« The media obscure a considerable part of what makes it possible to understand an event. But even more crucial is the place given to this or that fact: the moment, the layout, the tone, the repetition, the elements of contextualization, the facts and the analyses that give it meaning (or deprive it of it). The constraints are so strong, and are so deeply inscribed in the system, that editorial choices that would otherwise be made are difficult to imagine.N. Chomsky & H. Edwards p.21
- Are you going to the event?
- What event?
- Well, against the TTIP.
- What is the TTIP?
I had already talked to them about it. But how many times had they seen it on TV, heard it on the radio, read it in the newspapers? Not in the usual form favored by the dominant press, which always presents the facts in this false neutrality involving two « camps »: those for and those against. In this staging: the opponents are always represented as individuals who seem to have just decided to oppose without really explaining the basis for their action and the values that govern their choices. They would contest, it is their right…
« It can be said that the media representation of the world, as it is fabricated daily by journalists, does not show what reality actually is but what the ruling and possessing classes believe it is, wish it to be or fear it will become.Alain Accardo, « Journalistes précaires, journalistes au quotidien », éditions Agone, 2007, p.64
So there are not really any objective facts at the origin of the challenge. No reality of the social and sanitary destruction, of the asphyxiation of ecosystems, of the wage oppression that these treaties will generate. Those who demonstrate would just be exercising their civil and political rights such as freedom of opinion or free speech. Individual choice then.
But behind the false neutrality, the media’s treatment of the protest alone shows that the propaganda channels obediently follow the dominant ideology and that, behind the appearance of impartiality, the media have their own opinion and construct the reality that suits the caste of the wealthy and ensures the perpetuation of the dominant order.
1. The choice of those who express themselves.
The morning of the September 20 demonstration against CETA and TTIP, scheduled for the evening in Brussels,
RTBF public radio, La Première, invites Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? In 15 minutes, even if the journalist relays the fears of the social movements, a subject like this requires time and well-prepared arguments, with figures, allowing to give the change to the lies and attempts of reassurance of the spokesmen of the multinationals. Inviting him on the morning of September 20, a few hours before a demonstration, means giving him a platform, a plea, giving free rein to the Atlanticist propaganda which, once again, can give the listener the impression that there are no objective facts, that the European Commission and the United States government only want the good of the citizens. Those who oppose it can thus do it, nicely and without violence, but they are not very credible at the bottom, not defending more the common good than Cecilia. .. such is the impression that it can give.
« Authentic democracy that involves the people in action is a threat to be overcome.Noam Chomsky (1)
The latter, warmly recommended at the time by Jean-Claude Juncker (JCJ) — President of the Commission and fervent defender of free markets and tax havens — for her accession to the post of Commissioner(2)On the airwaves of the public radio, he said: » The treaty with Canada [CETA] is completely feasible, the Member States will vote soon I hope, the European Parliament too. For the TTIP, she will add « There will be a treaty, if not before Obama, it will have to wait for a natural break for the next administration « . Normal, no, when its role consists essentially in the ratification of its treaties: « Our goal must be to conclude the negotiations on the basis of mutual and reciprocal benefits « JCJ will explain to his new recruit(3).
During the entire interview on The FirstShe will try to convince listeners that a majority of Europeans are in favor of CETA and TTIP: « In the majority of countries [de l’UE], there is a majority of support » (…) » I received a letter last week from 12 states who assured me of their support and said, « Please don’t stop the negotiations, this is a very, very important agreement. ». And in these countries, there is also very strong popular support. » Poor Europeans who fail to realize the opportunity of CETA and TTIP. It will therefore be necessary to convince the latter, and RTBF will do its best to do so by inviting Vincent Reuter (managing director of the Union Wallonne des Entreprises, 14.10), Didier Reynders (20.10), Marianne Dony (president of the Institute of European Studies and professor at the ULB, apparently a fervent aficionado of the Union and the treaties, 21.10).
