Following the WTO protests in Sydney in November, the mainstream media
reported scenes so outrageous as to make one think something is seriously
wrong with the protest movement.
The Daily Telegraph
represented the protestors as anything from simply misguided, unwashed and
badly dressed, to violent and intent on attacking defenceless police
officers simply doing their jobs, to willfully evil, allegedly pushing a
journalist from The
Australian under a horse (while simultaneously not acknowledging
or caring about the life-saving drugs promised to the poor by the WTO
meeting). All were troublemakers there for the wrong reasons, none even
remotely connected with the operations of the WTO.
However, most of the claims made by the mainstream media during those
three hectic days were themselves misguided, misleading, and often
untruthful. As a peaceful attendant at the protests, I found it hard to
believe they were talking about the same events.
The entire fiasco was orchestrated by media, police and politicians
alike. In the preceding week NSW police Minister Michael Costa beat up the
possibility of violence to such a crescendo that is no surprise his
officers were caught up in the hysteria and visibly affected.
One medic observed that at least one female police officer had all the
classic symptoms of amphetamine use. Other officers refused to identify
themselves after being observed throwing punches purposely aimed at
people's throats. Some arrested protesters complained of handcuffs so
tight as to cut off circulation. The role of a medic is to observe for
injuries among the crowd and remain aloof from the action itself but one
was arrested and had his equipment smashed while being called a terrorist.
The Daily Telegraph, a part of the multinational corporation
News Ltd, was, of course, not interested in the issues behind the
protests. It faithfully reported every piece of propaganda emanating from
the Police Minister's office, even adding to the farce with a piece about
a fictitious character "Johnny Hammerlock" who was supposed to
represent the archetypal anarchist activist, complete with balaclava and
The majority of the protestors were peaceful, happy, festive,
colourful, and even meditative. Bubble blowing, game playing, street
theatre, dressing up and dancing all worked to diffuse anger in the crowd.
The importance of journalistic bias was not lost on the crowd, a group of
twenty subverting a Channel Nine reporter trying to make his
sensationalist protestor-violence report with chants of "liar,
liar". Many people approached by the mainstream media refused to talk
because of fear of being misrepresented.
The Friday afternoon papers propogandised about the success of
unbridled free trade in both articles on the protests and editorial. An
award for 'selfish interest' should be given to Michael Duffy, writing an
editorial for The Daily Telegraph and The Australian, who
claimed that protestors were "powered by ignorance". We are
certainly not ignorant of the fact that Duffy is a supporter of the
right-wing neo-liberal think tank The
Institute of Public Affairs. Suffice to say he thinks it's OK for some
people to suffer so others like him can prosper and wear Nike shoes.
Numerous forums and workshops leading up to and during the three days
of protests spoke of a diverse and deep understanding among protest groups
of the issues associated with the globalisation of trade through WTO.
Among the groups was a common theme: that unbridled free trade controlled
by an undemocratic institution run by corporate interests is not going to
deliver equity to the world. It will deliver global monopolies and big
profits to corporations, enabling them to buy out subsistence farmers,
flood their markets with goods they grow themselves making it impossible
for them to survive . However, this was not mentioned by any mainstream
The WTO exists because the UN in the 1940s attempted to found a
democratic institution to govern trade, the International Trade
Organisation (ITO). Twenty-three of the world's richest countries,
realising that democracy and social interest were always going to be a
barrier to their raw self interest decided to form their own agreement,
the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs or GATT. The WTO, equipped with
legislative power enforced by fines and sanctions and adjudicated by just
three 'experts', was formed in 1995 to scuttle the largely voluntary GATT
just as GATT scuttled the ITO. This body has become immensely powerful and
succeeds today because raw self interest is the motivating force in
politics, as it is in industry. There is no reason to suppose that the WTO
and its agreements won't be scuttled at some future date when it ceases to
meet the greed of the rich men who run it.
The reporting by the mainstream newspapers should not be surprising.
They could hardly report the protests otherwise: the journalists working
for mainstream newspapers are working for a virtual propaganda machine.
That machine, run by a dozen or so huge multinational corporations, has
far-reaching interests encompassing everything in the media realm and
beyond including big tobacco, sports and agricultural production. It is
bouyed by its ability to support the status quo by pacifying the bulk of
us with info-tainment while promoting the interests of its owners,
politicians and neo-liberals everywhere.
To these media organisations, protests are not a valid exercise of
democracy but are info-tainment events used to sell more advertisements.
Little wonder they ignored the largely peaceful and festive events like
protestors taking a swim in Hyde Park fountain and dancing in the streets,
and concentrated only on the 'violence' caused by the police actions.
So long as most Australians go on believing that newspapers report the
truth of events, then real issues will continue to be ignored and the
protest movement will ultimately fail. The only light under this most
recent media blanket was the number of readers of The Daily Telegraph
who wrote letters saying they felt they were being lied to and the
coverage was biased.
Whew! Someone IS paying attention ...