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Friday, July 01, 2005

Fairfax boss dines on Blair spin

Mark Scott is editor-in-chief of Metropolitan, Regional and Community Newspapers for the Fairfax publishing group. An occasional public speaker, Scott today excels himself with an article on why the Sydney Morning Herald rarely examines the plight of Africa.

He writes: "A serious newspaper like the Herald tries not to shy away from presenting difficult but newsworthy stories that may confront and challenge. And we attempt to reveal the issues behind the horrifying statistics of world poverty and disease."

Scott argues that "serious" newspapers essentially ignore world poverty because the issues are unlikely to engage readers. However, now that people like Bono, Bob Geldof and Tony Blair are "pushing poverty back into the headlines", "editors will find it easier to put a big story about world poverty in their papers that people will read."

Scott's understanding of the issues is predictably Western-centric and shallow. The unspoken truth about the current round of "saving Africa" - clearly articulated by Webdiary's Brian Bahnisch - is the fraud being pushed onto the general public. As George Monbiot argues, "the G8’s debt reduction plan is little better than an extortion racket." Why?

The key to Blair's supposed generosity towards Africa is the requirement of developing nations to accept massive amounts of foreign investment. In other words, the privatisation of essential services, such as water, gas and electricity. This Western "generosity" took place across Latin America in the 1990s and mass movements reacted angrily to "our" multinationals buying a country's independence.

Monbiot explains:

"The G8 governments claim they want to help poor countries to develop and compete successfully. But they have a powerful commercial incentive to ensure that they compete unsuccessfully, and that our companies can grab their public services and obtain their commodities at rock bottom prices. The conditionalities we impose on the poor nations keep them on a short leash.

"That’s not the only conflict. The G8 finance ministers’ statement insists that the World Bank and IMF will monitor the indebted countries’ progress, and decide whether or not they are fit to be relieved of their burden. The World Bank and IMF, of course, are the agencies which have the most to lose from this redemption. They have a vested interest in ensuring that debt relief takes place as slowly as possible."

Scott's aims may be noble but his excuses for a major Australian newspaper are hollow. If he really wanted to engage the major issues related to debt and Africa, he'd invest in a full time journalist on the continent itself. Only the ABC has a full time reporter there, and she's supposed to cover every country!


Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

Oh but of course, Africa is just this homogenous whole. They're all black aren't they?

I think even Scott's article is just a skillful spin on old propaganda. His thesis seems to run like this

"The world is just a dreadful place. It's a real shame, but what can you do? Hell, if we wallowed in the misery of that fact all the time, we'd actually increase mass apathy. So we better not openly advertise the fact that our fellow humans are dying needlessly on a daily basis. Best to donate to Amnesty and buy music produced by Sir Bob and Bono."

Social change is an incremental process built on generations of rigorous struggle. Yes, it's not just enough to tell people how horrible the world is. But knowing about the ways of the world is the first step towards changing it. But when even that first step is omitted how can we expect anything other than empathy in the general population? Mark Scott's commentary is totally disingenuous.

Friday, July 01, 2005 10:03:00 pm  
Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

Sorry apathy NOT empathy. Freudian slip.

Friday, July 01, 2005 10:05:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

The media had covered famine in Africa repeatedly since the catastrophe of Biafra in 1968 and the hunger story had become a separate news genre. TV broadcasts aimed to stimulate moral outrage and claimed that individual viewers in the rich world didn't have to remain mere spectators. News went out hand in hand with charity appeals that told people they could 'do something' to save the children pictured on their screens. After the media circus of the 1984 Ethiopian famine, it got harder to shock people into responding. We were told that Europe and America had come down with 'donor fatigue'.

In this state of affairs there was no way to sell the story unless you could expose suffering on a scale rarely or never witnessed before. I once travelled with a British cameraman to a village in Sudan where the crops had failed. Our guides ordered the kids to parade in front of us and display their swollen bellies and thin limbs.

'I'm sorry,' said the cameraman. 'They're not thin enough.'

The Africans looked at him astonished.

'I can see they're hungry. But to the viewers they just don't look that far gone.' The journalist had to get thin ones. If he didn't, he would not be doing his job. He had been sent to find thin ones. He turned to the Africans and enunciated in a voice both loud and slow, 'NOT. THIN. ENOUGH!'

- The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley.

Saturday, July 02, 2005 11:30:00 am  
Blogger Iqbal Khaldun said...

A very interesting excerpt there, cheers. Sickening in its banality. As atomized individuals (as opposed to individual members of a socially active community), watching something on the tube, it's not surprising if people don't respond much. The response of those in positions of influence (government, business, NGOs) to a humanitarian crisis is to maintain the status quo. It's not just enough to donate to charities or vote for the Greens. People need to be involved. If people remain spectators their level of interest will reflect that. Much like most spectators at the footy. I doubt most would have a clue about how to play.

How do people get involved? Well the seeds of this already exist. For instance those eccentric Parliamentary committees. Did you see the recent news story noting that the Government rarely, if ever, acted on committee recommendations despite several people taking the trouble to make submissions and travel to Parliament at public expense? Has any major party ever considered creating laws that compel government to follow recommendations based on public consultation? I don’t know but am skeptical. There's plenty of other instances, as indicated by sociological and marketing research that get published from time to time. Plus, if you just speak to them, you find many people have an interest in getting involved in a range of social issues.

Because we live in relatively free societies, there's a presumption that the mere exposure of the truth, even if it is just the tip of the iceberg, is sufficient to galvanise major social change. That is almost never the case when it comes to bottom down social change. So don’t get me wrong. It’s not like there’s a revolution around the corner. But we should avoid just blaming public apathy for the ills of the world.

Saturday, July 02, 2005 8:42:00 pm  
Anonymous paul walter said...

Just caught the link to the site from web diary site. Looks a promising blogsite.
Am provoked to comment upon above, having just watched "Dateline" covering African poverty this evening, involving Malawi specifically, followed by a discussion involving George Monbiot and local think-tanker Alan Oxley.
Oxley is an (extreme) example of the point concerning Scott, while the sort of ugly and uncompromising (rare) broadsheet picture of the consequences of a ruined African economy, that ought to be shown prime time to viewers instead of the claptrap that is "A Current affair" or "Sixty adverts", etc.
Hope your readers get a chance to watch the Dateline repeat. This reader can not BELIEVE what he witnessed and heard, with Oxley.

Thursday, July 07, 2005 3:19:00 am  

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