Saturday, 26 January 2013


Besides the US where the vast majority of the people believe that they live in a 'democracy' - not to be confused with Scandinavian democratic models - Western nations have been experiencing a gradual road toward what I call 'Authoritarianism light'. This has been the case especially since the US institutionalized the 'war on terror' - operating domestically under the Patriot Act. The war on terror is the new Cold War against generic Islamist militants that replaced the old Cold War against 'generic Communism').

The new Cold War campaign, accompanied by an ideology and a package of domestic and foreign policies as well as a series of laws, is largely a mechanism to impose sociopolitical conformity, given that the new Cold War has been institutionalized in the same manner as the old Cold War. Therefore, the 'war on terror' fills the gap that the Cold War left behind and permits imperial policies abroad and quasi-police policies at home that are intended to engender sociopolitical conformity at home and preserving the pre-Cold War world order globally.

The media has played the most significant role in the transition from Cold War democracy to 'authoritarianism light'. Mainstream media has played a catalytic role in promoting the culture of conformity behind the thin veneer of the 'war on terror', a fairly meaningless term that is very subjective. The term is so hollow and subjective that it allows many around the world to argue that 'terrorism' is linked with rebels, regardless of the differences between different groups seeking social justice, and regardless of whether they are Muslim or not. At the same time, there are those arguing the US and its Western allies are the most destructive terrorists simply because they have caused the most casualties on the planet and they have not just military means but economic as well to destroy.

Mainstream media goes along with the subjective and politically-defined 'loaded term' of terrorism that the government uses for its own ends, a term that stigmatizes Muslim and non-Muslim rebels and dissidents world-wide. Similarly, both government and media treat all issues from the prism of that new Cold War perspective, painting with the same broad brush stokes all rebel groups, Muslim and non-Muslim, as terrorists. This is not necessarily a new thing, given that under Tsarist Russia in the 19th century, any dissident defying the oppressive regime and seeking social justice was an enemy of the state and thus a terrorist no different than the most extreme Anarchists using violence against authority.

To demonstrate the subjective and political use of the terminology, and the media's role in molding public opinion, let us take some specific events of the recent past, events that continue to preoccupy world public opinion. The Arab Spring uprisings were a case of Arab people seeking 'freedom and democracy' against tyranny; this as far as Western governments argued and Western media reported. In some Arab Spring uprisings there were al-Qaeda elements that the US and its Western partners as well as the media had defined as terrorists in Afghanistan. However, the West found itself i on the same side as terrorists because the larger goal was overthrowing regimes in select Muslim countries. This meant overlooking what would otherwise be terrorist groups and collaborating, something that started in 2010 across northern Africa and continues in Syria in 2013.

Digging deeper and taking case by case uprisings, one sees that the Western media did several things to serve as a mouthpiece of government.

1. The media never covered, or very superficially covered those countries allied with the US and NATO, Saudi Arabia among the most significant authoritarian countries. This meant that only one side was presented, namely that of the Western government and the rebels that the West backed, while the other side was reduced to a demonizing role.

2. Because the perspectives that the Western media presented were in accordance with the national security interests of their governments, there was no attempt to touch upon issues that exposed all of the underlying causes, including the anti neo-colonialist sentiment among the rebels. In short, the rebels that the West was backing in Arab Spring were 'freedom-seeking, democracy-loving' presumably pro-Westerners; something that was very far from the reality in any country going through Arab Spring.

3. While US-NATO worked to overthrow regimes that al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups also targeted as was the case in Libya, the media remained almost mute on the significant issue of the West selectively choosing to collaborate with rebels in one country - Libya for example, but not doing so in another, namely Yemen. In Yemen and Libya al-Qaeda was active, but the West backed the Yemen regime, while opposed Qaddafi. A similar situation holds true in 2013 when Alawites are fighting against Sunni Muslims in Syria, and where it is documented that rebels have been responsible for atrocious crimes. Although these rebels seeking to remove Assad from power would be terrorists as far as the Syrians are concerned, the rebels enjoy the full backing of the West, so they are in fact freedom fighters.

The mainstream Western media reports US aid for rebels fighting against the Syrian government as 'aid for Syria' or 'aid for the Syrian people', as though the only Syria that exists is the one the rebels are occupying, and the only Syrian people are the ones that are not supporting the Assad regime. The main issue for the mainstream Western media is that the Assad regime is killing civilians that the US and the West, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey are helping; as simple as that.

