October 18, 2008

Western media is deceptive; it can make or destroy you

by Timothy Kalyegira
The Daily Monitor (Kampala, Uganda)

It is the media, more than any other field, that has helped give the Western world its ubiquitous presence and instant name and visual recognition on earth. If America is a superpower, much more than a military, political, and industrial, it is above all a media and news superpower.

The United States is the world’s leading producer of new book titles per year, and has the world’s largest readership. It has more than 4,000 FM radio stations and 4,800 AM stations; is the home of the Internet and has the largest presence on the Internet of any nation on earth.

Through its television comedies, films, news magazines and newspapers, Internet websites, 24-hour television news channels, Rock, Hip-Hop, Country, and Pop music, America has become the most recognisable and best-known nation in the world.

One of the best-selling authors in recent years in America has been John Grisham. The best-selling novels in America of 1994 (The Chamber), 1995 (The Rainmaker), 1996 (The Runway), 1997 (The Partner), 1998 (The Street Lawyer), 1999 (The Testament), 2000 (The Brethren), 2002 (The Summons), and 2005 (The Broker) were by Grisham.

Typically, they centre on the upper-middle class and delve into white-collar crimes, mysterious murders and fraud, courtrooms and law offices, and in sum portray the dark interior and double-dealing to be found in respectable, mostly White America.

The popularity of these Grisham novels (well more than 200 million books sold to date) should show us that Americans are thoughtful, skeptical people, intrigued by twists and turns, the unexpected and the improbable.

So how come these same sophisticated Americans are so easily deceived and so gullible? I’ve observed a handful of tendencies that have persuaded me that the much-vaunted US media is far from the elite establishment it claims to be --- the embarrassingly one-sided coverage of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe; the blind, uncritical adoration of former South African President Nelson Mandela; the emphasis on a playful on-air, on screen playfulness and giggling by television presenters; and a plain inability to read the international scene, understand the motives of foreign heads of state and governments.

I’ve noticed the same gullibility among Western election observers and diplomats in Africa. It does not take much to create a story at a US or British embassy for them to be convinced that one’s life is in danger and therefore one requires political asylum in their lands.

At polling centres, right under their noses, we regularly rig elections, stuff ballot boxes and vote several times and these Western observers, diplomats, and journalists are totally clueless about what’s going on.

It is not surprising that Americans are so fed up with outgoing President George W. Bush, forgetting who it was that twice elected him; they entered two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan whose consequences, even with the aid of the fabled CIA intelligence reports they were unable to foresee.

If the current trend in the public opinion surveys remains as it is, these same Americans are about to elect a man called Barack Obama that, amid their mania and enthusiasm for him, they scarcely know or have sufficiently scrutinised and asked penetrating questions.

As the Houston Business Journal commented on August 22, “[President] John Kennedy had a strikingly beautiful wife adored by the entire county. The press today is charmed by Michelle Obama and the couple’s children in the same way.”
Style, image, unchallenging and empty platitudes is about all you require these days to win the hearts and gullible minds of the American voting public.

These days before airing footage from war zones and the scenes of accidents, the major Western TV networks like CNN and the BBC first warn that some of what we are about to watch “contains scenes that might distress viewers.”

I always wonder what it is about a burning army tank, a terrorist victim covered in blood, a destroyed building is too much for Americans or Europeans to stomach.

The leading newsmagazines like The Economist, Time, and Newsweek have become watered down into informal, first-person, all-things-to-all-people low-brow publications, barely above the level of high school newspapers.

The BBC, once the magisterial, sober voice that set the standard for objective and impartial news broadcasting and analysis, now is a shadow of what it was right up to the early 1990s, its decline having come about so suddenly.

Most amazing of all is the inability to see that, be it John McCain or Barack Obama to win the presidency, America’s final year as a formidable world superpower is 2008.


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