People-Powered Media Mobilizes Masses While Mass Media Remains Silent
In the last week, there were two major examples of how people-powered media can educate and mobilize people even if the mass corporate media does not report on an issue.
We are in the midst of an era of media transition. The corporate media is facing tremendous financial, employee and audience challenges. At the root of their problem is credibility. In 2004, Gallup reported that “39% currently say they have ‘not very much’ confidence in the media's accuracy and fairness, while 16% say they have ‘none at all.’” Gallup reported this was the lowest credibility rating in three decades. But, the decline continued and by 2012, Gallup reported that distrust of the media had risen by 5% to 60% having little or no trust in the media – a new record. A 2013 Gallup poll found only 1 in 4 Americans trust television or newspaper news.
At the same time, technology has given rise to a new people-powered media. People can now turn their telephones into a video outlet and their social networks into a newspaper. Repeatedly we have seen someone publish a video from their phone and make national news. Any individual can go onto social networking outlets and reach thousands, if not tens of thousands of people in this new democratized media. Others create blogs that gain mass followings. Cities have groups like the DC Media group, citizen activists from the occupy movement, or the Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia building media teams. And, through activist organizations, news that is not covered in the media is shared widely. One reason we created Popular Resistance was to provide coverage of the burgeoning movement for social and economic justice that is building in the United States and around the world but ignored by the mass media. People can even get a daily movement news report in their email every morning.
This people-powered media builds on the long developing independent media. The independent media has built mass readership as the Internet has developed. Outlets like AlterNet, Common Dreams, Truthout, OpEd News and Truthdig reach hundreds of thousands of people. They are joined by movement media outlets like Black Agenda Report, ROAR Magazine, Occupy.com, Labor Notes, In These Times, Jacobin and Tidal among others, that report and analyze the movements actions, theory and issues.
New media projects like the Omidyar-Greenwald “First Look Media” will experiment with a new form of independent media, building on the multi-decade independent media that already exists. Video outlets like The Real News show video from around the world and provide analysis not seen on cable or network news coverage. The Resistance Report provides video coverage of the movement and its actions. And, with Wikileaks, there are new ways for people to anonymously blow the whistle producing more news than all investigative reporting by the corporate media combined. People have a lot of credible alternatives to the corporate media. This is one more reason Pew reports 31% have stopped relying on traditional media.
A Successful Revolt Outside The Media Spotlight
Sometimes the problem is not falsehoods in the media but acts of omission, i.e. not reporting important information. An example of that has been around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A report this week by Media Matters confirms that there has been virtually no network coverage of the TPP over six months – ABC, CBS and NBC did not cover it at all, PBS had one story that was favorable of the TPP. And, if you don’t count Ed Schultz, cable TV (FOX, CNN and MSNBC) have only done one story on the TPP. This is an embarrassing lack of coverage of the largest trade agreement since the WTO. It is hard to not see this as an intentional decision by the mass media.
There is no question the strategy of the Obama administration was to pass the TPP without people knowing about it. They classified the text as secret so that even the few members of Congress who have gone through the hurdles to see it are not allowed to talk about it. The former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, suggested to Reuters, that disclosing what it contained would “raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.” Obama then proceeded to continue the secrecy by trying to push fast track trade promotion authority through Congress. This would have prevented Congress from seeing the text or holding hearings so the public could weigh in before Obama signed the treaty.
As a result of this secrecy, a year and a half ago very few people knew about the TPP even in the activist community. But today, almost everyone who is politically active is aware. Not only are they aware but they have massively mobilized. In the last ten days Congress has received nearly 600,000 emails and more than 40,000 phone calls opposing fast track trade promotion authority. Weekly Twitter storms have made #StopTheTPP a trending phrase reaching millions and last week a Thunderclap across social media reached 5.4 million people. Wikileaks leaked two important chapters on the environment and intellectual property as well a third showing deep divisions among the negotiators.
The massive education through the people-powered media resulted in widespread protests. There have been protests throughout the country multiple times when national, global or intercontinental days of action were called. There have been stand-alone protests around the country like this Nancy Pelosi event that was interrupted or this fundraiser that President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader Pelosi attended. The US Trade Reps office has been covered in banners and protesters have appeared outside their meetings. Communities are passing resolutions saying that they will not obey the TPP if it passes and calling for trade justice.
All of this has resulted in fast track trade promotion authority being seriously stalled in both Houses of Congress. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid said he has no plans for a floor vote on fast track. The new chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Ron Wyden said he is not rushing to push fast track. In the House, there has been an uprising among Democrats against Obama’s call for fast track with three-quarters of House Democrats publicly saying they oppose fast track, along with two dozen Republicans – even more in both parties are opposed but have not made public statements. Speaker John Boehner says he will not bring fast track to the House Floor without 50 Democrats publicly supporting it. The number two Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer, says he is “not optimistic” about a trade bill passing this year.
A mass movement against the now controversial TPP developed without any coverage in the corporate mass media. This is an important display of the power of the independent and people-powered media, perhaps like we have never seen before. Despite conscious efforts to keep TPP out of the news media and under the Congressional radar, the public has exposed it. A poll released this week showed cross-partisan opposition in the public with 62% of Americans saying they oppose fast track for the trade deals. The TPP was made toxic despite efforts at keeping the public ignorant.
