From Global Southx92s Side Of The Media Looking Glass


Norman Solomon


The question,
from a participant in Porto Alegre, Brazil at the World Social Forum, was
polite and understated: “Sometimes, one wonders if the poor political
consciousness and the lack of information about the world of the standard
American is not one of the problems of the world today. Do you think we all
could help in some way to get Americans more aware of the rest of the world?”

The
question—directed at me because I’d just given a speech —hung in the air while
my brain fumbled for a fitting response. Programming decisions by U.S. media
executives loom large at home and abroad. A hundred years ago, when Queen
Victoria died, the sun never set on the British empire. Today, around the
world, the market shares are shimmering for AOL Time Warner, the Walt Disney
Compay, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp- oration.

When I tuned
into CNN International in this city on Brazil’s southern coast, a report about
fashion was explaining that “today’s revolutionary woman” prefers to wear
chiffon. More Spanish-speaking people on the planet get their news from one
web- site—CNNenEspanol.com—than from anywhere else on the web. Editors in
Atlanta and Washington, employed by a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner, are
deciding what news and views will reach huge numbers of readers online.

Corporate media
globalization is part of what’s come to be known as “neo-liberalism”—
worldwide policies giving top priority to corporations and their quest for
maximum profits. As part of the movement to challenge neo-liberalism, about
4,700 delegates and 10,000 other people from 122 countries participated in the
first-ever World Social Forum to share information and develop strategies.

Key concerns of
the global South—where extreme poverty and rampant inequities are ever-present
—came through loud and clear in Porto Alegre. The people crowding into
overflow sessions included 1,700 journalists. But in the United States, even
the most avid news consumers didn’t learn much about this auspicious
convergence.

Don’t blame the
wire services. For a week, some of the world’s biggest—including the
Associated Press—produced a steady stream of informative news reports from
Porto Alegre. But the day after the World Social Forum adjourned, when I did a
search of the comprehensive Nexis database, it was clear that the event didn’t
make the U.S. media cut.

The
Washington Post
did better than most American outlets, but it wasn’t
much—a single news story on January 27. The Los Angeles Times didn’t
mention the World Social Forum at all. Neither did USA Today.

During the
week, the country’s “paper of record”—the New York Times—published only
one paragraph on the subject, rendered in McPaper roundup style. “Brazil:
Ordered Out—The French farm workers’ leader Jose Bove, best known for
vandalizing McDonald’s restaurants to protest globalization, has been detained
by the federal police and ordered to leave Brazil. The action came after Bove,
at a forum in Porto Alegre held to counter a world leaders’ meeting in Davos,
Switzerland, joined Brazilian farmers in attacking a farm owned by the Mon-
santo Corporation, which grows genetically modified soybeans.”

Readily
available AP stories had offered much more context for the Bove incident. For
instance: “Bove and about 1,300 farmers destroyed five acres of soybeans at
the Monsanto farm near Porto Alegre last Friday, saying the beans were
genetically engineered. At the Forum’s closing rally, Bove urged the Landless
Workers’ Movement to reoccupy the farm and turn it into an environmentally
friendly operation.”

Landless
workers of Brazil and a leader of French farmers joined together to fight for
redistribution of land, social justice, and environmental protection. It was a
dramatic alliance—just one of many that flowered at a highly disciplined and
creative international conference of activists from all over the world. There
were hundreds of other highly significant stories to be told from the World
Social Forum. Most U.S. news outlets didn’t tell even one.

National Public
Radio sent a correspondent to Porto Alegre, and a pair of his reports aired.
On “Morning Edition,” NPR correspondent Martin Kaste provided a rather upbeat
definition of “neo- liberalism,” describing it as “the American-inspired
philosophy that smaller government is better.”

NPR’s final
report from Porto Alegre mentioned a proposed policy step toward reducing the
world’s extreme economic disparities. But in the “All Things Considered”
piece, the subject came up not to be explored but to serve as a setup for a
cutesy—and disparaging—tag line.

“One of the
most talked-about plans is a worldwide tax on international financial
transactions, something that defenders say could raise money for developing
countries while at the same time making it harder to move funds across
borders,” the news report said. “Even this concept, however, is not embraced
by everyone. At the start of the conference, an anti- globalization delegate
from Holland was seen loudly cursing the Brazilian cash machines for not
accepting her Dutch ATM card. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Porto Alegre, Brazil.”

From North
America, it’s difficult to get a clear look at the global South—and at the
pro-democracy movement against corporate rule—with nose pointed high in the
air.                            Z

Norman
Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is
The Habits of
Highly Deceptive Media.