ʻIf you are losing hope, you're not doing enoughʼ
Very powerful vested interests are trying to change the axis of what we consider to be true and fair and threatening the future of independent media.
This was the core message delivered by Peter Adamson, one of the original co-founders of New Internationalist magazine in 1973, on Monday, 6 March.
At the Modern Art Oxford, he was one of the speakers at the official launch event of New Internationalist's Community Share Offer (CSO).
After 44 years of independent journalism, New Internationalist has decided to open up its ownership, calling readers and supporters all over the world to ʻBuy into a Better Storyʼ and become co-owners in a £500,000 crowdfunding campaign.
Just before the event started, the campaign had already reached 440 investors and passed the 25-per-cent mark – just five days after going live on Crowdfunder.
The event attracted young and not-so-young readers, supporters and friends who had travelled from as far afield as Dundee to Oxford. Peter Adamson started off warning against the lack of plurality in the media landscape.
ʻWe often have the impression that the individual can do little [to change the media landscape], but this CSO is a great opportunity to take a stand and make a difference.ʼ
He also told stories about the early years of New Internationalist, and how the first issue was put together around a kitchen table by a group of people in their mid-twenties.
ʻThe magazine today is a far better product in every way,ʼ he said. He added that although the challenges the magazine faced in its early days were formidable, they were not as formidable as those New Internationalist faces today.
ʻWe live in the time of a “climate-change” type of threat to our information infrastructure. Our hopes that the internet would lead to a decentralized structure are looking shaky.ʼ
His remark was followed by co-editor Vanessa Baird, who said, ʻThere is no point in denying these are times of danger and turmoil for independent media.
ʻBut they are also the most exciting times. This is time for a media revolution!ʼ
She said that in times in which the trend in the media is for concentration of ownership – with just three companies owning 70 per cent of the media in Britain – initiatives like New Internationalist's CSO were a great way of re-establishing trust and democracy in the media.
The most moving speech came from Benny Wenda, a West Papuan activist who is fighting to liberate the Pacific nation from Indonesian rule and was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize twice.
He told the story of how, when he was young, he bumped into the Indonesian military while walking outdoors with his mother and two aunts. The group was attacked. The soldiers beat his mother in front of his eyes, and raped his aunts.
As he grew up, Benny decided to fight for the liberation of West Papua, a fight that started before he was even born, and that has now been going on for half a century.
ʻNobody knows about our cry for freedom, about our fight,ʼ he said. He added that New Internationalist was one of the only Western media outlets that reported in depth on the oppression of West Papua – and he announced that West Papua will also be the cover story in the May 2017 issue of the magazine.
Benny survived three assassination attempts before managing to escape and settling in Britain.The New Internationalist staff at the launch event.
ʻOnce, when the police picked me up, they found a copy of New Internationalist about West Papua,ʼ he says in New Internationalist's campaign video, referring to the magazine's 2002 issue on the struggles of his nation.
The police were worried about the possibility of such international media attention and released him.
ʻIn a way, this global community protected me. It may even have saved my life.ʼ
Co-editor Hazel Healy gave the final address, in which she gave a short introduction to New Internationalist's business plan (which you can find on factsandheart.org) and on the reasons why it opted for a CSO in the first place.
ʻWe were at a crossroads,ʼ she said. ʻEither we started cutting down on quality, or we could decide to do something big and ambitious.ʼ
In a time of great distrust of the media, of filter bubbles, fake news and monopolies, New Internationalist has opened up its ownership, calling readers and supporters to ʻBuy into a Better Storyʼ and become co-owners.
As speakers wrapped up, New Internationalist's Engagement Manager Helen Wallis reinforced the point that the CSO is a radical idea, but, at a time in which it is becoming harder and harder for independent media to survive, there has never been more need for it.
She quoted the actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, who said, ʻIf you're losing hope, you're not doing enough.ʼ
It’s a critical time to build media that brings people together – not drives them apart. That means journalism that creates an inclusive global community, and emphasizes that the struggles of people are often in opposition to the same elite-driven globalization and share the same aspiration to a global, common good.
At New Internationalist, we have never had a rich benefactor or a media tycoon bankrolling what we do. So it makes sense for us to turn to our readers to help shape the kind of journalism that makes the case for something better.
On 1 March, we launched an ambitious Community Share Offer, opening up ownership of New Internationalist to ordinary people all over the world. If you are interested in joining us, visit factsandheart.org.