Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Media faillure: variations on a theme


This morning on World Report we review several of the week's top stories from a larger perspective in order to glimpse, if we can, the motions of an agenda, a double standard, a general theme at work. Coverage of the NATO meeting in Bucharest, Romania, for example, portrayed Putin as aggressively “winning” one round and losing another while at least one important agreement was almost swept under the rug. A unique perspective on one of the week's most overtold story, the Free Tibet protests, comes from an unexpected source. At the same time, one of several stories of importance for Canadians was crowded to the margins. In Kinshasa, the new Congolese government finished its review of mining contracts negotiated by the previous corrupt dictatorship, and a Canadian company takes center stage.

Those stories in a few minutes, but first,

NATO in Bucharest

On Friday, the Times Online of London wrote of “Russia's new abrasiveness” and declared Putin “the winner on points” when the alliance declined to admit Georgia and Ukraine into membership.

For the CBC as for the NYT, the key story was France's decision to send 700 new troops. (NYT Apr 3 08)

Third and last was the decision to go ahead with missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. This was generally scored as a 2-to-1 victory over the abrasive Russians.

Another piece of the NATO story of potentially much greater importance in practical terms nearly escaped notice altogether. Back on March 6, James Blitz of the Financial Times had briefly reported that Russia had been talking to western governments about the possibility of allowing goods destined for the mission in Afghanistan to be transported across Russian territory.

This is important for several reasons. A substantial part of the supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan comes through the Pakistani port of Karachi. Figures range from 45 percent to 80 percent. Even the low end of that range is a lot, especially considering recent concerns about the stability of Pakistan.

The US has been evicted from its base in Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan has shown some displeasure at the American base on its soil by raising the rent.

Although the public debates moral questions about wars halfway around the globe, the practical problems of maintaining a 10,000 mile supply line are considerable. It is probably an exaggeration to say that without Karachi the war effort would collapse, but it would certainly become considerably more expensive.

While we may doubt the wisdom of Russia getting involved again in Afghanistan—have they learned their lesson or not?--still their offer to provide a supply route through their territory can hardly be portrayed as abrasive or unfriendly.

As far as I could tell, the CBC didn't portray it at all. Neither did CTV. But Ben O'Hara Byrn at the Global National has this 17 second report, briefly quoting UN Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Global: There was a breakthrough today on Afghanistan.

NATO: Russia and NATO have embarked upon a common, joint effort to help Afghanistan.

Global: Russia agreeing to allow some NATO force supplies to be shipped across its territory to Afghanistan avoiding more dangerous routes used now.

Meanwhile, Uri Avnery, the 80-something Israeli peace activist weighed in on how to frame the Tibet-China clashes that have so preoccupied the western press since March 10.

Avnery sees the clash between the Tibetans and the Chinese as a liberation struggle.

“Like everybody else, I support the right of the Tibetan people to independence, or at least autonomy. Like everybody else, I condemn the actions of the Chinese government there. But unlike everybody else, I am not ready to join in the demonstrations.

"Why? Because I have an uneasy feeling that somebody is washing my brain, that what is going on is an exercise in hypocrisy.”

This is not the place to reproduce Avnery's whole argument. You can read his article on the World Report blog or go directly to Gush Shalom.

He recognizes the CIA involvement, sees Tibet as a token in a game being played out between the superpower in decline and the superpower on the rise. But what about other liberation struggles and separation movements.

“...what is really bugging me,” he says, “is the hypocrisy of the world media. They storm and thunder about if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force...”

What about the Kurds or the inhabitants of Western Sahara whose territory is occupied by Morocco? What about the Basques or the Corsicans off the coast of France? Or the Chechnyans? What about the Serbs of Kosovo? Or the demands for separation by French-Canadians or Scots, or by Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia?

Ah, the issues in Georgia are not so simple as the reports from Bucharest would suggest.

Avnery asks, “What makes the blood of one Tibetan redder than the blood of a thousand Africans in East Congo?” The answer to that question may be gold, or diamonds, or coltan—maybe even copper.

