SWITZERLAND: Poor NBC. They spent a small fortune to scoop up the rights to the
Olympic Games, and now no one in the United States is watching. To get the
games, they paid buckeroo bucks, even reportedly "donating" a cool
million to the International Olympic Committee’s monument to itself, a museum
here in Lausanne where the winners write their own history and the IOC’s
scandals are safely sanitized. As I was driving through this town, headquarters
of the IOC, last week, I wondered why the American public has been tuning out in
droves, while the rest of the word, especially here in Europe, is glued to the
televised images of the Sydney games. General Electric, NBC’s parent company,
makes billions marketing to the world. Why can’t they market an interest in the
world to Americans?
would think that in this hyped-up age of globalization, global events, problems
and challenges would be high up on the American media agenda. The truth is that
they are not — by design. As the world becomes knitted together, our media
—which could be doing so much to promote cross-cultural understanding — is
doing the opposite by slashing international news and reinforcing parochialism,
if not hostility to others, even to Australians. New York Times sports columnist
Harvey Araton even sings the praises of Team USA for its "in your
face" attitude, lionizing the style of America’s "hard-staring
are making them understand that in the arena of serious competitive endeavor,
there is nothing quite like a little hate, mate," he enthuses, explaining
how our athletic adversaries have been turned into enemies. "Without
politics to fall back on, Communists to target, we have to make do with what’s
all the concerns about doping at the Olympics, this mentality is just plain
dopey and makes Americans seem like dopes. There is plenty of hate, mate, to go
around. As the world’s athletes battle it out down under, another global clash
is being played out in Prague, where protesters from all over Europe are
challenging the International Monetary Fund/World Bank and the values that are
thought of there as American. To paraphrase the cartoon character Pogo:
"They have met the enemy and they are us."
The Party? By the time you read this, you will know what happened, and how the
Czech police did or did not defend the bankers from the rabble. The American
media is out in force to tell us how ignorant the protesters are, and why the
system they are challenging is in our best interests. Case in point: The cover
of Newsweek’s international edition immediately tells you where that magazine
stands: "JOIN THE PARTY. Globalization’s Biggest Fans: The Young
Capitalists of Eastern Europe." Pictured are two young woman boogying over
another headline: "What Do the Prague Protesters Want?"
tone is one-sidedly pro-capitalist in the same way that Pravda used to trumpet
the wonders of Communism. "At the IMF summit, the protesters will be
outnumbered by young East Europeans who think globalization is just fine, thank
you," Newsweek International (NI) reports. And thank you, writer Karen
Lowery Miller, for this juicy spread about Prague, filed not from the Czech
Republic but from neighboring Poland. True, the article, plastered with pictures
of how "Prague and its café society aim to dazzle the global
financiers," was filed from another country. But why let the facts get in
the way of its focus on a handful of success stories who "brandish Nokia
phones and race around in BMWs"?
story line is a throwback to Horatio Alger, leading with a young man who
"dreamt of escaping communism" only to end up, natch, an Internet
millionaire. He has just raised $20 million for his new portal and is pronounced
by NI as "typical of a new divide in Europe, where the most enthusiastic
fans of ‘Western values’ are often young elites of the East." The
journalism here is typical of the way controversial global issues are handled.
The U.S. media sides with those in power, praising the new upwardly mobile elite
as "debutantes of a global society of up-and-comers" for whom
globalization means "a passport, a laptop and the right to order all the
Western books and music they want over the Internet." In contrast, the
protesters are portrayed as naïve, Marxist fanatics or worse.
young capitalists are labeled "real idealists" because they are
inspired by Western role models, or in other words, they want to be like us.
Example: The story praises the "tough and ambitious" Czech "Chat
Show Queen" Pavlina Wolfova who modeled her program on ones she saw in the
West. What does she chat about: Economic inequality? Home-grown hostility to
gypsies? No way. Instead, she dumbs it down with yet more discussions of
prostitution and other topics that seem to come from the universal commercial TV
talk show agenda. In the business it’s called "KISS," standing for
"Keep it simple, sensational and stupid.
media monitoring group Media Tenor, which has an office in the Czech Republic,
has just published a study of Czech television showing that a once high-quality
state broadcaster now mimics the sensationalism and sleaze of private
broadcasters financed with American money. NI typically doesn’t cover any of
this or other real problems in Prague. Only in the next to last paragraph of a
five and half page spread does it even mention economic realities in Central
Europe. It does so briefly but then squeezes in a sound bite attributed to a
hard leftist from a fringe group who raises the red flag. "We need to go
back to Marx," he says.
then reassures its readers: "Well, that probably is not going to happen.
Certainly Central Europe still has to work out the kinks if it means to be a
player in the free market." Work out the kinks? What a quaint way of
avoiding discussion of the realities of life in Central Europe, including the
privatization giveaways, slashing of social services, displacements of workers
and the growth of debt to the IMF and the West. These realities are alluded to
but not described. The result: an image of a society basking in freedom. On the
day I read this piece, the Financial Times noted that the Czech economy has been
sluggish, hoping to grow only by 2.5 percent and only then because of massive
infusions of Western private investment. In other words, their economic hopes
are tied to selling off their industries and markets to outsiders.
