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The Keyboard Guerrilla
Bijoy AK |
April 29, 2003 15:12 IST
Where the world's media stops, Mario Profaca's work begins. Meet one of the biggest one-man shows online
Mario Profaca isn't your everyday sort of guy. He's done a lot. Seen a lot. Been around a lot. Some people might think his word is the truth. Others might think of him as a keyboard guerrilla.
Born in Croatia, in 1940, Profaca is actually a professional journalist. He has been one since the age of 20, has covered nine wars, was wounded in the battle for Paxe Bridge, Bangladesh, and received the Medal of Merits for Nation (1963) from the then Yugoslavian President Tito for being one of first journalists to arrive in Skopje after an earthquake (he carried five boxes of blood plasma). It's not what he does in the real world that attracts us though. It's his virtual stuff -- Mario's Cyberspace Station (The Global Intelligence News Portal) -- that does.
His site goes against conventionality. It concentrates on under-reported news, forgotten scams, spy stories, guerrilla warfare and what not. In its creator's words, "It is about the dissimulation, falseness, double-dealing, political and journalist prostitution and propaganda." That would explain why The New York Times declared: 'Yes, the world is a sick place, and Mario Profaca is its Webmaster.' In an exclusive interview, Mario Profaca reveals why he doesn't like to force "the truth" upon his readers:
What prompted you to set up Mario's Cyberspace?
I started it in 1995, during the war in Croatia caused by the so-called 'Yugoslav Peoples' Army' aggression on my homeland, Croatia. While surfing online, I realised that even mainstream media journalists weren't aware of that fact -- or, what was even worse -- didn't want to accept it, that the former Yugoslavia didn't exist any more.
Even five years after Croatia was already internationally recognised as the Republic of Croatia some of them were "reporting from former Yugoslav republic Croatia". It was also the time when western diplomats and journalists, sympathising with Slobodan Milosevic, invented "ethnic cleansing" as a euphemism for war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Look who is talking! I said to myself remembering Pearl Harbor. So one of my first web pages that had nothing to do with Croatia was on Pearl Harbor, and related to the US concentration camps, or "detention camps".
On February 19, 1942, at the height of the US involvement in World War II, President Roosevelt authorised the War Department to place all Japanese Americans residing on the West Coast in detention camps. The following months witnessed the relocation of some 120,000 Japanese Americans, including 77,000 American citizens. But, for the Americans, it was neither a war crime nor "ethnic cleansing". In fact, they were so proud of it: "During the spring and summer of 1942, the United States Government carried out, in remarkably short time and without serious incident, one of the largest controlled migrations in history." (Relocation of Japanese-Americans, War Relocation Authority (WRA), Washington D.C., May 1942)
"Largest controlled migrations in history" That's what my web site is all about. It is about the dissimulation, falseness, double-dealing, political and journalist prostitution and propaganda. Of course, it's all related to intelligence and counterintelligence. So, I named it The Global Intelligence News Portal and started searching and researching open sources, usually unknown facts and documents or under-reported news, to share with visitors.
Is the site truly a one-man effort?
Yes, this is really a one-man site. I use WYSWIM -- What You See Is What I Made, down to every line of code. I know there are excellent content editors, but I prefer being a sort of Internet Sinatra, doing things 'My Way'. No help needed. I even cook my coffee by myself.
What draws you to the world of spies, wars and guerrilla warfare?
You could ask the same question to millions of my visitors, too. Almost all of them come by submitting the key word 'intelligence' to their search engines.
It is said that the CIA drops by frequently. Does that scare you?
There are thousands of visitors from intelligence communities of many countries worldwide. I don't see anything scary about it. What's more, according to feedback, they all appreciate my work and consider it a great help.
What kind of feedback do you get? Any threats?
No threats at all. Though, at times, I think that isn't a good sign.
Are you happy you made the switch from a reporter on the frontline to the man behind Mario's Cyberspace?
