Perspectives of Libertarian Alternatives
The mass media suffocates the new and destroys memory. In this article translated from the German in graswurzelrevolution, Noam Chomsky's analysis of the five filters of the media is summarized. Alternative media is light in the darkness brought by capitalism, militarism and just wars.
Perspectives of a Libertarian Alternative
Base Democratic Alternative Media as a Counter-Pole to the Mass Media Consensus Factory
By Bernd Drucke
[This article originally published in: graswurzelrevolution 270, summer 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.graswurzel.net/270/gegenoeff.shtml.]
[On February 2, 2002, a nation-wide media congress occurred under the banner "From Television Picture to Stereotype. Journalism between War Propaganda and the Peace Culture." The following article and Bernd Drucke's book "Between Writing Desk and Street Battle. Anarchism and the Libertarian Press in East and West Germany", 1998 could enliven discussion groups.]
Base democratic structures as in long-lasting movement journals like graswurzelrevolution GWR are important for functioning alternative media... A "perspective from below", a critical discussion with the past and present, is vital. Libertarian alternative media create a little counter-public. They publish information that doesn't occur in the mass media or only appears in homopathic doses. Their hope lies in strengthening non-parliamentary movements.
The base democratic constitution of alternative editorial boards is crucial. This structure enables journals like GWR to stay close to the social movements. As movement papers, they can be used as megaphones by the social movements.
Advantages of Alternative Media compared with the Mass Media
Unlike alternative small publications, the mass media represent an obstacle for the development and spread of new ideas.
"Imagine a newspaper that wanted to collect all the new ideas arising at a certain time. Finding a specific theme in such a collection would be practically impossible. There is only one method for making the material in a newspaper accessible to the reader. The quantity of the material must be reduced. A choice is unavoidable. However this choice can only be misguided since the editors or censors can only choose amid this vast amount of material. This selection would be very difficult in the case of new unusual ideas whose terminology isn't generally known and requires a certain time for reflection. The editors or censors will automatically retain the known second-rate material and reject all new ideas. This fact is confirmed day after day in our newspapers, television screens etc." [Yona Friedman, Machbare Utopien (Possible Utopias), 1977.]
Thus the mass media suffocates new ideas. Unlike libertarian periodicals, they presuppose the rule structures of capitalist globalization as inviolable and thus contribute to their solidification. According to the libertarian social scientist Noam Chomsky, neither accident nor special malice are involved. "Manufacturing consent" starts from the capitalist entrepreneurs as an inviolable sanctuary [cf. Noam Chomsky, Ways to Intellectual Self-Defense. Media, Democracy and the Fabrication of Consensus, 1994]. Chomsky sees five "filters" at work controlling the functioning of the mass media.
As the first filter, the media are increasingly mammoth corporations like the Kirch-, Berlusconi- or Bertelsmann empires. "Would you expect Silvio Berlusconi or Rudolf Augstein to condemn the principle of profit maximization and urge the expropriation of mammoth conglomerates?" [Capitalist Consensus. Noam Chomsky's Media Criticism in: graswurzelrevolution 216, march 1997]
Advertisers represent the second filter. For Chomsky, they are the real customers. The activity of the middle class media must be oriented in their desires. Consumers in the language of the market are merely the "product" that is aggressively recruited.
The third filter is formed by access to important social or state institutions. Who are given information and who are not given information? Which media receive the latest information? Who is granted the possibility for an "informal conversation"? The media defending the security of "Germany's position" together with entrepreneurs, CDU/CSU, FDP, SPD and the Greens or the people resisting militarization, nuclear policy, restructuring and racist propagandists and actors? This is a rhetorical question.
As the fourth and fifth filters, eliminating critical thinking from the media, Chomsky names systematic "negative campaigns against deviationists" and "anti-communism as a national US religion". The communist party prohiibition in 1956, the anti-terrorism hysteria that reached a climax in 1977 in Germany, "security laws" against the left, the slanderous Bild-newspaper campaign against the moderator Ulrich Wickert who spoke out critically on the Afghanistan war of the US in October 2001 and the current suspensions of teachers who criticized the US war in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001 show that these processes were and are effective in the Federal Republic of Germany.
According to Chomsky, the structure of modern media is based on a dominant consensus constantly reproduced by certain news stories. The news "communists under Pol Pot commit genocide in Cambodia" did not have to be proved or substantiated in detail to be believed by the US public from the middle of the seventies. This news was based on the dominant consensus of media pro-capitalism and typical US anti-communism. The news "US commits genocide in Cambodia" (this was true in 1975) and "Indonesian intervention troops supported by the US commit genocide in East Timor" (this was a fact after 1975) had no chance of acceptance since they opposed the dominant consensus. Proofs, evidence and documents must be first cited to become credible. "However this opposes the dictum of brevity of news reports" [Globalized Media Power, Glut and Economic Censorship in graswurzelrevolution Kalender 1998].
Brief reports promote the dominant consensus. Deviating news or news breaking through the consensus has no chance since they cannot be substantiated in the brevity of time.
"Chomsky's critique of the abridgement of news reports appears today in the trendsetter Focus that imitates Spiegel as a `news magazine'. The news articles become shorter and shorter. Detailed background analysis is seldom published. This structure limits itself to mechanisms of memory destruction through the modern entertainment industry. Music videos, techno-music, visual flood of stimulation through computer animations and `clicking' through countless television channels are analogous phenomena. The capacities for perception of connections and complex remembrances are destroyed. As one result, consumers find long concentration phases, long articles or detailed analyses tiring and silently refuse them to their own disadvantage." [ibid.]
