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The Fear of Working Class Power - Liberal journalists and Venezuela

Yet more counter-factual bile is spewing out of the traditional media, and especially the liberal media, on the occasion of Hugo Chavez' death. So I re-publish this article written at the time of the Venezuelan Presidential elections in October 2012:

 

Most journalists work for companies whose purpose is very well described in Patrick Chalmers' article News to Make the Rich Richer. Based on his 11 years' experience as a journalist for Reuters, this article introduces the broader themes of his excellent book Fraudcast News. Ownership, who pays, news sources, editorial ideology, and journalists' fear all contribute to the distorting lens.

The immediate aftermath of another election in Venezuela is a perfect opportunity to count the cost of corporate media mis-reporting. This article will analyse the reporting of some journalists of the supposedly liberal media in the UK. But following Patrick's lead, let's look first at Reuters.

Sure enough, in the lead-up to the Venezuelan Presidential election, which pitched socialist incumbent Hugo Chavez against candidate of the right-wing coalition Henrique Capriles, Reuters followed the meta-narrative of the vast majority of the corporate media. They constantly insisted that the election was closely fought, right up until election day, when Chavez actually won by a whopping 11%. This depiction of a tight race was despite most opinion polls showing Chavez with a double-digit lead. A cursory research would have told a half-decent journalist that the solitary polling organisation that showed Capriles to have a lead, Consultores 21, has an abysmal record in previous elections. In 2004, 2006, and 2009 this poll underestimated Chavez' vote by between 10 and 13 percentage points, well outside the acceptable margin of error. And again this time, Consultores 21 underestimated Chavez' vote by 10%. They are nothing if not consistent. Of course for US media organisations, that makes this poll "respected", "reputable" and "well-regarded" (in the words of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and the Washington Post respectively). But why are the reporters of Reuters not more sceptical? Patrick Chalmers answers this well. But I believe there is another factor.

In the almost universal disparaging of Bolivarian socialism in the media of the US and UK, one of the most interesting phenomena is the intense involvement of liberal newspapers and news outlets. The Guardian's Rory Carroll is notorious. For him, Venezuela is always on the point of infrastructural collapse, while Chavez is a waning force. His recent headlines included "A strongman's last stand" and "People's hero in final showdown". Chavez was described as "Banquo's ghost". Given the opinion polls cited above, was the apocalyptic tone justified? His reports are also peppered with the kind of factual errors which always chime with the opposition's narrative of an authoritarian populist demagogue. I felt roused to challenge Carroll, using the feeble means of twitter, over his claim that Chavez' election victories were "not always fair". Jimmy Carter, after his long experience of monitoring democratic elections, for which he won a Nobel Prize, said “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world” and that Chavez has always won “fairly and squarely”. No response of course came from Carroll, so I ask again. What is it that you know, Rory, that Jimmy Carter doesn't? The overwhelming tone of all of Carroll's pieces is an obsession with the figure of Chavez himself, not the Revolution he has led into being. His post-election piece is headed "Hugo Chavez: a victory of enduring charisma and political mastery". Note how Chavez' voters, the Venezuelan poor, are, according to Carroll, voting for him because of his charm and Machiavellian skills, not because of their empowerment through communal councils, the free health clinics and universities, the new housing, or the massive reductions in poverty.

The Independent newspaper reporter Jim Armitage, however, makes Carroll look like a Chavista sympathiser. Here we have unsupported references to human rights abuses, defamation of oil workers, the casual, and again unsupported, claim of privations, and the cheap and gratuitous reference to Ken Livingstone. If you are astonished by the tone of the unfactual hack piece in the link, it's worth noting that the supposedly liberal Independent has a long history of this kind of coverage.

But one thing connects Carroll and Armitage. When I wrote that I would analyse their coverage, I meant it in an almost psychoanalytic way. Their patronising of and disregard for the poor majority seems to me to involve the same hysteria that Carroll ascribes to Chavez' voters. They both profess to support a mildly social democratic system of social welfare, as avowedly did Chavez' so soundly beaten rival Capriles. In other words, they think the elite should deign to alleviate the worst excesses of capitalism. What troubles them beyond their being able to deal with it rationally is the idea of the poor majority taking power. For this presumption on the part of the working class, and their vision of a society that goes beyond welfarism to socialist democracy, the poor deserve to be mocked or sidelined or ignored. Why do Carroll and Armitage not celebrate the Bolivarian revolution's reduction of poverty by half, instead of putting it in parenthesis, or treating it as an electoral bribe? What is the mixture of hatred and fear that motivates them to write such shoddy journalistic bile? The fact that the Guardian and Independent commission and print it shows us the dark, inhuman heart of liberalism.

Let's walk the walk for independent media

How can we really build a vibrant and quality independent media, rather than just hope for one?

Part 1: By creative commons licensing

All the films we have shot ourselves at #visionontv are distributed creative commons, as is the whole of this website. We use this license:

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

The license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This is vital for the building of free and independent media, but lots of film makers find this idea quite threatening.

So here's an FAQ to allay your fears!

I don't want to lose my ownership of the footage by making it copyleft.

Creative commons isn't copyleft - it's a copyright license. You're just allowing some people to use it under the same terms, crediting you when they do it.

The BBC told me that they didn't have to pay for my footage, because it was creative commons.

The corporate media often tries this line, but they are "commercial", and your filmwork is your copyright. One of my favourites, from a production company working for Channel 4 UK, was "we found it on youtube, so don't have to pay". Sorry, you do. If they use it without asking, send them a bill.

But I'm worried about people cutting my footage into whatever film, outside of my control.....

They have to credit their use, and in my experience I have basically agreed with all the films which have used my shots. Surely it's good to get your stuff out there as much as possible?

What about the artistic integrity of my original film?

Well, that still exists, right? There is actually a creative commons license specifying "no derivative works", but why lock up your footage in one version only? Mozart wrote the Magic Flute for a troupe that had lampooned his previous work. Good enough for him, definitely good enough for me. And because of the "sharealike" clause, every use of your material guarantees more media available for the creative community.

My contributors have only released their work to this one film.....

You should never promise this to your contributors, because it is meaningless in the digital world. Let's imagine a worst possible case for them, where their contribution was ripped to shreds as a "satire" by a member of the Tea Party and published to youtube. Under the Californian law which covers google's video-sharing behemoth this copyright violation is permitted as "fair use", a basic protection of freedom of speech. In reality this almost never happens.

But you said your entire project was creative commons. What stops someone from simply taking your whole site and rebranding it as theirs?

They would have to give credit, but yes, they could do that, which would be absolutely brilliant. It would be weird if they didn't add something (conspiracy theory films? Extreme sports?). In which case, if we liked what they added, which in the case of extreme sports is possible, we could put it in our site as well. Everyone gains, and we make the world a better place.

Creative commons is one of the key ways we can build an open and better media. Part 2 will deal with media rss.

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