Monday, December 19, 2005

Outfoxed: Gagging Online Whispering.

A powerful expose of the intersection between elite interests and the ideological bias of Murdoch’ s Fox News network, Outfoxed performs the same function as Michael Moore’s work. Picking up key themes and running them to death, to expose the obscene manipulation of the American public through such slogans as ‘fair and balanced’ reportage. Diana Winthrop, a former Fox News producer describes being ‘ordered, from the top, to carry propaganda; carry Republican right-wing propaganda.’ Of guests on its leading show Special Report, between January and May last year, there was a greater than 8 to 1 imbalance in favour of Republicans. Fox News seems to epitomise where much of the global media is being pushed. Aesthetically, the network is a blizzard of information over-load, updates prowl along the bottom of the screen while newscasters mouth off in split screen boxes against glaring graphical backdrops of American patriotism. Despite an onscreen abundance of ‘news’ and ‘fact’, tuning in to Fox news prompts seeds of mental dissension, you are staring into the face of elite bias and content and its as obvious as the American flag in the background.

The success of films like Outfoxed, the Corporation and those by Moore are evidence that a wide section of the population are increasingly sceptical. When elite interests and the media intersect, more of us expect propaganda. But as the recent US Elections show, substantial portions of the population are still shaped by a socialisation process that occurs throughout our lives, that equates the free market with a free media. Outfoxed leaves no one in doubt that corporate power is waging a war against journalistic freedom. Something Outfoxed ignores, but far from paranoiac fantasy is the state’s simultaneous attack on noncompliant media activists and networks.

Most dramatically, in an act Mark Thomas compared to smashing up printing presses, the FBI seized two Indymedia servers, crippling part of the network for a brief period in November. There’s some evidence that the Swiss authorities requested it to cover up the publication of photos of undercover police agent provocateurs in action in Geneva protests. The seizures have also disrupted evidence gathering for legal action against the Italian authorities after a violent police raid on a media centre during the Genoa protests of 2001. In the US Indymedia was the centre of failed legal attempts by the Diebold corporation, to prevent publication of flaws in electronic voting terminals for use in the recent US elections. Back here, the Indymedia network has been pivotal in uncovering the use of Shannon Airport as a stop over for the US Military, as well as undermining state hysteria around such events, as Mayday when it was accessed a million times and the Bush visit.

These raids aren’t a once off. The more obvious context is a background of similar state led offensives against the development of non-corporate media networks. In what’s being dubbed a ‘model for the world’ by Miami authorities, at recent protests reporters were embedded with state forces, as in Iraq. Those refusing to be embedded are often on the receiving end of repression or delegitimised. Cops shouted "she's not with us, she's not with us" at Ana Nogueira, a reporter for the grassroots TV Network, Democracy Now as she was hauled off reporting as police broke up a demo of 200 people. The City Council had forbidden gatherings of seven or more. Before the run up to the Republican National Congress police from several NY Departments raided and shut down an Indymedia benefit screening. In the summer of 2004 Indymedia founding member Lenin Cali Najera of Equador was murdered. Colleagues suspect a robbery was faked as cover for a political assassination, carried out by right wing paramilitaries. Again, in Cyprus a major national scandal broke after police admitted to investigating Petros Evdokas and Indymedia at the behest of the CIA, after he published material claiming American interference in a referendum on the island

Obviously the music industry feels the effects of peer to peer file sharing networks, and takes action against them. Sometimes this is illegal. As a recent Australian court case found, sections of the industry were hiring people to paralyse peer-to-peer networks with fake files. It should be no surprise that political and corporate elites are also feeling the impact of radical journalism online. The dynamic between the establishment media and the insurgent electronic media is interesting. After a police raid on the Indymedia Centre in Genoa in 2001, The Daily Mail wrote an article accusing a hospitalised media activist of being "in charge of computer systems used to co-ordinate attacks on the G8 summit." Like wise only a handful of mainstream press outlets covered the Indymedia server seizures despite it being condemned by a huge range of Journalistic Unions and brought up in the British Commons. In a similar manner Watergate era US media giants ignored extensive bugging and actions against the US left, only becoming concerned when they were directed against the Democrats, as one faction of power.

Organisations close to the US state were quick to recognise the potential of new media technologies in creating popular mobilisations. Within reason, anyone can put up a website, so ideologies and interest groups previously isolated from traditional media can now challenge its dominance. The RAND Corporation, a think tank linked to the US Military warned of the development of ‘all channel’ network designs that facilitate equal access to knowledge and its production. New networks facilitated by the net ‘will pitch battles for public opinion and for media access and coverage, at local through global levels.” Already the role of this new media has been dramatic. RAND noted how online medias prevented the Mexican State from turning the Zapatista Chiapas Rebellion of 1994, into a bloodbath similar to the Mexico City University occupation of ‘68, more worrying for RAND was the ripple effect the rising had in coalescing radical activism globally. The fact that ‘there is no single, central leadership, command, or headquarters—no precise heart or head that can be targeted” worries repressive state mechanisms that could previously target key figures or organisations, in tactics best characterised by the FBI’s illegal COINTELPRO operation to ‘disrupt, discredit and destroy’ the new left in the sixties.

If social conflicts were to arise in Western countries, it would be increasingly difficult for any state to monopolise information in order to isolate hot spots. The targeting of San Francisco’s business district for action by anti-war activists the day bombs fell on Iraq and the mass arrests of 3,000 people undermined the images of patriotism generated by the US State. Those that wanted to get around the lack of mainstream media coverage could, mainly through online journals. South Korea’s most popular media outlet is called OhMyNews, an online portal with the motto ‘every citizen is a reporter.’ Already it’s been attributed responsibility for shifting the balance of power to liberals in a presidential election through mobilising youth.

As with the Charterist movement that developed around the 19th Century radical British Press, a mobilising media is a worry to elites, with its threat of awakening once passive parts of the population. Increasingly the modern mainstream media primarily exists to deliver adverts to a passive consumer, for political elites its there to deliver official lines to a passive population. For states and corporations, the development of a radical online journalism deliberately uprooting the elitism of traditional medias, inviting the unwashed to define their own interests and symbolically turning the world upside down is a worry. For once mobilised, its rare a population shares the same interests as its corporate and political rulers. As it stands these sites are whispering, but the potential is there for them to begin screaming.

Another more academic version of this article is availible over here

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