Why We Need Alternative Media – OpEd


Like most people, I either read or watch news online. Newspapers and TV channels were important through most years of my life. I’m not averse to them. It’s just that they have been colonized by vested interests, which is why I intend to look at news selectively and in places and people I trust. I’m accommodative of people in general. But I’m not accommodating of what I read and watch. I need to make sure that the source of the stuff I go through is at least fairly reliable. 

Most people tend to think that honesty does not matter and no one really cares. Nothing could be further from the truth. I, for example, do care whether a person is honest with themselves or not. It might take time to understand a person. But sooner or later people tend to figure you out. Once they know you are saying things without actually believing in them, they don’t take you seriously any longer. 

I have to confess that on many subjects I could educate myself thanks to stuff uploaded on the internet. Apart from books, there are alternative websites that give news on a daily basis. We would practically suffocate in toxic lies if we only had to go through mainstream news each and every day of our lives. It’s been years since I stopped taking mainstream media and commentators seriously. I like people who are committed to telling the truth. I don’t like diehard ideologues who impose their version of truth on what happens around them. Once you tell the truth automatically you are on the side of the weak and the oppressed. You don’t need to color the truth with a belief system. Truth is colorless like water and we cannot live without it just as no life is possible without water. The truth speaks for itself. “O Truth, Truth,” – that’s how Saint Augustine refers to Christ in his Confessions. Gandhi as well made no distinction between God and Truth. 

For instance, I don’t think highly of Al Jazeera which is funded by the government of Qatar for the same reason that I’m skeptical of the state-owned Russian Television (RT), although both of them once in a way have intelligent commentators on their shows. I find Middle East Eye, whose editor-in-chief is David Hearst (MEE), far more reliable, despite accusations of Qatari connections. Their articles and videos on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been truly educational. The kind of colonial violence that Israel has embarked upon in the Palestinian Territories, I don’t think I would have physically felt the brutality of it, without watching the videos uploaded by Middle East Eye.

I like reading the columnists in the Pakistani English newspaper Dawn. Most of them tend to be relatively moderate, knowledgeable and objective. This perhaps may not be the case with other newspapers in Pakistan. However, in a diverse country like India you would expect analysts to be open-minded, inclusive in their worldview and critical of the political party in power where criticism is warranted. Far from it. Indian newspapers and channels are filled with the most opinionated and bigoted lot, congenitally incapable of embracing the truth for its own sake. This is because of the sycophancy in the Indian DNA; instead of the white masters we suck up to the brown masters. Only when you see the world through the eyes of others, you know how different it looks. In humanity’s history, has narcissism ever been the source of flourishing!

About mainstream Indian news reporting, the less said the better. It’s like the word ‘truth’ does not exist in their dictionary. Having said that, there are independent voices that are challenging power in no uncertain terms. The unusually popular vlogger Dhruv Rathee is interesting for a couple of reasons. He uses Hindi as a medium of communication. This makes him influential in significant ways in places where the political party at the helm of affairs is the strongest. Another thing is that he is balanced in his views and substantiates his arguments with evidence. Some other YouTube channels that, in different ways, offer an alternative perspective are: The Deshbhakt, Rohit Upadhyay, Mohak Mangal, Faye D’Souza, Ye Hai Fakeeri, Dr. Laxman Yadav, Janta ka Reporter, Paurush Sharma, The Mulk, Official PeeingHuman, Shandaar Swati, News Insider 24×7 etc. A few of them are extremely popular and have millions of subscribers. Needless to say, that is not a criterion with respect to the quality of analysis. The point is that independent voices are offering an alternative perspective on what is happening in India. We desperately need that in this country. We desperately need that globally as well. 

Mainstream American media might not prove that God exists, but it proves that the devil does. The propaganda model that Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky describe in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media throws light on the chokehold that big business has on both mass media and the government. 

“Given the imperatives of corporate organization and the workings of the various filters, conformity to the needs and interests of privileged sectors is essential to success. In the media, as in other major institutions, those who do not display the requisite values and perspectives will be regarded as “irresponsible,” “ideological,” or otherwise aberrant, and will tend to fall by the wayside. While there may be a small number of exceptions, the pattern is pervasive, and expected.”

Despite the enormous freedom an average American might enjoy in their personal lives when compared to people living in other parts of the world, the pressure to conform to the existing order of things is unbelievable. The space for nonconformity is extraordinarily limited. What’s the point in talking of freedom if you have to deal, on a daily basis, with the lethal streak of legalism intertwined with nationalism! Uniformity masquerading as difference is more dangerous than out and out conformity that is a result of brute force. A repressed person can always pretend to submit to authority. That’s not the case with a person who is not physically repressed and yet blindly submits to authority. He or she has internalized the expectations of power and lives accordingly. 

That’s the problem with a system where people are made to believe that they are free when in fact they are in chains. That’s the problem with a country where its citizens are enslaved in the mind and are comfortable with being mental slaves. Mental slavery is a million times more dangerous than slavery of the body. People who are genuinely committed to universal freedom are likely to perish in the cruel indifference of such a system. So many individuals and groups in the US have been needlessly and wrongly accused of anti-semitism for expressing their support to the Palestinians. How can freedom be mocked in this manner, where we apply different criteria for different people based on arbitrary standards! As Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky put it:

“We would anticipate the uncritical acceptance of certain premises in dealing with self and friends—such as that one’s own state and leaders seek peace and democracy, oppose terrorism, and tell the truth—premises which will not be applied in treating enemy states. We would expect different criteria of evaluation to be employed, so that what is villainy in enemy states will be presented as an incidental background fact in the case of oneself and friends. What is on the agenda in treating one case will be off the agenda in discussing the other. We would also expect great investigatory zeal in the search for enemy villainy and the responsibility of high officials for abuses in enemy states, but diminished enterprise in examining such matters in connection with one’s own and friendly states.”

