The collapse of the US press is usually presented as a sad tale of inescapable market forces: Traditional business models imploded, the story goes, as digital platforms, such as Google, Facebook and Craigslist, snapped up all the advertising revenues that once supported journalism. The sorry state of the press—the evaporation of vital coverage of business, the courts, government agencies—this is a bad thing, for sure, but a bad thing that happened for business reasons.
But the campaign to smash the press is based in politics, not business. It’s not the sad byproduct of Silicon Valley “disruption”; it’s a war on press freedom, waged on a global scale.
In the United States, the truth of our own violent press crackdown has been hidden in plain view for years. Corporate media in general refuses to state the obvious, viz., that the Republican Party is well advanced in its ambition to install a one-party state, and that is a truth as inconvenient as it is possible to state: or to put it another way, the press in the US has voluntarily put itself in thrall to the antidemocratic right, rather than admit what they’re doing.
The schism between tame journalists in the US who refuse to criticize or question power, and the shrinking number of independent voices willing and able to do so, is stark, and growing starker.
This dynamic explains why Deadspin’s writers were told to “stick to sports,” and why DNAinfo and Gothamist and Gawker were closed down; it’s why Sheldon Adelson connived to buy the Las Vegas Review-Journal in secret, and it’s why Alden Global Capital has bled its newspapers for hundreds of millions, and laid off countless journalists in the process (so unattractive and unprofitable is the media business, by the way, that Alden Global Capital just bought itself yet another big stake in it: 25% of Tribune Publishing last month, for about $118 million.)
The timidity of the US press comes just as transnational corporations are fusing with governments into a global version of the military-industrial-Congressional complex Eisenhower tried to warn everybody about 58 years ago; a titantic force, openly antagonistic to press freedom. Neoliberalism, if you like, as Ben Ehrenreich recently defined it, a system “where national elites collude with multinational corporations and international financial institutions to keep labor cheap and wealth and resources confined into established channels.”
So let’s say you’re a media owner who’s “all business,” caring only for the bottom line, looking to keep shareholders and owners happy, buy yourself some expensive houses, and/or get yourself or your friends re-elected. Without a doubt, the journalists who are prepared to tell readers the truth—even about you and your friends!—can only be a hindrance, and are best shut up or rid of, to the extent possible.
This explains why the affiliates of the Republican party are trying to discredit journalism in the US by yelling Fake News all day long. And the same logic, extrapolated far and wide, explains why we’ve seen increasing crackdowns on independent publications in Poland, Singapore, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, the Philippines, and throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. China permits its citizens only a tightly-controlled internet brimming with government-sponsored fakery; in Kashmir and Egypt we’ve seen politically-motivated, government-instituted total internet blackouts engineered to keep information from getting out.
For the moment it’s necessary to create at least the illusion that information can be freely shared, even in Saudi Arabia. It can’t, and oppression is increasing.
But far from being a weak political force, the internet and the journalism it spreads are vast and powerful. The burgeoning growth of a huge, unruly, independent and decentralized global media commons poses a massive threat to power, to neoliberalism, to old hegemonies and sinecures everywhere—all the oppressive institutions long accustomed to holding their atomized audiences captive.
Even in its current form—suppressed, marginalized, fragmented—the internet can still connect, instantly, billions of people who might compare notes, and together, seek an egalitarian and free global society. The free press, hand in hand with an informed global citizenry, is a giant and growing truth-dissemination machine—if we can keep it.
The Arab Spring, for example, and what it might portend, was visible from 2010 onward to everyone, everywhere—activists, media, plutocrats and totalitarians alike. All of them suddenly envisioning what might happen if the Arab Spring should eventually become a Global Spring.
Is that what we’re seeing now, as incensed citizens all over the world take to the streets?
What happens, now that we can see inside Chinese factories and Uighur concentration camps, see proof of beatings and arrests of students in Hong Kong, and US concentration camps full of immigrant children in cages? What happens, now that the global whistle is blown? When Greta Thunberg’s voice is amplified worldwide, smashing the dearly-bought skepticism of fossil fuel conglomerates?
What happens when the rage against the machine goes global?? It’s already started.
The only way to protect press freedom is to participate in it. There are a lot of us working to make sure journalists can publish the truth as they see it, unhindered and uncensored. Read, share and support all the real news you can find.