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"Peace News has compiled an exemplary record... its tasks have never been more critically important than they are today." Noam Chomsky
Hate radio, peace journalism, the Internet, SMS organising, the underground, the overground... it's all here. This issue of Peace News focuses on war and peace in the information age: here's an introduction...
Knowledge is power
One morning, during the recent invasion of Iraq, I was at home when I idly flipped the tv on.”Daytime tv!” I thought - haven't seen this for a good while. Expecting a banal chat, problem or quiz show. What I got was real time combat coverage from the British military's advance towards Basra. Real, live, war - and at 9.30am.
The Modest Manifesto - A Better World is Possible (1.2)
“Neither Slave nor Master” - Camus
We need to start our manifesto with epistemology. Not just as homage to the Age of Information but because working knowledge starts with understanding how we know what we know. Hubris indicates excessive naivete about epistemology, because:
* Knowledge is limited.
* The personal is political; the political is personal.
* Nonviolent Direct Action for political change.
* Detournement, Irony, Reversion, Subversion, Seduction, Inspiration, Sacrifice,Communication, Coordination, humor, wit, to listen.
A better world is based on principles, not prescriptions:
“The Future is not yet written.” - Sara O'Connor, The Terminator
The Syndicate for Initiative
It made me realise that the level of tolerance - or muted acceptance - of the behaviour of those who hold power, is such that, while during the first Gulf War the spinners did all they could to hide the gruesome atrocities, probably for fear that they would cause such public outrage and opposition, this time round it is known that “we the people” do not care enough to do anything to significantly disrupt the war machine, and that we have a much higher “outrage threshold” than previously believed.
So, we can be shown these images and we can accept that as technology becomes more sophisticated (and cheaper) it is not only inevitable that we get more realtime viewing, but that there is an intrinsic positive value in this use of new technologies.
The relationship mass media has with modern warfare is a complex issue. The blatant co-option of favoured journalists, embedded with the troops, is well-documented, as is the inevitable bias of state and corporate media in either overtly orsubtly supporting state's war efforts. However, the real issue seems to be not what we are presented with for consumption, nor even the glaring omissions - the coverage we are never shown - but the very parameters within which we engage with the media, the context in which that engagement takes place. Perhaps if mass media had not already distorted our perceptions of violence, of what is acceptable and what is not, this would not be such a problem. But the reality is that for those of us exposed to a constant stream of information, all of it comes filtered through a specific economic, political and social, lens.
While it would have been easy to fill an issue of Peace Newswith articles lambasting the evils of corporate media, their relationship to state power and capital, we decided to focus on areas that we hope will be of more specific use to the international peace movement. As such, articles focus around the following issues:
- The use of media to generate and sustain violence
- The development of alternative media outlets during conflict
- How activists and campaigners are using new forms of media
- The challenges of working in mainstream media
- The value of peace journalism
We know the media plays a vital role in sustaining our beliefs and practices. Whether it is the constant objectification of women and non-human animals, the whipping up of nationalistic fervour, or, as in Rwanda, the outright instructions to commit specific acts of violence, the media can act to both generate and sustain individual and collective conflict.
The hope of course is that the opposite is also true, that “peace journalism” (a slightly controversial term - see http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/debate-8-92.jsp for arguments for and against this concept), or at least journalism that promotes positive discourse and engagement can encourage and sustain a different range of beliefs and practices.
The development of “peace radio” in Burundi, for example, has brought together Hutu and Tutsi journalists and enabled the production of radio programmes that promote a positive understanding of both communities. Since 1995 Studio Ijambo has produced a mixture of news, magazine programmes and soap operas, all of which seem hugely popular and which posit a radically different stream of messages than were broadcast in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
First casualty of war...
It is a cliché that the first casualty of war is “the truth” (whose truth?), but the overt control of media during war has inspired a wide range of activist-media responses. In 1992 activists from the Antiwar Campaign Croatia (ARK) began publishing ARKzine - a print magazine that began production, as founding editor Vesna Jankovic says (see p18) “because one thing was clear: the media war preceded the actual fighting, and in order to keep civil, antiwar, impartial awareness alive, we had to create our own media”.
During the recent invasion of Iraq, two groups (Electronic Intifada and Voices in the Wilderness (US)) teamed up to bring the web-based news and views site Electronic Iraq. In an interview in this issue of PN (p22) co-founder Nigel Parry comments “we wanted to communicate the experience of normal Iraqis and offer reports on the humanitarian situation in the country. These issues are a low priority for the commercial media.” Sometimes giving a voice to the voiceless performs an invaluable role and the fact that Electronic Iraq and sister project Electronic Intifada receive more than 300,000 visits each month is testament to the importance of making space for a broader range of voices than found in the mainstream.
For those of us with relatively easy and cheap internet access, the ability to publish and broadcast alternative news and information to a potentially huge global audience is shifting how we approach our relationship with media. Of course the flip side to the liberation of information in this way is that there is also a complete overload of information and our ability to make choices about what information we access and how we use it remains in its infancy.
However, while the irony of the Internet being initially developed for military purposes (ARPANET) is not lost, activists and campaigners worldwide are using these new channels of communication in a myriad of ways and in some cases are also pioneering the development of the technologies themselves. Again, there remain massive problems in our use of new technologies: while the technical infrastructure remains in the hands of massive corporations we will always be at their mercy to a large degree. In Rasmus Grobe's article on the use of SMS (texting) in anti-Castor actions (see p26), he points out that their system only works until the mobile phone networks become overloaded by the sheer volume of activist and police traffic. How easy it would be for the network to merely deny them/us access.
Many of us - and for good reasons - tend to have a pretty negative view of the mainstream media and of those working as journalists and editors within it. But with an estimated 1.5m 1professional journalists working across the globe, it is important to recognise that many work hard to promote progressive ideas and that they have a better range of opportunities for reaching a broader constituency than the activist-based media.
Journalists working in the mainstream media who try to advance human rights, an anti-war agenda, or economic justice, face a range of challenges that tend to be outside the experience of the alternative press. From battling it out with editors, to being harassed, imprisoned - 132 during 2003 2 - killed, journalists who work to expose the abuses of states, corporations or organised crime are under threat.
Of course it is not just individual journalists: as seen in Zimbabwe recently with the closure of The Daily News (since seemingly resuscitated with a South African internet provider?), whole media outlets can be swiftly silenced if they refuse to cease publishing information deemed contrary to powerful interests. The control of dissenting ideas remains a specific task of many governments.
In the so-called liberal democracies issues of control can be subtler. As Pakistan-based journalist Beena Sarwar suggests (p16), “Perhaps more dangerous, are the situations where the media is generally believed to be free and impartial, but is really following a nationalist or ideological agenda, which is what we've seen particularly post 11 September 2001, in the western media - whether in the demonsiation of their government's stated enemies, glossing over these government's real agendas, or in the marginalisation of dissenting voices like the anti-war groups.”
Blurring the boundaries
With outlets like Al-Jazeera having their offices bombed by the US, their journalists arrested, detained and murdered, their online services hacked, attacked and refused service and being despised by both western and eastern governments alike, it may be that our view of “mainstream” media is changing, or perhaps the age of information is blurring the boundaries between the underground and overground.
Al-Jazeera have an estimated audience of 35 million, they publish in Arabic and English, they win awards and they are feted - rightly or wrongly - as a source of independent coverage.
With US$150m funding a year from the Emirate of Qatar their experience suggests that the only barrier to communicating with a large constituency may be hard cash.
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