Malmström will add: » In no case can we force Member States to privatize their public services, there will be no lowering of standards; we have tried to explain, highlight and bring all these fears into the negotiations »;« The treaty with Canada is in the interest of Europe, of Wallonia too; in Wallonia we have just lost many jobs ( …) that’s why we have to give another chance to Belgian companies… »
She won’t say that Canadians advise us to avoid doing the same thing they do, and warn us(4)Canada signed a free trade treaty with the United States and Mexico 22 years ago, with the endless sophistry of economic growth, job creation and wealth for all. Caterpillar, for example, which produced locomotives in Ontario, imposed a 50% wage cut on its workers under threat of plant closure; they refused and the company, like many others, moved to the United States where labour standards are more « flexible ». A few years later, Caterpillar again moved production to Mexico, where wages are even lower(5). In Canada, in the last 5 years alone, 350,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. With CETA and TTIP, we have an opportunity for endless competition between European countries, and it is clear who will benefit.
The harmonization that the advocates of TTIP and CETA talk about is therefore a « balancing out »: an unbalanced balance to the advantage of some. As one of its zealots, Ms. Dony, stated on La Première in fantastically contradictory terms: « There is a balance in the exchange of goods that has been established, there are winners and losers everywhere. And so if a state decides to say, « because my people, my farmers are a bit of a loser I don’t want to accept it », but then we can’t do a free trade agreement at all ». Free trade, as we know, results in an unbalanced harmonization, from below, which reduces food safety, health and environmental standards. No balance, then, if we define this term as « Asuitable relationship, a happy proportion between opposing elements or a just distribution of the parts of a whole; a state of stability or harmony that results .(Le Petit Robert)
And in the event that a government takes action to protect its citizens, a special court (arbitration tribunal for the settlement of disputes), with private lawyers, paid huge sums of money, may intervene.6 Cases of this type have already taken place and augur the results of this practice once it is generalized in the European space: « In 2012, the Slovak government was ordered to pay 22 million euros in compensation to the Dutch insurer Achméa. Why such a condemnation? This is because the Slovak government, in an effort to guarantee access to health care for all, required insurance companies operating in this sector to lower their prices »(6).
The radical « no » to globalization is untenable in a world where the consumer takes actions every day that take companies beyond their borders » (…) « The market remains the most efficient way of organizing economic life, particularly because all other methods have shown their limits ». The market remains the most efficient way of organizing economic life, especially because all the others have shown their limits ».Béatrice Delvaux, chief editor of Le Soir, December 2, 1999(7)
In 1999, « the media cast the Seattle protesters as ‘professional agitators’ (US News & World Report), ‘irredeemably bitter’ (Philadelphia Inquirer), just ‘opposed to international trade’ (ABC-News) making ‘much ado about nothing’ (CNN). And the protesters’ demands were hardly reported at all.N. Chomsky & H. Edwards, p.101
That same morning of October 21, the guest of Morning First will try to convince us: « And this is why States, in order to safeguard their prerogatives, their sovereignty, their capacity to regulate, say to themselves « we will call upon arbitration tribunals instead and they will find a solution through compensation ». (…) States choose arbitration to protect them ».. Phew! We had been scared.
And since for some information, it is necessary to implement the « 360° strategy », the other media are getting involved. On September 22, just two days after the demonstration, Le Soir, perhaps avoiding that doubts still linger, gives carte blanche to Hans Maertens, managing director of VOKA (Flemish business organization), who tells us that « Wallonia and Brussels can come out winners with the CETA ».
2. The focus on the consequences — in the very short term — of the protest
As usual, on this morning of strikes and demonstrations, the daily newspapers give pride of place to the « traffic disruptions » caused by the « mobilization ». Barely hiding their will to show that « mobilization » demobilizes — makes « users » less mobile, they « forget » that what the first ones are moving for has very little to do with this sacrosanct freedom of movement by car and that this one is of little importance compared to their demands: What does it matter for the ING civil servant or the Caterpillar worker to lose two hours in their car when those who are at stake in their temporary immobility are the very ones who are mobilizing so that they don’t lose their job (beyond all the necessary questioning about the unconditional defense of the job, which is not the subject here)?
