December 7, 2013
POLITICS AND THE PRESSSaturday, October 19, 2013
The Wall Street Journal (also) lies?
The FT piece by John Paul Rathbone and Benedict Mander discussed the government’s difficulties in the light of the president’s illness. The WSJ’s by Mary Anastasia O’Grady based its views on alleged pressure the government is exerting on the Supreme Court on the eve of a much-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of a law passed four years ago to reform Argentina’s broadcast media market. The president, said the implacable O’Grady, “is recovering.” But, she added, “The republic is near death.”
The perception gap between “lame duck on an exit strategy” and “would-be dictator” by these foreign eyes is as wide as the one at home, but (even) less informed and less concerned about accuracy.
The US political website Slate.com produced a journalistic satire a couple of weeks ago indicating how the US press would cover the government shutdown saga in Washington should it be
reporting the same story in a distant foreign—developing, even
better—country. The piece (http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/09/30/potential_government_shutdown_how_would_the_u_s_media_report_on_it_if_it.html ) including lines like this: “The typical signs of state failure aren’t evident on the streets of this sleepy capital city (but) at midnight Monday night, the government of this intensely proud and nationalistic people will shut down, a drastic sign of political dysfunction in this moribund republic. The current crisis has raised questions in the international community about the (Obama) regime’s ability to govern this complex nation of 300 million people, not to mention its vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” Almost classic Anastasia.
International news is not what it used to be—but will it be? This week marked the end of one publication that claimed to have a global reach and a global view for global citizens. The International Herald Tribune—a.k.a. “Trib”—was founded in the late 19th century when the Western world claimed universal dominance. It will now be the International New York Times and, according to its publisher, it will be “a news report tailored specifically for the valued members of our global audience” and provide “a 24/7 news flows with continuous news desks from Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York.”
“Today, our future is global,” wrote Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the publisher.
The global news picture has changed dramatically over the last few years. The big Western players are making some moves to avoid losing the clout they have enjoyed for over two centuries. Newspapers like the New York Times, Le Monde or The Guardian could claim to have been the authoritative voices of the world when the world went global, along with the old news agencies like Reuters, AP or AFP and the newer news channels like CNN or the BBC. World news—here and elsewhere—went through the prism of the West’s main journalistic institutions. In the second half of the 20th Century, many intellectuals in the emerging world—formerly known as Third Word—complained about this “news hegemony” coming from “the North.” The technology available at that time did not allow these critics from going much further than voicing disagreement. It does now. And the “North,” which prefers to call itself “the West,” is now “weakened,” as the Economist editorialized on its front page last month.
The 21st century is - and will be - nothing like that. The turning point was the massive leakage of US State Department documents by WikiLeaks, arguably the first truly global story (i.e. one that affected virtually every country in its relationship with the world’s superpower). The alliance between Julian Assange’s info-anarchist organization and Western journalistic legends like the Times, The Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel showed its limits as a result of the clashing rationale guiding the odd partners. But the question remains about how the new world of information-sharing by the Internet generation will come to terms with the old world of information monopoly by the big press.
The present is showing some hints about the future. A couple of billionaire global netizens are growing awareness about the future of journalism and its role in democratic societies. Jeff Bezos of Amazon just purchased the Washington Post and Pierre Omidyar of eBay pledge this week at least 250 million US dollars to set up a new journalistic venture run by Guardian star columnist Glenn Greenwald, the man behind Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. Traditional journalism outlets have not—yet—been able to find a business model to pay for its key democratic role. The Guardian still lives off a trust created decades ago. These new benefactors might be instrumental to save journalists from surrendering to cash-hungry market forces or vote-hungry party politics. Whether that is better of worse, only time will tell.