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Media Critics of the World Unite


Serge Halimi

Few

countries publish as many books and articles on media criticism as the United

States. Logically, all of this good work has little to no effect on the shaping

and publication of news. Any adequate criticism, which describes media

indoctrination (overt or " innocent ") as the natural by-product of a

system of domination, cannot expect to find " mistakes " and should

hardly insist on reform. What is too essential to be " repaired " is

bound to remain unsalvageable within the existing system. It is.

So,

what is puzzling is something else. Why do media critics in the U.S. often seem

so ignorant of, and indifferent to, what happens elsewhere in the world,

especially when a comparative approach would add a lot to the effectiveness of

their work ? Like the following ideas : no, America is not so

"exceptional" ; yes, the personal ideas and antics of Dan Rather,

Barbara Walters, Thomas Friedman, and Larry King matter very little in the end ;

elsewhere too, unexceptional exceptions abound, other " fast thinkers

" can be trusted to speak for those who already own the world.

But

whereas we know about you, many of us, you don’t about us. We know about the

General Electrics and the Disneys who own your NBCs and ABCs. We know about your

pundits, your great communicators, their former communications directors (George

Stephanopoulos’s latest book, for instance, is just about to be published into

French). We know about Matt Drudge, Oprah and the Fall of the Wall (at the LA

Times). What do you know about us ? How many Americans, even among media

analysts, care in any way about the European reach and power of TF1 and Vivendi

?

When

you describe for us the way in which Pete Williams, the Pentagon spokesman

during the Gulf War, became, almost immediately after the war, the NBC

correspondent at the Pentagon, we understand something about the connection

between the military and a network whose parent company, General Electric, sells

weapons to the Pentagon. We understand something about ownership, power, and

propaganda.

Likewise,

for you, would it not be helpful to know that TF1, the largest television

network in Europe, treats very generously the foreign leaders who decide big

governement contracts on behalf of Bouygues, the huge building conglomerate

which owns a large share of TF1. Like the late King Hassan II of Morocco who let

Bouygues build the Casablanca mosque. Like Angola’s Jonas Savimbi who was

counted on to sign Bouygues for off-shore drilling platforms. Like the president

of the Ivory Coast who granted Bouygues the water and electricity markets in his

country. Would it not be helpful to American critics of the media to know that

Vivendi, the largest employer in France, owns one of the biggest French

television station, Canal Plus, and scores of magazines ; that its president,

Jean-Marie Messier, was the governement official who, between 1986 and 1988,

organized the privatization of the company he now directs ? More generally, how

many Americans have any idea of how the war in Kosovo was covered in France,

Nigeria, India?

And,

regarding pundits, do you imagine how stale the political, cultural, and

economic discourse can be when a mere thirty commentators, who basically agree

that we live in the best of worlds and who live in the same neighborhoods of

Paris, pontificate on everything, trade favors and positions, " debate

" one another, thus setting the perimeter of what the discussion should be

about ? Of course, you can imagine. After all, the United States has set the

model for this not-so-subtle indoctrination cloaked in the lordly theories of

democratic intercourse. Still, Americans rarely seem to even try to enrich their

analyses with examples drawn from outside the United States. Just how many

articles – not to mention books ! – published between New York and Los Angeles

address media issues through non-American cases and lenses ? This is too bad, of

course : nothing explains better the systemic nature of the media beast we are

fighting than a journey through some of the countries it has ideologically

reshaped, making them more pliable to the interests by which it is owned.

In

Gannett’s Newseum, near Arlington cemetery, there is an exhibit " narrating

" the history of journalism. Unsurprisingly, it only tells a history of

American journalism. In this parochialism, however, Gannett is hardly different

from its most ferocious critics.

Serge

Halimi

Le Monde diplomatique

21, bis rue Claude Bernard

75242 Paris Cedex 05

Tel : 01-42-17-28-61

Courriel bureau / Office email : Serge.Halimi@Monde-Diplomatique.fr

 

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