Media

The muted criticism of US imperialism

In a letter to the Guardian (on the subject of British colonialism) Prof John MacKenzie writes:

Criticism of the effects of US imperialism in Chile, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq has been strikingly muted. Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, not to mention the scandal of the domestic adherence to the death penalty (placing the US in a club with China and Iran), produce so little in the way of press, political or academic critiques that Bush and his administration are re-elected.

I’m frequently amazed that people come with this line of argument. Criticism of the US (imperialism and other interpretations) has hardly been muted in recent years has it?

And the notion that Bush was re-elected because there was so little in the way of press, political or academic critiques is absurd. It is also implicity insulting to those who read the criticisms of Bush and US foreign policy and still decided that it was better than the alternative. As if they didn’t know the other side of the story.

There is a frequent refrain from the anti-war camp that their voice was not heard, that there is a crushing of dissent or a muffled self-censorship and that if only their appeal to truth and reason could be heard, well how different the world might be. We hear it in the UK and those of us who did not oppose the overthrow of Saddam but read the Guardian, the Independent and listen to the Today Programme have a little laugh.

But in fairness it is not only the anti-war crowd who adopt this position. It does seem to be a fashionable stance to take in politics that you belong to an unfairly ignored minority viewpoint. Conservative American blogs frequently present the notion that the liberal media is deliberately blocking out any good news from Iraq and never takes Bush’s position seriously. If only people heard the other side of the story….

We are fortunate to live in a genuinely pluralistic multimedia era where there is almost unlimited access to information and opinion – for that minority of people who are interested. We are no longer restricted to our own national media for starters. The Guardian claims to have won a substantial readership of liberal Americans via their website and I know many British people who are now regular readers of the American political monthlies. There is something for everyone out there and if there isn’t a publication presenting an argument you hold dear there is nothing these days stopping you from creating one.

There are indeed issues that the mainstream media fail to cover and minority opinions which are rarely heard. But the relationship between the producers of media content and the readers is changing radically.

The days when you simply ‘digested’ the press are over. There are now so many ‘open spaces’ in the media that newspaper letters pages seem a rather old-fashioned curiosity. There are phone-in shows on radio, ‘your say’ sections on big media websites, email addresses where you can contact journalists to directly present your criticisms and of course the whole range of options on the internet from mailing lists to weblogs.

The more people become regular users of the internet, the more important these new outlets will become and the power and influence of traditional media will begin to weaken. There is an interesting discussion to be had about the issue of media bias (I’m currently reading John Lloyd’s book on the media and politics which touches upon that issue) but slowly the monopoly of the professional media on debate is being challenged and so far I can see only benefits from the point of view of plurality and just as importantly empowerment.

If Prof MacKenzie thinks that there really is a shortage of critiques of US foreign policy I suggest he gets together with some like-minded collegues and creates a website dedicated to providing such analysis.

Although I fear he may find the market is already rather crowded.

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