This is a slightly amended version of an article I co-wrote for Nonviolence Magazine, with Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook. Concerned that the current media system does not support our inherent capacity for nonviolence, we asked: Is another media system possible?
It’s easy to complain about the mass media. They have no shortage of faults, particularly where serving corporate agendas and cheerleading the war machine are concerned. But as Buckminster Fuller famously said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
What would a nonviolent media system look like? How could it make the existing corporate model obsolete?
Without truth, there could be no way to get very far in creating a nonviolent media system. Journalists and news producers in particular must vow to practice the highest standards of integrity — to tell the truth. The whole truth.
Nonviolent media would fortify human potential, not corporate profits. Publishers and broadcasters must serve the genuine needs of local communities rather than serve the “needs” of advertisers and investors. Violence is not presented as inevitable, unresolvable or entertaining. Service for the media means upholding the truth and acting as respectable watchdogs on behalf of public interests, which are everyone’s interests.
As Gloria Steinem said, “Humans are linked, not ranked.” Who is a credible authority on important issues? Whose stories must be told? Nonviolent media feature a wide range of voices, most notably those affected by policy — they are the experts in lived experiences. The changemakers serving communities and working to hold governments and businesses accountable are no longer ignored or marginalized by the press; they are deemed authorities on possibilities. TV, film, music and literature offer stories reflecting a genuine human diversity. It is prohibited to profit from political ads or exclude eligible candidates from televised debates because they represent an “outsider” opinion: truth comes from here.
Emphasizing solutions, not wallowing in problems and failures, is a cornerstone in news and entertainment. Problems are addressed as opportunities to develop and achieve peace, justice, climate protection, human connection. Conflict is seen as a doorway to greater potential, nonviolence as a purpose-infused reality. Interpretation, honestly owned, replaces “objectivity” so that media audiences see a bigger picture. We learn how violence might “work” in the short term but never work in the long run, and that nonviolence always works for a higher good somewhere down the road. Nonviolent movements, as Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan’s careful study shows (see their book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict), can lead to greater democracy (even when they “fail”) than violent ones that seem to succeed.
Nonviolence is historical — and it is making history, based on past and present struggles that are increasing in frequency and sophistication. Nonviolent media have a mature understanding that nonviolence is not by any means limited to protesting. Marches and other such highly visible actions are just the beginning — the work continues when people leave the streets. Besides, there’s an escalation curve to conflict: when addressed early on, negotiation and reason can resolve conflict. In the new-story world, media support the process of de-escalation, with no “us” vs. “them” polarization.
Meditation and embodiment practices are fully acknowledged for what they are: modalities to heal and self-realize, the bases of human cooperation and growth. Our media provide the information and stories that help us shift beyond ideas of separateness so we may regain our wholeness, as individuals and a society. As we are interconnected with all of life, dehumanization and exploitation are no longer accepted or tolerated as tools of profit and control. Respecting the sacredness, beauty and gift of life is the story behind any media story.