6. Role of the Global Justice Movement

NOW WE come to perhaps the most difficult aspect to write about, i.e., the role of the Global Justice Movement (GJM) vis-à-vis the media crisis. What I am referring to here is the broad coalition of alternative organizations and movements opposed to globalization (in the pejorative economic sense) and the dominance of market forces. This includes peace and environmental movements, as well as to those groups who are establishing alternative, critical sources of information on the Internet: Indymedia, MediaWatch, ZNet, etc.

Recognizing the various differences of opinion, tactics, and ideology within the GJM, I sincerely hope that allowances will be made for any unavoidable generalities which accompany my comments.

Let me begin by underlining my belief that worldwide public demonstrations before and during the War on Iraq - and, in prior years, against globalization - were both inspiring and necessary. Similarly, I feel that (whatever their complex and potentially self-serving motives) the decisions by various governments to oppose the Bush administration's centralized decision to attack Iraq were crucial. I certainly agree with a number of commentators, that such opposition demonstrates the possibility - perhaps for the first time in decades - that on some levels, real change may be just over the horizon.

However, I also believe that we need to examine the role of the Global Justice Movement in terms of the central point of reference of this public statement - namely, the media crisis.

My concerns - and essential questions - are: to what degree do the global alternative movements recognize the media crisis, as broadly defined here, and what are they doing to challenge the problem?

I would like to cite personal experience as a backdrop for my own perspective. In Part II of the Lithuanian website, I outline multiple rejections from the international peace movement, when I sought help to produce my global peace film, THE JOURNEY, in 1983. A minimal number of peace groups - notably in Sweden and New Zealand - did strongly support fund-raising for THE JOURNEY, but most of the others (especially the organized and established peace movements in the U.S. and Europe) refused to help on any level. In the end, support came directly from communities and concerned individuals in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Denmark, Norway, Mexico, Polynesia, Mozambique, Canada and elsewhere. The two peace movements which did outstanding work in creating and sustaining THE JOURNEY were the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society and the New Zealand Foundation for Peace Studies.

But, to this day, I am convinced that a principal reason why many North American and European peace movements declined to help THE JOURNEY, and why they have refused to show it ever since - though most of them did, for over 20 years, use THE WAR GAME to recruit membership - was their discomfort at participating in a new film which was critical of the mass media.

Perhaps the period of reticence at criticizing the mass media is now passing, as the dominant role of the MAVM in the world crisis is now becoming so painfully clear, but a glimpse at the past record is very necessary.

In 1965, THE WAR GAME criticized the mass media (especially TV) for their silence over the escalation of nuclear weapons; that message seemed to be acceptable to the peace movement at the time. But over the next 15 or so years, much of the radical movement became more and more complicitous in the media process: peace movements began using TV sound-bites to present anti-nuclear messages during demonstrations or studio interviews, environmental movements started making ads with gimmicky graphics and flashing images to promote their work, etc.

I suspect that developments in THE JOURNEY, which openly confronts the manipulative processes of the MAVM, were uncomfortable for many in the radical peace movement; as was the film's unusual process, and its length - 14 and a half hours being considered boring and cumbersome. Hence the position taken by many peace movements - that THE JOURNEY is 'too difficult' for the lay audience, who (according to the precepts of the MAVM) need the centralizing and rapidly moving methods of the Monoform and narrative, in order to grasp the message.

All of the above probably account for the fact that THE JOURNEY is very seldom used by the Global Justice Movement, still today.

In other words, my experience indicates that branches of the Global Justice Movement have unfortunately also fallen into step with the practices of the mass media, with regard to their own audiovisual 'relationship' to the public.

I am fully aware of the critical and important articles written by leading voices in the radical movement: journalists and authors Edward Said, John Pilger, Arundhati Roy, George Monbiot, David Edwards, and many others. Articles both on the Internet, and in the more liberal mainstream press: The Guardian (UK), Le Monde Diplomatique (France), etc. The websites - ZNet, DemocracyNow! etc., - with important essays denouncing the War on Iraq, describing problems attached to America's unilateral position, and so forth. Included among these articles are ones criticizing the role of the MAVM, and as such, they are extremely important in countering the role of the pro-war MAVM and the tabloid press.

