Article By Ehud Tokatly

Whose Free Speech?

Celebrating HopeWays' First Anniversary

I sometimes look at my children and think of the difference between my distant childhood and theirs. They have things that my generation couldn't even imagine. They eat differently, dress differently, learn other things and even play many different games. But the greatest difference is probably the amount of information they are exposed to. While Israelis have always been addicted to "The News", I still remember the days when the official radio reported only twice a day. Nowadays we are bombarded with news bulletins every 30 minutes and the News Channels don't stop for a second.

Let me put aside the many questions that arise from this dramatic change. I am not at all sure that today's youngsters are better informed than we were and I sometimes even suspect that some of their intellectual curiosity is fading away. Too much information, with no order and orientation, is sometimes worse than complete ignorance. But that's a topic for another article.

My main question is about the type of information we are getting and about the people who generate these heaps of words and pictures. How is it, I keep wondering, that all these armies of reporters and editors, producers and directors, columnists and researchers - all of these thousands of educated individuals keep bumping into the same stories, drawing exactly the same conclusions, preaching identical morals, singing embarrassingly similar tunes, reciting like parrots a strikingly limited repertoire of slogans and cliches? How on earth is it possible? Are the top ten headlines really the only things that happened today on this planet? Are they really the most important ones? Must one know the exact ins and outs of each celebrity's trivial exploits? Is there nothing more important than the recent development in an ugly war, or the shocking atrocity that some lunatic committed in our urban jungles, or the precise exchange rate of one currency or another? Is this all we need to know, day in and day out?

Well, I know quite a few people who answer positively to all my above questions. They may even represent quite faithfully the vast majority of our public. Some may even tell you that they actually like it this way.

Sorry, but I don't buy that.

I still remember the naive faith and pride that we used to have in our "free press". We thought that we were more privileged and freer than our poor brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union, who had a choice between the Bolshevik Pravda and the Jdanovist literary scene. I later learned from Russian friends that the state controlled media was more effective in producing critical, inquisitive and well informed people. To learn anything, they had to read between the lines, apply healthy scepticism and generally use their own intellectual faculties. They simply knew that they knew nothing from their media. Unlike the downtrodden subjects of absolute tyrants, today's free citizens think that they know all they need to know through the media.

This is a unique, unprecedented phenomenon. I can only call it: Voluntary Jdanovism, no less. No one is forcing any of our journalists to replicate the notions and habits of their colleagues. They do not run the risk of spending years in a grisly gulag, nor do they need to work too hard to find other facts and ideas. Some may say that perhaps they are not aware of their own monotonous voice, or that social pressures are more effective than any type of institutional coercion. Well, I find it hard to swallow. They know perfectly well what they are doing. It's voluntary and it's completely identical to Comrade Jadanov's practices.

My proof is the long list of people, some of whom I know intimately, who were brutally expelled from their positions in various mainstream media channels. Indeed, not everyone thinks the same, only everyone in the press thinks the same. The others are forced to wander off to all sorts of fringe channels and publications, or even to choose other professions.

The most decisive proof is what you read on the Internet. Today's only democratic reality is the World Wide Web. Here you can see things that would never make it to any "respectable" newspaper or television channel. Why? Because these voices may undermine the greatest organised brainwash operation, carried out voluntarily by governments, private sector entrepreneurs and individual hacks who collaborate with the system.

My remaining worries are that the masses still believe that they enjoy the right of free speech, and that some evildoers who use the web for criminal activities may eventually force the powers that be to put a stop to the last haven of free expression. The real cure for that is to demand free access to the media, and teach the big bosses the spirit of freedom that we practice in the Internet.

This week, HopeWays celebrates its first birthday. We would like to thank all our participants, the growing number of our visitors and all the good people who help us in our efforts to bring some hope to our world, through the only free channel of our time.

Ehud Tokatly, 22/July/2004

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