Back in July 2007, the Halifax Initiative reported that the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Canada's tax-supported Export Development Corporation, and the European Investment Bank were ready to back the Tenke Fungurume copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Tenke project encompasses one of the largest copper-cobalt deposits in the world. The majority share is held by the US company Freeport McMoRan (formerly Phelps Dodge) and Canada’s Tenke Mining.

"In May, the government of the DRC announced its intention to revisit mining contracts signed over the past decade, during the war and under the transitional government in place until last year’s national elections. The review process, which got underway on June 18, responds to concerns raised in various audits, independent studies and a DRC parliamentary commission report, regarding the fairness and legality of the contracts. Organizations including the World Bank have cited concerns about mining contracts in the Congo, including: a lack of transparency in the negotiation and awarding of deals, undeclared conflicts of interest, the inclusion of ill-defined “management” fees and other questionable payments, a failure to properly assess Congolese assets and contributions to the deals, and the inclusion of disadvantageous terms to the Congolese government." (Halifax Initiative Jul 11 07).

Well, the government's review came out this March. The commission found that during the transition process (2003 - 2006) one third of the Congo was sold off to foreign companies without any discernible benefit to the Congo; that 4542 mining titles had been dispensed to 642 companies; that 90 percent of exports from DRC are either illegal or unregulated.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A summary of another eight key findings can be found on the World Report blog. But that is just the background for the bigger story, the East Congolese blood Avnery refers to.

Médecins Sans Frontières-Suisse has noted that since 2003, between 30 and 500 patients reported sexual assaults each month in Ituri. Panzi general hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu's capital, admits at least 10 victims of sexual assault daily, an average of 3,600 cases a year, according to its director, Denis Mukwege Mukengere. Since 2000, an estimated 16,000 victims of rape, some suffering from obstetric fistula, have been treated at the hospital.

That is to say nothing of killings, of internally displaced, of the new wheat fungus Ug99 (stem rust), of soaring food and fuel costs. The DRC is a country whose multiple wars were forced off the international stage by Afghanistan. That brings us just about full circle to the 700 new French troops for Afghanistan.

The KCR programme selection committee has approved a proposal to move World Report to a 30-minute format for next season. More interviews, more viewpoints, more special features.

In case you miss it, you can download an mp3 of the World Report broadcast in any one of several different ways depending on what is convenient for you. This week for the first time the World Report podcast is now available on iTunes. Go to iTunes dot com and enter Kootenay Coop Radio into the Search field and you should see icons for 10 KCR shows now available on iTunes. World Report continues to podcast for your personal use from radio4all dot net. Both sites allow you to get a free subscription updated each time a new show is posted. If you use an iPod or iTunes reader, subscribe from the iTunes site. If you use live bookmarks or a reader application radio4all will do the trick.

If you'd rather read than listen, text versions and reader comments are often available on the information-rich World Report blog at worldreport dot see jay elle wye dot net.

Don't forget the poll question. What do you see as the most urgent security issue? This question will run until the end of the current season on April 27. As I've mentioned before, it's not a scientific survey, but the answers are revealing. So far, no one who has answered the poll question has chosen terrorism, gun crime, HIV/AIDS or avian flu as the most urgent threat.

My thanks to Dave Embry KCR's podcasting technician who sees to it that the most recent show makes it onto iTunes; to Jon Steinman of Deconstructing Dinner for spearheading the iTunes podcasting project of KCR's Spoken Word Collective; and to Rik Logtenberg for pulling it all together on the new KCR website which is developing in his capable hands. Thanks to Kate Cormie at Sidewinders Coffee Company for their sponsorship of the World Report question of the day, and to Amber Hieb at CHLY in Nanaimo, BC and Mike Cannon at WNRB in Wasau, Wisconsin who rebroadcast World Report.

If you rebroadcast World Report, I'd like to learn more about your show and your station.

Feel free to comment or suggest a story. If you have information we should know about send your plain brown envelope to Box 767, Nelson, British Columbia Canada V1L 5R4 Attention: World Report or email to worldreport (alloneword) at sea jay el wai dot net.
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