Rubbisn-In, Rubbish-Out: If professional journalism, undertaken with courage and diligence, produces only what the powerful want us to hear, then our journalists are truly lost. In spite of their education and training, they have so profoundly internalised the values and expectations of their masters that their journalism can only reflect the interests of the people who pay them.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP has been in Hanoi, talking peace with Kim Jong Un. The “Supreme leader” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) who sat across the table from the American President, has never faced any kind of election that would be recognised as fair and free – let alone democratic – by the United Nations. Indeed, the totalitarian Workers Party regime presides over a vast network of concentration camps teeming with political prisoners.
Economically speaking, the DPRK is fragile. In recent decades, its people have suffered a succession of devastating famines during which thousands of men, women and children are reported to have died of hunger and hunger-related diseases.
In marked contrast to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the DPRK possesses multiple nuclear warheads, and claims to have tested missiles capable of raining down devastation on the United States of America.
None of these facts dissuaded President Trump from praising Kin Jong Un or, indeed, referring to him as his friend.
This should not be construed as a condemnation of the US leader. In the memorable words of Winston Churchill: “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.” If the meeting in Hanoi between Trump and Kim has eased military tensions on the Korean peninsula, even to a small degree, then the world should be mightily relieved and both men will fully deserve the international praise heaped upon them.
Serious questions do arise from the Hanoi Summit, however, concerning diplomatic and journalistic consistency. The United States and the Western news media both need to explain why the measured diplomacy and largely accurate reporting on display in Hanoi, has been so conspicuously absent with regard to Venezuela. The naked diplomatic aggression and outright lies which have characterised the West’s treatment of the Venezuelan Government could hardly be more different from its handling of the DPRK’s “Supreme Leader”.
The President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro and his fellow Chavistas have, since coming to power in 1998, submitted themselves to – and won – a plethora of democratic elections and constitutional referenda. Many of these have been confirmed as fair and free by no less an observer than the former US President, Jimmy Carter.
Venezuela, unlike the DPRK, is not studded with concentration camps teeming with political prisoners. On the contrary, the streets of Venezuela are teeming with Maduro’s political opponents. Many of these, supported by the United States, have engaged in acts of extreme violence against the Venezuelan Police and National Guard. Rather than respond with deadly force, however, the forces of law and order have consistently restricted themselves to non-lethal means of dispersing Venezuela's far-right protesters.
Where comparisons with the DPRK can be drawn is in relation to economic management. Maduro’s period in office has been marred by runaway inflation and severe shortages. These have given rise to widespread economic hardship and political frustration. Unlike the DPRK, however, Venezuela’s economic difficulties are driven by a combination of low oil prices and the deliberate economic sabotage instigated by Venezuela’s capitalist elites and their US backers. They are not the result of diverting all available resources to the production of a deadly nuclear arsenal. The only diversion of resources of which the Chavistas are guilty is from the state’s oil revenues to the Venezuelan poor.
The explanation for the United States oppressive behaviour towards Venezuela is readily available in any reputable history of the USA’s tutelary relationship with the nations of Latin America. Perceiving itself as the benevolent guardian of all those peoples unlucky enough to live south of the Rio Grande, the United States has intervened again and again. Refusing to sit idly by while its diplomatic wards embraced to the evils of “communism”, due, in the words of the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to “the irresponsibility of their own people”.
But if the American state is straightforwardly imperialistic in its motivation, what is the Western media’s excuse? Why do the editors and journalists of not only the United States and its Nato allies, but also of supposedly free and independent nations like New Zealand, abandon all pretence of discovering and disseminating the truth to parrot the blatant lies of Venezuela’s enemies?
What would happen if One News or the Herald decided to see for itself what was really happening inside Venezuela and along her borders? What would befall the Kiwi journalist who made a point of speaking to the politicians of both the Left and the Right; to the inhabitants of the wealthy suburbs above Caracas, as well as those buried in its overcrowded slums; to police officers and national guardsmen as well as right-wing student protesters; to workers as well as peasants? Would he or she emerge from the exercise spouting exactly the same lines as the US State Department?
If the answer to that question is “Yes”, then we have a very big problem. If professional journalism, undertaken with courage and diligence, produces only what the powerful want us to hear, then our journalists are truly lost. In spite of their education and training, they have so profoundly internalised the values and expectations of their masters that their journalism can only reflect the interests of the people who pay them.
That’s a very grim conclusion, but what other is possible? When the American President can smile benignly at the “Supreme Leader” of a brutal totalitarian regime with nary a word of condemnation from our mainstream news media; but, in the first item up after the ad-break, the democratically-elected leader of a free, if bitterly divided, nation is routinely denounced as a brutal dictator?
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 March 2019.