The free game of entrepreneurial and government power is usually enough today to remove fundamental criticism of the unequal distribution of wealth, power and privileges from the general public. This happens entirely by itself and without forceful pressure or coercion. Public opinion becomes dominated by this power. Through the cooperation of these factors, the mass media contribute to making a spectator democracy out of democracy.
While the mass media reach millions of persons, only several thousand persons are interested in the many alternative "mini-media". At least according to the alternative claim, these persons are actors and authors and not only consumers. They produce communication in the long run that can evade the power of definition of the established press, its preference for dramatic or "sensational" events and its fixation on centralized hierarchical structures, leaders and groups. Alternative periodicals cannot publish all new ideas but can present innovations of a few readers and make these ideas accessible to all readers. Yona Friedman sketched the possibilities of such a network of diverse "mini-media" as follows:
"If we assume that every community of 5,000 to 10,000 members could have its own newspaper, every idea would be published even if it could not be read by all inhabitants of the earth. This simple process prevents the rejection of new ideas and promotes the diversity of subcultures. With this imaginary example, I will show that worldwide communication in contrast to usual opinions doesn't serve cultural development or expansion in human knowledge but instead leads to an impoverishment."
"The Most Effective Communication is Face-to-Face"
Decentrality, self-government, autonomy and self-determination are widely accepted democratic basic values. This can be ascribed largely to the influence of alternative media in the context of non-parliamentary opposition movements.
The libertarian-alternative press has an influence on the whole left. New social movements arose after 1968, for example the peace-, squatters-, women's-, lesbians-, gays-, men's-, census boycott-, anti-runway- and anti-nuclear power movements. Alternative publications also reach people outside leftist-radical movements and contribute to mobilization, for example against nuclear transports and militarization.
The ideas, social designs and utopias widespread through libertarian-alternative media re worthy of discussion and could serve as a theoretical basis for criticism of authoritarian social structures.
However the history of Germany shows that the influence of alternative media on certain social components has declined for more than a decade. Thus the effect of anti-militarist libertarian, base democratic, alternative ideas and utopias on the Green party has strongly diminished in the last years or been completely marginalized since the Green involvement in government and war. This must be seen in connection with the establishment of the Greens as a state-supporting party, "clinging to power" and the fading influence of the so-called "fundis" who left the party.
Prospect: The Future of Libertarian-Alternative Movement Media
According to Chomsky, the media of western democracies dominant through globally enforced filter mechanisms have a decisive disadvantage since September 11, 2001. Emancipatory praxis and the alternative public gain importance. The globalized media are based on manipulative filtering, not on the suppression of information. Information against the dominant consensus exists. This information could be assembled, used and applied in an emancipatory sense for social change. Alternative media according to Chomsky could have the function of intellectual self-assertion against the memory-destroying mechanisms of the mass media.
Alternative initiatives could be encouraged by alternative use of computer networks (Nadir, Indymedia among others) and modern communication technologies that spread and exchange important information.
That the non-commercial, rule-free Internet project Indymedia published anti-Semitic or racist position papers and false reports is a weakness of open Internet projects.
A structural change in the alternative media landscape is striking through the intensified use of the Internet. The social movements in the future will not make social history through their print media as in the past.
Several projects are bringing libertarian positions into wider segments of the population. For example, "Kommunikationsguerilla" creates confusion through the means of guerilla theater. Its goal is to disturb and impair power exercised and legitimated in discursive ways...
The necessity and opportunity of the libertarian-alternative press rests in showing connections and practicing and propagating a sustainable alternative. More strongly since September 11, 2001 and militarization, one priority for libertarians and their media must be organizing an anti-militarist movement against the war policy of NATO, Russia and other states, against arms exports, armament and erevenge or law and order ideology.
The example of the American movement against the Vietnam war shows that a growing peace movement can be successful. This initially small movement grew quickly because alternative media produced a great counter-public against this war. Now we must also try to win the battle against war policy on the "homefront". We need a long breath to realize a nonviolent, rule-free society.
Despite their present niche existence, tendencies to sectarianism, financial, organizational and other problems, libertarians and their press can react effectively to social upheavals and gain greater acceptance and support within a changing society.
After the failure of command socialism and the unavoidable crisis of globalized capitalism, social ideas and counter-concepts to neo-liberal ideologies will become more vital in the 21st century.
The 21st century threatens to be just as bloody as the last since US president George W. Bush declared "war against terrorism" against "the axis of evil". The drastic increase of the US war budget around $48 billion to $379 billion in 2002 and the "mini-nukes" threat of the superpower against "rogue states" leaves little hope for a more peaceful, more de-militarized world. The US government will wage wars to justify the planned increase of US armaments to $450 billion, to satisfy Bush's sponsors from the oil- and armaments industries and collect points domestically.
Nuclear death, destruction and poisoning of nature and people by people is realistic under the present rule conditions of neo-liberalism and not first since the reactor catastrophe of Chernobyl.
As the American sociologist C.W. Mills predicted in 1959:
"In the name of realism, people will become totally mad. What they call utopian is the condition for the survival of humanity. Utopian measures are measures that save us from nuclear death. The actions of the mad and idiots are realistic, healthy, rational and practical steps today" [C.W. Mills, The Consequence, Politics without Responsibility, 1959, p.156. Quoted here according to Johannes Bauer, Ganz unrealistische DogmatikerInnen? In: graswurzelrevolution 171/72/73, p.15].
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