Yes Media Minister
Briefly reading bureaucratic dreams
Because I – with that kind of sickened awe that can make it impossible to look away from gruesome spectacles – enjoy keeping an eye on what the nuttiest elite sub-species of the whole ecosystem of America’s governing bureaucracy is saying, I am a devoted subscriber to the U.S. State Department’s press release listserv. (You too can subscribe to this magnificent, gushing stream that flows out of Foggy Bottom, should you desire such entertainments!)
Which is how yesterday I spotted the kind of thing that tends to attract my attention, in this case the release of a “G7 Media Ministers Meeting Communiqué,” which started like this:
The following statement was released by the G7 Media Ministers following their meeting in Bonn, Germany on June 19th, 2022:
1. We, the Media Ministers of the G7, met in Bonn on 19 June 2022 to work more closely together on issues regarding our media policies and their role in strengthening democracy – a task that requires a global response.
I was intrigued, if chiefly because as an American I was unaware that we had a Minister of Media. Typically we try to avoid encouraging that kind of insinuation. But after like an hour of digging I learned that we do, and her name is Trudeau, because of course it is. The world is, after all, a comedy of the absurd.
So I read the whole thing, and, after subjecting myself to that, decided I might as well do something I don’t normally do and provide you all with a quick take as bonus content in between serious essays.
In this case my main goal will be to provide at little light instruction on how to understand – and even enjoy! – the fine and subtle flavors of trans-Atlantic internationalist bureaucratese, a heady brew by which the most powerful countries in the world not named China can openly outline policies intended to help dismantle popular democracy while talking about strengthening democracy.
Here, I’ll provide translations of a few lines from this fine example of a Communiqué to assist in this lesson:
6. A society in which individuals can freely exercise the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas of all kinds, is of foundational importance for democracy and liberty. Free and plural media are an indispensable component for this: by providing accurate information and diverse viewpoints, they enable the public to participate in societal debates, make informed choices, and hold their governments to account.
Translation: We’re all liberals who support free speech around here, because we are the good guys. In theory we even believe in the public being able to hold governments to account. You can stop reading here.
7. Information manipulation, including disinformation, and hate speech can undermine and hinder open, democratic dialogue and debate, and can promote division and polarization. As a result of targeted harassment and abuse, some parts of society, especially groups subject to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination such as women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, and members of marginalized racial and ethnic communities, censor themselves, avoid specific topics, and even refrain from participating in public debates online[.] Online harassment and abuse not only impedes individual ability to exercise their right to freedom of expression, but the suppression of diverse voices results in an opportunity cost in terms of the free exchange of ideas and ultimately lost innovation. This can result in the dominance of one-sided, false or manipulative content in public discourse online.
Translation: But actually too much speech is bad; we agree with the new theory that, because of intersectionality, equal free speech requires selective censorship, therefore censorship is good for free speech.
8. To counter these threats, we will work together to protect and advance freedom of opinion and expression as laid down in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and further enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The G7 will take measures to preserve and promote free, independent and pluralistic media landscapes and improve economic, social, legal and actual conditions for those who shape those media landscapes to serve our democracies.
Translation: Since upholding human rights requires censorship, some top-down guidance needs to be provided to those who “shape” media and tech in order to “serve our democracies.”
9. When democracies are under attack, all too often journalists and members of the media are the first to have their human rights curtailed and to face threats and repression. Women in journalism are disproportionately impacted by threats and attacks, which are more often gendered and sexualised than threats against their male counterparts and increasingly take place online…
13. These shocking examples show that protecting a free, independent and pluralistic media landscape means first and foremost protecting journalists, particularly women journalists and those from marginalised communities.
14. This requires a comprehensive approach that is both self-critical and prepared to cooperate and assist abroad in partnership with countries around the globe. Prevention of crimes against journalists also relies on the broader conditions in which media outlets, social media, and technology platforms operate.
Translation: Yes, we have at least like 4-5 sections on why we urgently need coordinated, global-level action to protect Taylor Lorenz from criticism by Glenn Greenwald whenever she or one of her many media clones blatantly lies or doxxes someone. Elite journalists represent democracy, so to criticize them for doing so is to attack democracy.
15. Media companies are enterprises that research, report and disseminate editorial content that inform the public and, in so doing, help people form their opinions. They are vital to democracy and its ability to function.
Translation: The purpose of media is to form people’s opinions. If done wrong, democracy will cease to function, because they will have the wrong opinions.
16. Governments also play a role in maintaining conditions that allow independent media outlets to thrive. We seek to promote optimal environments for an economically sustainable and resilient media sector in order to preserve a pluralistic media landscape in the long term. However, any public funding, subsidies or state advertising should be distributed based on transparent criteria that do not lead to direct or indirect governmental interference and any other political influence on editorially independent media.
Translation: We might need to provide media we like with state funding, but certainly not to create any incentives to follow the party line or anything like that. We just want our state media companies like the BBC or CBC to flourish and defend democracy, and when we decide they have done so in the way we like, we will hand them more money for a job well done.
20. Competition for users’ attention and for shaping the dominant narrative about current events no longer takes place only locally and regionally, but rather globally. This speaks to the importance of tackling the digital ecosystem challenges in an integrated way, with collaboration across governments and with all interested stakeholders to work together towards a common vision.
