Brave New World has arrived

In 70 plus years of the communist eastern bloc, elites exercised tight control of communications. Pravda and Izvestia were mouthpieces of USSR state agencies and censorship was pervasive, including management of radio, television, publishing, arts and other communications. Even copying machines were monitored and public libraries supervised. Writers and commentators who spread unacceptable information earned tickets to oblivion. We observed but believed that our democratic nations were different.

After collapse of communism, elites still control media in nearly all former Soviet states, particularly Uzbekistan, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Russia, where leaders intimidate and punish political opponents. In 2011, members of Pussy Riot, a punk rock collective, were jailed, essentially for criticizing Russian autocrats. A short while ago, St Petersburg police swarmed the home and offices of Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte, a social media website serving more than 200 million users. It had temerity to allow criticism of Vladimir Putin and his associates. We observed but believed that our democratic nations were better.

Heedless westerners imagine that we enjoy freedom of expression through electronic media and published material. Many claim our nations have moral superiority over states that routinely censor information. However, freedom of speech can be constrained without heavy handed state actions; it can be restrained effectively by less obvious actions.

American thinker Noam Chomsky described North American media:

“They naturally remain within the basic agenda that’s pretty much set by their owners and their market, which is other businesses. It’d be amazing if it departed very much from that. Also, [the media] is very closely linked to state power, and that gives you not literal censorship but constraints…

“Public broadcasting has always been very narrowly bounded. I mean, it pushes the edge slightly beyond commercial broadcasting, but not very much. There are a lot of illusions about that…”

One long promoted claim about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation concerns alleged political bias. Robert Hackett wrote about that at blog Policy Note:

“To anybody following CBC TV’s news and current affairs over the past five years, it’s no surprise that far from tilting leftward, the Mother Corp gives disproportionate access to Conservative politicians, as noted in Peter Stursberg’s book (see Charlie Smith’s article in the Georgia Straight). An even broader concern is how CBC is framing issues. For example, neoliberal commentators like Andrew Coyne have virtually free rein for free market fundamentalist rants…

“The myth of ‘left liberal media’ is relentlessly promoted by those with a vested interest in shifting the political goalposts further to the right. Democracies need strong independent public broadcasters, but CBC is not well fulfilling its mandate to represent fairly the political diversity of Canadians, including the nearly one-third of voters who made the NDP Canada’s official opposition last year…”

Canada’s Conservative Party is moving to ensure the existing tilt moves further to the right. Under its budget implementation bill, the federal cabinet has, according to The Hill Times, taken authority to approve salaries, working conditions and collective bargaining positions for the CBC. Anyone committed to media independence should abhor this act of control.

Brought up on western propaganda following WWII, I felt in my soul the USA was an heroic preserver of freedom and democracy, principled like no other nation. My father was American and my childhood heroes were led by comic book characters like the Blackhawk Squadron. I have friends in that nation that I respect without limit but, I’m now wondering what the hell happened in America in recent years. The nation that led the fight for civil rights is now leading the fight to destroy them.

The next generations of not-Americans will have an entirely different view from the one I was exposed to in early days. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says American monitoring of friends is unacceptable and can’t be tolerated. Propublica reveals that American authorities maintain records of most telephone calls and monitor vast amounts of the world’s internet traffic. Technology companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook routinely provide access to or hand over customer information to government agencies. Electronic Frontier Foundation says “without a doubt” the NSA collects massive amounts of data about Canadian citizens.

German publication Der Speiegel, says Barack Obama is viewed as the embodiment of the very “Big Brother” once sketched by George Orwell, the unsrupuous dictator who spies on, monitors and controls every citizen. In fact, trust is broken between the USA and nations that should be its allies. It’s both sad and scary when the self-styled leader of the free world chooses to lead the enemies of freedom.

Categories: Journalism

5 replies »

  1. “However, freedom of speech can be constrained even without heavy handed and obvious state actions. Freedom can be restrained even more effectively by less obvious actions.”

    This is exactly why you'll never find Playboy or Hustler on the shelves of your local public library. Never mind that they'd be returned with pages missing (or not returned at all)… but whomever orders books and magazines is editing those out as “inappropriate material.” I'm sure there are other less salacious titles that get passed over as well.

    Similarly, there are news desk staff that are preventing us from hearing more about Hydro and run-of-river indebtedness. Not sexy enough… or too complicated — or too embarrassing — to talk about.

    Welcome back, Norm!


  2. We live in a brave new world, envisioned by George Orwell and practiced upon by the odious Joesph Goebbels. In our brave new world, the public are seen as proals and/or hayseeds that are expected to do what they are told, read what they are told to read, watch what that are told to watch, and think as they are told to think. We are the Volk.

    In our brave new world, democracy are “showcase” elections held every 4 years or civic elections every 3 years; other than that, the public are told to shut up. Sometimes the public arises out of its stupor and a bloodless coup takes place, a la Gordon Campbell and that only was allowed happened when is controllers felt he was no longer an asset.

    In our brave new world, we live by the golden rule – those with the gold rules! The law and courts are for the wealthy to prove themselves innocent and the poor to be declared guilty. In BC and Canada, the rule of law has a price.

    In our brave new world, that despite living in the information era, censorship is practiced as routine.

    In our brave new world, malcontents are branded terrorists, but those who make massive profits from illegal drugs; where illegal monies are routinely laundered in casinos or major land developments, are quietly ignored as the money is; “good for the economy.”

    Sadly the old sad world was a different country; we did thing differently then; we had honour and we has duty to our community.


  3. Pravda, Izvestia, Facebook, Microsoft, Google — never thought they would be the same thing just with different names.
    Thanks for the writing Norm!


  4. I long ago (well, maybe 2 years ago) gave up any thought off running for political office, or the Senate, as I knew my feeble criticisms were monitored by the BC Liberals/Federal Conservatives.
    No, I'm not endowed with a feeling of importance. I just know if anyone really cared it would take but a moment to discover who “John's Aghast” really is!
    There goes my chance to be Kamloops Dogcatcher.


  5. It no longer matters whether it is the U.S., Soviet Union, China, Canada, no longer matters whether it is a provincial government, recently was informed that at the municipal level every email sent, photo-copy made, was being monitored. If you are still under the impression democracy exists in this country of ours and globally, you are disillusioned.
    It passed when interest was introduced, when presidents were assassinated, when media was controlled by corporations. You notice the measures that are coming increasingly rapidly to “control and regulate” internet communication. This post is being monitored right now.
    But remember Zalm. He knew that if you get enough people to devote themselves, in a big way or small, to a democratic cause, you can be effective.


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