Friday Night Release Before the Superbowl Fails to Hide Controversial Report
It is not only the media that is the problem. As we wrote last week, the government and economic elites cannot tell us the truth because they know people will mobilize in mass revolt. Sometimes when the government is taking an unpopular action, their strategy is to release the information on a Friday night since the media is understaffed and covers even less news on Saturday.
One of the more unpopular projects the government is trying to push through on behalf of the very powerful oil industry is the Keystone XL Pipeline. This would bring bitumen tar sands through the heart of the bread basket of America and over much of the fresh water of the United States to be refined in Texas and then shipped out through the Gulf of Mexico abroad for big oil profits. To try and draw as little attention as possible to the State Department’s final environmental impact statement, the State Department released the report on the Friday night of Superbowl weekend.
While the corporate media may have been off-duty, the people-powered movement against tar sands, the KXL pipeline and extreme extraction for energy was immediately active. Reactions poured out that night over Twitter, Facebook, social media, email lists and organizational websites. The news was out – the State Department report was out, now it was up to Obama to deny the pipeline. If he fails to stop the KXL, climate justice activists said, it will be the biggest mistake of Obama’s presidency.
Obama had put forward a climate test – if the KXL significantly exacerbated the problem of carbon pollution he would not approve it. Activist commentators spread the word that the State Department report demonstrates the pipeline fails Obama’s own test. As Francis Beinecke summarized it:
“The State Department concluded that the pipeline would put heartland communities, farms, and ranches in harm’s way. It would expose thousands of critical waterways, aquifers, and wells to the threat of tar sands oil spills—spills the State Department said are much harder to clean up than conventional crude. And it would carry oil for export to foreign ports, leaving the U.S to bear all the risks.
“Most significantly, the State Department reported that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline could accelerate climate change by pumping more carbon pollution into our air. The surge in pollution would be similar to putting up to 5.7 million extra cars on the road, the review said.”
Not only were climate justice activists educated overnight but they also immediately began to mobilize. More than 200 protests were announced that weekend to be held on Monday across the country with Americans urging the KXL Pipeline to be rejected. Native Americans frequently at the front of environmental battles over gas and oil extraction and transport promised an “epic battle” over the pipeline if it was approved. People in the Democratic Party base promised to stay home on Election Day if Obama approved the pipeline.
Already, the Obama administration has announced delay, saying a decision will not be made until the president hears from the EPA, Energy Department, and other federal agencies and prepares its own report. This is probably a stall tactic to get through the mid-term elections because the President has all of the information he needs right now to reject the pipeline.
Once again an effort to keep an unpopular decision out of the news failed, not because the mass media exposed it, but because the people-powered media and movement got the word out, educated and mobilized people.
Next Test and the Future
This Tuesday there will be another test of the people-powered movement. The coalition that defeated the Internet-destroying laws SOPA and PIPA have joined together for “The Day We Fight Back” challenging NSA and other security state mass surveillance. More than 4,000 websites have signed up to participate in a web-based protest against dragnet surveillance. Banners will be published on the websites (including Popular Resistance) leading people to take action and call and email their legislators. No doubt you have not read about this protest in the Washington Post or New York Times or heard it reported in the corporate media. Once again, it will be a showing of the people-powered media and social movement organizing itself without traditional media coverage. Stay tuned and participate. We’re expecting impressive results.
Those in the media and government are well aware that the people-powered media is a growing threat because of the Internet. There are constant battles to be fought to keep the Internet open and free so that information can flow democratically and everyone has access. A recent court decision threatens the ability to keep the Internet open, but the government still has the power to do so. The people-powered movement is joining in solidarity to prevent the destruction of the Internet.
One of our main ongoing tasks is to break through the ‘official truth’ put out by the government and repeated by the corporate media. We need to break through with the actual truth, to describe reality so people know what is going on around them. Fortunately, a growing number of people understand the importance of their role as media outlets.
The interesting thing about the recent success we have seen is that the people-powered media is still in its infancy. There is no overt organization to it. People spread the word and share information without any coordinated plan to do so. People concerned about the direction of the country seem to take action organically and tell their friends, family, colleagues and Internet contacts what they have learned.
Educating each other through social media is not the whole of the movement – people also have to be mobilized in a strategic and sustained fashion acting together toward a common goal within a national strategic framework. But we should not underestimate the importance of creating our own media because building a mass movement begins with education. Activists should be aggressive in sharing information through their outlets. At Popular Resistance our daily digest provides you with news you can share in your networks to educate vast numbers of people. We need to think of ourselves as media outlets, build our networks, expand our audiences and share relevant information widely and regularly.
The corporate media, working with government, has lied us into wars that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands and the treasures of nations; they have created fear and hatred so that many accept destruction of our freedom and mass surveillance of our communications; they have lied to us about the safety of extreme energy extraction so our environment is put at risk; and they have pushed corporate policies that enrich the wealthiest with public dollars while destroying social programs and falsely claiming they are helping us.
If we continue to build the independent, people-powered media, greater numbers of people will build up immunity to the destructive misinformation of corporate media. To build the media we need, each of us must act with the intention to build it and use it in a consistent and strategic way.
Remember, you are the media; and the media matters.
This article is produced by PopularResistance.org in conjunction with AlterNet. It is based on PopularResistance.org’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.