Walking through Dublin in search of street art,(not graffiti or tags, but genuine art), thoughts arose of what life might have been like as an investigative journalists – altogether more precarious, but altogether more exciting.
In teenage years there was an awareness of something called the ‘underground’ press; perhaps the ‘Oz’ trial had somehow entered the consciousness, perhaps the awareness came from news stories and thrillers describing the underground publications of dissidents in countries within the old Communist bloc.
Attending the Glastonbury Festival in 1979, copies of the ‘International Times‘ were on sale. It was warning of the implications of a Reagan-Thatcher alliance, but Reagan was not even a candidate for the presidency at that point and the omens could easily be ignored. It would be September the following year before a second copy of that underground paper was encountered, Ronald Reagan had still to be elected and the newspaper seemed not to have the credibility that a teenager would have expected.
Of course, being underground was one thing, but being in a position to change things was another. Journalists who would really change things needed to command a wider readership than a small group of Left wing students. John Pilger was my hero, his documentary ‘Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia’ prompted me as a nineteen year old student to send a cheque for £5 in response to an advertisement, I think in the New Statesman, from one of the aid agencies. The agency’s advertisement showed a pile of earth, a spade, and a hole in the ground; the caption underneath stated starkly, ‘One million people have already gone underground’. John Pilger had the integrity and fearlessness that, in later life, I would come to associate with an Old Testament prophet. He told things as he saw them, uncomfortable as that might be to his readers or listeners.
In Internet days, it is hard now to imagine the difficulties of an underground press, or the work demanded of people like John Pilger to carry their stories on the mainstream media. There should now be a plethora of radical analysis filling public discourse, except there is not.
The multiplicity of views online has meant authentic voices are now as difficult to find as authentic street art. The ‘International Times’, with its anti-establishment perspective, should now find it much easier to find a readership, but among the innumerable other websites, who is going to notice it? Thirty-odd years after Cambodia, what opportunity would there be for a new John Pilger? In Pilger’s day, reaching the mainstream of the media meant reaching the mainstream of the population. In the days of fragmentary broadcasting (which is really narrowcasting) to more and more narrowly defined interest groups, what chance is there of reaching more than a small number of committed people?
In gaining countless voices, we have lost the chance of a single voice.