Global Concerns - 8 - Media Failures

1. The world's wealthy and powerful elites are always actively denigrating all other needs and all other people, often using press and media which they either own, control, or have decisive commercial or other influence over.

2. Around the world it is normal for much of the press and media to demonise poor people, the unemployed, the homeless, the powerless. In most rich countries, and in some others, his has become so 'normalised' that it is often barely noticed or remarked upon. For example : Can you recall your press and media ever informing you that 19,000 children die each day from preventable causes (according to UNICEF in several reports since 2012) ?

3. Far from being assets to democracy and liberty, most of the press and media are appallingly manipulative within the political systems and the cultures they inhabit. Most are devoid of any social or moral responsibility. The song 'Television The Drug of a Nation' sums up much of what is wrong with the media.

4. The press and media choose to take money from big corporate advertisers rather than reveal the awful truth about what corporations and neoliberal economics are doing around the world. Also, many politicians and political parties around the world, instead of being loyal to the needs of their people, seem to think they exist to serve the media and give them what they want or demand.

5. Mostly, the press and media are owned or financed by very wealthy people or corporates and are simply mouthpieces for elites or neoliberal corporate propaganda. They serve corporate power and are not effective critics of it.

6. In many countries where there is some state-owned press or media the situation is not much better, with press and media acting simply as conduits for government, for economic elites, or for corporate propaganda.

7. The media normally accept a steady stream of daily Press Releases from these bodies and they publish or broadcast them uncritically, as if they are facts or truth.

8. However, this can sometimes have unintended consequences ! In the next example (see below)
a supposedly 'trustworthy' public media organisation (the British Broadcasting Corporation) did what it does hundreds of times every day without thinking. It took one of many corporate press releases it received and it lazily presented this (completely unchecked) as a major global news story. But this had consequences...

9. It took the corporate press release (seemingly from Dow Chemicals) and invited their corporate PR man to be interviewed on live TV (you can watch this interview here). This was broadcast on the BBC's World News Channel and the BBC unwittingly exposed massive corporate irresponsibility to millions of its global viewers.

The Pentagon Papers and the US Supreme Court Decision

10. Changing our focus to the US : A landmark ruling was made by the US Supreme Court in June 1971 on the leaking of the Pentagon Papers by the whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The leaking of the Pentagon Papers exposed the US government’s many years of lies to the world, to its own public and to Congress. The Supreme Court ruled that :

“…only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell."

11. This ruling referred to the systematic deceptions and lies by the US government throughout its long war (1955-74) in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Throughout this war the government lied to and deceived not only its own public but also the US Congress, the UN and the whole world.

12. This 1971 ruling by a US Judge clearly implies that for democracy to work properly the press should (on behalf of us, the citizens) rigorously and continually examine government and expose any wrong-doing. This is a very important principle – but one which has not been upheld fully (or anything like it) in the US since 1971. Of course, it was a ruling by a US Court for the US, not for anywhere else in the world. Both in the US and around the world this principle has not been upheld - indeed the vast majority of the world's press and media do not even remotely adhere to this principle.

Obviously, we cannot detail all the failures of the world’s press and media here, but we include three examples below to trigger your own ideas and observations.

Example 1 – The Watergate Scandal (US, 1972-4)

13. Following that 1971 ruling, in 1974 a President of the US (Richard Nixon) was forced from office in disgrace and 48 officials in his Administration were found guilty of a range of offences connected with the ‘Watergate Scandal’. This extensive criminal behaviour by the Nixon Administration was exposed by the sustained bravery and high professional standards of two journalists (Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward) on one newspaper (The Washington Post). This was portrayed in the 1976 movie ‘All The President’s Men’.

14. So, at that time in the world’s richest and most powerful ‘democracy’, at least a small part of the press operated to a high standard and did their job of holding the government to account. Most other parts of the US press and media stayed on the side of Nixon and his party (the Republicans) until guilt was proven
beyond any possible doubt. Much of the US press and media even stayed on their side way beyond that point - such was (and still is) their bias to their right-wing political friends.

15. However, since those events in the 1970s the press and media in many powerful nations have sunk to very low standards. These days most of the mainstream press and media work to divert our attention away from the multiple lies and deceptions of governments and corporations. This is now a major weakness in many democracies around the world. As you probably know, the press and media can be even worse in some less democratic countries. There are many of those in today’s world.

