Challenging the Mainstream Media
by Henrik Ræder Clausen
Mediawise, we’re living in strange time. Never before have we had this many television channels, Internet pages, telephones or networking technologies. Media is expected to be a critical voice on behalf of the people, bringing out challenging our leaders. This, in turn, should have given us the most vibrant, honest and effective democracy we’ve ever seen.
Something here doesn’t work quite right.
It has been said that the amount of quality in television is constant, but has been spread over a bit too many channels. Might be true, for in Denmark thirty years ago, we’d all be watching the same, state-controlled channel (no, we were not East Block members — but still…), and whatever came out on that channel would be seen by a LOT of people. Today we have a handful of national channels, and if one owns a satellite disk or has cable, the choice is endless. Thus, the profound documentary gets sidelined to a ‘narrow’ channel, with an amazing selection of movies, top sports and entertainment to distract from the documentary. Which then can have quite limited impact despite all the qualities it may have.
A related problem is that of media speed. Television reports travel the earth in less than a second, and no one wishes to be late to the party. Unfortunately this creates a ‘lemming effect’, where badly documented news stories assume a reality on themselves, and then create atrocities based on lies. The Al-Dura incident, which started the Second Intifada, is one such case, where the truth came out only a whopping seven years later.
These are good reasons for intelligent people to just walk away. The structure and variety of the Internet are others, as one can access details and documentation better than has ever been possible. While it may take an elite brain to sort the good from the crap, it doesn’t take an elite rank or position to do so. Anyone with an Internet connection, the ability to read English, and a basic understanding of evaluating sources can now do serious research in their free time, and come up with stuff that challenges the status quo. Here’s one example.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart mocks modern television and superficial politicians. It has captured the attention of millions, who love the carefully-crafted irreverent style, and the way mainstream media (MSM from now on) is being humiliated for their superficial coverage. The Daily Show switches between profound and pointless in a minute, but is very frequently worth watching.
I picked up an episode frequently where Jon Stewart had noticed a report blasting the US government for severe deceit concerning the rationale for the Iraq war. Heavy stuff. The report was quite obviously dynamite, so he set out to investigate what the MSM had made of it. Covering three Internet site and three television channels, he found that only a single of these had even mentioned the report, and even that only in an attempt to discredit it. No one even bothered to quote anything the report contained.
I captured this 4-minute clip from television and posted it to YouTube.
At least the problem has now been documented and can be found by others.. The dishonesty is appalling!
Yet, there might be a pattern to it, one that has little to do with obscure conspiracies or subversive organizations. As Timur Kuran has pointed out in Private Truth, Public Lies, the mechanism of preference falsification, or lying in public about what you believe, is devastating to public discourse. The fear of being stigmatized, being excluded from ‘good company’, of lawsuits or (particular in the case of Islam) of being subject to violence causes people to be evasive, dishonest, deceptive or to downright lie. this is a particularly serious problem when we expect them to have honesty and integrity to be our watchdogs towards politicians, big business, ‘religious’ leaders etc. Watchdogs that make sure that the big ones don’t ‘steal the lunch’ of the citizens in terms of money, power, corruption etc.
Mentioning lawsuits, it’s worth telling that my posting of this clip prompted a reaction. From The Daily Show. They requested that YouTube take it down for copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (pdf) (US copyright law in general).
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The DMCA, as it is commonly called, is a complex beast. It’s supposed to guarantee the rights of publishers in an age where copying and republishing anything is as easy as a few mouse clicks on a computer and an Internet connection. In it’s attempt to preserve those rights, the DMCA is quite draconian, for one has to scare the citizens into obedience in order to make them not do obviously sensible things with the modern technology in their hands.
The DMCA is unfair to the citizen, not only in the actual content of the law, but also in the pure complexity of it. That means that the average citizen, who just posts a bit of material here and there, doesn’t quite know his rights, which under the law are neither obvious nor clearly defined. A clear definition would be perceived as unfair to the publisher or the citizen, and thus an unclear definition becomes the best compromise one can get. A compromise that unfortunately tends to favor those with access to good lawyers.
