The Final Wake-up Call

Will we ever get up before the house comes crashing upon our heads, burying us in the debris in our sleep?


Finally, we are face to face with the reality that we have dreaded the most. It is official now. Media experts at the latest World Social Forum meet in Mumbai conceded that the access to media for underprivileged classes and groups has become even more difficult now than, say, 20 years ago.

In simple terms, the poor, women, minorities and the marginalised will not be allowed to find their voice, articulate their position and watch their interests. In terms of international relations, the developing and underdeveloped world will not be allowed to put up their case. If they are accused by big powers of some misconduct, they would be convicted by the media without giving them the natural right to explain, or present their version of the case. In short, conviction without a hearing.

Don’t tell me that I didn’t tell you. I have been telling everyone for the last 20 years that this was what was going to happen. Even Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abd-al-Aziz has repeatedly complained that the Western media are maliciously projecting Islam and Muslims, without allowing the Muslim version of the story into the picture. The veracity (or lack of it) of Western media’s claims is most clearly tested by the case of “WMDs in Iraq” and their complete silence on Israeli and western WMDs. Nobody gives a damn to Arab proposals for making the entire Middle East WMD-free.

After making mince-meat of Iraq (and Afghanistan) the warriors are planning ever-bolder moves on Saudi Arabia. With Iranians buckling under pressure, Mr Qadafi on the run, and Syria under an unexperienced young man, the knives are being sharpened for the Saudi jugular. The latest example is a bold, no-holds barred book with the menacing title of An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.

The book is by the notorious war-mongers Richard Perle and David Frum, who are part of the coterie of 25 or so neo-cons who have planned the current long-term war envisaged to go on for 10 years. It would involve (in the worst case scenario) as many as 60 countries, nearly all of them Muslim. They are to be taken up one by one, as we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq. Interestingly, all through 2002 the British went on saying that they would not invade Iraq till they actually did it. What men like Perle, Frum and Wolfowitz say has to be taken very seriously.

In this book Frum and Perle seem convinced that the entire Muslim world should preferably be taught a lesson, a prospect that the French and Germans find terrifying. Perle and Frum would like the Shias in Saudi Arabia’s oil belt to create separatist ferment. Here they are banking on Saudi Shias the way they have banked on Iraqi Shias and Kurds. With the excuse of helping these groups protect themselves from President Saddam Hussein, the American and British had fenced off their areas a decade before Mr Hussein’s actual arrest. A strictly enforced no-fly zone had cut off these territories from Iraqi government control. Is something similar being planned for Saudi Arabia in the months and years ahead? 

Ever Narrower Range of Opinion

I can virtually see you crinkling your eyebrows and wondering loudly, “But, how does all this relate to the steady loss of access for common people to the large media networks?” These issues are very closely related, as we will see shortly. Now, imagine for a while that you want to write a review of the aforesaid book in one of the international newspapers or magazines, do you think that you would be provided space for a frank discourse on this neo-imperialist scheme of things? The fact remains that larger publications even within the Third World parrot the line Perle, Frum, Wolfowitz and their coterie take.

That goes on to show that as years roll on there will be only one voice to be heard, at least in the developing world (to begin with) – the Voice of America. And there will be only one agenda – the American Agenda. And there will be only one way of doing things – the American Way. So, where goes pluralism? And diversity? And multiculturalism? And democracy? That, in short, is the crux of the problem.

At the Mumbai World Social Forum meet, president of Mediawatch (a global media trend watcher) Roberto Savio looked pretty concerned over the fact that 20 years ago there were 400 media barons in the United States. Now there are only 18, as most companies merged with or were bought over by the big media corporations. If you think for a while you will figure out quickly that it was much easier for diversity of opinion to flourish when the media were owned by 400 big owners than by only 18 biggest owners. Among the 400 it would have been theoretically possible to expect that there would be at least 40 who would allow alternative opinion to be expressed. But, how may do we expect today to be sympathetic to public causes? Maybe, one and a half?

Savio said there were seven big international news agencies 20 years ago. Now there are only three. That shows how the global sources of news have narrowed down, with the inevitable narrowing of perspectives and range of opinion. N Ram, the liberal, pro-people editor-in-chief of the Hindu, agreed with Savio. In fact, he went a step further to say that India too was going to tread the same path in coming years.

All of us know the pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi. He owns 70 percent of Italy’s newspapers and magazines, radio stations and TV channels. Is it difficult to imagine how easy it is for anti-Muslim, anti-Arab ideas to spread in Italy?

Where do we go from here?

It is only natural to ask how the dispossessed, disempowered and marginalised humanity (which is the preponderant majority everywhere) is going to find its voice and try to restore its dignity.

There is a broad consensus about some of the stratagems that the disempowered sections would have to resort to. Some of these are listed below:

  • Try to improve the existing publications on contemporary professional lines. Improve the quality of writing (so that it is easier to convey your meaning and message with clarity), improve the standards of reporting (so that your publication gains credibility), augment your research and documentation system (to give greater depth to your message), upgrade your editing skills (for a sharper focus and greater clarity), and employ contemporary design (to reinforce the textual message), and take care of your readers’ sensibilities.

  • Because the alternative media is perennially plagued by lack of financial and human resources, try to overcome it by networking and pooling your resources with those of like-minded organisations

  • Try to introduce effective marketing and advertising practices and build a reliable group of intellectuals to contribute specialised articles. Also try to establish links with the burgeoning world of NGOs within the country and worldwide. You are likely to get support from them in several ways. SEE ALSO: Changing the Agenda

Dr. Manzoor Alam

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