I have been wanting to define what the term “West” means, especially as in “Western media.” Often times in debates, people will toss out a statement like, “the West is not a monolithic entity.” Well, that statement is certainly true in many cases. For example, the Europeans are against genetically modified organisms and crops whereas the U.S. is in favor. The Germans and the French were against the Iraq invasion where the U.K. supported the U.S.. For those of us explaining the Chinese perspective, we too will say, “the Chinese perspectives are broad and varied.” That is equally true.
On the other hand, Western leaders (Obama or whomever) will say “we the West” stand for this and for that. The Western media do that all the time too. Again, that presumed unity may be true in some cases and false in the rest. Another example difference is universal health coverage, though the U.S. took a big step in that direction only recently.
So, who exactly is the “West?” Physically, the best generalization is the group of countries rooted in Western Europe. This group colonized the world. They enslaved the Africans. They won the Cold War and currently represent the most dominant bloc in our world institutions. They have largely industrialized and are consuming at a much higher per capita level of earth’s resources than the rest of the world. In doing so, they have cumulatively produced the most CO2 on this planet.
Note that there are major differences between the governments, people, and the media in the “West.” For example, Western governments are obligated to observe international law and are bound by bilateral treaties. Their citizens are only obligated to observe laws within each of their own national borders. They can openly support groups to subvert foreign governments. Western governments acquiesce to what their citizens or media do. Weaker countries simply must accept this reality.
So, what is the “Western media?” For one, they pride themselves on being a “free press.” We all know “free” criminals commit crimes, so most of us are immuned to their self-professed higher moral ground. But, the Western public largely buys into that. The Western media also share a peculiar trait of crusading for these ideologies: “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” They crusade these ideas to perpetuate and justify Western dominance. As I have said previously, they spare little effort in pushing for world equality.
Do all the different outlets conspire to form that “bloc?” I don’t think so. The rest of the world frankly don’t care and need not prove one way or another. The media’s traits and behaviors are publicly available for everyone to see.
So, now we turn to how the world sees the Western media.
Even for those who accept the aforementioned ideologies, they see “freedom of the press” wrought with problems. Here is a very comprehensive compilation on what those problems are, titled, “The Western Media.”
For example, on the issue of ownership, it said, a number of media outlets in the U.S. are owned by corporations involved in manufacturing weapons. The obvious problem with that is the media arm can be used to preach fear. The more scared the population is, the harder they push their politicians to strengthen military. U.S. arms manufacturers advertise to U.S. citizens. Why is that when it is illegal for U.S. citizens to own jet fighters or cruise missiles?
At the end of the compilation is a list of illuminating quotes from which I have selected a few:
“We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is.”
David Boylan, Station Manager WTVT, Tampa, Florida (A Fox Network station) .
“There are certain facts and stories from Korea that editors and publishers have printed which were pure fabrication… Many of us who sent the stories knew they were false, but we had to write them because they were official releases from responsible military headquarters and were released for publication even though the people responsible knew they were untrue.”
Robert C Miller, United Press correspondent during the Korean War.
“We have relationships with reporters that have helped us turn some intelligence failure stories into intelligence success stories. Some responses to the media can be handled in a … phone call.”
“[In the West] unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for an official ban.”
George Orwell, UK writer.
In July 2010, I wrote about a study done at Harvard University: “Harvard University study catches major U.S. media pants down – systematic reporting of U.S. waterboarding as not torture.” Of course, there is an unwritten contract within the Western media to justify Western government bad behavior on the global stage. (Don’t confuse that with the domestic stage though.)
Now we turn to the Middle East. Is there doubt the whole region detests the Western media? In “Islam and the Western Media,” the paper’s by-line is in fact, “Stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam in the media are rooted in prejudice, and ignorance, says Bassil Akel.” Here is a passage from it:
For the general public in America and Europe today, Islam is “news” of a particularly unpleasant sort. The media, the government, the geopolitical strategists, and although they are marginal to the culture at large – the academic experts on Islam are all in concert: Islam is a threat to Western civilization. Now this is by no means the same as saying that only derogatory or racist caricatures of Islam are to be found in the West…What I am saying is that negative images of Islam are very much more prevalent than any others, and that such images correspond, not to what Islam “is”…but to what prominent sectors of a particular society take it to be: Those sectors have the power and the will to propagate that particular image of Islam, and this image therefore becomes more prevalent, more present, than all others (Muzaffer 1).
