Saturday, 29 May 2010

“Prisoners of the language of power”

Robert Fisk's lecture to the fifth Al Jazeera annual forum is well worth a read. He illustrates the way many journalists have become “prisoners of the language of power”. Words that are loaded with historical meaning are used as if they were entirely neutral. This sort of journalism all to easily becomes a transmission belt for the politics of subjugation.

The struggles of the oppressed against their oppressors become instead one of “competing narratives” in which “there's no justice, no injustice, just a couple of people who tell different history stories…So an 'occupation' can become a 'dispute'. Thus a 'wall' becomes a 'fence' or a 'security barrier'. Thus Israeli colonisation of Arab land contrary to all international law becomes 'settlements' or 'outposts' or 'Jewish neighbourhoods'.” Instead of illuminating right and wrong, or speaking truth to power, Fisk concludes that “...when we use these words, we become one with the power and the elites which rule our world without fear of challenge from the media”.

His critique of the reportage of conflict can easily be applied to coverage of the international economic crisis. All but a handful of journalists in the mainstream media appear to echo the ‘common-sense’ consensus: cuts are inevitable, cuts are necessary, let’s talk only of how deep and how fast. It is remarkable how easily this consensus has been forged. It is impossible to deny, surely, that the root of the crisis can be found in the bankrupt neo-liberal orthodoxy. But there is no systematic questioning of this disastrous failure. Common sense, apparently, dictates the solution to a crisis caused by neo-liberalism is more neo-liberalism.

We have been here before. The anger and frustration I feel when listening to reports of the economic crisis remind me of a feeling I had in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Then, the Bush-Blair doctrine seemed all powerful. The ‘international community’ was united. But it wasn’t: much of the doctrine has been completely discredited in the eyes of public opinion, and precious little of the unity remains either. One reason for this is the success of the challenge, spearheaded by the Stop the War Coalition, which set itself the task of dismantling their arguments and winning people to ours. At first, only small numbers of people were prepared to take this on. Gradually, the numbers grew as the destructive reality of war impacted. All along the majority of MP's and journalists lagged behind the people.

Some of that spirit is needed today. We need to burst the bubble of the economic theorists, commentators and politicians who nod in agreement with each other. We need to challenge their basic assumptions. This economic conflict has the power to wreck the lives of millions. We built a movement to stop the war on Iraq. Why not a movement to stop the war on jobs or public services?