The Mainstream Media and Free Trade
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The mainstream media has been flooded by corporate globalization proponents and heavily backed by those that will profit from it the most. This makes public debate more difficult. Given that most of the media companies are privately owned corporations themselves interested in making profits, this also makes them a natural partner for proponents of corporate globalization and advertisers that they need to attract.
In fact, some supporters of the current model of globalization portray an almost romantic notion of market forces being natural. However, the media as well as various institutions have helped to create1 and facilitate the emergence of market forces. Also, that means that these entities are likely to continue to have influence over such
On this page:
Not explaining theory from reality and impact on poor
In the previous section on this site on some criticisms2 of free trade, it is suggested that the current model of globalization is not
free trade though it is claimed to be and though that is the term used to describe the current system. Instead, it is suggested that the corporate capitalism is more like the older monopoly or mercantilist capitalism of previous centuries. These previous systems fostered hostile conditions, plunder and even wars. Yet, we cannot expect the mainstream media to discuss this;
- Mainstream media companies themselves are large corporations.
- If they support the current process, then of course suggesting that the global system may be mercantilist, for example is not going to be seriously looked at.
- Adam Smith, often regarded as the founder of modern free market capitalism with his influential book in 1776, The Wealth of Nations was highly critical of both big government and big corporations for their undue power and influences that distorted free markets. Often, the media is good at highlighting systemic problems of
big governmentbut less of
big business(although individual instances will likely be analyzed deeply, such as the Enron collapse, while the underlying ideologies will not).
(See the media3 section on this web site for more about the corporate influence on media in the US and around the world).
Developing nations, especially the poorer ones, have already been dealt an unfair hand by corporate globalization oriented policies, such as the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and World Bank (which have required cut-backs in things like health and education, and other government spending deemed to be a barrier to market forces). As a result, poverty has increased and there has been more volatility4 and less economic stability, while making it easier for the corporations to influence conditions. Discussions about economic issues are often left to business sections in news reporting, unless it is very major news.
And yet, it is likely that it is unintentional that the mainstream desires a world of inequality, or knowingly supports a system that leads to it. As J.W. Smith suggests, the economic processes have become a lot more sophisticated today and it is sometimes harder to see outside it:
However, economic decisions and policies impact people around the world. A broader discussion and presentation to a wider audience is therefore important. As disparities the world over have increased, between the haves and the have-nots, Smith quoted above, adds
While Smith wrote the above in 1994, it is applicable today as well, with the recent wave of news about
corporate crime and fascination of some CEOs and other executives as some major American companies have faced bankruptcy or have collapsed. Yet, the media, while offering an outpouring of news and analysis have by and large concentrated on individual characters and looked for scapegoats (CEOs being the current flavor!). The impacts of the underlying system itself has been less discussed and when it has, often been described as basically ok, but just affected by a few
bad apples. As media critic Norman Solomon describes,
Access to Information and Economics
While it sometimes appears as though trade and economic issues are boring and not of interest for most people in a society, it is in fact one of the most important. Economic decisions affect not only businesses, but individuals. Most wars throughout history have had economic and trade resources at their core. Legislation, or removal of some, can have an impact on factors such as working conditions, job security and wage stability. Access to information9, then, plays an important part of enabling a society to know more about its nation's trade and economic policies.
Most agree that one part of allowing access to information is to ensure governments make their information available to their public in the first place. This is also enshrined in the UN's Declaration of Human Rights. However, while there is some progress being made in increasing the transparency of some governments, it is often just rhetoric. In addition, it is just one aspect of society. In the increasingly globalized world where some transnational corporations wield a lot of political power as well, there are legitimate questions about whether private corporations should also be held accountable to the public via access to their information.
International institutions like the World Bank recognize the importance of the media in development issues. As a result they are attempting to address this more. However, they wish to directly influence journalists to promote their ideas and perspectives of markets and globalization etc, whereas critics, including Frank Vogl, former World Bank Director of Information and Public Affairs suggest that the Bank instead supports NGOs and independent foundations to carry out education for journalists. This way, the Bank is not seen as unfairly influencing important issues. Additionally, by supporting a myriad of NGOs and others, they may provide a better forum, or potential, to provide more balanced critique and support, based on issues at hand, rather than ideological influences and perspectives, which would be the effect if the World Bank was to directly influence journalists. (See this article10 from the Bretton Woods project for more information on this aspect.)
Inaccurate Stereotyping of Protestors
Readers might be familiar with the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, USA during November 1999. These protests were covered by the mainstream media concentrating on images of the violence, the riot police beating back the
ruthless (and unarmed) protestors who were
anti-trade and anti-international etc.
The mainstream media made it seem that the protestors were misguided, when, in fact, they were protesting the concerns that a lot of people around the world have been raising for years. The protestors were in fact largely pro international trade, but not in its current corporate-led form (which is also not free trade, which proponents confuse the theory and reality with).
During that protest, there was indeed a minor element that were involved in violence, but most by far were non-violent. However, violence and sensationalism sell. Media corporations benefit from the current form of globalization. Combine both these perspectives and it is easy to see how the media distorted the events.
The following highlights quite well some of the mainstream media response to dealing with the anti-corporate globalization protests: