The Immense Power of the Media. Take Immediate Action

Monday, August 24, 2009

“The voice/ that could have been/ the answer/ and for fear/ was nothing”.

After (or in addition to) military, political, economic or technological power, what is now foremost and omnipresent is the power of the media. “No matter what happens, what we want to happen is what will happen”, is the attitude of certain magnates of the communications media. Whether through sound, print or images… the majority of citizens receive their news carefully selected or previously filtered. In some countries, high government authorities –even the Prime Minister- or members of the opposition parties have close ties to large media conglomerates including the press, radio and television… It is true that in some cases freedom of expression and opposition still exist, but they certainly have little room to maneuver.

Certain sports and athletes, actors and actresses –many of whom are controlled by their “managers”- are given exaggerated attention on the radio, television or in the press, reaching fanatical proportions to the extent that certain clubs dominate not only the leisure time, but also the very lives of many people, regardless of the quality of their players and their success on the playing fields.

News of important events that might make us reflect and adopt our own decisions and attitudes (and this is precisely what education is all about) are concealed, distorted or otherwise disguised. The meetings of the G8 (a group of plutocrats who attempt to govern the world) fill pages upon pages, while proposals for reform made by the United Nations as a whole or by its financial institutions (managed by the President of the General Assembly with the participation of Nobel Prize Laureates in Economics) receive only a few paragraphs. The same may be said of worldwide meetings such as the recent UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (not even a line!) or with respect to the topic that for me (and for that reason I reiterate this) constitutes our greatest problem of conscience: the extreme poverty and hunger, which, in a horrendous genocide, results in the death of 60,000 persons daily, while we invest over 2500 million euros in useless weapons. This simple fact should be capable of mobilizing millions of citizens around the globe, but the powers that be in the mass media want these ethically inadmissible situations to continue to be ignored and, once they have received their financial “bailouts,” continue with the status quo.

This means that we all have to look the other way. All of us minding our own business. All silent accomplices. Silence, even when we should applaud the funds announced by the President of the Government to relieve poverty in moments of crisis. If the thousands who die from hunger each day are unable to awaken our sense of solidarity, what will it take to mobilize our citizens, especially today’s youth?

Gervasio Sánchez has expressed this not only with profound and courageous words, but with his moving photography. And what impact has this had? Very little. Solidarity movements could light the way to a future of inclusion, concord and mutual understanding. But if Sánchez’ photography of lives shattered by land mines or of those who die of hunger and neglect are unable to awaken our conscience, we will continue in the dark, in this simulated world in which millions of people live artificial lives, acting upon the dictates of the media. But I am sure that our youth will soon take action, and will become the flag bearers of an initial resistance, which will blossom into concerted action. Several recent literary works have set the stage to divulge the underlying reality, the real world, what lies behind so much window dressing.

“Money talks”: several Spanish newspapers, some of them quite prominent, have lost their dignity by openly contradicting the “values” they previously defended, commencing with the dignity of women, carrying despicable advertising with images and texts that may seriously affect the behavior of children and adolescents. Schools and teachers are almost always blamed… without realizing that it the mass media that so negatively influences our youth. The same may be said of advertisements for certain brands, especially foreign ones, which are not only in bad taste but also approach the limits of what may be considered tolerable. And in the meantime we continue to be spectators. It would suffice for an association of NGO’s to recommend a boycott of publications that contain these repugnant articles or the products of companies whose advertisements are as indecent as they are ridiculous.

Some journalists toe the line, others don’t: not long ago it was made known that a “live” press conference of an autonomous community official had been pre-recorded.

And, as has become customary but is also inadmissible, no questions were allowed. Press conferences have given way to simple press releases. Disguised as simple news, because there was really no press conference, while avoiding any contact with journalists. Some firmly criticized this tactic. Rest assured that sooner or later the truth shall be known. I am convinced –after having defended in UNESCO freedom of expression and the right to accurate information- that the age of citizens as mere recipients and witnesses is coming to an end.

Those who control information basically control our daily activities, including our free time. They control our lives. Through images the reigning “videocracy” impose their points of view on television audiences. Silent indifferent spectators, who fail to realize that they should never relinquish their only strength: being themselves.

It is time to take action, to rebel, to initiate a profound change toward transparency and a true knowledge of reality (the initial requisite for transforming that reality).

It is time to make use of all available communications networks, particularly digital ones, to counteract the omissions and concealments of the lying manipulators, the great “information empires” that, moreover, presumably spy on the “famous” to feed their gossip columns.

It is time to demonstrate the premeditated contradictions of those who have been bailed out, and who soon thereafter condemned the politicians of the very governments that tossed them a lifeline from public funds; the contradictions of those who, yearning for a Condor Operation, consider that the coup in Honduras “puts an end to a populist adventure of a constitutional president”; the contradictions of those who insist that the European democracies with the support of their multinational companies should continue to exploit the countries of Latin America, Africa or the Far East; the contradictions of those who immediately believe videos that are shameless fabrications based on the idea that there is always some truth in an accusation, aimed at world leaders –such as has recently been the case in Guatemala and Ecuador— who are no longer mere subjects and wish to become allies and partners.

It is time to take a stand, to join fora and services that facilitate the mobilization of citizens. We may very well be on the threshold of a new era in which the people will finally take the stage through their democratically-elected representatives, who will have been chosen with complete freedom and responsibility.

Let us refuse to be deceived any longer. Let’s say “no” to those who promote new cults, with ceremonies that attract large numbers of adherents, as a result of mass publicity on the one hand, and on the other the informational and conceptual “vacuum” that they have so skillfully created. Above all, young people must be free to be themselves and to refuse to follow the dictates of others. They should not spike their hair, wear low rise jeans or get tattoos unless they really do so on their own initiative. They must learn to distinguish the tendencies dictated from afar by the powers of the media that, while making huge profits, seek to standardize citizens in general and –what is even more dangerous- young people in particular. But we can now take action from a distance, thanks to new communications technologies. We can make ourselves heard. We must make ourselves heard. We must take a firm stand against this new form of submission and exclusion. A freer and transparent world is the legacy that we must leave to those who will come after us.

Let’s urge them, as in the 2008 Oscar-winning song from the film “Once”, “Raise your hopeful voice…/ you have a choice”.