A real union could take place, that of the working class and a part of the middle class, but the media divide and pit one against the other. Their editorial offices send journalists, a kind of special envoys of the asphalt, to the congested places to tell us live the state of the traffic, which we can more than guess that the slowness will be directly attributable to the strike action. Franz Olivier Giesbert, director of the newspaper Le Point in France, speaking on BFMTV about the strikes against the labor law, offers a perfect illustration: « Look at the total lack of respect, there is the Euro coming up, it is a moment of national communion « but no it’s not serious we will strike! And then there are these horrible floods, all these employees who only think of going home, in what state they will find the house, and there, strike… it is a lack of respect ». Identical media reactions to the refinery blockades where micro-trotters, purely selective tools of propaganda, more than set the tone.(8)
3. Silence on mass protest
This focus on our small individual interest has basically only one function: that of not letting us believe that we, the mass, have the power to change things, to change the course of history, to unite us beyond certain different theoretical positions. The subject must be left as a subject, in this liberal illusion that he is the only master of what he does and that, even after the signing of the TTIP, he will still be able to « choose ». Didn’t Karel De Gucht say when he was Trade Commissioner: » The choice could be left to the Europeans, through clear labelling systems. Let’s not demonize [le poulet lavé à l’eau de javel]. I trust the consumers. For example, if I buy a chicken, I would obviously take a Bresse chicken »(9). Of course, it is easier when you earn 12,000 euros a month (or 30,000 with a 50,000 euro installation bonus for Jean-Claude Juncker) than when you are an unemployed mother who has to « choose » between a Bresse chicken and paying for heating… at that price, bleach goes down more easily…
In this respect, the slogan of the rally against TTIP/CETA, at Schuman Square, with the organizers shouting: « Don’t forget, you also have a possibility to change things, you have a responsibility as a consumer », sounds a bit hollow. For it is precisely this illusion of a subject master of his choices, a bourgeois ideology if ever there was one, which could freely choose between Bresse and bleach, which completely and violently ignores class relations and the impossibility — material but also in terms of knowledge — for some, and many, to make the choice to choose!
The opposing mass should not be shown too much… A few days after multiple demonstrations against TTIP/CETA in Germany, we wrote to RTBF: « I would like you to tell me why you did not mention the hundreds of thousands of viewers who demonstrated in Germany against the TTIP/CETA in your evening news on Saturday 17? Isn’t it important enough to talk about it and explain what justifies the anger of the demonstrators?
They will answer me: « The news being often very busy, the JT editorial staff is constantly forced to make choices. In thirty minutes of newspaper, it is indeed impossible to talk about everything. This is why the RTBF editorial staff practices a so-called 360° information, i.e. information that is spread over the different media. A subject can thus be treated in radio and on the net but not in television, or conversely « .
But what exactly is « current events »? Who creates it? How is it formed, if not by the choices of subjects that the media decides to expose? The news does not therefore pre-exist the informative choice: it exists by this choice, because we remain in the last instance beings who do not enjoy the gift of ubiquity(10) and who, all in all, are very limited to obtain alone the information which exceeds our direct radius of analysis.
- Éditions de l’Herne, Paris, 2006. p.26.
- Jean-Claude Juncker à Cecilia Malmström : « Our aim must be to conclude the negotiations on a reciprocal and mutually beneficial basis », idem.
- Voir à ce sujet le documentaire Wall-Mart: the high cost of low price, notamment ce moment où un cadre de Walmart découvre la façon dont sont traitées les ouvrières dans les maquiladoras au Mexique.
- Voir le dossier « Le marché transatlantique : démocraties à vendre ? », kairos 10.
- Ricardo Cherenti, Bruno Poncelet, Le Grand marché transatlantique, les multinationales contre la démocratie, Éditions Bruno Leprince, 2014, p. 101.
- Karel De Gucht, lorsqu’il était Commissaire européen au Commerce. Voir Le grand marché transatlantique, Ricardo Cherenti, Bruno Poncelet, Éditions Bruno Leprince, 2014.
- Faculté, possibilité d’être présent en plusieurs lieux à la fois.