Copyright used to be a fair system, where the state would grant 14 years of protection against illicit copying, on the condition that the publisher would after that release the work into the public domain, making it free for all to use it. That time has been successively extended and is now a whopping 70 years. Worse, it now counts from the death of the author, not from the creation of the work. That is insane.
Much can be said about copyright, and one of the best proposals I’ve seen is to create a ‘copyright tax’, where the author pays an appropriate sum for copyright protection. If he fails to pay this, the works would pass into the public domain. Doing so would reinstate fairness, for currently copyright is a tool granted free of charge by the state. That leads to abuse.
The system has become like this because citizens don’t lobby effectively for their cause. One of the few organizations that speaks up for citizens, not for big business, is Electronic Freedom Foundation. Please visit them for more information.
An interesting alternative to the usual “All Rights Reserved” is for new media to publish under a free license that reserves only relevant rights, but lets anyone reuse your work in a well-defined manner. More information at Creative Commons. This piece, as well as my other electronically published pieces, is licensed under the Creative Commons Share Alike License, which lets anyone republish and use my work, as long as the original author is duly credited and any derived works are shared under the same license.
The purpose of choosing this license is to encourage more quality work to be available to anyone, thereby setting the superficial pieces that MSM feeds us into perspective, thus challenging the professionals to improve their quality to match.
Back to the YouTube piece. I don’t like being framed as a felon, for I considered my piece a legal republication under the ‘Fair use’ clause. This clause has grown from court practice through quite a few years, and is a bad compromise permitting the law to get away with the draconian stuff, where the law really should be created in a way that protects citizens directly.
But that’s not the main point here, though. The ‘Fair use’ clause is real, and reads:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or audio recordings or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; 2. the nature of the copyrighted work; 3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and 4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
Unsurprisingly, I had the lawyer of Jon Stewart on the phone a few days later. He was really not happy with my use of their material, and told me in several ways in lawyer-speak that he didn’t consider my use ‘fair’, and that “he’d like to avoid having to sue me”, as he phrased it. Now, international lawsuits (I’m Danish) are messy and expensive, so I wasn’t quite interesting in creating one of those beasts, either. But I did want to use the piece, for it points out something pertinent. He then told me that I could stream it off their servers. That’s cool, for I don’t care what server I stream it from, as long as I can use it for the point I want to make. Thus, I asked him for details on how to find it, to which he agreed, and we had an friendly resolution of the problem.
Except that my very agreeing to his proposal destroyed his own line of argumentation which left him with a problem:
I demonstrated clearly that I had no interest in any form of ‘ownership’ of the video clip, and that my intent was genuinely educational — and thus would indeed fall under the ‘fair use’ clause he was trying to explain that didn’t apply here.
Today, YouTube informed me that The Daily Show had not filed a lawsuit under the DMCA and my piece was therefore restored.
This demonstrates that YouTube-based Internet journalism is feasible, but taking risks and standing up for your rights is still a necessity. But it’s doable. And since I spent exactly $ 0,00 on this adventure, whereas my counterpart has spent some expensive lawyer-time achieving nothing, the end result, if enough citizens do so, will be that we can repeal the repressive copyright regime and regain our freedom to do sensible things, just because they make sense.
I’ve created a guide showing how to prepare a video for YouTube posting. The guide can be grabbed here (pdf).
A final word of advice: Be fair, and be true to the facts on the ground. While we may hold all kinds of opinions based on experience or hearsay, we can’t get them all across in one article or posting. There’s plenty reason to make only those points that have solid documentation, and then return another day with other interesting points. That makes for a civil debate and eventually much deeper impact of what is posted.
My wish is that we will increase the pressure on mainstream media organizations, to the point where the continuing stream of embarrassments cause them to either reform and improve, or to go the way of dinosaurs. Democracy deserves a living and vibrant press that is critical, yet fair.
“Challenging the Mainstream Media” by Henrik Ræder Clausen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.