“In times of universal deceit telling the truth will be a revolutionary act”
– George Orwell
Parts of this documentary have been covered elsewhere. The Florida voting scandal for example. This film however is more in depth than most of the other media documentaries I have seen.
It also covers several issues that are not explored too much elsewhere. Most importantly in the current climate it has a section on possible threats to freedom of speech on the Internet.
It is not a homage to Orwell as such. However, Orwell’s society in 1984 had elements of Stalinism and Fascism and the film draws parallels between the Western media system, the former Soviet system and Nazi propaganda. Danny Schechter sets the tone early on…
“We falsely think of our country [the US] as a democracy when it has evolved into a media-ocracy. Where a media that is supposed to check political abuse is part of political abuse.”
That abuse is not exactly akin to the ‘Ministry of Truth’ in 1984 or what is thought to be the Stalinist method of only having one single political line allowed in the media. The net result of such a system is that no one will believe it. It is instead constructed according to Goebbels idea of “ostensible diversity that conceals an actual uniformity.” One example (not in the film) is during the one of the debates at the 2000 US presidential election Bush and Gore agreed with each other 32 times in about an hour[i]. Despite this broad based agreement between the candidates it is framed as if there really is a debate going on.
Although the debate itself is phoney there are still certain unmentionables. As usual, Bob McChesney is insightful…
“In some ways corporate power is treated by our media like communism was treated by the soviet press. In the soviet media the bad commissar who didn’t meet the tractor quota could be skewered in the media. Pravda or Tass could give the guy a hard time but the system of communism is off limits. The occasional capitalist or firm that might make a bad tyre or seatbelt can be skewered but the system as a whole is always off limits.”
That’s not to say that certain things don’t disappear down the memory hole from time to time. McChesney again…
“To remove controversy from story selection […] there becomes a tremendous reliance upon official sources as the basis of legitimate journalism. This is a new thing. In 1875 if the governor said something wacky a newspaper editor would say ‘I’m not going to cover that that’s stupid.’ This means that those people in power, political power especially but also business power, become the assignment editors of journalism. What they want to talk about becomes news – if they don’t want to debate something like the CIA it’s virtually impossible for a journalist to introduce it as a story.”
An example of this was Gary Sick, author of ‘The October Surprise’ a
former US diplomat who worked for the Carter administration and the National Security Council. His book argued that the Ronald Reagan’s team meddled in a hostage crisis in Iran to ensure that the hostages were not released before election day. This was in order to make the outgoing Carter administration look unable to deal with the problem and give the incoming Reagan administration an immediate boost. In his congressional testimony on 5/2/92 Sick stated that
“In the course of hundreds of interviews in the US, Europe and the Middle East, I’ve been told repeatedly that individuals associated with the Reagan campaign of 1980 met secretly with Iranian officials to delay the release of the American hostages until after the presidential election. For this favour, Iran was rewarded with a substantial supply of arms from Israel.”
This story is now regarded as a ‘career graveyard’ for journalists trying to work in the corporate media. This, despite the fact that with at least 5 of the witnesses saying that George Bush Sr. was present at some of the negotiations it should have been (and should still be) a huge story.
There are some real gems in this film. For example, a clip of a woman remarking on the Heritage foundation coming up with a theory that Jesus would have supported overseas bombing. And if you need a statistic to show that there is no real challenge to leaders then Michael Moore mentions that in the US there is a 98% return rate to congress whereas the Soviet Politburo only had a 92% rate.
Like Danny Schechter’s ‘Weapons of Mass Deception’ there is a section focusing on why the media has been so weak in challenging power. The rough premise in both films is that it is in the main to do with corporations taking the government line in order to ensure that deregulation policies favourable to the larger media conglomerates are introduced. The ‘see no evil’ coverage of some of Dubya’s alleged insider trading (reported by the CPI 7 months before the 200 election) may also be related to this. Unlike some of the moveon.org sponsored films this one is also critical of Clinton. Deregulation gathered pace under Clinton with the 1996 telecommunications act. The entire debate on the three major US networks over whether this was a healthy Act or not was 19 minutes spread out over 9 months.
The Internet section of the film is succinct as it is important…Jeff Chester…
“The telephone network on which the dial-up Internet is based has been a common carrier so anyone could have a website anybody could transmit anything. You could have all kinds of companies competing to provide you with Internet service. Open access is being replaced now by a system of closed access.”
Reasons that will be given for control of the Internet
- Identity theft
- Convenience and Security
Reasons to think twice about it…
- Anonymity outlawed and every penny accounted for
- All transactions taxed
- All of what you read, see, hear or communicate including where you are is known
In other words, it could be just like Winston sitting by his telescreen. “Internet users won’t know what they have got till its gone.” – Steve Levy.
Open access rules for the Internet are already being tampered with. AOL and other companies want to control access. The FCC has ruled that cable companies are not subject to open access rules so the Internet is being slowly brought under control. It isn’t complete yet. Now is the time to fight to keep the net free.
“Most governments, most companies have not figured out how to limit access to the internet and they have not figured out how to block information that is inconvenient or unfriendly to them or that they don’t like off the internet – at least in this brief window that we have before they all figure it out.” – Jeff Chester
It is a fabulous film. It needs more than one watch too as there is so much information in it. There is one thing though. I don’t really want to criticise such a good documentary but one thing I find slightly annoying in this and in other films (its in ‘Preventive Warriors’ as well) is the 2-note devil music that’s often added. It’s the sort of music they use to in horror films in the build up to when the murderer/monster/axe-maniac jumps out. I know that budgets are low and that it is there to add tension to what otherwise is a few people sitting in a room talking to camera but it can get a bit tedious at times.
For good measure there are a couple of other Orwell quotes on the topic he could have used e.g. “early on in life I noticed that no event is ever reported correctly in a newspaper”, or “advertising is the rattling of a stick inside of a swill bucket.”
http://www.orwellrollsinhisgrave.com/ to buy a copy
http://www.indybay.org/news/?keyword=orwell+rolls+&author=&display=&year=&month=&day=&medium=video&category=0&sort=&limit=30 to download for free.