Article By Paul O' Connor
Published in "What are journalists for?"
Technology will cure cancer, Columbus discovered America, hierarchy is natural , we have the highest standard of living, there is no life on Mars, Saddam Hussein is an ally, the planet can not feed this many people, too much sun causes cancer, snow falling in midsummer is natural, Britain won the war, women are a minority, Genetically engineered food is safe, nuclear power is not safe, British beef is safe, Mars has life on it , diesel power is cleaner than petrol, global warming is happening, global warming is not happening, the Labour party wants to end poverty, mice like cheese, Saddam Hussein is the enemy, technology causes cancer.....
And on and on it goes, day in day out we are brought the ‘facts’ by ‘experts’ transmitted via the various outlets collectively dubbed ‘the mass media’. Trying to make sense of our ever changing world many of us now rely so heavily on television or newspapers to keep informed that that we have become dangerously over reliant on the opinions of so called ‘experts’. If a panel of esteemed scientists claim that world famine can be eradicated by creating a new strain of crop in a laboratory by cross fertilising the genes from a fish with a tomato* - who are we to argue ? If the ‘experts’ can assure us that only military installations will be destroyed and civilians will be spared so why not go ahead and drop those bombs ? When a pasty looking middle aged man in a suit tell us that violent images on Tv do not affect our children who are we to switch off ? Just a few generations of mass media and we have started to forget how to think for ourselves.
I recall standing in between the remaining trees and a chainsaw outside my home once when a neighbour shook her head at and told me “It’s not worth it you know, one day they will have a machine that will put it all back together again”. It didn’t sink in until much later that I realised that she had honestly felt what she said. However she probably is not too far off the truth. The majority of our living spaces has been entirely shaped by human thoughts and hands. In the last years of the twentieth century most of the human race is living within projections of other human beings minds. What we feel , touch, smell, and hear in the world has largely been processed for us by some other human, and more than likely by a male one. We have allowed the experience and ancient knowledge of our earth to become secondary and mediated .
This may have a touch of Orwell about it but thinking about it , our homes are now plotted out carefully by corporations driven by profit, not community welfare. We now get the ‘right’ amount of everything. A small lawn back and front, a network of roads for our motorcars, a garbage dump, a large supermarket, a couple of pine trees here and there, a pub or two, and a small river to flow through the gutter. Anything which was wild or natural is covered over in concrete, water which once ran free in babbling brooks now comes out of a tap, and even the light from the moon and stars has been banished by electric luminance. Then to protect this ‘normal’ way of life the state spends more money on weapons than hospitals and schools. Nothing less than a state police force and a nuclear armed defence force is necessary to protect this new corporation-imposed society ! Once you catch yourself looking at our artificially created surroundings with a fresh and critical eye you will find yourself observing how this artificial way of life is reinforced on a daily basis in the nations television networks and news papers.
The media is a powerful tool to bring about positive change but due to the ownership and control of the largest outlets by profit seeking individuals, the tool is generally a blunt one. Throughout my three decades the world as created by the corporations has been beamed directly into my home yet I and many others have been alienated for even questioning this new template for living. Life is about much more than seeking out stressful low paid jobs, eating fast food, having shallow sex ,viewing death and destruction, and trusting middle aged white men to create the society we all want to live in. The mainstream media tells us that happiness and fun is about drinking a cocktail of chemicals, colourings and gas from a aluminium canister. Apparently life is not about dancing in the full moon or reclaiming the ainceint ways of mother earth and channelling energy and love. How can one book of encyclopaedia describe the powerful gravitational force the moon has over the sea yet a newspaper will refuse to admit any effects the orb can have on our own watery bodies ? How can one medium such as a book sell us the beauty of a growing tree, yet a television can convince us that bulldozing an ancient forest is the price we must pay for progress. Tuning into our intuition is all we can really trust. Do we really believe that war is a valid and rational reaction to a problem? or that mass poverty is just an unfortunate freak of nature ? or that animals and vegetation are on the planet merely for human exploitation?
Surviving alongside the homeless, the marginalised, and the ignored of society, exploring the many varied cultures and realities in the world, I attained both a grounding and an insight which I doubt I would have achieved if I had chosen to work within the corporate managed world. It is also generally from this perspective that the various channels of the Alternative media stem from.
However producing newsvideos or writing empowering articles which are aimed at reaching people lost in the fantasy of the latest soap saga is not for the faint hearted.
