Uncensoring Globalization (5/00)

On the morning after the April 16 rally and street protests in Washington, DC, staged to draw public attention to the destructive policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), the national press was still missing the point. In a Washington Post Style section feature, for example, one writer defined the A16 mobilization as "get-your-greedy-corporations-out-of-my-old-growth-tree-day." That was about as close as any Post reporter came to explaining why more than 30,000 people had descended on the nation’s capital, or why it was necessary to arrest more than 1200 people and militarize over 20 city blocks.

Instead, coverage focused almost exclusively on the tactics of protesters and the police, and the extent to which opponents of corporate globalization managed to disrupt the official proceedings. Much was made of traffic troubles, the movement’s decentralized structure, and an alleged lack of support from Blacks. To excuse their self-imposed ignorance of the issues, some journalists even complained that an absence of visible leaders made it difficult to know what the protesters wanted.

In short, if you didn’t know what the Bank and IMF do before that weekend, you weren’t much better informed afterward – that is, if your source was mainstream TV or print media. Still, the nature of the coverage did reveal how nervous and defensive this movement is making the transnational establishment. One obvious clue was the almost total blackout of the rally’s content. Ask yourself: If Al Gore or Pat Buchanan told more than 10,000 people gathered a block from the White House that we "must challenge the fundamental premise of global trade," wouldn’t it make the evening news and talk circuit? Well, that’s precisely what Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who’s already ahead of Buchanan in national polls, urged just before the Sunday march. But his speech – indeed, the entire message of the event – was conveniently left out.

What did get covered was the official response. According to World Bank President James Wolfensohn, the protests were misguided, since the Bank is simply trying to alleviate poverty and poor nations would be even worse off without IMF loans. The problem, he explained, is simply that the benefits of free trade aren’t reaching everyone. Abandoning any pretense of objectivity or balance, most media simply accepted that explanation at face value. After all, going much deeper could be dangerous to a budding journalist career.

Of course, as those who go beyond sound-bite journalism know, these two lone sharks for crony capitalism throughout the global South aren’t involved in philanthropy. Through its insistence on mega-projects, the World Bank orchestrates centralization and privatization, moving power from communities to corporations. More than two-thirds of the Bank’s loans over the past 10 years have been for oil and gas development or water privatization. And rather than alleviating debt, the IMF provides a safety net for banks and big business, while demanding government austerity and the auctioning off of public enterprises. The results are increased poverty, unemployment, inflation, and environmental disruption. Even the recent Meltzer report to Congress says so. It’s known as structural adjustment – another concept that apparently cannot be discussed in prime time or most morning papers.

Yet, with monumental audacity, the IMF and World Bank now say they want to solve the problems they have been instrumental in creating. The response, from the South and in the streets of Seattle and Washington, is a resounding no. In Bolivia, for example, an attempt to privatize water recently led to a peasant revolt when the Bechtel Corp. dramatically raised water rates to finance a huge tunnel. In April, just before the DC protests, Bolivians brought the country to a standstill and stopped Bechtel’s scheme. Similar movements are building around the world. As Canadian organizer and teacher Tony Clarke put it at the teach-in held before A16, "The foundations of the American empire are shaking these days. And wherever they meet, we’ll be there, shaking the foundation one more time."

The fact that protesters didn’t prevent the IMF and World Bank from meeting is irrelevant. Corporate media’s content blackout couldn’t prevent an essential message from emerging: These are secretive, unaccountable institutions that can only function behind a police barricade. Even less-than- curious TV viewers are starting to ask questions.

The next challenge is to penetrate the "iron curtain" of media myopia with an agenda to restructure the current global financial architecture. That includes shrinking the role of both institutions, and eventually replacing them with democratic mechanisms – possibly within the UN – that foster authentic, sustainable development, impose a code of conduct for businesses, and help people meet their unique local and regional needs.

In effective Nader campaign could open the door if he makes it into the fall debates. But even if that doesn’t happen, the growing mobilization for global justice – combining grassroots education, provocative protests, international solidarity, and a network of independent media – has the potential to expose the tools of corporate globalization and set the world stage for their replacement with institutions that enhance justice and sustainability. In the last two years, this movement has derailed Clinton’s play for "fast track" trading authority, blocked adoption of a Multilateral Treaty on Investment (MAI) that would overrule governments and encourage a financial free-for-all, and prevented expansion of the WTO. Now it’s pushing for debt cancellation and holding the world’s ultimate iron triangle – Wall Street, the US Treasury Dept., and the WTO/IMF/World Bank complex – accountable for a record of failure and destruction.

Reporters in the media-industrial complex may not want to see the big story, but the battle to democratize globalization is already being won.