Peace and Global Citizenship in the Information Age, December 2003

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For InterPress Service
© Hazel Henderson, December 25th, 2003
www.hazelhenderson.com
(1,466 words)

PEACE AND GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP
IN THE INFORMATION AGE

San Juan, Puerto Rico:

Peace and non-violence are now widely-identified as fundamental to human survival. Even economists agree that peace, non-violence and human security are “global public goods” along with clean air and water, health and education —– bedrock conditions for human well-being and development. All these issues were aired in recent discussions hosted by Puerto Rico’s Governor Sila Maria Calderon.

As human technologies evolved: global communications, satellites, weapons of mass destruction and distraction, questions re-emerge about the nature of human nature. Are we simply “naked apes”, a mammalian species colonizing every niche on planet Earth, devouring 40% of all primary photosynthesis production of its biosphere, driving other species to another Great Extinction? Or are we ourselves evolving into wider awareness of our planetary responsibilities as “ global citizens”? Will our godlike collective technological powers drive us either to destruction or toward re-designing our societies, cultures and values to reflect our new place in nature?

These new debates are already defining this 21st century. It is evident that the “hare” of technological innovation has outrun the “tortoise” of social innovation. This lag underlies all today’s global issues, from how to control weapons of mass destruction, human cloning, genetically-modified foods, agriculture and basic materials (via nanotechnology) to health, new epidemics, education, the role of global mass media for good and ill, to environmental degradation, pollution and climate change.

Underlying all these global issues is that of how to steer these human technological powers toward genuine human development, sustainable prosperity and social progress. Ever since the founding of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 “to free humanity from the scourge of war” and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, humans have been quietly hammering out these issues underlying our global future. Global agreements have led to enforceable treaties and international law covering arms control, health, environmental protection, exchange of scientific knowledge—-many of these spurred on by grassroots movements and the burgeoning of civil society as a new force in world affairs—even the newest superpower. The largest mass demonstrations in cities around the world showed their distrust of the USA and President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq.

Such political power lies beyond national boundaries and requires new forms of global representation, such as the “peoples assembly” at the UN such global citizens demand. Other examples of this upwelling of global citizenship range from the Earth Charter (www.earthcharter.org), the Parliament of the World’s Religions, FORUM2000 and the Prague Declaration launched by former Czech President Vaclav Havel, the Hague Appeal for Peace, the arms control and children’s’ rights campaigns of Nobel prizewinners, Oscar Arias, Betty Williams, Jody Williams and Nelson Mandela; Mother Teresa’s work for the poor and sick. Even Princess Diana’s short-lived humanitarian efforts and death led to a global outpouring of grief as some 2 billion, one third of the planet’s inhabitants watched her funeral on global television.

People everywhere began to understand the “CNN effect” and focused on the new power of mass media—to unseat leaders such as Fernando Marcos and recently President Estrada in the Philippines and many others. Danny Schechter, author of Weapons of Mass Distraction, covers media and democracy on www.mediachannel.org. Linking by satellites, the mass media, the Internet and the World Wide Web has led to a new form of governance: mediocracies (both media-controlled and mediocre).

Today, we all live in mediocracies, whether our older government structures are democratic, feudal, authoritarian or fascist. Mass media are the nervous systems of our body politic—wherever we live. We the people have learned about media bias and spin and that whoever controls mass communications wins elections, power, money, fame and influence.

Protest movements have learned to use media, from Greenpeace and other environmental campaigners, Amnesty International, women’s organizations and other human rights groups, and Transparency International focusing on corruption in high places, to Internet-based heavies, the World Social Forum (www.wsf.org) offering alternative development models beyond the Washington Consensus and corporate globalization; www.corpwatch.org , www.globalexchange.org , the UK-based alternative economy groups, the New Economics Foundation (www.nef.org ), www.VIA3.net , Focus on the Global South www.focusweb.org based in Bangkok and the US-based www.moveon.org, which catapulted outsider Dr. Howard Dean to Democratic party frontrunner to beat George W. Bush in 2004.