Translation: National-level public opinion management is no longer sufficient; global coordination is now required to shape “the dominant narrative” if we want to achieve our “common vision,” whatever that is; this must involve not only us major governments but all “stakeholders,” such as our not-regime-influenced media, tech companies, and NGOs.
21. Digital platforms play an ever more important role in this digital ecosystem and in the opinion-forming process online. These private companies have a strong influence on access to and the visibility of media content, and they dominate the advertising market.
22. The internet and digital technologies enable innovation, the free and open exchange of opinions and ideas, and unprecedented opportunities for participation in public and social discourse.
23. However, to fully seize the opportunities digital transformation brings, we should also manage its potential risks. In particular, we reaffirm the need to respond to those actors who threaten freedom and democracy by limiting access to independent sources of information, who inhibit plurality, and who engage in information manipulation and disinformation to sow doubt, distrust and hatred. At the same time, social-media platforms and other digital technologies have given rise to new forms and manifestations of violence through their misuse, including amplification of pre-existing forms of gender-based violence through their scale, speed, and reach.
Translation: we really need to do something about all the problematic information out there on private platforms, and we can and should determine what that is for everyone; for example – and we must repeat ourselves for emphasis – saying mean things about Taylor Lorenz is a form of violence.
25. We will promote access to a variety of sources of information and a range of opinions to facilitate pluralistic, vibrant democratic discourse and participation in society, while also supporting a secure public space of communication and ensuring that individuals have ready access to independent, fact-based, trustworthy sources of information – offline as well as online.
26. That is why we have extensively discussed media policy online and offline issues, especially access to and availability of trustworthy information, freedom from discrimination, equality of opportunity, transparency and user autonomy. We have also talked about how human rights such as freedom of expression must be respected online and offline and how the influence of opinion, which is based on market power, can be better tackled.
28. We have therefore committed to work together more closely in the coming years, especially in the following areas:
reach common ground on how to effectively address information manipulation and interference, including tackling propaganda and countering disinformation, while also respecting human rights and taking steps to protect the ability of critical and dissenting voices can continue to be heard around the world and human rights are respected,
act against state-driven censorship, network connectivity disruptions, and media bans of the free press, while bolstering the important role of independent media,
discuss ways to improve access to, and availability of, diverse and reliable information sources, with freedom from discrimination, equality of opportunity, transparency and user autonomy as key principles (such as through the international multi-stakeholder forum on the diversity of content online launched by Canada),
advance existing initiatives that support civil society, fact-checkers and researchers engaged in detecting and exposing threats from and incidents of information manipulation including disinformation threats and incidents and analysing trends (such as the European Digital Media Observatory),
strengthen efforts to coordinate approaches to prevent and response [sic] to online harassment and abuse and technology-facilitated gender-based violence, recognizing that targeted harassment and abuse online, which disproportionately impacts especially women, girls, and LGBTQI+ persons, can be an impediment to individuals’ ability to exercise their right to freedom of expression, build consensus and foster joint efforts with international partners on the best data. Stakeholders need to understand the effect of platform policies and interventions to address mis- and disinformation, for example the UK’s Measuring Effective Interventions Framework initiative,
We therefore intend to anchor media policy even more firmly at the global level as a field of work that is relevant to democracy. In coordination with existing initiatives and formats, in particular with the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), we want, for the first time, to create a forum for increased dialogue at the G7 concerning the global media online and offline, a dialogue which requires a global response, and developing solutions and cooperative approaches.
Translation: Please ignore that, among our august number, the British government already regularly jails people for making jokes, including for uploading memes to private conversations, and yet still clamors for further powers to enable truly mass state censorship.
Or that the Canadian government, far from encouraging media “diversity,” already actively denies news licenses to outlets that criticize the ruling party, but – not yet satisfied – is now attempting to seize the power to regulate how all “user generated content” is or is not displayed online; or that it is attempting to define everything it decides is “disinformation,” such as expressing opposition to state public health policies, as a “hate crime”; or that it is aiming to enable pre-crime civil penalties to be levied against anyone who even so much as thinks about saying something “hateful.”
Or that the U.S. government just got caught trying to effectively set up its own Ministry of Truth by handing the ability to define what counts as censorable “disinformation” to the domestic security state, which has a tendency to categorize any dissent as terrorism; or that despite the official “pause” of this “Disinformation Governance Board” thanks to public outcry, the effort is very much operational and continuing – as it effectively has been for some time.
Or that the inaugural meeting of the G7 Media Ministers fittingly took place in Germany, a country that not only pioneered one of the most extensive online censorship regimes in the world, but is pushing the whole European Union expand on this approach, making it a model for the West.
Please ignore that every one of us is at this point basically becoming a complete mockery of the original concept of liberal democracy (except Japan; you should really just go home Japan, what are you even doing here?). No, we are just here to help.
But then we aren’t really concerned about what you think anyway – we’re the most powerful bloc of countries on the planet, and we’re fully intent on cooperating in our shared “information work” vital to keeping our peasantry’s thinking in line, including by escalating this harmonization up to the international level. And you’re not going to notice, because who even reads all this kind of stuff anyway?