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31 Aug, 2008

Western Media is Biased, but Can’t Hide it Anymore

Originally Published: 31 Aug 2008

In yet another indication of how the Asian media’s patience with the Western media is wearing thin, Times of India commentator Ramesh Thakur has blasted the western mainstream media for “living in a different planet” over its coverage of the Russian-Georgian conflict.

Indeed, Mr Thakur’s comment that “the narrative of the virtuous West standing up valiantly to the rest in defence of universal values is getting rather tiresome” highlights a growing malaise amongst many in the mainstream Western media as it squanders its hard-won credibility and respect as a vanguard of genuine freedom and democracy.

Over the years, the Western media has played a major role in shaping world events, mainly for the better.

Gung-ho investigative journalism led to the downfall of U.S President Nixon and the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s. It helped shape world opinion in facilitating the collapse of apartheid in South Africa in 1990 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The publicity given to the Soviet “dissidents” physicist Andrei Sakharov and novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others, as well as union leaders like Lech Walesa, the playing up of the “Solidarity” Polish trade union as the front line of the anti-communist movement clearly helped bring about an end to the Cold War.

In recent years, however, there is plenty of reason to believe that the Western media has become, like the communism it once helped bring down, a tool of the state as well as corporate interests which are raising the “West is best” mantra to new heights.

The self-proclaimed refrain is that if the Western media says it is right, it must be right. And the hypocrisy and double standards are quite palpable.

The same pressure that helped end the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and is now being directed at the Chinese occupation of Tibet clearly does not seem to apply to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

According to corporate mouthpiece media like the Wall Street Journal, the Asian economic crisis was entirely the fault of us poor Asians and the cronyism, corruption and nepotism that is apparently rife in our ranks.

The same corruption, cronyism and nepotism now coming to light in the scandals amongst the financial and real estate institutions of the West and the repeated collapse of the WTO talks does not seem to have deterred those media pundits still championing the cause of globalisation with all the fervor of an evangelical crusade.

However, it will be the Iraq war which will go down in history as the mother of media manipulation.

Not only did the US media shamelessly buy into the official party line about the weapons of mass destruction, it acquiesced to this new phenomena of “embedded journalism” by trading its neutrality in exchange for access and signed up to a new kind of censorship that until today prevents the publication/broadcasting of pictures and images of dead or dying US servicemen and Iraqis.

Nor does it seek to hold its leaders accountable for what many websites refer to as the Lie of the Century. Poor President Nixon resigned for merely trying to lie and cover up the bugging of a political party’s headquarters. President Bush can lie about just anything and get away with it scot-free. Given the vast casualties in Iraq, he should be facing a war-crimes tribunal.

Everywhere one looks – Darfur, China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Iran – when the Western media and the Western leaders decide they are right and everyone else is wrong, then the rest of the world has to goose-step in line. Islam is now the new “evil empire” and “Islamic terrorism” the new whipping boy which the Western expects to bring to heel with the same ferociously repeated soundbites.

Israel, meanwhile, gets away with anything – occupation, cluster-bombing of Lebanon, home demolitions, expansion of settlements, extra-judicial killings, checkpoints, segregated, apartheid-style road networks. A European dictator named Hitler was responsible for the Holocaust against the Jews, but it’s the Palestinians who pay the price today.

Mr Thakur’s commentary indicates that it is not going to be possible to fool all the people all the time. His commentary in The Times of India on August 27, 2008, is appropriately headlined: “Look Who’s Talking”

Wrote Mr Thakur, “You have to admire their chutzpah, castigating Russia for attacking another country and emulating in the Caucasus NATO’s behaviour in the Balkans. Who does Vladimir Putin think he is — George W Bush?

“Reading western mainstream media commentators has been a revelation. They live on a different planet. Much of the western media do not seem to have realised yet that their opinions are now staple fare for people all around the world in real time, who also have access to other media. They are therefore well read and well informed. They are also better educated than ever before and have sufficient critical skills to be able to spot rank double standards and hypocrisy.

“The net result is that while the American media, for example, might want to dump responsibility on the Bush administration for the rise of anti-Americanism around the world, they too have contributed to the decline of soft power as more and more people lose faith in the objectivity of leading US media outlets and are tired of their one-sided moralising and hectoring.

“On the Georgian crisis, while the western media have portrayed the West as united against Russian aggression, the rest of the world faults a bullying West that incredibly glosses over the reality of Georgia attacking South Ossetia indiscriminately.”

Mr Thakur adds, “Liberal and conservative commentators and politicians alike seem to believe they have a divine dispensation to be the moral arbiter of their own conduct and that of everyone else.

“Who should be the judge of NATO conduct in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Caucasus? Why, NATO, of course. And who should stand in judgment over China’s actions vis-a-vis Darfur and Myanmar or Russia’s in the Balkans and the Caucasus? Why, the West, self-evidently.”

Adds Mr Thakur, “The narrative of the virtuous West standing up valiantly to the rest in defence of universal values is getting rather tiresome.”

Well said, Mr Thakur.