In this April 2010 article, “How the Western Media Promotes a Mistaken View of the World,” Ramzy Baroud observed from Asia:
One hardly ever reads positive news from China, or any other ‘non-Western’ countries – unless an agenda exists for promoting selective positive news from those countries, for example, a supposedly successful election in Afghanistan conducted under the auspices of Western armies.
I am stealing the thunder a little, but here is the conclusion of a paper written by Rod Chavis, presented in 1998 at the Sixth Annual African Studies Consortium Workshop, entitled, “Africa in the Western Media.”
In conclusion, I wonder why the Western Media has devoted a great deal of its resources and energy toward painting the continent of Africa in a negative light. The fact of the matter is the continent’s mineral resources, strategic metals, and natural resources are significant factors in the wealth of European Nations, America, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, top name a few. Continual denigration of Africa and, by implication, its people there or in the Diaspora, is a function of white supremacy, plain and simple. Those so affected by this practice must instigate its demise. Thank you for your attention.
So, what is the “Western media?” It is the malice, prejudice, hypocrisy, and unfairness towards the rest of the world (who happens to be weaker) that best define them. They have thus far been successful in misleading the Western public into thinking they stand for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights” for the rest of the world, while obviously they do not.
Certainly there is a sizable portion of the Western population who see them for what they are. For example, Noam Chomsky, who perhaps wrote the strongest critique in his book, “Manufacturing Consent.”
What then for those who yearns for a more equitable and peaceful world? Ramzy Baroud said it well; we must challenge their narratives.
The western media will continue to reduce non-Westerners, for they have a vested interest in doing so, and it has become habitual. A first step in overcoming this would be to empower our own local and regional media, and to create rapports amongst them. We can only challenge the abhorrent narratives about us when we start to present our own truth and experience, and support others to do the same.
And thus, we labor forward out of conscious to dispel a set of narratives we think are so wrong. The Western media have been so egregious and have polarized the world’s poor against it. If this phenomenon can be attributed as a trait, then that also defines what the Western media is.
[Update Feb. 14, 2011]
Kai made some important comments about this post over at Google Buzz which I feel worthwhile sharing and addressing:
The Western Media is a representation of interests, and there are both “well-intentioned” and “nefarious self-serving” interests. It isn’t accurate, nor fair, to paint the whole as being one or the other. The important thing isn’t to get people to agree that it is X or Y, but to get them to remember that it is and can be X or Y, so if they value being discriminating, informed, critical, and generally intelligent consumers of information, they ought to keep that in mind.
I genuinely believe there are many well intentioned Westerners. People the world over on the average tend to favor peace and other ideals that make society better. To paint the whole of the Western media, “malice, prejudice, hypocrisy, and unfairness towards the rest of the world” is certainly not fair towards those in it who sincerely want to present a fair view of the world. So, the key part comes down to the balance. How strongly are the voices of the “well-intentioned” heard as opposed to those from the “nefarious self-serving?” (Again, remember, we are talking about on global issues, not purely domestic.)
And that’s the crux of this post. From Africa, Middle East, Asia, and, yes, Latin America too, all of them see the same type of malice, prejudice, hypocrisy, and unfairness toward them.
We’ve had a long discussion here about media bias too (see, “Newsy.com, breaking the mold of Western media bias?“), and on Kai’s point about the Western Media a representation of interests (while very true), the problem there is that no one in the West really represents the rest of the world. It is thus a big mistake to take the Western media’s own words for it that they are “objective” and “free.”
And, finally, as Allen argued here, “Understanding Democracy,” the average citizen do not have the time nor the interest in understanding their society or the world at large. They take sound bites from the media and participate based on that. Chomsky also said too in the past the best way is to educate the public – so they have the proper information necessary to check their governments and to check their media.
So the truth is still – to challenge the Western media narratives when they are unfair and to discredit them wherever appropriate.