Alternative media is generally produced with the minimalist of resources and by a handful of passionate people who share radical positive visions for the future. Take a wander around a gathering of alternative news reporters and you will hear debates about creating a society where people are not expected to live with foul air and radioactive waste in their waters, and where entire nations are not forced into famine and war over national debt. The mainstream media ‘industry’ is been redesigned to produce desires rather than visions and talks in terms of profit rather than community benefit. Mingle amongst mainstream hacks at a cocktail party and the talk is routinely dominated by the latest ratings, political scandals, gossip, competition, celebrities , fashion, money, war and power. Two very different worlds being created and reinforced by people with different agendas but both using the same persuasion tool- ‘the media’. When ITN broadcast a 4 minute feature last year on their main national news flagship ‘News at Ten’ about the launch of a new vacuum cleaner I decided to check both the AP and Reuters news feeds for that same day. I discovered that ITN chose to ignore the following stories in order to run a thinly disguised advert for Dysen vacuum cleaners as a news item.
World bank grants Uganda 85% relief on its national debt
Italy’s most senior police officer is jailed for corruption
First US Mc Donalds staff walkout over working conditions
Cot death in Irish republic increases by 70% since 1997
Neath council found guilty of killing 2 workmen following chemical leakage into sewers
Children protest throughout Asia to end child labour
Lesbian cruise ship sparks protests in Bahamas
Britain’s largest union calls for strike in support of a 4 day working week
British tourist attacked and blinded by British troops based in Cyprus
Airtraffic controllers in Britain claim that near misses have doubled
Police lift 10 year ban on Druids celebrating at Stonehenge on Solstice
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The ultimate power of the mainstream media lies in the simple fact that they have established a large distribution network. While media guru Marshall McLuhan succeeded in popularising the notion of a television induced global village , he failed to perceive that this powerful medium would be very tightly controlled by a handful of men driven by profit and for personal power.Mass corporate owned media must take at least some responsibility for the spread of low cost / high profit anywheresville concrete towns complete with burger joints and shopping malls throughout the world. Take a trip down any high street in London, Melbourne, Dehli or Berlin and you will come across the same consumer outlets, the same products with the same message. Enforced by the mass media, people of the East are being convinced they need the freedom of the West while the ancient Eastern traditions are sold as the key to fulfilment for Westerners. Existing as a schizophrenic, the mass media publish horror stories about families devastated by drunk drivers on one page and run glossy adverts for fast motor cars and alcoholic drinks on the next page.
Throughout this century people have stood up and criticised the growing dominance of multinational companies yet have consistently been cast aside by newspaper columnists and Tv presenters as ‘radicals’ or ‘left wing’. The media will create a Swampy character for their audience when these ‘radicals’ become too big or noisy to just ignore. Turning the focus on the lifestyle of an individual has become the mainstream media’s method of not getting too close to the flame of enlightenment. The audience ends up remembering the funny looking kid who digs tunnels to save the earth rather than the specific issue he or she is trying to highlight. Trawling through old newspapers or television programmes will show us that these media ‘controllers’ have been wrong time and time again. Ignoring thousands of years of growing food successfully without using chemicals, our artificially created society had to wait for decades before ‘experts’ could tell us that drowning our vegetables in pesticides is actually unhealthy. Cattle pumped full of hormones and mixing the feed of vegetarian animals with contaminated flesh has proved disastrous despite being hailed as a success by ‘experts’ in the beginning. What is particularly frustrating about these disasters is that the existing alternatives have rarely been given the exposure necessary to challenge the ‘expert’ notions.
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Delving into the history of the most persuasive outlet of the mass media, the television, and we may get an insight into who pulls the controls to limit what message the public receives. Back in 1927 the BBC was forced to change from being a commercial institution to a public service and non profit one with a mission statement to ‘inform, educate and entertain’. However this was limited to transmitting the thoughts and dreams of the southern white English middle class whose aim seemed to rarely stray from the task of upholding the status quo of the southern white English middle class**. Despite the proliferation of other television networks this control base is still in force today. Late last year the London based board of governors blocked the bid by BBC Scotland*** to produce its own evening news. What the Scottish people would see and hear would be decided in Westminster. Within the same month a Times newspaper columnist resigned in protest when his article was spiked merely for outlining the dire effects digital Tv could have on our society****. Any arguments that spiking his article was purely an objective editorial decision is sullied by the well known fact that Rupert Murdoch ,the owner of the Times is investing heavily in TV networks world wide.
