in saying "There are millions of Americans who take the view that there's no such thing as a bad reason to whack Saddam." Saddam remains well and truly alive, while over 100,000 Iraqis and several thousand coalition troops suffered said 'whacking'."
The question of whether this should be incorporated into the site as opposed to separate is not that important. If the initiative is successful, I would hope it would play a part in all Irish media alternatives, with many different groups contributing. As I see it there is no reason for indymedia to be the watchdog. In terms of spreading the word, just one letter in the Times/Independent would be enough to create interest.
And as I said this is not intended to limit the growth of new media, it is simply a branch of it. It is as much a learning experience as it is a critic of the dominant news. And I am convinced that people active in this sort of critique will contribute more to independent media in turn. That is certainly my experience.