Fat Steve's Blatherings

Monday, February 14, 2005

World Economic Forum caught lying

      Kudos to Captain Ed and commenter Dishman.  They've exposed a Davos falsehood.

      The spin coming out of the WEF is that the panel "Will Democracy Survive the Media?" was semi-off the record.  Opinions expressed could be reported, but not attributed to the speaker in any way.

      Bull.  The official summary of the conference is here, and it violates their supposed rule.

Will Democracy Survive the Media?
Annual Meeting 2005
If the frank exchange of views between the media and politicians that characterized this session is anything to go by, the answer to the theme question was an emphatic "no". In a discussion that ranged from the disappearance of the county hall news bureau to the killing of journalists in Iraq, an informal consensus was reached that a healthy media makes for a robust democracy and one cannot survive without the other.

Which is not to say that everything is rosy. Moderator David R. Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA, opened the session by suggesting that the trivialization of the press means that the public is becoming increasingly disengaged and is less inclined to vote. And because too much of the media is owned by corporations, much of the world isn’t being covered because of the costs.

Barney Frank, Congressman from Massachusetts (Democrat), USA, agreed. "Essentially there’s less news," he said. "Reporters used to come to the city hall and that is a thing of the past. The biggest change is in the corporate ownership. People used to put out newspapers because they wanted to be journalists. Nobody is doing that these days; they do it because they want to make money. Papers are in a circulation race."

The commercialization of the press is having its effect on the TV channels, too. Eason Jordan, Chief News Executive, CNN News Group, USA, said that his organization is under pressure to compete against entertainment-led cable outlets. For his part Richard Sambrook, Director, World Service and Global News, BBC World, United Kingdom, said that the suicide of David Kelly and the subsequent Hutton Report which criticized the BBC had resulted in a new commitment to the journalistic values of objectivity, transparency and accountability. "I think it’s going to become more important to divide the serious media from the others who are driving the bottom line," he said.

The importance of the media to democracy is nowhere more graphically illustrated in the world today than in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. As Gergen had pointed out in his introduction, the press has taken cameras to various dangerous places.

But it was the fifth panellist who reminded the largely Western audience of the key role that the media has to play in democracy. Abdullah Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, said his country now has its first free press since before the Soviet invasion. "The right of expression is now ensured for our citizens. We have 160 newspapers with only about 5 or 6 publicly supported," he said. "During the election there were debates going on that nobody would have believed possible a few years ago." And did he feel more accountable with a free press? "Certainly."

      So off-the-record in Davos means 'We censor the reports for our own purposes.'  "A healthy media makes for a robust democracy," my ass.  Feh!

      Update, Feb. 17th: The Blogfather has a comment from a Davos insider:
Although the Forum has long claimed non-plenary sessions are off the record, this is followed far more in the breach than the observance. Much of the reporting from Davos comes out of so-called off-the-record sessions, without the journalist obtaining the consent of all involved. Further, most people recognise that it is futile to claim an event attended by more than a few people can truly be off the record. Larry Summers, when he was deputy Treasury secretary, told me in Davos that the first thing he learned in Washington was that any conversation with more than two participants would never be off the record (a lesson he has had to relearn recently). . . .

      Memo to elitists: Your ability to control information has diminished drastically.  Deal with it.



Post a Comment

<< Home