Controlling the flow of news has been high on the authorities agenda, the military for one has always attempted to control what the nation sees ‘back home’ about recent bombings.
The British Police have taken it upon themselves to control domestic news. What better way to control the news than arresting and detaining journalists until deadlines have passed and then releasing them hours later without their films or tapes. Arrests of reporters covering environmental issues are increasing alongside the rise in popular protest against the destruction of our green belt for yet bigger roads, carparks and shopping malls. For some reason the varied Police forces or perhaps the Home Office have decided who shall report the news and how. During protests to save forests in Manchester and Birmingham ,police erected fences around the trees and banned all journalists from the site. A platform well away from the action was erected with views of only a tiny section of the forest was constructed by officers. In the same year when the very basic framework of the police were exposed as corrupt and racist by numerous newspapers why should any journalist believe any press release by the police ? The press office of the police went very quiet in all of the following cases.
In Manchester John Williams, a television cameraman for HTV was truncheoned and dragged from the trees, Nick Cobbing a photographer for the Guardian was arrested and fined with obstruction merely for choosing to report from the trees rather than the police controlled platform. A photographer and a Tv cameraperson was arrested in Totnes for reporting local people destroying up Genetically engineered crops. Cameraperson Ben Edwards found himself wandering the streets in a police issue white paper suit minus his clothes, camera and tapes. Edwards nearly went out of business when everything was detained for over 6 months as evidence. The police even raided his home and seized his computer, a number of video tapes and written material. Later, Edwards shook his head at the devastation of his home and said “ they seem to have no idea of what they were looking for, they even took tapes of documentaries I taped off the Tv”. A few weeks previously a journalist reporting for the Daily Mail was arrested in Ayrshire merely for knocking on a door. He was enquiring about the secret meeting of hugely influential capitalists known as the Bilderbergs. Eight years a journalist, Campbell Thomas, is also a special constable, and his initial disbelief at his arrest for breach of the peace was followed by 5 hours in a filthy cell. Thomas said that “it seems that the arresting of journalists has been going on for a long time but newspaper and Tv editors rely so much on the police for tip offs that they don’t want to risk upsetting their prime source of news” Despite all of the charges being dropped in court, he has been suspended from his work as a special constable.
Specialist reporting on environmental issues increase the chance of being arrested it seems. Videojournalist for the alternative news video Undercurrents, Roddy Mansfield came up against the Metropolitan police while filming a protest against Rank leisure ltd, the boss being champion of free speech ex-Channel 4 Michael Grade. While he could display his Natioanl union of Journalist (NUJ) press card with his photo on it, he couldn’t remember his cards PIN. Mansfield was arrested for forgery of a press card. All the charges were later dropped once officers ensured that his deadlines had passed. Since then he feels that he has been singled out for harassment by the police. He has been assaulted by riot police, had an expensive videocamera smashed, been arrested 8 times and once the police actually erased his footage in front of him in the custody suite of Belgravia police station. However they didn’t figure on his camera picking up shots of their own feet and hands with the microphone picking up their voices as they questioned him about him being a journalist. Mansfield sees it as his “first, real, hard piece of evidence of police news management”.
However Tv news editors don’t see it that way. Despite numerous articles published in the Guardian, Independent, Observer, and numerous magazines, numerous court cases, and dozens of documented cases the Tv channels are ignoring this suppression of the news. The Channel 4 investigation series ‘Dispatches’ would not risk commissioning an investigation to find out if the police do have a co-ordinated plan for controlling the news saying ‘The arresting of journalists has been going on for a long time and we just have to accept it’
It is out of this complacency that alternative media is flourishing and exposing issues well before the mainstream get around to even acknowledging that a problem exists. Breaking down the elitism and power of both the mainstream media and the large corporations is vital if we are going to reclaim control in order to rebuild our communities. Instead of buying into the daily output of death, crime, consumerism, fear and destruction, why not seek out and support the alternative media brimming with support and visions of love, hope, regeneration and most of all resistance ?
* These trials are being carried out by Multinational corporation Monsanto ltd
** ‘On Television’ Stuart Hood & Thalia Tabary-Peterssen
*** Scotland Daily Record November 21 1998
**** Rev Doug Gay resigned in November 1998 from the Times
Undercurrents is an award winning alternative news service producing videos of people taking inspiring actions. http://www.undercurrents.org