At first glance, there is some resistance to this being titled as a manifesto. The genre can give associations to something slightly totalitarian, a form of bombastic programme statement that does not seem entirely appropriate for a post in an enlightening discourse.
The authors are affiliated with the Department of Media, Communication and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, and are involved in The Media Reform Coalition (MRC). They justify the choice of genre with a desire to analyse the problems in the media landscape and propose strategies for correcting biases, errors, and shortcomings we know exist there. «We need narratives that articulate our rage against injustice, and that at the same time arouse optimism and belief that social change is possible,» the authors write.
They succeed in this. Good descriptions and analysis of status in the media and tech are given, and the general vocabulary of «hope» and «justice» gives associations to Obama’s election campaign. Even if one were to believe that all experience and descriptions of conditions indicate otherwise, one is left with a feeling that it is possible to move the world in a more egalitarian and fair direction.
A gloomy picture
A main premise of the manifesto is that the media is incorporated into the power they intend to challenge and thus contribute to maintaining the status quo. A gloomy and rather predictable picture is drawn of the fact that the ownership of the media is gathered in a few hands and deeply involved in the prevailing political and economic system.
A separate chapter is informative about ownership of data and our digital prints. The technology opens up opportunities for harvesting, use and abuse that seem to run faster than legislation. Profiling, information control, behavioural nudges, and the sale of personal data should prove to be the reality, rather than the realisation of the internet as a publicist network.
Social media was a prerequisite and generator of protest movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy, MeToo, Black Lives Matter, but the authors point out the danger that massive online engagement can create the illusion that the movements have a greater effect and influence than they actually do. This is a highly relevant concern, but right now, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis unleashed enormous forces behind the protests in an already explosive USA, this objection seems to be of a purely academic nature.
Curated information flow
The internet giants have an enormous power to gather and disseminate information, to exercise direct and indirect censorship, to hide and highlight. In short, to curate the flow of information. This unique position is in alliance with economic interests and the online media at the same time seems both subject to and superior to political power. The relationship between Trump and Twitter can be described as an interaction: Twitter marked Trump’s messages as misleading, and Trump responded with a personal vendetta. It is impossible to predict what further development will be like. It seems precarious to establish a form of supranational jurisdiction also for the digital landscape.
The Media Manifesto initiates a reflection process. Even for someone who considers themselves a critical and conscious media consumer, uncertainty and self-examination arise: What information do I get, what do I seek out, to what extent do you have to know in advance what you are looking for? How much time, profit and attention do you have to look for something other than what appears in the feed?
Self-effort and awareness
The problem with a non-representative and unbalanced media landscape is obviously that we are not aware of what we do not know. The limits of our horizon go by the information we have access to. It requires considerable personal effort and awareness to look for alternative information channels – and it requires even more to verify accountability and quality. It is a democratic problem that too much responsibility is transferred to the individual end-user, which in turn reinforces differences. Knowledge is like known power.
The authors’ knowledge, ability to formulate and proposals for change strategies should reach wider than a circle of colleagues and media people. The manifesto stands as a defense of pluralistic, quality-assured, and ethical journalism. It may seem utopian, but we just have to try.