Because of its contemporary and future importance, we have made the following topic the leading theme for the rest of this year 2017. Contributions to this theme are listed below the title.
With freedom threatened by the politics of aggression & fear, we need impartial media
Seeking better ways for human existence should be our common mission ...
The role of alternative media
A concise description of the different evolutionary states of human existence can be found amongst Gnostic texts1 where one can recognize three basic levels of human existence:
- An uninitiated relatively uninformed physical and emotional state marked by superstition, fantasy, fear and sometimes violence arising from real or imagined threats
- An intellectual state where people turn their attention to analyzing how mankind and nature works and accumulating knowledge on what is beneficial and prejudicial to mankind's state
- A spiritual state is where mankind applies accumulated knowledge to improving that state of existence for mankind
These states of existence are all constructed by mankind to varying levels of perfection and are all based on the degree to which people are able to separate falsehood from the truth. Where evidence is accumulated, fund of knowledge is built up over time and, as a result, people are in a better position to analyse circumstances and take rational decisions. This is an evolutionary principle that is relevant to all human pursuits from sport to engineering and from art to politics and the operation of democracies.
In this article truth is simply an association of facts based on observed and often measured evidence that shape a relationship between causal factors and outcomes. The conceptualizations applied by people are essentially models of physical and human relationships which provide a basis for establishing relationships between factors and outcomes. On a daily basis people needs to have access to media that report on all current events on a factual basis.
The role of alternative media
The objective of a broad and varied media sector is to provide the pubic with as full a spectrum of facts and details on events as possible. This includes providing information and knowledge on different domains.
In the context of this article we consider media to have the function of providing analysis and communications on current events, facts and knowledge of interest to the public. Wikipedia as an originator of analysis and reports and considered to be a form of alternative media.
"Social media" are marginal to this function and include Twitter as an open telex service, Google as an indexing and reporting system of existing documents and Facebook recording individual's activities etc.
Each medium is free to establish the topics covered and the width or the depth of the spectrum of facts and details communicated. It is the function of each medium to contribute to this process by building up their own expertise in specific topics based on evidence and analysis. No specific domain can be exclusive so as to ignore or censor any facts that do not support their pre-defined narrative; where evidence is insufficient or unconvincing this needs to be stated. Clearly, in the process of communication media make use of narratives or story lines but the story lines need to follow the available evidence. Misinformation is the corruption of communications content through making unwarranted statements. Unwarranted statements are any part of a story line which is not supported by evidence and in the process of “linking up the dots” the lack of evidence needs to be admitted and even suggestions made that such evidence, if justified, should be gathered.
The mainstream trends
With the tendency towards political party and government press briefings there is an associated publication of this content. A considerable amount of political communications are based on assertion and quite often with little evidence to support the assertions; the process is one of appearing to be more effective than political rivals. An independent media needs to analyse political statements so as to hold them to account for evidence and logic. However, the commercial companies funding certain political parties or politicians are the same as those who provide advertising support to many media and as a result the objectivity of many media has declined and they have become uncritical mouthpieces of the main political parties. Their “analysis” has been directed at criticizing the perceived political opposition.
This evolving structure in the media sector is one of “concentration” under the direct influence of a small number of commercial corporations whose objective is profits based rather than being to disseminate unbiased balanced media content. As a result the information the public receive becoming significantly biased and partial and this undermines the democratic right of constituents to be well informed and to remain abreast of developments.
It is self-evident that the tendency of the “mainstream” media will result in many issues not being covered. This includes anything that detracts from the central political narratives being upheld by the mainstream media. The default tendency, given the political/commercial framework within which they operate, is that the quality of content will constantly decline because of the insistence and necessity of following a narrative over-loaded with political assertion and innuendo.
The economic perspective
The mainstream media, including economic and financial media, have, of course, maintained the narrative of the “benefits” of various aspects of the “competitive” economy, international trade and monetary policy. This system failed in the late 1970s generating slumpflation but the policy “solution” in the form of an ever-increasing financialization of macroeconomic policy instruments and growth in extra-constitutional regulatory environments resulted in the financial crisis that started in 2007-2008. The broad failures in macroeconomic policies under globalization and an uncontrolled and now largely unmanageable international monetary crisis remain largely unreported by the mainstream media because it is not in their short term commercial interests to be sufficiently analytical and therefore risking becoming critical of policies promoted by those who finance their livelihood.
Intellectual dishonesty and cowardice
The dominant and pervasive characteristics of mainstream media is one of intellectual dishonesty and economic circumstances that encourage an intellectual cowardice that prevent the voicing and expression of what is self-evident. This is because it would be considered to be disloyalty to the paymasters. The risk is that those with intellectual honesty can and have lost their employment as journalists within the mainstream operations. Image is all. What counts, above all is the image of the mainstream corporations and their backers. The slant and content of mainstream media builds up an institutional “image” that overstates the significance of the media and its coverage with very little assessment of the quality of media content in terms of veracity or its contribution towards rational decision-making.
Because of the lack of substantive evidence that supports that image, these organization will attack anyone from “outside” who dares call attention to their misrepresentations, omissions and proactive undermining of democratic decision-making. In this process, they will use any device whether real or invented and disseminate misrepresentations of critics through their media to demonize anyone voicing alterative views.
A vital role of alternative media, who are not in the mainstream, is to fill in the significant information and knowledge gaps generated by mainstream media. To serve the public in a beneficial way, alternative media need to be marked by a provision of concise and focussed coverage of all that the mainstream media are ignoring or voluntarily censoring through editorial direction. Mainstream media operations are expensive with large teams whose survival sensitivity depends upon their support of political narratives, often with weak or no evidence base. Alternative media is bound to represent a source of competition, not only in terms of quality of content but also in serving national constituencies wherever they may be located.
Alternative media are benefiting from the benefits of information technology and the World Wide Web because the cost of entry is declining. The added benefit is that cross-border news is easier to gather and analyse making use of expertise in the locations of events. This alone brings about point of view that differ widely from the scripted positions of mainstream media.
The widening chasm
Because of widely different “business models” the timing and quality of alternative media international coverage is improving on a daily basis involving processes that are far lower cost that the mainstream media whose editorial processes (read political vetting) slowdown release to secure advantageous timing slots or even to suppress content. It is clear that such a cumbersome driven structure cannot compete with alternative media.
The final beneficiaries of the growth in alternative media and cross-border news are the constituents of all countries in receiving information to enable them to make more informed assessments of their own national policies as well as to base their decisions on who to support in national elections.
Meddling in democratic processes?
Of late there has been a hysterical chorus directed at alternative media by mainstream media. A prime example is the orchestration of attacks on Russia Today by, for example, CNN staff and anchors. The accusations, which lack any evidence (the first essential test for veracity) is that RT and Russian agents are interfering in elections in the “West”. In order to interfere in democratic election processes today it is necessary to have a significant control over what the media, as a whole, delivers. We know that mainstream media deliver biased content leading to a disorientation in the information available to voters in the “West”. Alternative media have no such predominant cover or control of mass media delivery and therefore cannot influence the outcome of elections.
Alternative media often give voice to the very issues that mainstream seek to suppress and thereby assist minority interests and marginalized groups gain some credence for their important causes. This helps sensitize a population swamped by media content that seeks to avoid any criticism of the status quo or point out any gaps in current economic provisions. Sensitizing an intelligent electorate to issues affecting others in society is not divisive or conjuring up discord but rather helps swing the pendulum in the direction of a more empathetic and responsive democratic process.
We all aim, through our separate endeavours, to bring about contented and happy societies.