But the US is not an exception among western nations where mainstream media plays a role in the manipulation of the masses. Recently, a highly respected Australian academic, Ghassan Hage was removed from his position of a visiting professor at the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale), Germany. He received an email from a rightwing newspaper stating that “we have noticed that you have been making increasingly drastic statements towards the State of Israel.” This happened because of statements he made on social media referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

In his defense, Hage said, “I am taking my time contextualising this Facebook post as it is one of the posts that were deemed by the lawyers of the Max Planck Society to put me in contravention of the law in Germany: it is apparently antisemitic to engage in a comparison between Israel and Nazis. That is what I was told anyway. As far as I understand, this is, in a nutshell, what has put me at odds with Max Planck Society’s lawyers. What to me is a fair, intellectual critique of Israel, for them is ‘antisemitism according to the law in Germany’.” In their statement, the Max Planck society said: “Recently, he has shared a series of posts on social media expressing views that are incompatible with the core values of the Max Planck Society. In agreement with the Institute, the Max Planck Society has therefore ended its working relationship with Prof. Hage.” 

I’m neither against laws nor am I against institutions defending their “core values.” But, unless you specifically point out where the law is violated, it is nothing but abuse. If it is not abuse, then there is something terribly wrong with the law itself. I find it darkly funny that Germans these days are educating the Jews of their country, most likely descendants of victims of Nazism, about the horrors of the holocaust. Even shamelessness and hypocrisy must have limits. In countries like India, people lose their jobs or end up in other kinds of trouble when they make statements against the political party running the government. How is the US or Germany any freer or different from India! Just different versions of the same police state. 

The point of the digression is that people are largely unfree to varying degrees in different parts of the world. Whatever little freedom in the form of an alternative source of information is fortunately through certain committed voices on the internet. Channels that I watch on a regular basis include BreakThrough News, Breaking Points, Hard Lens Media, Channel 4 News, Judge Napolitano – Judging Freedom, We Love Africa, George Galloway MP, DW News, Democracy Now!, The Africa News Network, red., Neutrality Studies, Katie Halper, CODEPINK, The Grayzone, The Africa News Network, Invisible People, The Real News Network, Useful Idiots, Dialogue Works, Academy of Ideas etc. 

Almost unfailingly I listen to what Prof. John Mearsheimer has to say, especially on the Russo-Ukraine War. And Norman Finkelstein too. But, of course, I am always happy to listen to perspectives from people who I am encountering for the first time. The point however, is not that. The point is that I tend to like it when people think carefully and feel with what they have to say. It doesn’t mean that they are always right. People make mistakes. We cannot expect them not to. But without that commitment to tell a carefully thought out truth we end up with what journalists do in mainstream media: just repeat clichés and manage to convince yourself that you actually believe in the bullshit that comes out of your mouth. 

When we use the term ‘mass media’ the assumption is that the masses are nameless and uncountable. What we forget is that the masses are individuals, each with a mind of their own. The whole point of alternative media is that it appeals to the conscience of an individual person. That’s what mainstream media will never do. A character, who happens to be a priest, from the 1930s novel Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone makes the point rather well.

“The dictatorship is based on unanimity,” he said. “It’s sufficient for one person to say no and the spell is broken.”

“Under every dictatorship,” he said, “one man, one perfectly ordinary little man who goes on thinking with his own brain is a threat to public order. Tons of printed paper spread the slogans of the regime; thousands of loudspeakers, hundreds of thousands of posters and freely distributed leaflets, whole armies of speakers in all the squares and at all the crossroads, thousands of priests in the pulpit repeat these slogans ad nauseam, to the point of collective stupefaction. But it’s sufficient for one little man, one ordinary, little man to say no, and the whole of that formidable granite order is imperiled” 

“And if they catch and kill him?” the girl said.

“Killing a man who says no is a risky business,” said the priest. “Even a corpse can go on whispering no, no, no, no with the tenacity and obstinacy that is peculiar to certain corpses. How can you silence a corpse?” (207-208).

The whole point of an alternative media is that it needs to keep that one thinking person in mind. Even the worst dictatorship on earth cannot silence the thoughts of that one person who is determined to figure out how things work in the real world. Authoritarianism thrives on the premise that it is able to control that one person who dares to challenge it. That one person who is able to use his or her brain in a way so as to see through the lies they have been drilled with day in and day out. Without that one “perfectly ordinary little” person who says “no” to human cruelty and injustice, slavery, colonialism and genocides would never come to an end. 

(Most people I’m certain genuinely miss the heroes of great journalism Robert Fisk (1946-2020) and John Pilger (1939-2023), especially during this critical phase. I, personally, also miss listening to the soft, analytical tone of Noam Chomsky, who, perhaps, has dedicated his heart and mind to a critique of American Foreign Policy in the Global South more than any other intellectual of the 20th century.) 


Prakash Kona

Prakash Kona is an independent scholar who, until December 2022, was a professor at The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India. He was “removed from service” for making allegations of corruption against an unscrupulous university administration and is currently challenging his dismissal in the court of law.

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