However, it must be noted that most of the articles which I have seen, especially regarding the U.S. coverage of the War on Iraq, deal almost exclusively with the overtly reactionary side of the MAVM: editorial imbalance re TV time for pro- and anti-war sentiments, analysis, etc. Which is very important. But we need to go further - to draw attention to those areas missing from most global justice articles and criticisms: to those areas summarized, for example, by my comments regarding the lack of awareness for potential PUBLIC involvement in the media process itself.

I believe that this lack of regard for the PUBLIC process is also demonstrated by a number of the organized global-justice groups: on the one hand, they believe in the effectiveness of large-scale public demonstrations, etc., but on the other hand seem to feel uncomfortable with suggestions to reform the hierarchical process of producing messages which flow one-way towards a passive audience, with the potential of alternative methods involving sustained process, length, or criticism of certain standard media practices, etc. They seem to assume that the problem will disappear if one changes the CONTENT, and the PEOPLE in charge of the media process. Unfortunately, many serious contradictions accompany this position, and result in potential changes in the relationship between media and public, being left way back at the starting-post.

Perhaps the following questions regarding the role of the Global Justice Movement and the mass media can help to clarify the existing problem:

  • Why is so little being written or discussed regarding the Monoform and its effects, or regarding the hierarchical role which the MAVM plays in the social process? Why has it been so difficult to speculate on the role played by the MAVM in our relationship to space, time, rhythm - and history?
  • Why is there so little debate regarding a new role for the public, one which would change the power relationship between the media and the public?
  • Why is critical work which raises these questions marginalized by the peace movement? Why are length and sustained process in alternative audiovisual forms considered to be so difficult?
  • Why does alternative journalism think that simply changing the agenda and the media-makers - leaving form, process, and relationship to the audience untouched - will solve the media crisis?

All of these areas demand holistic appraisal, for it is here that we need to understand that we all - no matter how radical or conservative our politics - have grown up in the collective unconscious of a global society totally accustomed to a hierarchical relationship between the MAVM and the public.

This problem was very apparent - for example - in a recent video project showing a demonstration against globalization, made by a radical group of filmmakers in the United States. Although it had a somewhat more open form (the average length of scenes was 30 seconds instead of the usual 5), the entire film was nonetheless encased in the Monoform, including narration, background music, etc.

The filmmakers in this instance would probably claim that, unlike the MAVM, they presented alternative voices. In fact they did - and this is extremely important. However, as I have emphasized, in many ways the media crisis begins at this point of contradiction ... for if we do not move beyond the content, to the hierarchical forms and processes by which we present alternative voices to the public, how - in the end - are we any different from the MAVM?

This is not to say that there aren't - especially on the Internet - some powerful and important critiques of the MAVM. But why is there still so little public debate about the MAVM, and where are the alternatives to show us how the audiovisual media can work with form and process in a more democratic and pluralistic manner?

I believe that there is a direct link between public silence on these questions, and the traditional media praxis coming from alternative movements. I believe that the ongoing use of the Monoform by much of the Global Justice Movement, its apparent lack of interest in different language forms and processes, and an overall tendency to bury alternative and critical ideas within standardized and hierarchical media procedures, means that the traditional relationship between the public and the corporate MAVM will remain unchallenged. The relationship between the media and the audience remains the same - no matter how radical the message. This problem - especially as it applies to the use of the audiovisual media - is at the core of my concern regarding the present Global Justice Movement.

In one way, the very medium which has helped to disseminate important and critical ideas - the Internet - has also become part of the problem. Many radical groups have diverted all their attention and energy to using this medium, and have effectively abandoned the crisis in the audiovisual media. As a consequence, the MAVM remain an unchallenged and growing problem in contemporary society.

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© Peter Watkins 2016