That Assad wants to stay in power and that Russia is backing him for geopolitical reasons, with China also providing soft diplomatic backing is a topic that makes news only as an example of how the West is obstructed by former Communist allies of Syria. Simpleminded Cold War style reporting in this case reflects the ultimate goal of serving Western government geopolitical and business interests that want regime change. What if Assad is replaced by yer another dictatorship, even one that may not be as friendly to the West, as long as Assad goes and there is a change to satisfy NATO, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

4. During the Arab Spring revolts, there was very superficial coverage, even if there were correspondents on the scene during the uprisings. They usually focused on individual protesters stating on the record that they wanted 'democracy', leaving the Western audience to assume US-style democracy as opposed to Norwegian, as opposed to a mix that includes Islam, a constitutional commitment to pluralism, and above all national sovereignty that includes political, military and economic sovereignty. This last part regarding sovereignty at the core of Arab Spring was rarely mentioned, because it conflicted with the US-NATO 'freedom and democracy' agenda, and this from governments that violate the civil rights and human rights within their own borders.

The cases illustrated above by themselves do not point to Western democracy lapsing toward 'Authoritarianism light', but if one examines domestic policies of Western countries, especially economic, fiscal, and labor policies, then the perspective changes. Let us consider that neo-liberal policies under globalization have created a more unequal society in the West than at any time in modern history, and that this could not be possible in the absence of media promoting the agenda of the political and financial elites. Distracting public opinion through the mass media with preoccupation of 'the terrorist threat' works to engender institutional conformity.

The question is whether this system of gross socioeconomic inequality and marked absence of social justice in countries that have moved toward quasi-police state solutions can be called by the generic name 'democracy', or 'authoritarianism light'? Political, social and economic hegemony of a small percentage of the population that rules through an elected political class is typically called Democracy because voters have the right to choose from candidate of the political class, but this is only an illusion of a socially just society swimming in injustice. In essence such a system is a form of "Kyriarchal plutocracy" (dominant rule by the rich), and the political regime is quasi-authoritarian, or authoritarian light.

The case of the massive retreat of labor unions in the last decade, especially in the last five years during the global economic contraction is a manifestation of authoritarianism light taking hold. It is true that one measure of a healthy democracy is a healthy middle class and social justice for all people. The statistics we have indicate that the West, especially the US have been suffering a shrinking middle class in the past three decades, erosion of middle class and working class incomes, and a sharp decline in social justice accompanied by the demise of the social welfare state replaced with the corporate welfare state.

Legislative and judicial means have been used to de-institutionalize the welfare state and weaken trade unions, along with police intervention in cases of protests, labor strikes and demonstrations. The mass media propagates that legitimacy emanates from conformity, regardless of the lack of social justice, thus fomenting the new phenomenon of 'authoritarianism light'.  Labor unions that have been targeted by businesses interested in lowering wages and benefits, so they can compete with the Chinese and Indian economies.

Amid all of this, what has been the role of the media in labor-management issues? Does the media report that there is a direct correlation between declining trade unionism and declining middle class? Does the media report that the rise of the corporate welfare state replacing the social welfare state requires weakened trade unions throughout the Western World. Does the media report that the deep economic recession starting in 2008 and lingering to this day requires massive transfer of capital from labor to banks and corporations so they can become even more competitive while the social fabric on which 'democracy' has been built is destroyed? None of the above.

The media reflects the official position of governments and has debates only within the narrow confines of the existing neo-liberal system operating under globalization (global economic integration that absorbs capital from the lower classes and from the periphery to the core countries). Therefore, the media has been projecting the image that legitimacy rests within the boundaries of a socially unjust society that can be called democracy simply because people have the right to vote.

The following case study illustrates how the media promotes 'authoritarianism light' and undercuts social justice that is the essence of democracy. During an 10-day labor strike by metro workers in Athens, Greece that ended on 25 January 2013, domestic and foreign correspondents reported the news story copying the arguments the government was making, without bothering to report the causes of the strike as the labor union had stated that cause.

The government argued that the real cause of the strike was a) unionists did not want a 25% cut of their wages; b) they wanted to retain privileged trade union wages, because some earned higher wages than college professors; c) they were obstructing the IMF-EU austerity agreement by resisting to go along with the cuts; d) the leftist parties backed these radical trade unionists who were an obstacle to the harmonious running of the trains in a city of four million people; e) foreign investment demands social tranquility and trade union conformity to the neo-liberal reality in the land.  

It is the role of the media to investigate and determine the validity of the the government's case, but also interviewing the trade unions, political opposition, constitutional and labor lawyers, and non-government labor-management experts to determine what was really going on. None of this took place by any of the mainstream media services in the West, but also in English-speaking India media. Instead, the only side presented was that of the government and business, with labor unions and/or political opposition expressing discontent about the 'wage cuts', which was never at the center of the strike.

