Radio is a double-edged sword

World Radio Day Comment from Peter Saxon.

Today marks UNESCO’s 12th annual World Radio Day. This year’s theme is Radio and Peace.

With the world teetering on the brink, the theme could not be more apt.

You can read UNESCO’s official declaration here.

Early in the piece they acknowledge that radio is a double-edged sword, Radio can indeed fuel conflict but in reality, professional radio moderates conflict and/or tensions, preventing their escalation or bringing about reconciliation and reconstruction talks.”

UNESCO concludes, “It falls from the history of services rendered by radio to society that increasing its journalistic standards and capacity should be considered as an investment in peace. Support can be provided in various ways: through emergency funding or structural assistance to radio as a sector, promoting adequate legislation and regulation, fostering radio pluralism and diversity, safeguarding their independence, facilitating affordable taxes or overall financial viability, and so forth.

“Otherwise, the risk is that radio advertently or inadvertently play into the dynamics of conflict due to fragile editorial policy, loyalty to certain leadership or ownership, censorship, surveillance, self-censorship, anti-terror laws, organized crime …

“Increasing support to independent radio should happen in recognition of their importance for peace – and should happen now.”

Sure, we’ll get right onto that.

While the sentiment expressed in the UNESCO article is commendable, and much of the good work it does around the globe is admirable, I’m afraid, in this case, it is looking at the world as we would like it to be, not how it is.

Totalitarian countries such as Russia, China and North Korea have no interest in “an investment in peace” through “Increasing support to independent radio.” Theocracies such as Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia will not tolerate any radio content that does not conform to the religious doctrine prescribed by the ruling Mullahs.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to murder Ukrainian citizens, destroy their homes and infrastructure so that Putin can realise his dream of restoring the post WWII Soviet Union. While NATO is doing everything it can – without starting WWIII – to help Ukraine by drip feeding it modern weapons, the United Nations, of which UNESCO is a part, is helpless to do anything but deliver proclamations denouncing the aggressors.

As it turns out, Putin badly miscalculated with his original plan, to seize Ukraine within 72 hours through his, so-called “special military operation.” Yet, if the West was hoping that by now, almost a year later, the backlash from Russian citizens would have seen Putin ousted, they must be sorely disappointed.

Reportedly most Russians, even if they have access to outside media, still believe the propaganda that they hear on state owned radio, watch on state television and read in state newspapers or online, where they’re told that the Ukraine government, propped up by the evil Americans, is resisting the will of its own people to be liberated by the glorious Russian army.

The UNESCO article states:

“Independent news reporting provides the foundation for sustainable democracy and good governance by gathering evidence about what is happening, informing citizens about it in impartial and fact-based terms, explaining what is at stake and brokering dialogue among different groups in society.”

All well and good, but for ‘Independent news reporting to provide the foundation for sustainable democracy,’ you must first have a democracy to sustain said independent news reporting.

While totalitarian countries are pretty much a lost cause, sadly, in America today, democracy itself is under attack despite free speech and freedom of the press being enshrined in their constitution.

It is clear now to a majority of Americans that a group of so-called MAGA Republicans, egged on by the former President, Donald Trump, participated in a failed coup attempt on January 6, 2021 to deny his duly elected successor, Joe Biden, the keys to the White House and instead re-install Trump for a second term.

All this was predicated on a big lie that the election was rigged and that Trump was the rightful winner. It is a perverse exploitation of America’s 1st Amendment rights in relation to Freedom of Speech. And perhaps as many as 50 million MAGA Republicans believe the lie. Why? Because they want to.

Why does the rest of America, including around 30 per cent of Republican voters (and me) not believe him? Because Trump sent a fleet of Lawyers to over 60 courts across the nation with “irrefutable” evidence of widespread voter fraud. They went before judges that were Democrat appointees and equally Republican appointees – nine of them appointed by Trump himself. Yet this lawyer army failed to convince any of them that the election result was anything but fair and sound.

To this day, Trump and his adoring MAGA followers refuse to accept the umpires’ decision and have simply folded the judiciary into their deep state conspiracy narrative.

In all this, it must be said that a significant section of the media, talk radio and TV among them, bought into the Trump cult and helped perpetuate the big lie – not because they were controlled by a totalitarian state, quite the opposite – under the 1st Amendment, they were free to say just about anything they wanted, especially in the political arena. And, what they wanted to say was whatever the MAGA crowd wanted to hear – Content 101. And why not, when around 50 million of them buy toilet paper, the same as woke Democrats do? On top of that, they buy more guns and survival gear than any other group, with the exception of the armed forces.

At the moment, Democracy, seems to have the edge in America. It looks as if it might survive and truth will prevail. But it will be some time before sanity is restored – perhaps a generation or more before the MAGA cult disperses.

While I’ve been critical of the UNESCO statement as being somewhat naïve as to what’s really happening in today’s world, it does seem to apply more to our media experience in Australia.

As they say, people get the government they deserve. Perhaps it’s also true that they get the media they deserve.

Happily, we in Australia, do not have the depth of hatred for each other, progressives versus conservatives, country versus city, that we’re seeing in America. So there’s less for media to exploit. Extremism is not so popular here.

It helps that our political climate, though often combative, is nowhere near as toxic as it is in the U.S. Neither is our culture. We don’t salivate over guns and have a more equitable health system.

Most importantly we, as a nation, still have a better grasp of shared truth.

The free exchange of opinion is the bread and butter of radio which in turn feeds a thriving democracy.

But opinion is nothing if not anchored in fact and shared truth. Without truth democracy dies.

Main Pic: Shutterstock

Peter Saxon – Managing Editor