The Unfree flow of Information and Cyberspace.

There are two propositions which are generally held to be true.

The first is that politicians sometimes/often/always lie; and the second, is that for there to be any semblance of democracy, there needs to be accurate information available to the electorate from a diversity of viewpoints. Clearly, an effective second would also act to expose any inaccuracies/disinformation/lies told by politicians.

However, as most of us are aware simply calling the free-press, ‘free’ does not make it so.  Nor are we well served by the narrowness of views/information reported across the spectrum of mainstream media sources.

For example, there was a discussion about George Osborne’s economic strategy on BBC R4’s World at One (26.08.12).  I tuned in late and I cannot find it on iplayer but the participants that I heard speak were;  Michael Howard (Baron Howard of Lympne, former leader of the Conservatives, and sponsor of George Osborne and David Cameron), Lord Hesketh (held junior ministerial positions in the Conservative administrations of Margaret Thatcher and John Major), John Pugh MP (Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee for Health and Social Care), and Jonathon Portes (Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Previously, Chief Economist at the Cabinet Office, where he advised the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, and Number 10 Downing Street on economic and financial issues).

This is merely the latest example of innumerable instances on the BBC when even a moderate left of centre voice was not represented or even referred to… Two ex-Tory ministers, a LD MP who has no specific economic credentials and a back-bench supporter of the coalition, and an eminent economist who advised New Labour.

Edward S Herman writes in ‘Beyond Hypocrisy’ (1):

 The structure of power that shapes media choices and determines who gains access also affects truthfulness in the mass media.

Those who have assured access can lie; the more powerful they are, the more easily they can lie and the less likely it is that their lies will be corrected.

The higher the rank the more “credible” the statement; the more credible the speaker, the greater the freedom to lie.  (1)

 

Herman postulates two laws; a ‘power law of access’ and an ‘inverse power law of truthfulness’ which are interrelated.

The Power Law of Access says the greater your economic and political clout, the easier your access to the mass media; the less your power, the more difficult the access.

The second law says that the greater your economic and political power – hence, access; the greater your freedom to lie, the smaller your power, the less your freedom to prevaricate.

Furthermore, those who try to disprove the lies of the powerful have their limited access further reduced because their discordant messages would offend the powerful.  In any event, the messages of the weak and powerless can be largely ignored without cost to the mass media (whose biases would incline them toward avoidance anyway).

This is still overwhelmingly the case.  But the internet has created a chink of access for those of us who have no economic or political clout.  Now, thousands, millions of ordinary people research and expose the misinformation, lies and deceits on a daily basis.  For example, anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk:

Once again the mainstream media is reporting a scandal without proper consideration of the background information. Yes, Gove and Hill rubber stamped the sale of thirty school playing fields and then lied about it. Yes Gove and Cameron seem to be colluding to in order to eradicate sports education and playing fields in state funded schools. But the much more important issues are the facts that the Tories have already privatised thousands of schools, without even charging a penny for these £billions in taxpayer funded assets (which will remain subsidised with public cash) and that the Tories are planning to force local authorities to privatise the ownership of hundreds more school properties. (2)

 

Individual bloggers and websites may not have the same weight of coverage as the BBC and the mass media, but unquestionably, information is available about those in power, as never before, and that alone offers opportunities for change.

For example, the magnificent disability campaigners of Spartacus demonstrated exactly how cyberspace has the potential for so much more.

Researching and organizing from their beds and settees, the disability campaigners, although suffering from profound and serious health problems, took the Welfare Reform bill apart and persuaded members of the House of Lords to vote down great swathes of the bill.  Their success was only thwarted when the Government reversed seven House of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, invoking a rarely used parliamentary statute to prevent any further consideration of the Bill.

All of this is noticed…  and seems to be extremely worrying to those with ‘the economic and political clout’, who would undoubtably like to stop this new threat to their capacity to control the flow of information:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

At a recent Council on Foreign Relations speech in Montreal, co-founder with David Rockefeller of the Trilateral Commission and regular Bilderberg attendee, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned that a “global political awakening,” in combination with infighting amongst the elite, was threatening to derail the move towards a one world government.

“For the first time in all of human history mankind is politically awakened – that’s a total new reality – it has not been so for most of human history.” (3)

The first attempts that were made to censor the web using the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect IP Act (Pipa), were all rejected following successful campaigning by a variety of civil society organizations who persuaded enlightened politicians to vote against, on the grounds that ‘the intended benefits of this treaty were far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties’. (4)

But unfortunately, there seem to be new attempts.  These are often couched in spin, inciting fears of terrorism, criminality or pornography.  For example, the UK government is ‘innocently’ proposing plans to change the law so that internet users would have to actively opt-in, to view pornographic or harmful content, when they sign up for broadband services or buy new mobile phones.

