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Media still plays advocate for the WTO
Is there anyone giving the globalization effort a much-needed criticism? Mainstream media outlets drop the ball on balanced reporting, and fail to expose the winners and losers of the global economy.
Despite widespread criticism of the WTO, Americans still get a skewed view of the issues at stake from major media sources. The global financial system has come under serious scrutiny from the public, and many grassroots movements such as the 99% movement have emerged to attempt reform, but the media retains its bias in favor of the elites, modern oil barons of BP and enormous biotech companies like Monsanto, that benefit from this system. In recent years, less and less coverage of the anti-globalization effort has been available. The Washington Post ran an article about the WTO summit protests that left dozens of people injured in Hong Kong, but there was little mention of what complaints the workers had in the first place. Brief mention of their concerns are a bit dismissive in the language the author chooses; “Millions of workers in Indonesia and South Korea fear they will lose their jobs to free trade”1. Never mind that only a single sentence out of an entire 666 word article even ponders the motives behind of the protest in Hong Kong, but the language itself implies that there is some question about weather or not these workers will, in fact, lose their jobs. After all, it's simply a “fear”, and not a reality. A LexisNexis search on the topic yielded a wealth of articles detailing the South Korean president's support for anti-protectionist policies and globalization, ironically intermingled with articles about his resolve to uphold a ban on Canadian beef even under pressure from the WTO. In all the fuss about the Canadian beef debacle, however, it seems every major news outlet around the world forgot to ask why there was ever a debate about free trade in the first place. In fact, the Washington Post made a point to report that nobody is seriously against the WTO anymore. Referring to developing countries, their article states “If they are angry these days, it is at the rich countries not doing enough to open up their markets”1. Well, doesn't that settle it? Maybe protestors in Hong Kong were trying to break through police barriers to go demand that the WTO globalize the economy faster. In fact, everyone quoted or mentioned in the Washington Post article is so in love with the WTO that even Greenpeace is now “adept at working within the corridors”1. It's almost as if the article is a call to throw up ones' hands and declare “problem solved”. Now that the WTO is playing nice with environmental and human rights groups, all is well. The problem with this portrayal is that the official stance of Greenpeace is still very explicitly ant-WTO. In a recent article about trade policy from the Greenpeace website, the official stance is very clearly stated that “we cannot survive in a world where renewable energy and Buy Local programs are subject to attack in foreign tribunals. But that is the world of the WTO”2.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the coverage is that even more left wing news sources didn't provide a very complete analysis of the problem with globalization. While the Guardian gave a much more vivid and personal account of the struggle and quoting a French farmer who talked about the lack of representation of farmers in the WTO, but did not discuss trends such as increases in global inequality, promotion of factory farming, or other specific criticisms of globalization efforts. Instead the article seems to marginalize the protestors in Hong Kong by stating they mainly “included local migrant workers and prostitutes”3. While it's unclear exactly how many prostitutes came to the rally, it's interesting that the Guardian would choose to highlight the presence of only these two groups. The funny thing about this description is that all Korean workers in Hong Kong could qualify as “migrant workers” under the United Nations' definition of the term, which is “a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.”4 Since the author already made clear the country of origin of the workers was Korea, isn't it a bit redundant to remind readers they are migrants?
Global trade regulation may, in theory, have many benefits, but the popular assumption that working within the confines of the WTO is the only way to accomplish this regulation is false. In reality, the WTO is structured in a way to benefit the major powers, and prevent representation and autonomy among the smaller nations. There is no reason the WTO must remain as the primary tool for addressing trade disputes, and abandoning the model entirely may be easier than reforming the WTO. No matter what, it's the responsibility of media outlets to accurately and completely represent the different viewpoints and alternatives, rather than serve as a cheering squad for the status quo.
1 von Reppert-Bismarck, Juliane, "Trade Unionists Working Within the WTO", The Washington Post, December 13, 2005,
2 "Climate Change & Trade Policies", Greenpeace USA, http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/Climate-Change--Trade-Policies/
3 Watts, Jonathan, "Fury on the streets turns to gloom", The Guardian, Monday 19, 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2005/dec/19/internationalaidanddevelopment.wto1
4 United Nations General Assembly, "A/RES/45/158", December 18th, 1990, http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/45/a45r158.htm