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WTO ON HIGH MEDIA GROUND - Norman SDolomon



Vol. 5, No. 1216W  -  The American Reporter  -  December 5, 1999 

The Crisis of Globalism
COMMENTARY: NEARING GLOBAL SUMMIT, WTO ON HIGH MEDIA GROUND
by Norman Solomon  American Reporter Correspondent  Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON -- When thousands of protesters converge on Seattle at the end
of this month to challenge the global summit of the World Trade
Organization (WTO), they're unlikely to get a fair hearing from America's
mass media.
 
Consider how one of the nation's most influential newspapers framed the
upcoming confrontation as November began. The Washington Post reported on
its front page that the WTO has faced "virulent opposition" -- an
assessment not quoted or attributed to anyone -- presumably just a matter
of fact.

Virulent? According to my dictionary, the mildest definition of the word is
"intensely irritating, obnoxious or harsh." The other definitions:
"extremely poisonous or pathogenic; bitterly hostile or antagonistic;
hateful."

Don't you just love objective reporting?

Headlined above the fold on page one of the Post, the Nov. 2 article went
on to quote four pro-WTO sources: the organization's president, a top
executive at the Goldman, Sachs investment firm, the U.S. trade
representative and a member of the British House of Commons. In contrast,
quotations from foes of the WTO were scarce and fleeting.

Such coverage of trade issues is significant because it's routine. For much
of the U.S. news media, the virtues of economic globalization are
self-evident, like motherhood and apple pie.

Overall, in recent years, journalists depicted the NAFTA and GATT trade
pacts as steps toward rationality and global progress. Opponents have been
frequently discussed -- but not often heard. The media "debate" over
globalization has resembled the sound of one side clapping.

Many of the anti-WTO activists heading to Seattle have gained in-depth
knowledge about key aspects of trade and the global economy. They will
share a great deal of information and deep concern about the environment,
labor, human rights and economic justice.

Meanwhile, in the halls of corporate power, strategists are worried.

The Nov. 8 issue of Business Week features a downbeat piece by Jeffrey
Garten, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration,
who declares: "In late November, Seattle is likely to be the scene of a big
test for global capitalism. That's when more than 1,000 nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) are planning to disrupt the kickoff of a new round of
global trade negotiations."

Similar concerns are being voiced by many other media commentators. What
are they afraid of? Undue democratic participation in decision-making. NGOs
"have skillfully exploited the void between shrinking governments unable to
cushion the impact of change on ordinary citizens and multinational
companies that are the agents of that change," Garten writes.

Translation: Huge firms have been able to bend and shape government
policies, while "ordinary citizens" have suffered dire consequences. Rather
than passively accept the results, activist groups are resisting -- and
what's worse, they're getting somewhere.

"While governments and chief executives bore the public and the media with
sterile abstractions about free markets," Garten adds, "NGOs are sending
more nuanced messages sensitive to the anxieties of local communities
around the world. At the same time, they are preparing sophisticated
strategies to influence television networks, newspapers and magazines."
 
Translation: Activists are threatening to usurp the prerogatives of big
money to determine the main media messages.

"If Washington and Corporate America don't move decisively," Garten warns,
"NGOs could dominate public opinion on global trade and finance."

Translation: Washington and Corporate America must make sure that they
continue to dominate public opinion.

But the fears of some are the hopes of others: During the week after
Thanksgiving, events in Seattle could signify a breakthrough for advocates
of democratic processes. The surfacing activism could create a new dynamic
powerful enough to shift the terms of public discourse.

Throughout this decade, as government leaders and corporate execs have
marched to the beat of multinational drums, grassroots oppositional
movements have taken root and flowered in many communities. Gradually,
since the founding of the World Trade Organization five years ago, they
have developed ways to monitor the secretive WTO's activities and to work
together -- across boundaries of race, class, language, culture and
nationality.

Truly democratic procedures -- not unelected WTO officials -- should
determine the rules of the global economy. The implications are profound:
for human rights, workers, public health and the environment. With a
worldwide movement emerging to challenge the corporate globalizers, we'll
see how much of its message can get through the media filters during the
historic Seattle summit.

Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."

Copyright 1999 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.