Harry Metcalfe of the Open Rights Group which campaigns on digital rights issues, says the filtering systems used by Internet Service Providers to block inappropriate content is the same as that used by censors to control internet access in totalitarian regimes around the world. (5)

John Kampfner (now an adviser to the Global Network Initiative, which brings together technology companies and civil society to address human rights issues) puts draft Government legislation into a global perspective:

Over the past few years, largely out of sight, governments have been clawing back freedoms on the internet, turning an invention that was designed to emancipate the individual into a tool for surveillance and control. In the next few months, this process is set to be enshrined internationally, amid plans to put cyberspace under the authority of a largely secretive and obscure UN agency… Authoritarian states have long seen cyberspace as the ultimate threat to their source of power.

…The British government’s current draft communications bill would produce a system of blanket collection and retention of all online data…

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN organisation that counts 193 countries as its members, aims to add the internet to its existing regulatory roles. Its strongest supporters include regimes such as China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, who submitted a proposal last September to the UN general assembly for an “international code of conduct for information security”. Its goal is to establish government-led “international norms and rules standardising the behaviour of countries concerning information and cyberspace”…. Control is always the first instinct of the state. The ITU summit in December marks just the start of the battle between those who wish to keep the internet (relatively) free and those who will do everything in their power to reverse the process. (6)

But if that global initiative fails… there are alternative routes actively being put in place.  Dean Baker writes in the Guardian that the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a pact that the United States is negotiating with Australia, Canada, Japan and eight other countries in the Pacific region) ‘is an effort to use the holy grail of free trade to impose conditions and override domestic laws in a way that would be almost impossible if the proposed measures had to go through the normal legislative process. The expectation is that by lining up powerful corporate interests, the governments will be able to ram this new “free trade” pact through legislatures on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.’ (7)

At this point, it’s not really possible to discuss the merits of the TPP since the governments are keeping the proposed text a secret from the public. Only the negotiators themselves and a select group of corporate partners have access to the actual document.…  A few items that have been leaked give us some insight as to the direction of this pact. One major focus is [that there] will be stronger protection for intellectual property. In the case of recorded music and movies, we might see provisions similar to those that were in the Stop Online Privacy Act (Sopa). …. There are many other provisions in this pact that are likely to be similarly controversial. The rules it creates would override domestic laws on the environment, workplace safety, and investment. (7)  

Doubtless, there are, or will be, many other attempts to curb the freedom of the internet.

I realise that using the Guardian and the Telegraph to reference my points about the mainstream media is to some extent paradoxical.  But firstly, the Guardian is not ‘owned’ as such, and secondly, these hugely significant pieces of information are not on the front page, but in ‘Comment is free’ section of the Guardian, or ‘hidden’ and ‘de-toothed’ in the technology section of the Telegraph.

The main pages of all newspapers, and the headlines across the media, are still reserved for those with economic and political clout who have license to lie.  In the UK, George Osborne is the most notable, current proponent of such arts (8)(9)(10) but he is by no means alone.

The media’s gullibility and groveling before the powerful occurs despite recognition by media personnel, in principle, that governments lie. But in practice, when dealing with their own government, especially in the area of foreign policy and the military-industrial-complex… media personnel abandon or shy away from critical analysis and, frequently, common sense. (1)

Censorship of the internet must be challenged and stopped from whatever quarter it comes.  We must not lose this ‘chink of access’ for views and information that the powerful find discordant.  ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance’ has a new currency.

Related Post from Tom Pride – says it all!

Nick Clegg Demands Britain’s Wealthiest Tories Pay More Notice Of Him

 

(1) http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/UnfreeInfo_Herman.html

(2) http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/michael-gove-playing-fields.html

(3)  http://www.prisonplanet.com/brzezinski-decries-global-political-awakening-during-cfr-speech.html

(4)  http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-06/26/sopa-acta-democracies-autocracies

(5)  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/9360138/Campaigners-warn-online-filtering-could-enable-political-censorship.html

(6)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/22/fight-control-internet-become-critical?INTCMP=SRCH

(7)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/27/pacific-free-trade-deal

(8)  https://think-left.org/2012/08/20/has-george-osborne-been-taking-trans-atlantic-lessons-from-the-jude-wanniski-and-the-republicans/

(9)  https://think-left.org/2012/08/18/what-is-george-osborne-playing-at/

(10)  https://think-left.org/2012/08/25/why-does-the-structural-deficit-remind-me-of-libor/

6 thoughts on “The Unfree flow of Information and Cyberspace.

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