Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mandela and Economic Apartheid: The Media's Hypocritical Oath

Media Lens
December 13, 2013.
What does it mean when a notoriously profit-driven, warmongering, climate-killing media system mourns, with one impassioned voice, the death of a principled freedom fighter like Nelson Mandela?

Does it mean that the corporate system has a heart, that it cares? Or does it mean that Mandela’s politics, and the mythology surrounding them, are somehow serviceable to power?

Consider, first, that this is what is supposed to be true of professional journalism:

‘Gavin Hewitt, John Simpson, Andrew Marr and the rest are employed to be studiously neutral, expressing little emotion and certainly no opinion; millions of people would say that news is the conveying of fact, and nothing more.’1

Thus, Andrew Marr, then BBC political editor, offering professional journalism’s version of the medical maxim, ‘First, do no harm’. First, do no bias.

The reality is indicated by Peter Oborne’s comment in the Telegraph:

‘There are very few human beings who can be compared to Jesus Christ. Nelson Mandela is one… It is hard to envisage a wiser ruler.’

Responding to 850 viewers who had complained that the BBC ‘had devoted too much airtime’ to Mandela’s death, James Harding, the BBC’s director of news, also expressed little emotion and certainly no opinion when he declared Mandela ‘the most significant statesman of the last 100 years, a man who defined freedom, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness’.

In other words, the corporate media had once again abandoned its famed Hypocritical Oath in affirming a trans-spectrum consensus. As ever, a proposition is advanced as indisputably true, the evidence so overwhelming that journalists simply have to ditch ‘balance’ to declare the obvious.

The motive is always said to be some pressing moral cause: national solidarity and security at home, opposition to tyranny and genocide abroad. In these moments, the state-corporate system persuades the public of its fundamental humanity, rationality and compassion. But in fact this ‘compassion’ is always driven by realpolitik and groupthink.
Read the rest here.
Comment: This is a well written and persuasive argument that delves into the role of the media - primarily the dominant West-friendly neoliberal media.

The supposition developed is that the journalistic oath of balance and no-opinion is mostly a guise under which the media aligns itself with dominant interests or the powerful status quo.

It is not a groundbreaking argument but it is necessary to dissuade many among us that what appears as fact in the media is too often just capitalized interests.

In this world of value alignment I would go so far as to say there are no facts just interests.

Few seasoned critical thinkers will not be moved by the manner that Mandela's passing has captured - for more than a week now - the imagination of mainstream media.

Media Lens points out above that this capturing is also a means of appropriation for purposes of displaying the democratic credentials of the West that more often kills its enemies in retaliation instead of forgiving them as Mandela is widely said to have done.

Few cared about the humanity of Gaddafi, for example.  His lifeless body was shown on TV and reprinted in countless newspapers and websites as the agreement about his rogue status was imprinted over and over again.

And even where Mandela praised Gaddafi for his anti-apartheid role nothing now is removed from the purpose of imprinting his saintliness.

And not surprisingly, very little attention has been paid to the adoption of neoliberal policies by Mandela which have in large part resulted in what Media Lens describes as the new economic apartheid.

There is little to fault in this argument but curiously even Media Lens is perhaps guilty of overstating Mandela calling him "principled" even where the purpose of the article - at least in part - is to illustrate that some of that principle was sold to neoliberal capitalist interests.

Still, Media Lens is demonstrating a critical learning exercise that warns of the cozy relationship that the media has with the power of capital and its narrow interests.

Antonio Gramsci, however, does not separate the media from these narrow interests.  Instead Gramsci correctly recognizes that the purpose of the media is to make these capitalized interests the dominant reality.  It does so by portraying/illustrating the common sense of the power arrangement and where necessary it helps to appropriate counter insurgencies or challenges into the purpose of the dominant discourse.

So, it is not surprising to find Malcolm X to be a hero now even where he stood for the dismantling of the power arrangement that propped up the US and its allies.  The US Post Office even dedicated a stamp to his memory - the irony being that a state apparatus of the US celebrated a man who called for the state's demise.

The purpose of co opting dissidents is abundantly clear - it gives the dominant power the 'right' to determine how they and their struggle(s) fit into the dominant discourse.

In the case of Malcolm X a large part of that right was to redeploy his memory and to depoliticize his challenge to the power arrangement. 

Similarly, it is more likely that Mandela will be remembered and memorialized into the common sense of capitalism as a man who was a saint.  Few will remember that he defended Gaddafi, Castro, Arafat, Chavez among others the West consider(ed) rogues.

This quote by Mandela on Gaddafi is particularly appropriate to reproduce from the article above.

(In March 1998, as South African president, with US president Bill Clinton at his side, Mandela said;)

I have also invited Brother Leader Gaddafi to this country [South Africa]. And I do that because our moral authority dictates that we should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour in the history of this country. Not only did they [Libya] support us in return, they gave us the resources for us to conduct our struggle, and to win. And those South Africans who have berated me, for being loyal to our friends, literally they can go and throw themselves into a pool.

It is particularly jarring for me to read these words now knowing that it was the South African government who consented to and gave legitimacy to the NATO forces that deposed Gaddafi.

This they did as David Cameron and Barack Obama watched from afar as their proxy forces sodomized and then killed Gaddafi.

In these terms the co-option into neoliberal capital interests is not just a seemingly mundane passage in a newspaper here or there.  It is also more than just giving the Drone murderer Obama a platform at the Memorial for Mandela.

This co-opting in Gramscian terms is a wholesale buying into (pun intended) the values of the dominant power.  And consequently it is the 'new' struggle frontier in which race is eclipsed by class warfare.


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