By Susanne Schuster
On the weekend of 8-9 October 2011 the Rebellious Media Conference (RMC) took place in London, UK. The conference was initiated by Peace News as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations and organised by a coalition of radical media groups: Peace News, Ceasefire, the National Union of Journalists, Red Pepper, Undercurrents and visionOntv. The aims of the conference were “to strengthen radical media (both digital and paper-based), improve activists’ access to both radical and mainstream media (including around the internet)”. The debates revolved around what has gone wrong in the past and what are the current gaps in radical media, but they also provided a vision of what is possible and inspiration and ideas of how to make it happen. The conference has its own interactive website at live.rebelliousmediaconference.org, “a unique resource for all participants to create their own networks and further their projects”. It will also feature videos of some of the sessions.
I went home with much to reflect upon myself. I learned new skills and had some good conversations. One of them was with the journalist Patrick Chalmers, a Brit who has lived in France for the last 6 years. He used to work for Reuters and told me his story of how his politics got ahead of his job until he eventually took voluntary redundancy. He organises regular documentary film screenings in his local area of France, where people bring food and discuss politics. He is publishing a book titled Fraudcastnews about democracy and journalism, and it can be downloaded for free under a Creative Commons Licence from his blog http://fraudcastnews.wordpress.com/.
The Rebel Griot wrote a critical reflection of the Rebellious Media Conference and the fact that questions about Libya were absent from most of the conference. He asks what the role of radical media is “during the demonization phase” of a planned ‘humanitarian intervention’, how even a number of commentators and journalists who are considered left-wing progressives, including Chomsky, either stayed silent or joined in the beating of the war drums. I would have liked to ask a question about Libya myself but didn’t get an opportunity. These are questions that radical media really must take to heart and look for honest answers.
Noam Chomsky was the keynote speaker at the RMC. He is well-known as a forceful critic of US foreign policy and a key figure in exposing the propaganda role of the mainstream media. He was introduced by his former student and long-time colleague and friend, Michael Albert. In Chomsky’s talk he often mentioned radical priorities. The key for any organisation or individual involved in social change is always being conscious of radical priorities. On the whole Chomsky was optimistic about the Occupy Wall Street movement and it was interesting to hear his critique its weaknesses. Their demands are very mainstream and the more radical demands are couched in a couple of sentences at the end. And these radical demands are far removed from reality. What is missing is the link, the bridge to how they can be implemented. The danger is that activists get exhausted and frustrated and some may end up saying ‘I will just become a stock broker now’. Moreover, there are a number of missing words in the contents of the Occupy Wall Street website, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, war, women, factory, industry, participation or budget. He was very clear that any lasting social change needs to have mass support and will require a long and hard effort. It requires building structures that will be the foundations of long-term change. Activists also need to understand how the world works. Corporations are legally required to put profit maximisation above everything else and would break the law if they were to put the environment first; and they have been buying elections for 100 years. In spite of Chomsky’s caution, Michael Albert encouraged the conference participants to join the world wide occupations on 15 October. He thought that this could be a historic moment.
Michael Albert and Noam Chomsky spoke about their experiences with the radical workers movements and workers cooperatives. The General Motors debacle is a case in point. Chomsky said the GM factories could have been handed over to its skilled workers and refitted to build high-speed railways for the USA, something that is sorely lacking and for which there are very good reasons. Instead GM was bailed out and with some minor changes the old management continued and it was business as usual. Ironically at the same time US president Obama was in Spain discussing contracts to build high-speed rail for the USA. These kinds of decisions are part of a bitter and savage class war led by the employer class against the working class.
War and the Media
During the lunch break I and my two friends from Brighton who were also at the RMC went to Trafalgar Square where an anti-war rally took place on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Among the speakers we heard were veteran Labour politician Tony Benn, leading figure in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) Bruce Kent, director of War on Want John Hillary and journalist John Pilger. John Pilger was on the panel together with Mark Curtis and Greg Philo for the session on War and the Media. This session explored how wars are reported in the mainstream media and what role journalists play. The focus of this was the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), because BBC News is a trusted source of news worldwide. Mark Curtis spent a lot of time in The National Archives researching declassified UK government documents for his book Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (2010). He criticised that a lot of journalists do not bother with this kind of research. Greg Philo, director of the Glasgow Media Group, is the co-author of a study on the media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. He reported how BBC journalists told him of the intense pressure they are under to limit their criticism of Israel, fearful of any phone calls from the Israeli embassy. Mark Curtis said that mainstream media such as the BBC has a major role to play in spreading disinformation and deception. John Pilger explained that it happens mainly because the media says it reports wars but in reality it promotes wars. In so called ‘free societies’ media is not independent, it is an extension of government and power, thus it defends the interests of the elite by beating the drums of war and legitimising it. This is done by leaving things out, i.e. censorship by omission. Pilger said that at this very moment in time the Libyan city of Sirte was being bombed around the clock by NATO using fragmentation bombs and hellfire missiles, but people had virtually no sense of what this city was going through. The media provides no understanding of the sheer scale of suffering of civilians. The implication is that by not doing their job, i.e. exposing the lies and deceptions, journalists have blood on their hands. During the question and answer session a member of the audience asked if there was ever a case of humanitarian intervention such as with Zimbabwe, and John Pilger clearly stated that military intervention was only justifiable when a country was attacked. A video of an interview with John Pilger can be watched here.
Crossing the Language Barrier: Activist Translation
On Sunday morning I ran a small participatory workshop about what tools and resources exist for radical media projects to facilitate translation from and into English. It was a great opportunity for me to share my experience and knowledge of nearly three years as a cyber activist with Tlaxcala. Most of the participants in the workshop expressed an interest in getting involved in translating for radical media projects, so it was very useful for them to meet other likeminded people and to find out what projects there are. I produced a resource document which can be downloaded from the interactive website. I asked the participants if they would like to translate some of the conference documentation and I am hoping that we will get at least a few of the videos subtitled into other languages.
Block the Bridge, Block the Bill
During the Sunday lunch break I and a couple of friends made our way to Westminster Bridge just by the Houses of Parliament to join the UK Uncut protest “Block the Bridge, Block the Bill” to save the National Health Service (NHS). The bill in question is the Health and Social Care Bill which went through the House of Commons and is now being debated in the House of Lords. The government’s planned NHS Bill will open up the entire health service in England and Wales to competition. Private health care providers will be allowed to provide medical services at a profit. It will change the face of the NHS forever. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government is hell bent on pushing this bill through, despite the fact that publicly owned health care is more efficient. In the US 16% of GDP is spent on its private health care system – to which 50 million US citizens have no access as they are without health insurance – compared with 8.7% of the UK’s GDP on the publicly owned NHS, which tops satisfaction and access polls in the industrialised world. Noam Chomsky commented on how grossly inefficient the US health care system is. This is hardly surprising if shareholders demand dividend payouts instead of the money being reinvested in frontline healthcare.
The organisers of RMC arranged some crash space for any participants who requested it. We stayed at Guiseppe Conlon House in North London, a house run by London Catholic Worker offering hospitality to 23 destitute refugees who are at various stages of their asylum claims and who have no recourse to public funds. I am writing about it because I think it is such a worthwhile project and I feel enriched by knowing about it. The London CW is part of the radical pacifist Catholic worker movement started in 1933 in the USA. The Catholic Workers engage actively in non-violent protest and they support the solidarity campaign for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Bradley Manning. These people live and breathe Jesus’ radical message of love and solidarity, which is a million miles from the corrupt and wealthy church hierarchy that itself has caused so much suffering.
For my writings, articles and translations in German visit missubuntu.wordpress.com
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