The Daily Telegraph reported the protestors in varying degrees of uncouth from simply misguided, unwashed and badly dressed, to violent and intent on attacking defenceless police officers simply doing their jobs, to even willfully evil as protestors were implied to have pushed a journalist working for The Australian under a horse while simultaneously not acknowledging or caring about the ‘life saving drugs’ promised to the poor by the WTO meeting. All of which leads one to the conclusion that the protestors were mere troublemakers there for all the wrong reasons and none even remotely connected with the operations of the WTO.
However, most of the claims made by the mainstream media during those three hectic days were themselves misguided, misleading, and often actual lies. As a peaceful attendant at the protests, I found it hard to believe they were talking about the same events.
The entire fiasco was orchestrated by media, police and politicians alike. In the preceding week NSW police Minister Michael Costa beat-up the possibility of violence to such a crescendo that is no surprise his officers were caught up in the hysteria. Heaven knows what kind of pep-talks the police were given prior to the protests, but they were visibly enraged and excited from the start. The police being primed for violence, it is no surprise that violence did occur and that they did perpetrate it. One medic observed that at least one female police officer had all the classic symptoms of amphetamine use, and a great many were flushed and ready to attack. Other officers have refused to identify themselves after being observed throwing punches purposely aimed at peoples throats. Some arrested protesters have complained of handcuffs so tight that they cut off circulation. An arrested medic had his equipment deliberately smashed up by the police after arrest, while being called a terrorist. The role of a medic is to observe for injuries amongst the crowd and they do no participate in the action itself.
The Daily Telegraph, a part of the multinational corporation News Ltd, was of course not interested in the issues behind the protests. They faithfully spouted every piece of propaganda emanating from the Police Ministers office, even adding to the farce with a piece about a fictitious character ‘Johnny Hammerlock’ who was supposed to represent the archetypal anarchist activist, complete with balaclava and ‘Molotov bong’. It would have been funny and in the realm of the Dole Army fiasco if it hadn’t been taken so seriously by the paper itself. Funny I didn’t notice anyone throwing Molotov bongs.
The majority of the protestors were peaceful, happy, festive, colourful, and even meditative. Bubble blowing, game-playing, street theatre, dressing up and dancing all worked to diffuse anger in the crowd (despite the presence of megaphone junkies issuing orders which very few people obeyed). The importance of journalistic bias was not missed on the crowd, a group of 20 who one occasion subverted a Channel Nine reporter attempting to make his sensationalist protestor violence report with chants of ‘liar, liar’. Many people approached by the mainstream media refused to talk to them because of the recognition that they would most likely be misrepresented.
The Friday afternoon papers spouted lies about the success of unbridled free trade in both articles on the protests and editorial. An award for ‘selfish interest’ should be awarded to Michael Duffy, writing an editorial for The Telegraph and The Australian, who claimed that protestors were ‘powered by ignorance’. We are certainly not ignorant of the fact that Duffy is a supporter of the right-wing neo-liberal think tank ‘The Institute of Public Affairs’, was a supporter of Pauline Hanson, wanted to privatise the ABC and wouldn’t know journalistic objectivity if it came up and bit him. Suffice to say that he thinks it’s OK for some people to suffer so others like him can prosper and wear Nike shoes.
Numerous forums and workshops leading up to and during the three days of protests spoke of a diverse and deep understanding amongst protest groups of the issues associated with the globalisation of trade through WTO. Amongst the groups is a common theme – that is that unbridled free trade controlled by an undemocratic institution run by corporate bigwigs is not going to deliver equity to the world. It will deliver global monopolies and big profits to corporations, enabling them to buy out subsistence farmers, flood their markets with goods they grow themselves making it impossible for them to survive (ie. sugar dumping by rich growers in sugar growing third world nations) and drive a greater wedge between rich and poor. However, this was not mentioned even once by any mainstream newspaper.
The WTO exists because the UN in the 1940s attempted to found a democratic institution to govern trade, the International Trade Organisation (ITO). 23 of the world’s richest countries, realising that democracy and social interest were always going to be a barrier to their raw self interest of profit founded on centuries of exploitation of poor countries by rich ones, decided to form their own agreement, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs or GATT. The WTO, equipped with legislative power, adjudicated by just three ‘experts’, and enforced by fines and sanctions, was formed in 1994 to scuttle the largely voluntary GATT just as GATT scuttled the ITO. This body has become immensely powerful and succeeds today because raw self interest is largely the name of the game in politics as it is in industry. There is no reason to suppose that the WTO and it’s agreements won’t be scuttled at some future date when it ceases to meet the greed of the rich men who run it.
I must admit I was not surprised by the wildly inaccurate reporting by The Daily Telegraph, The Australian or any other mainstream newspaper. They could hardly report it otherwise: the journalists working for mainstream newspapers are working for a propaganda machine far exceeding that available to the Nazis. That machine, run by a dozen or so huge multinational corporations, has far-reaching interests encompassing everything in the media realm and beyond including big tobacco(Murdoch, owner of News Ltd including The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and The Courier Mail, and Packer, owner of ACP), sports (Murdoch and Packer), the nuclear industry (Westinghouse/CBS) and agricultural production (Packer) to name but a few. And far more successful than the Nazi propaganda machine because of it’s ability to support the status quo by pacifying the bulk of us with info-tainment while promoting the interests of it’s owners, politicians and neo-liberals everywhere.
To these media organisations protests are not valid practice of democracy but info-tainment events used to sell more papers. Little wonder they ignored the largely peaceful and festive events like protestors taking a swim in Hyde Park fountain and dancing in the streets, and concentrated only on the ‘violence’ caused by the police actions.
So long as most Australians go on thinking the newspaper reports the truth of events and not the twisted slant of the rich few, then real issues will continue to be ignored and the protest movement ultimately fail. The only light under this media blanket were the number of readers of The Daily Telegraph that wrote letters saying that they felt they were being lied to, or the coverage being biased.
(First published at Online Opinion 2002).