This is the twenty-sixth in a daily series of articles taken from Elevate #10. I hope you enjoy the read – and come back tomorrow for more!
Amy Goodman, host of the independent daily news show Democracy Now!, has been working to change the dominant narrative of capitalist media for three decades. “In independent media,” she says, “we have to tell the story as it’s happening and we have to de-construct the story being told in the rest of the media.”
The success of Democracy Now! proves that there is a mainstream appetite for alternative narratives, but the programme is almost unique, eschewing advertising dollars and funded entirely by its listeners and viewers. Corporate or government-sponsored media will always have the bigger resources to dominate the airwaves. And, as we all know, the first rule of journalism is: Whoever pays the most gets to tell the story.
Strangely, Amy believes that journalism should be something else. “Go to the person closest to the story and let them speak for themselves.” She calls this the first basic tenet of good journalism. “If they can’t speak,” she continues, “if they’re disappeared or if they’ve been imprisoned, if they’re afraid for their life or their livelihood or their family, tell their stories until they can tell their own.” It sounds straightforward enough, but doesn’t seem to be followed on most corporate or state media, which Amy claims are dominated by “a small circle of pundits, who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong”.
One example of the mainstream media’s incompetence in representing the people’s narratives, was their response to the Occupy movement. “The corporate media would often mock the Occupy movement,” Amy says. “Most of corporate media ignored Occupy for a week. There was even a segment on CNN about Occupy called Seriously?!”, which mocked the movement for the crime of trying to connect crises.
The people could see a narrative that was not permitted by the corporate media or by the government: the connections between Troy Davis, climate change and the treatment of military veterans; the connection between the war at home and the war abroad. “These issues are all connected,” Amy says, adding that, despite not being taken seriously by the media, “it’s not the weakness of movements to show these connections.”
The truth is that the government and the corporate media were afraid of Occupy. And, regardless of the frequent accusations that the occupations didn’t change anything, they are still afraid. Occupy gave us a new vocabulary of resistance; if you talk about “the ninety-nine percent” or “the one percent” today, everybody knows what you’re talking about. “They occupied the language,” Amy says with obvious pride.
We know that corporate media and governments are still afraid because the response of the one is still ridicule and the response of the other is still militarisation. The 2011 riots in the UK were almost exclusively characterised as the work of a criminalised underclass, rather than as a consequence of the shooting of a black man by the police or as a reaction to rising inequality and a government that is in it for themselves.
In the US, the killing of an unarmed eighteen year old African-American, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer triggered popular peaceful protests. The protests were met by tanks, automatic weapons and tear gas. The officer who killed Michael will not be prosecuted.
According to Amy, the corporate media have been conveyors of lies to protect the push for war. The mainstream media, she says, has been “for the state”, instead of “the fourth estate”; disabling journalism’s important social function of helping hold government to account for their actions.
Given this sorry state of affairs, the role of independent media like Democracy Now! is more important than ever. “We go to where the silence is and say something,” Amy says. “We’re there to bear witness.” She still believes in the power of journalism. “When you hear someone tell their story,” she says, “you don’t have to agree with them, but it’s the starting point for understanding and that’s the starting point to peace.”
So when Amy says that journalism has the capacity to be the greatest force for peace in the world, I believe her. Stories are our way of sharing different points of view with each other, helping us build empathy. And I like to think that, if you feel empathy for someone, you won’t then go and shoot them in the head.
Amy’s faith in journalism comes directly from the power of the grass-roots voices she airs on Democracy Now! She refuses to believe that people are apathetic, despite demoralising statistics like low voter turn-out. “I thought they were civically engaged,” she says, “but just perhaps in different ways, thinking that their vote might not make a difference.”
For the last nineteen years, she has dedicated herself to finding those alternative stories of engagement that aren’t often heard on corporate media. Amy describes these grass-roots voices, concerned with war and peace, inequality and injustice, as “not a fringe minority, not even a silent majority, but a silenced majority”. For Amy, this majority are silenced by the corporate media, who ridicule and scorn them, or refuse to tell their stories.
The government silences voices in an even more literal way. “Obama’s prosecuted more whistle blowers than any other administration,” Amy says. In the aftermath of the Edward Snowden leaks, government seems to be attacking even well-known journalists who try to protect their sources.
“When Glenn Greenwald came back,” she continues, “he said that, when populations feel they’re being surveilled, they become less creative and more sheepish.” For Amy, the fight against surveillance is bigger than all of us. “We have to fight back against the fear,” she says. “It’s where creativity is, it’s where Elevate is: it’s people conspiring together.”
Amy settles back with a half smile on her face. “Which is why we have to take the media back. You’re the me in media.”
Thank you for reading – I hope you found something here that was enlightening and inspirational. Come back tomorrow from 8am for more from Elevate #10.