Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Five Worst Media Failures 2007," October 2, 2007.

World Report has used lists of neglected or underreported stories since the beginning. In the last three years I have offered my own list of the top 5 most underreported stories. But the idea of underreported stories bothered me. Some stories are overreported and crowd the important ones out.

In Canada a special type of media failure occurs because of the importance the US

media ascribes to its own stories. General Romeo Dallaire recalls bitterly that at the height of the Rwandan genocide, the world, including many Canadians, were obsessing over OJ Simpson's gloves.

Then there was the reporting on the phony “bad science” of climate change, which represents at least three decades of media failure.

Some issues like the so-called 911 truth movement and the movement opposing secrecy about the plans for a North American Union are in a sense not failures at all, because information gets out anyway despite the mainstream commercial media.

Media failure includes underreporting but also some other phenomena like the crowding out, the overwhelming by American media, and the filtering of certain details from a story in order to a make it fit in with a particular political agenda.

Demonizing Ahmadinejad

First on my list for this year is the demonization of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Back in January of 2006, Maclean's magazine called him “the scariest man on earth” and I responded that he was “the new demon.” That was the old days.

This month, visitors to the World Report blog thought President Bush was scarier than Ahmadinejad by a margin of 5 to 2.

To illustrate this deepening process of demonization, practically every story about Ahmadinejad now includes a sentence or two citing his remark that Israel should be wiped off the map or his desire to wipe Israel off the map. The wording is exact as if the reporter were quoting “wiped off the map” or sometimes, if the reporter is especially hysterical about it, as the CBC's Henry Champ was last week, “wiped off the face of the earth.” But “wiped” nontheless.

Arash Norouzi is an Iranian co-founder of the Mossadegh Project. He calls this “wiping off the map” the rumour of the century:

“the 'quote' in question [he says] was itself a quote— they are the words of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Revolution. Although he [Ahmadinejad] quoted Khomeini to affirm his own position on Zionism, the actual words belong to Khomeini and not Ahmadinejad. Thus, Ahmadinejad has essentially been credited (or blamed) for a quote that is not only unoriginal, but represents a viewpoint already in place well before he ever took office."

Norouozi goes on to quote the original Farsi:

"That passage will mean nothing to most people, [he says] but one word might ring a bell: rezhim-e. It is the word 'Regime', pronounced just like the English word with an extra "eh" sound at the end. Ahmadinejad did not refer to Israel the country or Israel the land mass, but the Israeli regime. This is a vastly significant distinction, as one cannot wipe a regime off the map. Ahmadinejad does not even refer to Israel by name, he instead uses the specific phrase ... (regime occupying Jerusalem).

"So this raises the question.. what exactly did he want 'wiped from the map'? The answer is: nothing. That's because the word 'map' was never used. The Persian word for map, 'nagsheh', is not contained anywhere in his original farsi quote, or, for that matter, anywhere in his entire speech. Nor was the western phrase 'wipe out' ever said. Yet we are led to believe that Iran's President threatened to 'wipe Israel off the map', despite never having uttered the words 'map', 'wipe out' or even 'Israel'".

The actual quotation, translated directly into English is quote

“The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."

It seems our political commentators have transformed an observation into an incitement.

Norouzi interprets the differences between the press reports and the language of the actual quotation at length, and this is not the place to delve into the details. Links are available on the World Report blog at worldreport dot sea jay elle wye dot net.

Mistranslation and misattribution are just two themes in an ongoing campaign of vilification and misinformation about a man whose weaknesses and strengths we seriously need to understand. Demonization is a bad sign for everyone.

More needs to be said about this, but the purpose of this particular occasion is simply to identify the story as a media failure.

Rights and Democracy

Number two is Canada's pseudo NGO--an organization called Rights and Democracy.

According to its website, Rights and Democracy "is an independent organization at arm's-length from the Government of Canada." But those arms are short indeed. Even though for income tax purposes it is deemed to be a tax-exempt charity, and technically it is not an agent of the Crown, Rights and Democracy was originally created in 1985 as the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development by a Parliamentary Act of the same name.

