By Jose Gutierrez
Have the media in Australia ever been "democratic"? Regular readers of Green Left Weekly would probably answer, "No: that's why I read GLW".
I agree. But there are other media that also qualify under the "democratic" banner. For instance, take Pegasus Networks, a computerised system of news exchange and information networked to the worldwide Association of Progressive Communications (APC); and of course, community radio stations, like Radio 3CR in Melbourne.
Many people in Australia, particularly socialists, may be familiar with this type of progressive media, but not many make full use of it. Unless you have a home computer, a modem and some spare cash, and know about it, you are unlikely to become a Pegasus user. Public radio is better known, but unless you are part of a social or political group, it's hard to have access to it.
Last month on Pegasus I posted a message to several public conferences introducing myself as a freelance reporter for public radio and requesting grassroots organisations to become my regular sources of news and information. The response was good: 100 messages of support coming from as far as South Africa, Brazil and even war-torn Croatia.
I wanted to develop links with grassroots organisations and progressive individuals around the world. Their writings, their analysis of their own societies and their talent is much better than UPI, AFP, AAP, Reuters or any other corporate news agencies provide.
Unfortunately, most journalists in Australia continue to rely on corporate news agencies. The Spanish Herald, a Spanish-language weekly newspaper, for example, hardly publishes anything but UPI, UPI, UPI.
SBS Radio Spanish program producers used to rely on news from a radio station in San Salvador: YSKL.
SBS is a great radio. The Spanish-language producers are good. But Radio YSKL is owned by members of the ARENA party, the same party that maintains death squads. Given that the Salvadoran community in Australia is made up of refugees, this way of "bringing the world back home" wasn't a very good idea! Fortunately, they have stopped using this service.
SBS TV broadcasts most of the documentaries on Central America produced by progressive film makers, including Alan Francovich's The Houses are Full of Smoke, the series on the death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala.
ABC Radio and TV are okay: very good and reliable information. But does the average person have access to them?
In multicultural Australian society, where nearly 5 million people are from non-English speaking backgrounds, ABC Radio and TV, with few exceptions, somehow continue to cater for an audience of British background. We, the multicultural audience, get a monocultural view of the world: middle-class values, mores, tradition, history, language, norms, behaviour. The dominant culture reproducing itself: how democratic can this be?
Apart from getting a subscription to GLW, electronic communications and public radio are the only alternatives. But their profile is very low. What about Pegasus? Unless you are a computer literate, a media worker or a postgraduate student you would not be a regular e-mail user. Community radio is better known, but is the socialist left making full use of it?
The socialist left needs to start thinking about making use of this medium if it is to survive in the new conditions. We have to readjust our thinking to the current reality: a struggle for survival within a dominant capitalist regime. The left needs to spread its message to a mass audience.
The left in Australia needs its own means of communications: its own radio stations, its own newspapers, its own television channel. As a correspondent for the Salvadoran Radio Farabundo Marti
in Australia, I find it disappointing that not many Australian left-wing organisations own radio stations.
There are more opportunities here than in my own country for the left to really participate in public radio, and for progressive individuals to purchase their own home computers and exchange information with people all over the world. Public access television is another important media outlet too.
The left should not let the conservative forces have a monopoly in the media. The left needs to participate in the current media structures and wage a constant struggle for the democratisation of the means of production — and the media are means of production.
Otherwise, we will become demoralised and demobilised. In the long term, the capitalist state its own propaganda could easily impose its hegemony on us.
Socialists should follow the example of the ethnic community, who doesn't get demoralised because of language barriers. According to the Public Broadcasting Foundation, "ethnic radio in Australia currently provides 819 hours of ethnic programs per week in seventy-five languages via fifty-
seven community radio stations".
Just imagine if the socialist left were to follow the example. There are about 150 public radio stations in Australia. Socialists could start participating by producing their own radio programs for broadcast on public radio. There are many barriers to break, of course, but they wouldn't be as difficult as the structural barriers ethnic broadcasters face.
If the socialist left would move towards more direct participation in the Australian public broadcasting sector, socialists could influence mass public opinion, which could lead to winning over mass public support.