What people are now realizing (like fish who didn’t notice the water surrounding them) is that mass media which shape our perceptions, the “news” we see and our political agendas—– are owned by a handful of giant corporate conglomerates. These media oligopolies, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, General Electric, Vivendi, Time Warner, Microsoft and AOL, are run largely by aging white males, mostly from North America —-another form of US unilateralism. Most of the world’s entertainment, movies, TV, radio, videos, DVDs, music CDs, electronic games emanate from Hollywood or New York, the advertising and public relations center. Sports media are more international. TV is beginning to develop more local cultural content, led by Brasil’s GLOBO, with India and China leading with movies, video and internet industries.

Meanwhile the flood of images of violence, pornography and human degradation still emanates from the USA and its “free market”, commercial media sheltered from criticism or regulation by the First Amendment to the US constitution protecting “free speech”. Such media monitoring groups as Freedom House misunderstand the issue by measuring freedom of speech by the numbers of TV sets, radios, telephones per household —whether or not these are programmed with owners’ biases, propaganda, commercialism, misinformation or trashy entertainment.

Yet the US public knows that in their increasingly conglomerated media, free speech is limited to elites who own or control media outlets and their favored “pundits”. In 2003, we saw the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission give these media oligarchs even more freedom to buy up independent TV, radio and newspapers in many US cities. Small town residents discovered that most of their local media were controlled not by local editors, but faraway national or global conglomerates—often with national advertisers able to “can” or spin local stories of pollution or corruption. Citizens also learned that these media giants controlled politicians, “spun” national issues and US foreign policies.

Aided by commercial pollsters, the Democrat and Republican parties converged in 2000 on a narrow range of trivial issues identified in focus groups, such as “prescription drugs for seniors”, while popular issues like universal health insurance were kept off the agenda by powerful special interest lobbies. A wide majority of US voters voted for Al Gore and some 3 million more for Green party candidates and Ralph Nader. Their votes were over-ruled by the archaic “electors” of the “electoral college” insiders and ratified by the Supreme Court’s halting of the full Florida re-count.

Today, the angry majority of US voters and people everywhere are facing down special interests, corruption of their governments by money, the un-elected power of media owners, global corporations, advertising, public relations, entertainment programming and consumerism which is re-shaping traditional cultures in all countries.

The Information Age itself, the digital divide and who controls communications technologies and outlets are now major issues, along with financing of politics and governance. The gathering in San Juan, Puerto Rico was convened by Nobelists Oscar Arias and Betty Williams; President of the World Business Academy, Rinaldo Brutoco (Canada); Dr. Deepak Chopra; Ashok Khosla, President of Development Alternatives (India); Roberto Savio, founder of InterPress Service, and other media leaders. The Alliance for a New Humanity (www.anhglobal.org) debated the control and reform of media — and how they shaped global issues. Delegates from Latin America, Europe, Asia and North America heard from former US Vice President Al Gore and panels of media editors, publishers, TV and film producers, journalists, business leaders and economists describe the current realities of global mediocracies. Media reform proposals, business plans for new channels were shared, together with showings of new TV programs, Internet-based platforms to globally link media reformers, planetary citizens and their movements for peace, health, education, environment and visionary projects demonstrating human courage, responsibility and potential to shape positive futures for our global future.

Mass media was seen as either a positive force in these efforts or continuing to enmire humanity in negative images of primitive and violent behavior and cycles of revenge. Many journalists already accept the new media responsibilities. They know that simplistic ideas of “objectivity” in reporting are at odds with the new realities of corporate power, commercial censorship and “embedded journalism” war coverage, as well as self-censorship in knowing what stories editors will likely reject. The new journalism and media will dig deeper for the causes of today’s violent events and reject the editorial formula “If It Bleeds, It Leads”. They will devote equal time to all the un-reported positive stories and role models of community development, local leadership, individual entrepreneurship and social innovation —to inspire billions of humans toward their new possibilities for a brighter future.

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HAZEL HENDERSON, futurist, evolutionary economist, is author of Beyond Globalization and other books. She presented at the Puerto Rico conference some of her current projects: the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators (www.calvert-henderson.com) co-created with the Calvert Group of socially-responsible mutual funds (www.calvert.com), a video on her new financial TV series, “Ethical Markets” (www.ethicalmarkets.com) and www.VIA3.net, the U.K-based electronic platform linking civic organizations creating caring, sustainable economies—globally and locally.

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