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Protestors, media hype and the WTO

By Kim Kaos - posted Tuesday, 17 December 2002

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 "Molotov bong".

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 newspaper.


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 ...

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About the Author

Kim Kaos is an announcer on 4ZZZ FM and a columnist for Brisbane Indymedia.

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