It is funded by parliament to the tune of some $3million a year and reports to Parliament through a Minister appointed to that role. A majority of the Directors including the President and the Chairman are appointed by Cabinet. The rest are appointed by the Board itself. The President, officers and employees are considered to be employed in the Public Service when it comes to calculating their retirement benefits.

It has had projects in Tibet, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Haiti, and Afghanistan to name just a few.

The US has used its own larger network of pseudo-NGOs to overthrow governments in places Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia.

The US National Endowment for Democracy funded a Venezuelan NGO involved in the attempt to overthrow the Chavez government, a charge which the US denies, but evidence from a freedom of information act request is available on the internet.

Why does Canada need a phony charitable civil society organization? Why does the national press have so little to say about its activities? Is that scandalous? That's hard to say the way it's hard to say about depleted uranium and genetically modified crops but, like them, it is certainly a suspicious silence and one that deserves more attention from independent journalists because it's not getting any from the mainstream.

Export Development Canada and the Tenke copper mine (DRC)

Number three, the Tenke copper-cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo includes two themes from previous years' media failures—the behaviour of Canadian companies abroad and a regular office in the bureacracy of wealthy—some would say imperial—nations like Canada: the export credit agency.

Export credit agencies provide for the largest source of debt in the developing world—more than the World Bank, more than the IMF—and with good reason.

Public pressure has got the World Bank and the IMF to implement minimal requirements for environmental protection, labour rights and poverty reduction. Export Credit Agencies offer tax money to help national corporations get around these cumbersome requirements, which add—some say unnecessarily--to the cost of doing business.

Just as pseudo NGOs masquerade as NGOs, export credit agencies—Candada's is called Export Development Canada--masquerade as private-sector insurance companies.

Most of us imagine that foreign aid is about building schools, digging wells, feeding the hungry. But not so fast.

The Tenke project covers one of the largest copper-cobalt deposits in the world. Canada's Tenke Mining and the American company Freeport McMoRan, which used to be Phelps Dodge, together hold a majority stake. And Export Development Canada is offering support. Odd that you haven't heard about it, eh?

You will, you will.

The Dukes of Detainee

The fourth of the worst five media failures on my list is one I call the Dukes of Detainee and its an example of the shell game con. It is the other story about Afghan detainees. Not the ones you heard about all spring who are tortured in Afghan prisons after they are turned over by Canadian troops. Not those. These detainees were arrested in the village of Dukah and may have been tortured by Canadian troops. That was before they were handed over to Afghan authorities and were subsequently discovered by Canadian military investigators to have disappeared altogether. More in the months to come.

Katrina Rita Hurricane Tribunal
That brings me to the fifth, and probably least reported of all—the International tribunal on hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I learned about it from Pambazuka news, a British e-journal on social justice in Africa. Not a peep this side of the pond. The organizers put it this way:

Despite ample warning,

“the US government had neither prepared for evacuation, nor mobilised to evacuate thousands of people displaced from their homes and left to die on their roofs and in the rubble of the devastation.
“In the chaos of their own incompetence and racist rumors, local, state and federal governments sent military and mercenary personnel to New Orleans. They launched a military invasion aimed at removing the Black population and containing a potential rebellion, rather than sending a relief effort. New Orleans became a battle zone between government and mercenary forces seeking to 'protect' the white neighbourhoods of the city and the surrounding suburbs from the Black mass fleeing the floods and seeking refuge from the disaster and race induced neglect. Dozens were murdered and arrested by various government forces and mercenaries as the media fuelled and justified human rights abuses by their unfounded, later to be found completely untrue, reports of mass looting and rape.”

Cynthia McKinney attended the opening. The tribunal has already issued preliminary findings and will report in full this December.

These media failures are not presented in any particular order. Worst media failure of the year is not a prize, and it is more than a disgrace. Each one is a very dangerous situation for us all.

When the media fails, its as if someone has slipped a hood over our heads—collectively. It may even seem that one of the institutions that is supposed to protect our democracy and prevent our government from becoming tyrannical has turned on us and treated us as if we were an enemy from whom the truth had to be concealed.

It is a threat to our security.

Busy people are left with no option but to repeat what they are told and believe it as if it were the truth.

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