There was neither a transformation nor a switch, and that is what I am happy about. I was always the same: a journalist who knew how to use all means of communication and media. While reporting from the frontlines, I used phone, telex, fax, email and even amateur ham radio. I now have a DSL connection to the Internet and, by 2040 (when I will be only a hundred years old), I hope to have a satellite videophone! I think that's what makes one a good journalist, if I may flatter myself that way. I don't know why some journalists are calling themselves 'investigative reporters'. What is journalism without investigative research anyway? Particularly today, with all sources and resources just a click away...
How does online journalism compare with traditional journalism?
It is not comparable, first of all, because it should be the same. So-called online journalism is, or should be, simply journalism using new information technology. There is no good or bad journalism; there are only good and bad journalists.
In the 1950s when some journalists switched from newspapers and radio to TV it didn't make them better journalists. It only made a wider public audience aware whether they were good or bad journalists. What is best about online journalism is that one can be one's own publisher. But freedom of the press online is just a temporary sweet illusion. The freedom of the press is in the hands of the owner of the media.
Each time has its primary source of information. Today it is the television, but I think the next one will be TV combined with the Internet, and not the Internet alone.
Online journalism suffers from a crisis of credibility. How can this be overcome?
Media credibility was always a matter of its audience's judgment. And that is the only freedom and credibility one can count on. I would say that it is not 'online journalism' that is in crisis. In fact, thanks to online journalism, it is traditional media (newspapers, radio and TV) that should take more care than ever before putting out what they consider to be verified 'truth'. They know that average Internet users can compare it with other sources in a matter of seconds and draw their own conclusions.
And, what is verified news or "fact" anyway? How many times have you heard CNN quote Al Jazeera news as "not verified by independent sources"? Well, then, who the heck is "independently verifying" CNN news?
What do you think of the recent trend towards embedding journalists?
There were always journalists who would agree to serve as propaganda tool or as undercover intelligence agents sincerely believing they are honourably serving their homeland in need. Somebody called it "patriotic journalism", but I think it is not journalism.
Promotion of "embedded journalism" means just the institutionalisation of their work for Pentagon or CIA, whatever, in public, what some of them maybe willing to do in secret. (Take a look at my web pages CIA: Use of journalists.) But, I don't blame them. I can imagine what would happen to their career if some of them declined the assignment. All wars have their heroes but you can't blame anybody for not being one. That is just what makes human beings and their characters so different from each other. That is what makes the difference between journalists killed in Hotel Palestine in Baghdad and those who will, thank God and Pentagon, safely return to their families back in USA together with the US army units they were embedded with. But I think those second ones should be saluted as brave soldiers, not journalists.
Does your site have a political agenda? Or do you try and represent all views through the links you provide?
I am not sure whether one could call it a political agenda or not. I am just trying to help visitors get usually under-reported news and sources so that they can go for a news coverage comparison. But I would never suggest what "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" is. I do believe the average visitor is capable of drawing his or her own conclusions. I hope I'm helping them create their own criteria for judging who is who or what really happened.
Why don't you accept advertisements on your site?
My opinion about online advertisements is that too many of them could suffocate a Web site and scatter visitors. The main reason why I don't have advertising is because my Web hosts gave me a lot of space on their servers free, for my home site in Croatia and mirrors in Holland and the US, so I can't use it for commercial purposes. I hope somebody may grant me 60 MB ad-free space somewhere in Asia too, as I have a lot of visitors from your part of the world. But I'm afraid I'm just the last Web romantic in cyberspace.
How do you manage to populate your site with so many links?
It's a result of many sleepless nights and days of surfing, but I'm also a subscriber to many Internet lists, newsletters and forums. Visitors suggest certain sources too.
How does it feel to be one of the biggest one-man shows online?
I know you are referring to my note that my site is 'the biggest one-man handmade Web site in Cyberspace with more than a thousand Web pages'. The accent is on 'handmade' (including graphics), but I think it's the content that my visitors appreciate. And I hope it makes my Web site a big one. When I started out, I wanted to be different. I did my best doing that. And, yes, I knew I was going to achieve this success. More than 1.4 million hits so far, and counting.