On Monday night, my partner Melanie took me to see a film that many might call life-changing. Viva Zapatero paints a startling picture of a crippled independent media in modern-day Italy and the implications that has for Italian civil society. It's a documentary told through the personal experience of political satire artist Sabina Guzzanti that lays naked what is possible today in the current political reality of many countries in this world. Unstopped media consolidation, blatant corruption, backward libel laws and the targeting of journalists with lawsuits, spineless public representatives, and coerced publishers and broadcasters all pave the way for censorship, propaganda, and a complete disintegration of the Italian media environment. Again, this is happening today.
The film cleverly avoided turning its lens toward the US but the parallels were uncanny. At one point, one of the people in the film said something to the effect of "when the news is basically a joke, it's time for comedians to start reporting the news." Clearly this brings to mind things like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and it's US and Canadian equivalents. During some post-film discussion at home, Melanie remembered that the current issue (Winter 2007) of Yes! Magazine had an article on just this topic: Jon Stewart, Journalist or Comedian? The article presents some interesting facts about the comedian-as-journalist phenomenon:
Nearly one in four adults aged 18 to 29 get their election news from watching “The Daily Show” or NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Young people who watched “The Daily Show” scored higher on a campaign knowledge test than network news viewers and newspaper readers. All late-night comedy viewers scored higher than network viewers. “Daily Show” viewers scored higher than both.
So, comedy or not, it's clear that real news is an integral part of an informed civil society and functioning democracy. Most of my work over the last year or two has been focused on supporting independent media organizations -- mostly because I'm struck deeply by how important non-corporate media is in the ecosystem of change -- but this film really hit it home. It also left me with a few questions:
- How do we protect independent voices -- publications and journalists -- in Canada from aggressive censorship via lawsuits and legal interventions?
- Do I need to become a lawyer to create the change that I'd like to see in the world?
- What does this mean for a country like Venezuela that's going through what many see as a positive change, but is potentially reacting similarly to dissenting voices in the media?
If the film left me with one feeling it was a fear of how fragile our movement in Canada really is.