Does A Protester Want? So, what about the protesters? Here, Newsweek turns to an
outsider, Pranay Gupte, editor of the Earth Times. Note that they don’t ask
protesters to explain their own objectives, but instead commission a journalist
who is decidedly critical. Gupte spends one paragraph summarizing their
critiques and then devotes the rest of the article to ridiculing them by
asserting that the real problem is leadership in the developing world. Why
aren’t these do-gooders protesting that, he asks. He doesn’t point out that the
U.S. and its key allies control these "global" institutions.
in this convoluted commentary posing as journalism, Gupte blasts protesters
"subsidized by weighty Western foundations with heavy wallets." (No
evidence is given. To my knowledge, some unions funded some protest but most of
the "Seattle-style" activism is self-generated, funded by NGOs and the
individuals who turn up.) Gupte then contradicts his own thesis, admitting that
the protests he calls for against bad leaders in poor countries will be
ruthlessly suppressed. He doesn’t bother to explain that many of the despots he
claims he wants challenged are in power thanks to military aid and loans from
troubling and distorted package did show that the protests were important enough
to cover, however propagandistically. At least the issue flickered on their
radar screen. It wasn’t until I came home that I discovered that the U.S.
edition in the same week made no mention of Prague. The cover story was
different; the story itself was omitted altogether. The editorial assumption no
doubt is that Americans don’t care, earlier protests in Washington and Seattle
notwithstanding. But how can we care when the reporting is so shallow? It seems
obvious that those who are in the streets are not relying on the Newsweeks of
the world for validation or information. In some ways, this points to the ways
in which mainstream outlets are not as effective in delivering an ideological
message as they may have once been.
Time Time magazine was a bit fairer in its discussion of the issues, but it too
offered an either-or perspective. Either accept globalization as it is, or
return to the bad old days of state control. The notion that capitalism can or
needs to be reformed or regulated, or that international economic agencies can
be held more accountable, has not seemed to occur to either newsmagazine.
Neither takes up the issues of canceling foreign debts or rectifying basic
injustices in the global economy.
International Herald Tribune doesn’t resort to so much loaded language —
"newspeak" — but its ideological orientation is unmistakable despite
the excellent economic reporting of financial journalists like Alan Friedman and
a more varied range of op-ed perspectives than is usually found in either The
New York Times or The Washington Post, which own the Paris-based Tribune. It too
is dominated by the upbeat, bullish-on-globalization commentary of the Paul
Krugmans, Thomas Friedmans and Robert J. Samuelsons of the world. Critical
pieces do make it in from time to time, including one of my own, (LINK) but the
values of big business and big government are firmly in command.
outlets agree on one thing: Violence in the streets is bad. And yet, one
wonders, if the threat of conflict and violence didn’t hover over these events,
would they be covered at all? How many Americans had heard of the World Trade
Organization before someone threw a rock through the window of Starbucks? That’s
a paradox protesters face: If they are not militant, they are ignored. If they
are, their arrests make news while the issues they care about rarely do.
what should the rest of us do if we want to find out what is really going on, in
Prague, in the highly charged globalization debate, or even at the Olympics?
First, learn to read between the lines and understand that the corporate media
are not neutral or disinterested bystanders sitting above the globalization
fray. They have corporate agendas that are increasingly global in scope. They
are part of the system, not apart from it.
Second, don’t buy the biased language and slippery reportage that is tilted
toward one side of the debate. Recognize ideology posing as journalism. Go to
original sources. Check out what activists are saying by checking out the Indy
Media Center and Znet — but also NGOs, policy organizations and the World
Third, be on guard about reducing complex issues to simplistic formulas on
either side, or taking refuge in nationalistic formulas and parochialism. There
are many sides to globalization. There is a top-down form of imposed
globalization, but there is also a bottom-up form of internationalism that
brings people together across borders. Think seriously about Czech President
Vaclav Havel’s fears that some protesters are too simplistic by turning on
symbols like McDonald’s rather than confronting deeper structural issues.
cannot emigrate from Earth to another planet," he says. "We are
destined to live together, and the only way to meaningful coexistence is by
dialogue, an exchange of views, a search for solutions." This protester
turned president sponsored a meeting between activists, economists, academics
and World Bank officials. It is doubtful that this would have happened without
the protests. Standing up for justice drives change; sitting down for
discussions builds awareness on all sides. We need dialogues as well as
diatribes. Let the debate continue — and let the public be informed about it
in a way that transcends labels, stereotypes and superficial issue framing.
point of fact, as the New York Times reported, there is an internal debate
within the World Bank with some staff members even arguing that they should be
in the streets, too. There is a lot of research being done there on world
poverty, with many Bank officials who are trying to promote strong advocacy and
development work — including president James Wolfensohn — running up against
opposition from the United States, Britain and France. According to South
African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, the protesters are focused on the wrong
people: targeting the bank but not the rich industrialized countries. "The
protesters seem not to understand these things," he says. This is not to
say that the Bank is a force for revolution or that Manuel, who endorses the
tenets of neo-liberalism, is without his own agenda, but the reality is often
more complex than the sloganeers in the streets who denounce the Bank recognize,
or the media outlets who dismiss the protesters admit.
it be great if the Prague protests were covered thoroughly and fairly? And
wouldn’t it be great if the TV color commentators in Australia were to inform
those who are watching more about the countries and cultures that are competing?
More context and background would make the games more interesting and worth
watching. Perhaps, if we were given a better understanding of the real world, as
opposed to the MTV show of the same name, we’d be more interested in righting
the great divides of our times, which undercut the ideals of peace and harmony
that are the core of the Olympic idea.
last thing we need, mate, is more hate.
Schechter is the executive editor of MediaChannel.org and author of News