thousands of protesters converge on Seattle at the end of this month to
challenge the global summit of the World Trade Organization, they’re unlikely to
get a fair hearing from America’s mass media.
how one of the nation’s most influential newspapers framed the upcoming
confrontation as November began. The Washington Post reported on its front page
that the WTO has faced "virulent opposition" — an assessment not
quoted or attributed to anyone — presumably just a matter of fact.
According to my dictionary, the mildest definition of the word is
"intensely irritating, obnoxious or harsh." The other definitions:
"extremely poisonous or pathogenic; bitterly hostile or antagonistic;
you just love objective reporting?
above the fold on page one of the Post, the Nov. 2 article went on to quote four
pro-WTO sources: the organization’s president, a top executive at the Goldman,
Sachs investment firm, the U.S. trade representative and a member of the British
House of Commons. In contrast, quotations from foes of the WTO were scarce and
coverage of trade issues is significant because it’s routine. For much of the
U.S. news media, the virtues of economic globalization are self-evident, like
motherhood and apple pie.
in recent years, journalists depicted the NAFTA and GATT trade pacts as steps
toward rationality and global progress. Opponents have been frequently discussed
– but not often heard. The media "debate" over globalization has
resembled the sound of one side clapping.
of the anti-WTO activists who’ll soon be heading to Seattle have gained in-depth
knowledge about key aspects of trade and the global economy. They will bring a
wealth of information and deep concern about the environment, labor, human
rights and economic justice.
in the halls of corporate power, strategists are worried.
Nov. 8 issue of Business Week features a downbeat piece by Jeffrey Garten, a
former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, who declares:
"In late November, Seattle is likely to be the scene of a big test for
global capitalism. That’s when more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) are planning to disrupt the kickoff of a new round of global trade
concerns are being voiced by many other media commentators. What are they afraid
of? Undue democratic participation in decision-making. NGOs "have
skillfully exploited the void between shrinking governments unable to cushion
the impact of change on ordinary citizens and multinational companies that are
the agents of that change," Garten writes.
Huge firms have been able to bend and shape government policies, while
"ordinary citizens" have suffered dire consequences. Rather than
passively accept the results, activist groups are resisting — and what’s worse,
they’re getting somewhere.
governments and chief executives bore the public and the media with sterile
abstractions about free markets," Garten adds, "NGOs are sending more
nuanced messages sensitive to the anxieties of local communities around the
world. At the same time, they are preparing sophisticated strategies to
influence television networks, newspapers and magazines."
Activists are threatening to usurp the prerogatives of big money to determine
the main media messages.
Washington and Corporate America don’t move decisively," Garten warns,
"NGOs could dominate public opinion on global trade and finance."
Washington and Corporate America must make sure that they continue to dominate
the fears of some are the hopes of others: During the week after Thanksgiving,
events in Seattle could signify a breakthrough for advocates of democratic
processes. The surfacing activism could create a new dynamic powerful enough to
shift the terms of public discourse.
this decade, as government leaders and corporate execs have marched to the beat
of multinational drums, grassroots oppositional movements have taken root and
flowered in many communities. Gradually, since the founding of the World Trade
Organization five years ago, they have developed ways to monitor the secretive
WTO’s activities and to work together — across boundaries of race, class,
language, culture and nationality.
democratic procedures — not unelected WTO officials — should determine the
rules of the global economy. The implications are profound: for human rights,
workers, public health and the environment. With a worldwide movement emerging
to challenge the corporate globalizers, we’ll see how much of its message can
get through the media filters during the historic Seattle summit.
Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of
Highly Deceptive Media."