SEPTEMBER 11, GLOBALIZATION AND THE MEDIA
Editor's Note: Sumanta Banerjee is a human rights advocate, educator and journalist from India. He is a member of the People's Union of Democratic Rights, Committee for Initiative on Kashmir and the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy. He is author of several books and contributes regularly to Economic and Political Weekly as well as to other dailies and journals.
The media can become a double-edged sword in the present circumstances. The multinational media, controlled by corporate giants, in the post September 11 world, have emerged as one of the main weapons in the US arsenal to whip up war hysteria all over the world. On the other hand, there exists the potentiality of the alternative media – the community radio or the locally run newspapers brought out by social activists, or the video film-makers – to fight this hysteria by reaching out at the grass roots level to the ordinary citizens and exposing the war-mongers.
Let us not be overwhelmed by the omnipotence of the corporate media’s ability to persuade and indoctrinate everyone. Take a look at some of the facts, which need to be emphasized and propagated by us in the present media scene.
According to one survey, whereas 85 percent of Americans and between 58 and 66 percent of those in other G-7 countries support the US-led war in Afghanistan, the war is opposed by 70-75 percent of the population in the world’s poor countries, including even those in Latin America. (Ipsos-Reid Media center, 21 December, 2001).
It is these 70-75 percent of the world’s poor, who are our listeners, our readers, our audience. They are waiting for us to tell them the truth, to unmask the US and expose its hypocrisy. In this connection, take another fact again –
Within America, the rate of incarceration has more than doubled since the late 1980s; the US now has seven times more prisoners than per capita than Western Europe. The US has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Moreover, nearly 90 percent of prisoners are jailed for nonviolent offenses, often casualties of the so-called drug war.
So, this is how the `greatest democracy’ of the world treats its own citizens! What moral right does it have to impose its own model of governance on other states ?
But before elaborating on the role of the media, as media practitioners we have to make our position clear on the implications of the September 11 happening.
The attack on the World Trade Centre (i) was immoral from the point of view of the innocent people they killed; (ii) it was driven by a reactionary, feudal impulse; (iii) it was counterproductive as a response to global inequality and US imperialism – if that at all was what the attackers wanted to protest against; (iv) its inevitable outcome was providing the US with a long-awaited opportunity to expand its military control over the world in the name of fighting terrorism.
Washington has succeeded in stampeding the liberal democratic institutions – already fragile and supine – into lending legitimacy to the deployment of violence by the US state worldwide. Bush today is harking back to the doctrine enunciated by Harry Truman in 1947: “The American system can survive in America only if it becomes a world system.” Truman’s plans to make it a world system failed in those days because of the opposition of the Soviet Union and the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa who formed a solid block of non-aligned nations. Today, with the collapse of the socialist system, and divisions among the developing nations, Bush finds a clear field to complete Truman’s unfinished agenda.
The post-September 11 US plans of military expansion are the logical extension of Washington’s earlier strategy of hegemonization over world economy in the name of globalization. It is the traditional colonial game of economic control backed by military power. US is now requiring all states to restructure their coercive apparatus to fit America’s strategic concerns, to reinforce their earlier requirement set by it that they restructure their economic apparatus to fit with Washington’s Global Gamble.
Incidentally, this global strategy of the USA, dovetails perfectly with the domestic strategies of the governments in the Asian region. The coalition against terrorism that the US has built is providing a legitimizing sanction for sustaining these governments’ policies of repression of all political dissidents fighting for democratic rights, as well as secessionist groups within their states.
Whether opposition to US plans of globalization will take rational and democratic forms, as opposed to destructive and irrational forms (e.g. revival of religious orthodox traditions; killings of innocent citizens by suicide bombers), will largely depend on the future strategy and tactics of the new generation of social and political activists who have moved into the vacuum created by the failures and defeats of the old left – (i) the Green movement; (ii) the anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle and other places; (iii) the indigenous people’s movements in different parts of the developing world; (iv) the feminist groups fighting for women’s rights, etc. etc. There is a need for a serious discussion between the still-remaining committed members of the old Left (including Communists and Social-democrats) on the one hand, and the new generation of these activists, to arrive at a common strategy and set of tactics for building greater popular support for the movement against globalization.
Role of the Media
It has been often noted that the congregations and mass protests of these social activists (e.g. in Seattle) would have been impossible without the Internet. Indeed the Internet has been an asset in unleashing the capacity to organize dissent and resistance on the global stage. Numerous movements are closely linked to one another, just as `hotlinks’ connect their websites on the Internet. In fact, no one can deny that our present congregation here in Quezon City to further the anti-war campaign has been expedited to a great extent by the communication facilities provided by the Internet. But let us also be careful to note that the Internet is no substitute for the hard work of class formation and political organizations that activists have to engage in on their own ground.
It is in this area that the media – both the alternative media as well as working journalists committed to the anti-globalization and anti-war cause – can play an important role.
Journalism, unlike other media forms (e.g. advertising, commercial films, etc.) deals directly with political education. According to their professional norms, there are two indispensable functions that journalists must carry out in every society. First, they must provide a rigorous accounting of people in power and people who want to be in power, in both the public and private sector. This is the watchdog role. Second, they must provide reliable information and a wide range of informed opinions on the important social and political issues of the day.
It is in these two major areas that the media can play a major role in the post-September 11 scenario.
It is an uphill task for journalists today to fight the political economy of the global media – multinational giants controlling much of the world’s media, books, magazine and newspaper publishing; music recording; TV production; TV stations and cable channels, satellite TV systems; film production. The global media system is in the process of converging with the telecommunications and computer industries to form an integrated global communication system, where a handful of super companies are ruling the roost. It is they who decide what news to disseminate, and what to suppress. Consumerism, class inequality and so-called individualism tend to be taken as natural and even benevolent, whereas political activities, demand for restoration of human and civic values, movements against globalization, are marginalized. The focus is more on fashion designers and beauty queens than on the dark realities of poverty and social injustice.
This constitutes an attack not only the freedom of information that is the right of the people, but also on the professional autonomy of journalism.
Media reform therefore has to become an essential part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice and socialism.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2002