In the Crossfire: Alternative News Networks

Alternative news networks have been getting far more attention in the past ten or so years due to increased accessibility to the internet throughout the world.  Recent global issues, such as the recession, the Arab Spring, the G20 (remember that?), and the Syrian war, have relied on alternative news networks to provide a means to get information that would otherwise be censored out into the open.  Here are a few networks that I am frequenting while preparing a final assignment on the role of digital activism and protest in the West:


Al Jazeera English

Alternative news networks should be approached with skepticism – as should all news being mediated – since there are so many factors that play into how and why news is being reported.  First, I cannot boast enough about the role of digital media in shifting power in information wars to those who are not in positions of influence.  Digital media has provided a crucial outlet for those who need a voice, but it has also made ‘the people’ into the masses once again.   The ethos of these sites presents a world that is deeply troubled and needs help.  Corporate news networks become the ‘bad guys’ to these sites, who claim that corporate control of news has resulted in extensive censorship.  I don’t necessarily disagree, since it is quite obvious that most news that we hear about comes from a handful of sources (see pic below), but all news is biased.  The truth behind any situation – for instance, the fact that there is possibly a genocide occurring in Syria  – remains caught in the crossfire of voices, information, and ideologies.  The heart of any issues get roughhoused and scarred by its exposure to the public, even on alternative news networks.

The Big 6.

The Big 6.

So, who do you trust?  Your damned if you and damned if you don’t, right?  You are in the crossfire of information that is plentiful everywhere from everyone in your everyday life.  I think the amount of information that is out there is what makes alternative news networks successful.  They tend to choose the most controversial, hidden, or silenced issues and speak louder about them.  These networks also draw a line of opposition between corporate news and themselves.  Everyone has a right to debate and to speak up or out against an issue; however, any collective of people who control and distribute a product (in this case, news) becomes corporate.  It is inevitable.   Just look at Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.  Assange is an example of how a renegade journalist  can become a media spectacle.  He is hated by many people, poor and rich alike, and loved by a following of individuals who view him as a sort of neo-Robin Hood figure.  Assange’s life is pretty much forfeit to the media and his original ideologies to free information from corporate control will never be fully seen through because of all the controversy he has created.  What about Anonymous? For certain, they are a threat to corporate news, but they fight behind a mask and their videos have become more like movie trailers for a V for Vendetta sequel.

There will always be classified information and secrets.  Who’s life/nationhood/money/etc is at stake?  For whom?  And why?

As I have been researching for my final assignment, I have also had the chance to read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five  for a second time.  The novel can be quite complicated, if not bizarre, but the message is pretty clear once you’ve finished the book: that war is what we do and, no, it’s consequences do not necessarily matter.  Vonnegut’s criticism is veiled by dark humour and framed in a science fiction narrative; yet, it is quite clear: we fight because we do.  We create opposition because it gives meaning.  Vonnegut presents a hopelessness that is unredeemable.  Perhaps this is why the narrative is considered an important critique of the post-war American nationalistic attitudes that equivocated nothing short of neo-colonialism (i.e. Vietnam, Korea, South Asia, and Russia).  Attitudes that threatened not merely with words, bombs, and guns, but atomic warfare – the desire to die seemed to be written in clear rhetoric.  A suicide note was a love note.

From "Slaughterhous-Five"

From “Slaughterhouse-Five”

And these contradictions were (are?) infuriating.

During my research I found an interesting article entitled, “Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics,” written by scholar Jodi Dean.  Dean defines “communicative capitalism” as “that form of late capitalism in which values heralded as central to democracy take material form in networked communication technologies.  Ideals of access, inclusion, discussion, and participation come to be realized in and through expansions, intensifications, and interconnections of global telecommunications” (Dean 104).  These ideals of democracy and open access are complicated by the power structures that own and distribute communication technologies throughout the globe (re: the Big 6).  ‘Ideals’ merely becomes an euphemism for political and social ideologies.  What is important, according to Dean, is not the ideologies that are  communicated, but the circulation of these ideologies (in other words, the medium is the message.  How a message is circulated is key to constructing power binaries).  Dean’s essay further looks at how technology has become part of our everyday lives.  There is no question that having technology is now a necessity to participating in the capitalist system.  So, are the alternative news networks simply playing their enemies game?  Pretty much.  However, as they are getting better at this game, they are participating in its construction.  Technology can be used as a weapon and this is what is happening on both sides.

And so it goes…

When you are caught in the crossfire, do you fight back or run away?  Information is the bullets.  What about innocent bystanders?  They are people, just people, like you and me.  These information wars distract us from the real news, or what is important: our own lives and place in society.

So, enough with the secrecy.  Let’s work on solutions.  Screw the differences.

Oh, and take off your masks, leave the business suits at home, and perhaps, every once and awhile, read some literature.  It will tell you more about the world you live in than the news.  And it is far less expensive than your weapons.  Then again, it is invaluable.  So it goes.

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

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