Foreign Policy Blogs

Lessons from the Cold War in Alternative Media

One of the most iconic tools for bringing down the Soviet Union was the distribution of information from the West and the promotion of an anti-Soviet narrative that was forbidden behind the Iron Curtain. In societies where the control of information was a necessity to controlling the narrative and beliefs of a society, challenging the ruling elite and the Politburo created a distrust of the Soviet leadership and promoted dissident movements inside the Soviet Union. This tactic was so effective because information and the freedom to challenge the government were limited to those at the upper echelons of the Communist Party. In a one party state, opposition in any form and the treatment of different opinions as dissidence makes any challenger a soon to be martyr. In societies where a small group of people seeking justice and revolution are scripted into the national character, challenging the powerful control of elites dominating a corrupt system is something most citizens are receptive to in their daily lives. For this reason the organisation Radio Free Europe was created, broadcasting behind the Iron Curtain to promote Western ideas or freedom of speech and democracy inside of Eastern Europe at the time.

In all societies there is a natural inclination to have justice prevail so citizens with little power do not have to live under the repression of powerful elites and work fruitlessly for the sole needs of a few corrupt individuals. In most societies where the free press is protected, there is the ability to challenge whatever narrative and information is distributed publicly. The damage to a Communist society does not have the same weight as there is no coercion following the distribution of ideas in free societies. Blocking or repealing thoughts and ideas should not become acceptable because no thoughts or ideas can exist in such societies without the ability of being challenged in some fashion. Coercion to block freedom of speech is often illegal in those legal systems, and that is how modern democracies should function. When someone in a free society with complete freedom of speech is touched by a real event that is reported in a manner that people close to an incident know not to be true, it is not the same as listening to a challenged report behind the Iron Curtain. Focusing on their opinion and attempting to sully, damage or threaten an individual for voicing whatever opinion they hold is and should be considered a gross violation of their rights in free societies. This is the case because if an idea is dangerous and is not creating a direct physical threat, it means it is breaking the control of someone or a group of people, and that power structure likely should not exist in the first place to take justice away from people in a society who dare to voice their opinion. Even if information contains bias, the ability to challenge it should be paramount as blocking it creates the impression that there is a lack of justice in the process of banning that form of speech.

Many will then ask, how do you know if a news source is reliable? In reality you do not know how reliable a source may be as there is no oracle that can be relied upon to disseminate such information to an extremely reliable degree. It is best to measure the source of the information and whether or not their information is distributed to benefit those that run that organisation. Bias in reporting will exist, but if that bias is to help a cause the reader sees as just, it can be seen as reliable as much as it is agreed upon by various groups and interests. Another good measure is to be extremely skeptical of any source that focuses or divisive policies or targeting thoughts, ideas or individuals without contributing new information to a narrative. News that acts as an attack advert against other news agencies, groups or individuals mirrors Soviet era overreactions in the pre-Glasnost era. Any negative media against open ideas that go beyond debating the ideas and moves into attacking a person or their character is likely a disservice to an open society. These tools are usually used by political elites to win elections, and would be best described as propaganda as opposed to a story published by a journalist who works in a professional manner.

Journalism and its role in society is paramount. It is so crucial that stories are not banned, but challenged, as the truth often comes with justice. While laws are changed or lawyered into different meanings, justice and equity tend to be at the core of values in a free society no matter how much suppression is applied against free thinkers. Justice is so powerful that even a lack of truth did not save the Soviet Union from the effects of Radio Free Europe and other measures to remove that elite structure from existence. Half-truths and coercion against free speech almost always make for martyrs in societies, and when ideas are suppressed the natural imbalance and lack of justice becomes intolerable to individuals, and they react, they always react.

 

Author

Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration

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