We are living in an age where regular people really make the news. There’s CNN’s iReports, but I’m hypothesizing that the sharing of news items by people on social media often results in mainstream news outlets picking up a story that they might have otherwise overlooked. Even if the mainstream media doesn’t pick up news stories, there are alternative news outlets that are willing to do the job. These alternative outlets in turn can inform people about stories that they wouldn’t hear about elsewhere. Then these stories are shared on social media and the cycle begins again. Sometimes the stories found by alternative news outlets are just too big to ignore, with WikiLeaks, for example, spurring mainstream news stories. I’m always amazed at the variety of news sources that my Facebook friends post.
I think that this proliferation of news sources is a wonderful thing. Of course, unfortunately, the internet isn’t a public sphere; one in five Americans are offline and will never see this post or this or this. Yet, still, I think that the mainstream media’s picking up of stories via social media and alternative outlets also spreads to television and local news.
I began thinking about the spread of news via mainstream and untraditional sources when I saw this on a friend’s Facebook wall:
No news from Iceland… why?
How come we hear everything that happens in Egypt but no news about what’s happening in Iceland:
In Iceland, the people has made the government resign, the primary banks have been nationalized, it was decided to not pay the debt that these created with Great Britain and Holland due to their bad financial politics and a public assembly has been created to rewrite the constitution.
And all of this in a peaceful way.
A whole revolution against the powers that have created the current crisis. This is why there hasn’t been any publicity during the last two years: What would happen if the rest of the EU citizens took this as an example? What would happen if the US citizens took this as an example.
This is a summary of the facts:
2008. The main bank of the country is nationalized.
The Krona, the currency of Iceland devaluates and the stock market stops.
The country is in bankruptcy
2008. The citizens protest in front of parliament and manage to get new elections that make the resignation of the prime minister and his whole government.
The country is in bad economic situation.
A law proposes paying back the debt to Great Britain and Holland through the payment of 3,500 million euros, which will be paid by the people of Iceland monthly during the next 15 years, with a 5.5% interest.
2010. The people go out in the streets and demand a referendum. In January 2010 the president denies the approval and announces a popular meeting.
In March the referendum and the denial of payment is voted in by 93%. Meanwhile the government has initiated an investigation to bring to justice those responsible for the crisis, and many high level executives and bankers are arrested. The Interpol dictates an order that make all the implicated parties leave the country.
In this crisis an assembly is elected to rewrite a new Constitution which can include the lessons learned from this, and which will substitute the current one (a copy of the Danish Constitution).
25 citizens are chosen, with no political affiliation, out of the 522 candidates. For candidacy all that was needed was to be an adult and have the support of 30 people. The constitutional assembly starts in February of 2011 to present the ‘carta magna’ from the recommendations given by the different assemblies happening throughout the country. It must be approved by the current Parliament and by the one constituted through the next legislative elections.
So in summary of the Icelandic revolution:
-resignation of the whole government
-nationalization of the bank.
-referendum so that the people can decide over the economic decisions.
-incarcerating the responsible parties
-rewriting of the constitution by its people
Have we been informed of this through the media?
Has any political program in radio or TV commented on this?
The Icelandic people have been able to show that there is a way to beat the system and has given a democracy lesson to the world
From my own experience online, I actually have to agree somewhat that the mainstream media didn’t really give much intense coverage of the Icelandic revolution. I personally wasn’t really aware of this whole saga–all I had really seen were headlines on Iceland’s financial crisis and all I’d really heard were rumblings in conversation about Iceland’s financial problems. But a revolution? No, I feel like I missed that story.
The above post brought up a lot of questions for me. They include “Wow, how did I not see more stories about this?” “How did I miss this story?” “Why wasn’t it as closely covered as Middle Eastern revolutions?”
I looked around online and tried to recreate the story. What I found interesting was that the most complete source on what happened in Iceland seemed to be Wikipedia articles, the sources of which were mostly Icelandic news sources. While there was coverage, not just of the financial crisis but of Iceland’s political upheavals, in mainstream US media–this video on Iceland’s “crowdsourced Constitution,” an article where the Icelandic president talks about social media transforming democracy, a short article on the trial of Iceland’s former PM–I found most US articles to be lacking in context, and they didn’t refer to any sort of revolution, when in fact, in my understanding, what occurred was the ousting of the ruling party, the reorganizing of the financial system, and the public rewriting of the constitution–actions resulting from public protests and which I think should be granted the term “revolution.”
I think that the news media failed here–they failed to piece various events together, they failed in terms of framing and interpreting these events. For me, I think this reveals how much power we consumers of news really give our news outlets–we expect them to provide us with the proper contextual information, we expect them to angle the story, essentially to spoonfeed it to us.
Is this uneven coverage of the Icelandic revolution a conspiracy? No, I don’t think so. I think that the Facebook post is wrong–we also aren’t hearing about everything that is happening in Egypt. I don’t know what date the post originated on, but at this point, the mainstream U.S. news media isn’t focused on Egypt, even though Tahrir Square is still full.
Despite the obsession with Brangelina’s upcoming nuptials, I don’t think the American news media is entirely solipsistic. Rather, I think it is just intellectually limited and short-sighted. The story of the Icelandic revolution was complex–it didn’t fit that neatly into a short news cycle, and maybe it was difficult to discern as being a “revolution” considering the protests were linked to the financial crisis and the president himself didn’t resign. What we have is a conspiracy of ignorance. Of course, one could also play devil’s advocate and congratulate the media for not “manufacturing” a revolution out of a series of events. Personally, though, whether one wants to call it a revolution or an upheaval, I still think what happened in Iceland was poorly framed by the U.S. news media. The more we become aware of the limitations of the mainstream media, the more we can take it upon ourselves to supplement its blind spots.