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Age Of Show Business

The Importance of Alternative Media

John Scales Avery

The media are a battleground where reformers struggle for attention, but are defeated with great regularity by the wealth and power of the establishment. This is a tragedy because today there is an urgent need to make public opinion aware of the serious problems facing civilisation, and the steps that are needed to solve these problems. The mass media could potentially be a great force for public education, but in general their role is not only unhelpful—it is often negative. War and conflict are blatantly advertised by television and newspapers.

There is a true story about the powerful newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst that illustrates the relationship between the mass media and the institution of war: When an explosion sank the American warship USS Maine in the harbour of Havana, Hearst anticipated (and desired) that the incident would lead to war between the United States and Spain. He therefore sent his best illustrator, Fredrick Remington, to Havana to produce drawings of the scene. After a few days in Havana, Remington cabled to Hearst, "All's quiet here. There will be no war." Hearst cabled back, "You supply the pictures. I'll supply the war." Hearst was true to his words. His newspapers inflamed American public opinion to such an extent that the Spanish-American War became inevitable. During the course of the war, Hearst sold many newspapers, and Remington many drawings. From this story one might almost conclude that newspapers thrive on war, while war thrives on newspapers.

Before the advent of widely-read newspapers, European wars tended to be fought by mercenary soldiers, recruited from the lowest ranks of society, and motivated by financial considerations. The emotions of the population were not aroused by such limited and decorous wars. However, the French Revolution and the power of newspapers changed this situation, and war became a total phenomenon that involved emotions. The media were able to mobilise on a huge scale the communal defense mechanism that Konrad Lorenz called "militant enthusiasm"—self-sacrifice for the defense of the tribe. It did not escape the notice of politicians that control of the media is the key to political power in the modern world. For example, Hitler was extremely conscious of the force of propaganda, and it became one of his favourite instruments for exerting power.

With the advent of radio and television, the influence of the mass media became still greater. Today, state-controlled or money-controlled newspapers, radio and television are widely used by the power elite to manipulate public opinion. This is true in most countries of the world, even in those that pride themselves on allowing freedom of speech. For example, during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the official version of events was broadcast by CNN, and criticism of the invasion was almost absent from their transmissions.

Today people are faced with the task of creating a new global ethic in which loyalty to family, religion and nation will be supplemented by a higher loyalty to humanity as a whole. In case of conflicts, loyalty to humanity as a whole must take precedence. In addition, the present culture of violence must be replaced by a culture of peace. To achieve these essential goals, what is urgently needed is the cooperation of the mass media.

The predicament of humanity today has been called "a race between education and catastrophe": Human emotions have not changed much during the last 40,000 years. Human nature still contains an element of tribalism to which nationalistic politicians successfully appeal. The completely sovereign nation-state is still the basis of global political system. The danger in this situation is due to the fact that modern science has given the human race incredibly destructive weapons. Because of these weapons, the tribal tendencies in human nature and the politically fragmented structure of the world have both become dangerous anachronisms.

After the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein said, "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our way of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophes."

The success of human species is built on cultural evolution, the central element of which is cooperation. Thus human nature has two sides, tribal emotions are present, but they are balanced by the human genius for cooperation. The case of Scandinavia—once war-torn, now cooperative—shows that education is able to bring out either the kind and cooperative side of human nature, or the xenophobic and violent side. Which of these shall it be? It is up to educational systems to decide, and the mass media are an extremely important part of education. Hence the great responsibility that is now in the hands of the media.

How do the mass media fulfil this life-or-death responsibility? Do they give people insight? No, they give people pop music. Do they give people an understanding of the sweep of evolution and history? No, they give people sport. Do they give people an understanding of need for strengthening the United Nations, and the ways that it could be strengthened? No, they give people sit-coms and soap operas. Do they give people unbiased news? No, they give people news that has been edited to conform with the interests of the military-industrial complex and other powerful lobbys. Do they present people with the need for a just system of international law that acts on individuals? On the whole, the subject is neglected. Do they tell of the essentially genocidal nature of nuclear weapons, and the urgent need for their complete abolition? No, they give people programmes about gardening and making food.

A consumer who subscribes to the "package" of broadcasts sold by a cable company can often search through all 100 or so channels without finding a single programme that offers insight into the various problems that are facing the world today. What the viewer finds instead is a mixture of pro-establishment propaganda and entertainment. Meanwhile the neglected global problems are becoming progressively more severe. In general, the mass media behave as though their role is to prevent the peoples of the world from joining hands and working to change the world and to save it from thermonuclear and environmental catastrophes. The television viewer sits slumped in a chair, passive, isolated, disempowered and stupefied. The future of the world hangs in the balance, the fate of children and grandchildren hangs in the balance, but the television viewer feels no impulse to work actively to change the world or to save it. The Roman emperors gave their people bread and circuses to numb them into political inactivity. The modern mass media seem to be playing a similar role.

The future of human civilisation is endangered both by the threat of themonuclear war and by the threat of catastrophic climate change. It is not only humans that are threatened, but also the other organisms with which people share the gift of life. One must also consider the threat of a global famine of extremely large proportions, when the end of the fossil fuel era, combined with the effects of climate change, reduce people's ability to support a growing global population.

Inaction is not an option. People have to act with courage and dedication, even if the odds are against success, because the stakes are so high.

The mass media could mobilise people to action, but they have failed in their duty.

The alternative media, and all who work with them deserve both gratitude and financial support. They alone, can correct the distorted and incomplete picture of the world that people obtain from the mass media. They alone can show the world the path to a future in which children, grandchildren, and all future generations can survive.

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Frontier
Vol. 51, No.26, Dec 30, 2018 - Jan 5, 2019