Editorial: Sleeping with one eye open

Thomas Carlyle, 19th century Scottish historian, gives this neat description of the importance of the press in a democracy:

“The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually there.”

The task of expressing views often ignored by the mainstream media falls to the men and women who produce the alternative papers like this one. And it helps on occasion to remind us of how vital they are in airing minority and nonconformist views, defending and affirming those positions vis-à-vis the majority culture.

This year we celebrate the importance of getting a more varied perspective of our world with the 65th birthday of Pacifica Radio, the first listener-supported radio in the US, which went on the air in San Francisco. In Toronto the Caribbean Camera just celebrated its 25th year of publishing.

The publishers of these alternative media had to “sleep with one eye open” because to keep this media afloat requires constant vigilance. It gets worse when the capitalist system experiences its periodic recessionary cycle, like the one we’re in at the moment. Nevertheless they readily admit that they get a kick out of showing the big media houses that there is more news in “dem thar hills” than they want to tell us about, or provide an interpretation of issues that the big houses find inconvenient.

Lest we think that only places like Iran or Afghanistan, where we fancy they need our democratic tutelage, and where publishing an alternative point of view would almost certainly get you killed, there was a time when doing so in many self-declared democracies like the USA was hazardous to your health. Now you simply get buried under a deluge of “official news” from corporate news rooms.

While the alternative media are not innocent of bias and therefore must be read with care, it is certain that the truth lies somewhere between the alternative and corporate views. More often than not, it lies closer to that of the alternative media; and, arguably, they serve democracy as well or even better than the big media houses.

For that we should toast the efforts of outfits like Pacifica Radio and the Caribbean Camera for surviving in a rough business, for continuing to punch above their weight and for reminding us of Carlyle’s dictum.

We aim to follow Mr.Carlyle’s dictum and sleep with one eye open.