Newspapers Smear Activists Ahead of WEF Protests

In a few days, the World Economic Forum will hold
its annual meeting, an elite gathering of what the
WEF calls the world’s “top decision-makers”– in other words, big business leaders and government officials…and local media are serving up some of the same distortions that have greeted past globalization protests. As a result, the political debate over the WEF has been obscured, as have concerns about police brutality and civil liberties.

2002.01.28


In a few days, the World Economic Forum will hold
its annual meeting, an elite gathering of what the
WEF calls the world’s “top decision-makers”– in other words, big business leaders and government officials.

The event usually takes place in Davos, Switzerland, but will be in New York City this year (January 31- February 4), ostensibly as a gesture of solidarity after the September 11 attacks.


Many globalization critics identify the WEF as a
nerve center for neoliberal economics, and past
WEF meetings have been the focus of significant
protest. This year’s meeting promises to be no
exception, and local media are serving up some of
the same distortions that have greeted past
globalization protests.


Mainstream New York City newspapers have tended to frame discussion of the demonstrations in terms of their status as a security problem. A search of
the Lexis-Nexis database (12/1/01 – 1/28/02) found
that most articles in the New York Daily News, New
York Post, New York Times and Newsday mentioning
the WEF have focused on police preparations for
the protests.


As a result, the political debate over the WEF has been obscured, as have concerns about police brutality and civil liberties.


Though the New York Times and Newsday didn’t
manage to overcome this skew toward security
questions, it should be noted that both papers
provided more substantive coverage that did the
Post and the News.


Contrast this approach to one particularly vicious
editorial from the New York Daily News (1/13/02),
which referred to anti-WEF activists as “legions
of agitators,” “crazies,” “parasites” and “kooks.”


The paper threatened activists, saying “You have a right to free speech, but try to disrupt this
town, and you’ll get your anti-globalization butts
kicked. Capish?”


The Daily News compared critics of the WEF to the
terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center.
“New York will not be terrorized,” declared the paper. “We already know what that’s like. Chant your slogans. Carry your banners. Wear your gas masks. Just don’t test our patience. Because we no longer have any.”


It’s hard to read such rhetoric as anything other
than an attempt to manipulate New Yorkers’
legitimate anger and grief over September 11 in
order to whip up a backlash against dissent.
Unfortunately, the Daily News wasn’t the only New
York paper to attack activists in these terms.


Much WEF coverage has been dominated not by
serious reporting, but by unsubstantiated
commentaries that portray activists as violent thugs.


New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman (1/19/02) described globalization activists as people “less known for their deep thinking than for their willingness to trash cities,” saying “some would say that New York needs this [protest] about as such as it needs another airplane attack.”


The ease with which commentators equate activists
with terrorists has its roots in the mainstream
media’s rewriting of the history of U.S.
globalization protests.


Recent articles about the WEF have referred to previous, overwhelmingly peaceful globalization protests in Seattle, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Philadelphia as “window-smashing, flame-tossing spectacles” (Daily News, 1/24/02), “violent mayhem” (New York Post,
1/20/02), “radical protesters rampag[ing] through the streets… clashing with police” (Daily News, 1/18/02), “wild protest melees” (New York Times, 1/25/02), and, simply, “violent” (Newsday, 1/18/02).


It’s true that violence has been a problem at
globalization protests, but the majority of it has
been initiated by police, not protesters.


The November 1999 WTO protests in Seattle were
characterized by unprovoked tear-gassing, beating
and unlawful arrests of peaceful demonstrators
(and even of bystanders), and a National Lawyers
Guild investigation characterized the Seattle
violence as a “police riot.” The American Civil
Liberties Union has expressed alarm over police
abuses at globalization protests, and in more than
one case filed suit against law enforcement
authorities over the issue.


Yet time and again, media have distorted events to suggest that police force was a necessary response to “violent” activists. (See Extra!, 1-2/00 and 7-8/00.)


When coverage is dominated by news and commentary that presents lawful political assembly as a terrorist threat– a threat that the police “know what they have to do” to deal with (New York Post, 1/18/02)– it has a chilling effect on dissent, raises tensions between police and the public, and risks creating a climate where law enforcement agencies feel able to exercise force against demonstrators with impunity.


For independent coverage of WEF issues and
protests, visit the New York City Independent
Media Center
:



http://nyc.indymedia.org/


For links to protest organizers, visit the
Mobilization for Global Justice:



http://www.globalizethis.org/


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Author: FAIR

News Service: Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

URL: http://www.fair.org/press-releases/pre-wef.html