A tremendous gain

Laszlo Trankovits has been the office manager and correspondent of the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) for over 35 years, and has worked in the USA, the Middle East, Italy and Africa. He currently lives in New York and, as a representative of the dpa management, is responsible for the implementation of dpa projects in the USA. In his book „The News Professionals – Why quality journalism is indispensable for our democracy“, which is on the Frankfurter Allgemeine book list, he writes:

„The enormous enrichment of public discourse by all the clever people in all non-media professions and industries, who until now have only been able to produce publicity through traditional media or books, is undisputed. But now they have become an important voice in daily discourse. Good examples are blogs by the versatile artist and author Gerd Buurmann, the journalist Roland Tichy, the writer Gideon Böss or the fine ‚Achse der Guten‘ authors.“

In his book, Laszlo Trankovits deals with the fact that the traditional media have lost the exclusive privilege of providing the public with news because the Internet has created new and undreamt-of opportunities to access and disseminate information. Democracy needs enlightened and informed citizens. For that reason, Laszlo Trankovits names the dpa as an example of the necessity of quality journalism. The book’s tenor can best be described with this great opening sequence of the American series „The Newsroom“.

The invention of the Internet today is as revolutionary as the invention of the printing press six hundred years ago. Both technologies have a great deal in common. The biggest common denominator is probably the fact that book printing, like the Internet, is largely used for the reproduction of shoddy literature. Both technologies promoted the spread of pornography.

The printing press made the profession of copyist superfluous. Copyists, then primarily monks, painstakingly copied books by hand. The printing press also broke the Church’s monopoly over the dissemination of knowledge. The Church fought back and emphasized that with the printing press the border between relevant and useless knowledge became blurred.

Book printing also caused catastrophes. Martin Luther, for example, was not only able to promulgate his reformist theories, he could also spread his anti-Jewish treatises. With the advent of book printing, not only did many more people suddenly have access to education, but more people were able to publish their own opinions regardless of content. Like the Internet today, printing catapulted Jew hatred into the mainstream arena.

Martin Luther’s reformation was a book printing revolution, just as the uprisings in the Arab world a few years ago were a Facebook and Twitter revolution. Just as the printing press led to the Reformation, a split in the Christian world and a brutal Thirty Years‘ War, the Internet today is dividing the Muslim believers in the Arab world.

Today, most Muslims have access to the Internet, whether they are reformist or radical – and just as in the case of Christians, even reformist Muslims are no less hostile to Jews as are the conservatives.

For Christians, it was the reformer Martin Luther who popularized Jew hatred. A few centuries later in the 19th century, it was again a reformer who printed books against the Jews. His name was Wilhelm Marr. He was a journalist, an atheist, belonged to the extreme left wing of the radical-democratic party around 1848, and he hated Jews! In regard to so-called reformers, a good measure of skepticism is necessary!

In February 1879 Marr’s propaganda work „The Victory of the Teutonic Empire over Judaism – Viewed from a Non-confessional Point of View“ was published in Berlin. The book went through twelve editions in the same year. The printing press made that possible. In his publication, Marr clearly distances himself from the traditional religiously based anti-Semitism and claimed instead that the Jews are a foreign race of „parasites“ who were exploiting Germany. He clarified this paradigm shift from religion to race by using the term „anti-Semitism“. Marr had coined important clichés and buzzwords. In 1880 he laid the foundation for the conspiracy-theoretical equation of Judaism, capitalism and communism with his work „Golden Rats and Red Mice“, themes which were later expanded upon by Adolf Hitler in „Mein Kampf“.

Millions of copies of „Mein Kampf“ were printed thanks to the printing press. Leaflets had ensured that fascists, communists and fundamentalists were able to spread their ideas quickly and effectively among the public. But book printing also made the Enlightenment possible. The printing press has democratized the world! Just as the Scholl’s used the printing press for their anti-Nazi „White Rose“ resistance, today the Internet is the new mode of communication for political resistance.

Today, the Internet ensures that ever more people have access to information. But it also enables the decimation of widespread hatred and fake news on a large scale. The anti-Jewish treatise „The Protocols of the Elders of Zion“ once celebrated as a book, enjoys increased popularity on the Internet.

The Internet has only just begun to reform the world. Virtually everyone has access to worldwide knowledge thanks to new technologies. Anyone can publish their thoughts today, unless they live in North Korea, regardless of whether those thoughts are true or false, good or bad. The Internet presents us with completely new challenges and this is exactly what Laszlo Trankovits deals with in his book „The News Professionals“.

One thing is clear, however: the Internet is a fact that won’t simply disappear. Censorship can have no real effect! Deleting websites is only just effective as burning books. It remains merely a symbolic act, no more and no less, but still a questionable one. All we can do is fasten our seat belts, because the plane has left the ground.

Just as book printing once reformed and split Christianity, with all the bloody side effects, the Internet today will divide and reform Islam. The Islamic Reformation will be no less cruel than the earlier Christian version, perhaps even more brutal in view of all the new weapons.

We do well to be well informed in this new world.

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Translation: William Wires

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