Why the media doesn’t get Brazil

June 24, 2013

In the largest anti-government demonstrations – dubbed the Tropical Spring – violent clashes broke out as people demanded improved public services and an end to corruption in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. (Losh, 2013)

Is the world going to Hell in a handbasket? The answer probably depends which side of the class divide you stand on. For the world’s wealthy elites the protests in Brazil are another disturbing sign that the ungrateful wretches who survive on meagre table crumbs are restless, once again.

The issue is not so much whether the handbasket is being winched up or down; but rather: Why? If you were to rely only on the mainstream media for an answer you may just end up more confused than when you started.

There’s a mood for change sweeping many parts of the world today, but our understanding of its significance is not increased by most of the media coverage.

Since the Arab Spring of 2010 a wave of revolutionary struggle has erupted across parts of southern Europe and most recently it has spread to Turkey and to Brazil. However, our media tends to treat each of these uprisings as isolated events and attempts to explain them in terms of local and national issues. The global instability of neo-liberal late capitalism is hardly mentioned. Most journalists won’t even acknowledge it. Perhaps it’s too complicated; for some it is certainly too scary to think about.

Further, the news media’s debilitating fixation on the concept of balance means that these globe-shifting outbreaks of protest are reported with an even-handed ignorance. Simplistic explanations like social media equals more democracy are trotted out to give a sheen of analysis to what is actually intellectually threadbare coverage.

Protestors are routinely labelled as inchoerent, rudderless and violent; on the other hand, governments are portrayed as neutral arbiters of calm and order. This is a politically naïve representation that highlights the profound lack of real understanding on the part of journalists on the ground and of their media organisations. Simple vox pops are left to suffice for clear political commentary from the movement’s leaders and a seething mass of individuals ‘rioting’ provides the most telegenic images. It’s easier than trying to translate and understand the political tracts and speeches that inevitably accompany protest marches.

The problem is that most journalists are used to reporting politics as a game of ‘he said, she said’ in which claims and counter-claims are presented to the audience within a framework of parliamentary democracy. But you cannot report revolution within that framework. Revolutions do not follow that MSM script and most reporters, unfortunately, cannot see past their own faces to what is really going on.

Fundamental questions about the role of States and state-sponsored violence are sidelined, ignored or mis-interpreted.The history of social movements and the long-lived experience of people which finally draws them to the streets is underplayed or ignored altogether in favour of the sexy shots and simple sound bite.

It is not good enough.

The rest of this post concentrates on Brazil, but similar arguments can be made about Turkey and also the Arab Spring.

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