By Rowan Gavin
Content warning: mentions transphobia in media
A friend recently described infamous podcaster Joe Rogan as “an independent broadcaster that you might not like/agree with but [who] actually has a voice to push back against corporate media”. Has the standard of anti-establishment commentary really fallen so low that we must turn to a UFC commentator for any effective criticism of the corporate status quo?
Short answer: hell no!
Dig just a little beyond the viral sensationalism of Rogan et al, and you will quickly find a great many exciting, thought-provoking and proudly independent media outlets that are working every day to disrupt the power of the mainstream media machine, in podcast, digital, and print formats.
It’s been a turbulent few years for the independent media sector. In 2017, independent left-wing outlets operating online were credited by many as making a significant contribution to the unexpected successes of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour at the snap general election. That was enough to sound the alarm for the mainstream press, who (literally) doubled down on their anti-Corbyn coverage at the 2019 election. Meanwhile, partly by leapfrogging the hot-button issue of ‘fake news’ following the election of Donald Trump as US President in 2016, big tech companies such as Facebook and Google have been systematically restricting the reach of independent and alternative online media, with a particular bias against left-wing outlets.
Governments around the world are at last taking notice of the control big tech has over media, and beginning to look at regulation. Inevitably, however, that regulation has tended towards providing a framework for big tech and corporate media to lucratively settle their differences, without giving independent outlets a look-in. In Australia, for example, the ‘News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code’ passed into law in February has barely been enforced, with the government seemingly satisfied that Facebook and Google have struck deals behind closed doors with NewsCorp and other major media entities, while the independent sector has been left to fight its way to the negotiating table. In the UK, the government set up a ‘Digital Markets Unit’ this year to start work on similar regulation, expected to be brought to parliament early in 2022.
One organisation mobilising to weigh in on these new regulations is the Independent Media Association (IMA). Formerly known as The Media Fund, the IMA has rebranded itself this year to better reflect its aims as a hub of collaboration, advocacy and promotion for independent media in the UK. The Norwich Radical became a partner of the IMA in January, joining over 50 other independent media organisations, from established bastions of progressive journalism like Open Democracy and New Internationalist, to local up-and-comers like the Bristol Cable and Dorset Eye. Alongside other sector advocates such as the Media Reform Coalition – who recently published their in-depth Manifesto for a People’s Media – the IMA are putting into practice that most fundamental of leftist adages: we are many, and when we work together, the powerful will be afraid.
There is a great deal of work for us to do, however. Examples abound of the power of the mainstream media, and its misuse of that power. A recent report from the Center for Media, Data and Society of the Central European University concluded that, without significant intervention, “the UK’s media landscape is heading towards a situation in which public interest aspirations will be seen as a quaint reminder of a distant era”. Many marginalised people and groups feel the sharp edge of the corporate media’s bias against them, as highlighted by some particularly transparent recent examples of transphobia in BBC reporting and elsewhere. Unfortunately, this particular bias has also reared its head within left-wing media, at The Morning Star among other outlets.
Our media can be better than this, as many inspiring independent outlets are already proving. To get you started, here are five outlets that we love here at the Radical. Not all of them are members of the IMA, but they all produce excellent work, covering topics and platforming people that the corporate media doesn’t deem worthy of attention.
Perhaps the most powerful current example of what is possible in the UK indie media space, gal-dem started from a simple premise: the journalistic landscape in this country is overwhelmingly white and male, and that has to change. Six years, multiple V&A events, a brilliant book and a ton of extraordinary journalism later, they’re actively making that change – and showing no signs of slowing down! I particularly recommend their podcast, Growing Up With gal-dem, which never fails to inspire.
Radical Art Review
The Radical Art Review was founded by two people in 2017, and has grown into a volunteer collective that has produced eight brilliant print issues to date, alongside an eclectic mix of other media, from ASMR gaming podcasts to underground poetry. Unlike so much of the art world, they are committed to accessibility and transparency, with an unashamedly revolutionary political bent. Look out for their most recent issue, ‘Precipice’ – it’s essential reading.
Independent media outlets are much more capable of serving specific communities than media corporations could ever be, and Travellers’ Times is one of the best examples of this operating in the UK at the moment. A news site and magazine made for and by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people, the Times also delivers media skills courses to help GRT people tell their stories, as well as workshops for other organisations working with the GRT community.
Born from the Scottish Green Party in 2010, Bright Green quickly became one of the UK’s most prominent left-wing blogs. Now, as a significant player in the independent media space, they provide consistently excellent political news and analysis for a range of green, labour and social movements – and long-time Radical readers may recognise the contributions of old hands Chris Jarvis and Bradley Allsop.
Originally a podcast started by student pride, QueerAF are in the process of relaunching themselves as a community-led platform for UK LGBTQIA+ people, with a specific emphasis on providing paid opportunities for queer journalists and creatives to start careers that will shake up the media landscape. The full launch is scheduled for early 2022; in the meantime you can sign up for their weekly newsletter for an informative curated summary of LGBTQIA+ news.
So yes, there’s a lot of good and diverse journalism being done in the independent sector to hold power to account and challenge our corporate overlords. But it ain’t easy out here fighting the media man, and funding is one of the biggest challenges. Many independent outlets rely largely on audience support to keep doing their important work – do consider giving what you can to support the outlets whose work is valuable to you. And keep an eye out for a new venture in that direction that the Radical will be launching very soon…
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. You can help us continue our work by becoming a supporter. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events.