rn: on “Democracy, Human Rights & Information”


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,     Aug. 17

As so often happens, when I get very busy I overlook some messages sent to
this list. One which I discovered not that long ago seems pertinent now,
even though it was written in reply to the discussion about the usefulness
of using international law to bring ALL war criminals (not just the West's
enemies) to justice.

The message was written by Yves Leclerc, a former journalist now living in
Montreal. He just recently sent us another message, reflecting on
"Democracy, Humanity and Information" and I feel it merits sharing as well.
Yves has a web site which some of you may also find interesting:

"...[It is called] "Infocrats", my new Web page on the future of democracy
in the Age of Information (in French and English) at
This is not an "activist" site, but rather a place for thoughts and
debate on political theory and philosophy. I only started it a few days
ago -- contents will grow with time, and hopefully with the help of
readers and thinkers."
all the best, Jan
Date: Thu, 08 Jul 1999 00:53:55 -0400
From: Yves Leclerc <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: rn: on using international courts to work towards peace

The true lessons the rest of the world will (correctly) draw from the
NATO action in Yugoslavia is that, whatever public statements say to the
1. The end justifies the means.
2. Might makes right.
Reinstating these "principles", rather than the rule of international
law, at the center of world diplomacy brings us back two generations to
the level of the thirties -- and what happened right afterward. This is
much worse, in the long term, than anything Milosevic could do to his
Arguing Western and American "moral superiority" to defend such a
backward step is doubly dangerous: who's to say that the dominating
power in the next 20 or 40 years will have the same *apparent* concern
for human life and rights? In the meanwhile, we'll have given them the
excuse to impose their own morals (which may be far different and less
acceptable to us) and destroyed whatever fragile protection we had
painfully erected for lesser countries, through the UN, during the last
Yves Leclerc, Montreal
"Les choses sont moins simples qu'elles ne paraissent,
mais plus simples qu'on ne les croit."

Date: Sun, 15 Aug 1999 10:07:02 -0400
From: Yves Leclerc <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Democracy, humanity and information
To: •••@••.•••, •••@••.•••

I've been very silent on these lists for several months. First because
there was fairly little for me to say, then because there was too much.
The recent discussions and revelations about Kosova and the Balkan War
induce me to raise my voice again.
I've been a fascinated student of practical and theoretical politics
ever since, at age 15, I had my eyes opened by the simultaneous and
similar colonialist invasions by France and England at Suez, by the USSR
in Hungary. Here are some of the conclusions of over 40 years of study,
debate and thought on these matters, especially as they relate to the
current crisis:
a) There is no direct relationship between the kind of democracy we
practice and respect for human life and rights. Milosevic is a
democratically elected leader. So is Clinton. Both don't mind wantonly
destroying human lives -- Milosevic's crime the more obvious and
immediate, but Clinton's probably the worse in the long run. Why?
Milosevic's deadly instincts only run within his own country, and are
strongly opposed by much of the citizenry. Clinton's violence affects
the whole world outside his own country, he has popular support and no
fear of retribution. Moreover, he is smugly self-righteous about it and
the means at his disposal are much more lethal. Milosevic will
eventually be brought to heel, Clinton (and his successors) won't.
b) The problem has its cause not in individuals or personalities but in
the system itself. Representative democracy as we implement it only
serves to perpetuate the current situation where power-hungry elites
monopolize political and military levers and use them to bargain
shamelessly with economic power-holders. Since economic power is
inherently anti-equalitarian and thrives on isolating individuals to
better control and exploit them for profit, this is a very poor way of
protecting the lives, rights and interests of ordinary people.
c) The only form of democracy that could effectively protect most people
is one where the citizens themselves would dictate basic policies, and
their delegated (rather than representative) leaders would only have
enough power to implement these. Such a direct democracy approach is
physically and technically possible today, using both old-fashioned
"town meeting" methods and modern communications technology, but this is
not enough: the long-term survival of the system depends on the quality
of the democratic decisions taken, and this in turn can only be ensured
by the deciders-voters having access to reliable and complete
d) The "diversity" of information provided by private media won't answer
this need. The very enlightening debates about media coverage, both on
these lists and on the "Monde Informatique" forum in France, show this
clearly enough. Corporate-owned media compete against each other only
where their real interests conflict -- not where they're the same. This
means they may give an appearance of diversity, but will omit, or treat
with a strong negative bias any news that contradicts their basic shared
ideology. For instance, anything that challenges the corporate agenda of
globalization, G-7 dominance, NATO's strong-arm approach to a one-sided
"world peace", etc.
e) Individual journalists' efforts to correct this are obviously
insufficient. First, because without the support of their organizations
they lack the means to really do much. But more subtly, because
subconsciously they live within the same ideology and largely share it
-- including its bias against anything uncapitalist or unamerican. They
may try to cover honestly the opposite viewpoint, but to them it remains
"the other side", not an option equal in importance and validity to
their own. Having been a journalist myself for nearly 40 years, and
having discovered this flaw in my own professional thinking in a number
of occasions, I know first-hand what I'm talking about.
f) At least a partial solution to the problem lies in a hybrid press
system, where publicly-owned media compete *on a level footing* with
private ones. Having seen quite a few such systems in action in France,
Britain, Canada and some Third World countries, I know that their
citizens are usually better informed than Americans -- taking into
account the resources each nation can allocate to information. The
laudable efforts of the PBS system in the US to bring a bit more balance
to news coverage only emphasize their paucity of means and the
discrepancy in resources and audience between them and the major private
Of course this won't solve our immediate problems... but while I have a
lot of respect for all those trying to plug the leaks in the dyke with
their naked fingers, in the long run some people will have to take the
time to bring bulldozers and cranes into action, if we don't want our
whole civilization to crumble under a North Sea of military-industrial
bullshit. I certainly don't want to find myself permanently in a
situation where the fact that the Chinese stole the Pentagon's nuclear
secrets becomes our sole protection against Washington's jingoism and
Yves Leclerc, Montreal
"Les choses sont moins simples qu'elles ne paraissent,
mais plus simples qu'on ne les croit."