Opinion: On Media and 2019’s Global Revolutions
Global revolution has characterized the international political landscape of 2019. In all corners of the world, ordinary people have organized and taken to the streets to challenge governments that they feel have failed them. American media have either gotten these stories wrong or ignored them entirely. Media bias in favor of American interests abroad is as clear as day in 2019, snubbing coverage of the very real struggle that regular people have undertaken to resist the failures of their governments.
This bias is evident when comparing the coverage of Venezuelan protests to the coverage of protests in Haiti. Haiti has been a country plagued by turmoil for most of its existence. Dictators and military coups supported by the U.S. have ravaged the country in order for American economic interests to thrive. In 2004, the U.S. supported the removal of the democratically elected leader of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, for the second time, kidnapping him and sending him and his family to Africa where he was barred from sham elections in 2010 and 2011. While the country was ravaged by natural disaster, the new President, Michel Martelly, bowed to the interests of the U.S. by opening the country up to foreign investment with the help of an advisory board of business executives and politicians. This included Bill Clinton who supported the first removal of Aristide in 1991. Martelly’s successor, Jovenel Moïse, has continued to uphold the economic interests of the U.S. The current protests are a repudiation of government corruption and a long line of economic policies that have put the interests of other countries before the interest of Haitians. Haiti today has the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere, and 60% of the country makes less than one U.S. dollar a day.
Venezuelan relations with the U.S. deteriorated after the democratic election of socialist Hugo Chávez in 1998, as he nationalized industry and shifted Venezuela’s foreign policy to be diametrically opposed to American interests. His successor Nicolás Maduro has been accused of corruption and anti-democratic tendencies. Economic mismanagement and American sanctions have created an economic crisis that has sparked unrest and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
Venezuelan protests began in January, followed one month later by Haitian protests. Hundreds of thousands of people took the streets of Caracas where, in February, 14 people were killed by government forces. Thousands took to the streets of Port-au-Prince where 41 people were killed by government forces. While the Venezuelan protests dominated media coverage, the American news media virtually ignored the protests in Haiti. The Washington Post has no articles on their website dated to February concerning the Haitian protests while The Times has one from the point of view of the U.S. The article, “U.S. and Canada Warn Against Travel to Haiti as Violent Protests Continue,” warns of protesters who “have blocked roads with burning tires, metal fencing and cinder blocks, paralyzing transportation in the capital, forcing the closing of businesses, government offices and schools, and causing shortages of food and fuel.” As for protesters killed by government forces the article reads passively that “clashes between demonstrators and the police have left several people dead and spread fear throughout the population.” The onus of turmoil is squarely placed on the protesters.
Compare this to coverage of the Venezuelan protests. One article from The Times concerning international aid published on February 22 covers the death of two protesters that were killed that same day. It reads, “The protesters killed on Friday, members of the Pemón indigenous group, opposed Mr. Maduro’s decision, saying the population needs the food and medication. They were shot after closing a road to prevent security forces from passing.” No such detail or representation of point of view was afforded to any of the 41 Haitians that were killed in February.
Consider the recent protests in Lebanon and Iraq. Between militant groups and an influx of 1.5 million plus refugees, the country, in recent years, has been on the brink of disaster, making the peaceful overthrow of the government an unthinkable accomplishment. But after two weeks of October protests sparked by a proposal to tax What’sApp calls, Prime Minister Saad Hariri stepped down. In Iraq, hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands have been injured in protests calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
CNN’s YouTube page has no content related to the Iraqi protests and one video about the protests in Lebanon. Fox’s YouTube page has no content related to either protests. The print media’s coverage of these uprisings have fallen in line with American interests. The Post published an article about Iraq and Lebanon that argued that Iran’s actions in other countries are “facing a serious threat—not via American confrontation, but popular unrest… The uprisings have… seen demonstrators openly reject the Iranian hand in their countries’ politics.” The article makes the point that this may make the dent in wider Iranian influence that Donald Trump has been unable to make. An article in The Times titled, “Iran’s Leaders See Threats in Iraq and Lebanon Protests” takes a similar stance. These articles put geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Iran at the forefront of analysis. These articles characterize the protesters as pawns in a wider game of control over the Middle East rather than addressing the interests of the people involved.
Egypt, Sudan, France, Hong Kong, Tunisia and Catalunya: all over the world, protests have erupted in defiance of corruption and governmental mismanagement. But if one were to judge what was significant in current affairs based on media coverage, it would seem that the only thing worth talking about was American political scandals. We aren’t hearing about popular mobilization and if we are, the picture of events is skewed to favor the interests of the American establishment. The revolutionary events of 2019 are not marginal: entire governments are being replaced. These events are merely marginalized by media that refuse to acknowledge the actions of everyday people.