The Zapatistas have utilized modern media technology as their extended voice, and through this voice, are revealing why it is important to recognize the what has long been called the 'Other Mexico.'
This is the historically silenced population of indigenous Mayan descent that NAFTA did not consider when it passed MAFTA as a transnational business agreement between Mexico and the United States. It is the 'Other Mexico' of indigenous people whose land was taken from them to make room for factories and power plants. It was the 'Other Mexico' that was either ignored by the mainstream press or given the standard shallow coverage of "one of those crazy guerilla groups down there." This is one of author Michael Parenti's major criticisms of U.S. media coverage of the Third World that he describes in his book entitled Inventing Reality:
"What becomes apparent [in the cases already presented] are the patterns of omission and distortion, specifically the way the news media supress descriptions of the content of Third World struggles for national independence, economic justice, and revolutionary change (Parenti, 151)."
Through the Communiques sent daily from Marcos' laptop computer, the Zapatistas held the powerful weaponry of "counter-information." For every news story that the Mexican press printed calling the rebellion "Communist" or "violent," the Zapatistas could fire right back with their own version of the story. Thus, the walls of oppressive silence come crumbling down.
In a compilation of essays entitled First World, Ha Ha Ha! The Zapatista Challenge, editor Elaine Katzenberger eloquenty narrates how the Zapatistas' use of the Internet created a pathway of effective political resistance:
"When the Zapatista Army emerged from the jungle, "the ones without faces, the ones without voices stepped directly into the media spotlight, making front page news around the world. Having won access to the international press and communications media, the Zapatistas used them to wage a parallel war of words and symbols, an effective decolinization of public language (Katzenberger, i)."
This "parallel war of words and symbols" that Katzenberger coins so well is clearly the most effective weaponry against the injustices of oppression and the failure of traditional media representation to reveal these injustices .
Today, we are seeing the evolution of an alternative media fabric that is fostered by an ever-growing, interactive cyber community. The multi-faceted, multi-cultural media communication that is on the rise is certainly likely to "rock the boat" by revealing just how biased and limited traditional medi representation really is.
In her article entitled "Zapatistas On-Line," author Deedee Halleck elaborates upon the Zapatistas' utilization of the global communication network in "spreading the news" and giving a self-representative view of the rebellion from the Mexican jungle "home base:"
"The rebels' effective use of e-mail has been a powerful weapon against disinformation. This was war news in real time (Halleck, 30)."
Halleck explains that on January 3, 1994, the first day of the "official coverage" by most mainstream world newspapers, Subcomandante Marcos himself was on-line as a news source. The electronic Communique was essentially the only available press release that one could obtain from "the heart of the jungle." Initially, the members of the EZLN prohibited any member of the press anywhere near their camps, evidently already cautious of the tendencies of the Mexican and U.S. press to 'disinform' or distort their message. Halleck elaborates on the exclusive coverage provided by the Zapatistas: "The Lacondan jungle address became the locust of a global news agency whose lead dispatches were written by guerrilla combatants themselves."
As an illustration of such self-representation, the author includes an excerpt from the January 1, 1994 Zapatista press release:
"We are the inheritors and the true builders of our nation. The dispossessed, we are millions, and we thereby call upon our brothers and sisters to join this struggle as the only path, so that we will not die of hunger due to the insatiable ambition of a 70-year dictatorship led by a gang of traitors that represent the most reactionary groups.... (Halleck, 30)."
Now, can you imagine an article of this nature making the front page of the Mexican newspapers?
Halleck further mentions how this type of e-mail correspondence opened new doors for the international communications arena by allowing the audience an interactive part of the media process as " e-mailers reacted with comments and speculation," and networked to create web sites as repositories of information about the Zapatistas , Mexico, indigenous rights, and other related topics.
Author Harry Cleaver calls the Zapatistas' use of e-mail to reach the global audience a stitch in "an alternative political fabric." According to Cleaver, the international success of the EZLN rebellion spurred the tremendous growth of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), who also predicted raising international recognition for their causes and implementing new fundraising strategies through use of the World Wide Web as a mass media outreach device:
"No catalyst for growth in electronic NGOs has been more important than the 1994 indigenous Zapatista rebellion in the southern state of Chiapas(Cleaver, 622) ."
Cleaver also emphasizes how the Internet as an international communications tool has the potential to drastically transform the traditional model of media coverage:
"The breadth of participation in these discussions and the posting of multiple sources of information has made possible an unprecedented degree of verification in the history of the media. Questionable information can be quickly checked and counter-information posted with a speed unknown in either print, radio or television. Instead of days or weeks, the norm for posting objections and corrections is minutes or hours(Cleaver, 628) ."
This "real-time" style of Internet communications will widen the media arena and will certainly pose a threat to the hegemonic voice of the dominant news makers and distributors worldwide that formerly enjoyed such a reign over its audience.
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