The general sentiment of the media was that in a country with official or statistical unemployment at 26% and unofficial at 32%, the metro workers were lucky to have jobs. Moreover, how can foreign investment come in the country if there are labor strikes? Therefore, instead of striking and inconveniencing 1.5 million metro riders and scaring investors, they should have accepted not just the additional pay cut of 25%, accepted the end of collective bargaining and the right to strike, and thanked God and country for having work.

Although leftist media, which is marginalized and has limited readership, reported the labor union story as an example of what austerity entails, using Greece as an example of what is generally taking place or will take place globally, not one word from the mainstream mass media that emergency law is used in time of war, natural disasters, or other related emergency.

The Military Junta in 1967-1974 was the last time that labor unions were crushed because the Junta wanted to end collective bargaining. The current government made up of a conservative party and two others calling themselves 'leftist', issued "civil mobilization order" to union members and threatened immediate dismissal, arrest and even imprisonment, unless they returned to work. Police raided the union-held train depot and forced an end to the strike.

With some variations of what actually took place, the way that the media - including BBC, CBC,  Times of India, FOXNEWS,  UK's Independent, REUTERS, DEUTSCHE WELLE Financial Times, New York Times, UPI, Washington Post, UK Guardian, and others continued to report the story did not change, referring to the issue of the public inconvenienced by a handful of militant unionists whose pay would be cut by 25%. The question of course is whether the mainstream media relied for its information only on the coalition government that has been seeking to break the unions as part of an effort to meet the IMF-EU privatization demands.

This is not a question of one-sided reporting, namely that of the pro-IMF-EU government pursuing austerity that has impoverished more than one-third of the population and caused unemployment to rise from 8% before austerity in 2009 to 26% at the end of 2012, with expectations that unemployment will reach above 30% in 2013. This is not an issue that the labor union was demanding government provide some safety net for collective bargaining, so that a newly-hired employee with a college degree does not earn 25% more than a non-degreed employee of 30-year service.

Nor is this an issue of the government refusing any negotiation with the union because it simply wanted to break it to send a signal to all unions that the era of neo-liberalism is here to stay. Finally, this is not an issue of  Constitutional lawyers arguing that transport workers are not covered in the fields of 'emergency staff' touching upon public safety and health, and that Greece is the only country in the EU that has used the Junta-based law to break the union's strike and impose the end of collective bargaining. The metro strike is but one small example of the erosion of democracy and the road to 'authoritarianism light' under neo-liberal policies that the rich Western nations are imposing in order to best serve finance capitalism at the expense of workers and the eroding middle class.

BBC on its web page as well as live coverage is case and point of massive journalistic distortion of this significant story that has reverberations for all of Europe.  The only issue for the media was that Greece was under austerity and workers needed to accept massive cuts, on top of existing cuts, something that labor union members were not disputing, arguing all along that the media focus on the real issue of collective bargaining that was a prelude to privatizing public enterprises without any collective bargaining contracts that private companies do not want.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation followed the general media line that the real cause of the strike was the cut in wages, indicating that real income cuts since 2009 have dropped  by 30%. Not a word about collective bargaining, crushing the labor unions through police-state methods similar to those used by the Military Junta, or that the ultimate goal of the entire affair was to make public enterprises attractive to foreign investors who want not just low wages, but elastic labor-management relations uncomplicated by collective bargaining contracts.

In sharp contrast to the manner that the mainstream media covered the metro trade union strike, the media treated the bombing of a mall in Athens that is owned by a billionaire received in the dramatic fashion of yet another 'terrorist' act. The Greek government has been trying to identify the main political opposition party SYRIZA, a center-left party committed both to NATO and EU integration, as a party tolerating terrorism. This story, which is reminiscent of Cold War ideological and political dichotomy, received the treatment of a 'terrorist glamor story' by the mainstream media, again without any investigation to determine who was behind the bombing. The rush to stigmatize the political opposition opposed to austerity and anti-labor policies was not just bad journalism, but an integral part of propagating to promote authoritarianism light.

Reading this article, one may conclude that in the specific cases of the Arab countries and Southern Europe, the media does not do a good job, or it simply reports official (government and business perspectives) versions because that is what media has always done, given that it is the way it survives. However, the issue here is that the Western mainstream media is serving a political economy based in the West - its political, military and financial interests - all at the cost of undercutting democracy while helping to promote what is emerging as 'authoritarianism light'. Some have argued that we live under financial juntas hiding behind political parties that change seats from opposition to government every few years. The issue remains that the entire institutional structure pushing society toward authoritarianism. How long before people wake up to see that their society having no respect for social justice is not a democracy as the media insists?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I must beg to differ with you in regard to idealogues exhibiting progroms that are similar to Cold War era. Social and economic tactics being pursued now are pre WW II with nano technology merged into medical processes.