Example 2 – Illegal War against Iraq - Government Lies, with Support from Media (UK, 2003)

16. In the UK the whole of the country’s mainstream press and media supported the UK government’s decision (which it constructed on top of its own lies, deceptions and a ‘Dodgy Dossier’) to join in a Coalition with the US to launch the war against Iraq in March 2003. All of the mainstream press and media gave their support to the government’s decision, even though the United Nations at the time clearly stated (a) it would be illegal to go to war, and (b) the UN’s weapons inspection team confirmed that Iraq had no ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

17. Once the US and UK launched this war hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children were then killed, along with thousands of Coalition personnel. Although the US ‘withdrew’ in 2011 this conflict continued and the US rejoined it in 2014 as the head of a new Coalition.

18. A ‘Poll of Polls’ immediately before the UK government’s 2003 decision showed that 69% of the UK public did not approve the decision. Around the same time the biggest public demonstrations ever held in the UK also had no effect on the government decision to go to war. Such is ‘democracy’ in a country which often proclaims itself one of the best, if not the best, democracy in the world.

19. The Iraq war remains illegal to this day. It has involved war crimes and crimes against humanity which the International Criminal Court has not (so far) dealt with. It has not even challenged those political leaders of the US (Bush) and the UK (Blair) who launched and conducted this illegal war.

20. This seems like one law for the rich and powerful nations (the US and UK are two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) and another law for other countries. This is a continuing travesty of international justice – and a massive one. Much of the mainstream press and media in the 'Iraq Coalition' countries have, since well before the start of the Iraq war, been providing a propaganda service to support their governments throughout this illegal war.

21. In the modern era most of the world’s mainstream press and media corporations are failing their publics (us) continually. In many countries the press and media are not independent enough of increasingly undemocratic governments or of corrupt and unaccountable corporations (by whom almost all are funded – directly or through advertising).

22. This is why the Internet has become an important home for independent critique and deeper truths. Nowadays, without the press and media calling governments to account the world needs whistleblowers and truthtellers more than ever before. The world also need Truthtellers in the arts more than ever before. Red Line Art Works exists to encourage those artists and to show their work to the world.

23. So, trust in the mainstream press and media has evaporated over recent decades because they cannot be trusted to expose government or corporate wrong-doings. Indeed, the situation is worse than that. Much of the press and media are themselves heavily engaged in deception and distortion, in fostering hate not hope - as in the next example.

Example 3 – UN Asks Government to Tackle ‘Anti-foreigner Abuse’ in the Press (UK, 2015)

24. In April 2015 the UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein urged the UK government to tackle "anti-foreigner abuse" in the British press after one newspaper (the ‘Sun’) referred to migrants as "cockroaches". In the UK the term migrants is being used extensively to label people who are refugees from the conflict in Syria. This characterisation of refugees as ‘migrants’ is indicative of a major failure in the UK’s approach to refugees - men, women and children who have been driven from their homes in Syria by overwhelmingly dangerous circumstances.

25. Mr Hussein said the comments were similar to language used before the Rwandan genocide and that the UK needed to take steps to curb the "incitement to hatred" caused by British newspapers. The paper likened migrants to "norovirus on a cruise ship" and said gunships should be used to stop people crossing the Mediterranean. At that time more than 1,700 migrants had already died since the beginning of 2015 attempting to cross the Mediterranean in small boats. This number has risen to over 3,000 (as at October 2015).

26. Mr Hussein said the article in the Sun was "one of the more extreme examples of thousands of anti-foreigner articles that have appeared in UK newspapers over the past two decades". "This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long," he said. "I am an unswerving advocate of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it is not absolute. "Article 20 of the same covenant says 'any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law'."

27. Mr Hussein called on all European countries to take a "firmer line" on racism and xenophobia, which he said "under the guise of freedom of expression, are being allowed to feed a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicisation of migrants, as well as of marginalised European minorities such as the Roma".

28. He added: "The nasty underbelly of racism that is characterising the migration debate in an increasing number of EU countries has skewed the EU response to the crisis." The UN said the Sun article followed "decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion". It said the use of word "cockroaches" was "very similar" to that employed infamously by Rwanda's Kangura newspaper and Radio Mille Collines during the run up to the 1994 genocide, as well as in the Nazi media.

29. It is clear that there is widespread concern within the UN that anti-foreigner sentiment in the media may dissuade the public from supporting action needed to save lives. There has been very little response of any kind to this UN intervention from either the UK government or the UK press and media.