Author Archives: reverttotype

About reverttotype

This is the free-form, personal and often needlessly opinionated personal blog of Steven A Kearney, a journalist, podcaster and radio presenter who has recently moved from Edinburgh to Manchester to pursue new career options.

The truth, the partial truth and nothing like the truth…

Emergency appeals and the media circus that surrounds them always bring forth an interesting period for media commentators and those who ply their trade amongst the ruins of other people’s lives.

For me, the stories that go unreported by the entity we collectively refer to as ‘the mass media’ always make for a more interesting story than the endless re-runs of the heroic and tragic stories upon which our collective societal watchdogs choose to report.

Never is the inherent bias of the western consensus more apparent than during a humanitarian disaster.  The stories omitted are a story in their own right.

Take, as a classic example of the point in question, the issue of aid given during disaster situations.  Where, in our collective conscience, is the role played by countries not aligned to the Washington Consensus in the disaster response?

The recent Haiti catastrophe and the previous case of hurricane Katrina highlight a fundamental problem with the western media.

When a country such as Cuba defies their position as an ‘enemy of the state’ and provides fantastic humanitarian relief, our collective media lack a schema in which to process their response.

A recent Al-Jazeera report indicated the extent to which Cuba’s response to the earthquake in Haiti has been criminally ignored.

Cuba has provided the highest number of medical staff on the ground of any nation, with Al-Jazeera putting the figure at 930 professionals.

To quote the Al-Jazeera report, “Cuban doctors have been organising medical facilities in three revamped and five field hospitals, five diagnostic centres, with a total of 22 different care posts aided by financial support from Venezuela. They are also operating nine rehabilitation centres staffed by nearly 70 Cuban physical therapists and rehab specialists, in addition to the Haitian medical personnel.”

Cuba has also reportedly sent 400,000 tetanus vaccines to Haiti to aid the wounded.

Why then does this figure not register in the western media? The aid response has come from the US and the UK in the main, if we were to believe reports.

These reports should be treated with deep scepticism. The US wish to control the entire response and the media scrum has seen French aid planes carrying vital supplies turned away from Haiti, according to Medecins Sans Frontiers.

Hurricane Katrina is another case in point.  Cuba were among the first to offer aid and were prepared to send over 1500 medical professionals and 26 tonnes of medicine.  This offer, according to CNN quoting Fidel Castro, wasn’t even rejected – there was simply no response, as the Cuban medical team waited on approval to dispatch.

Put simply, there was no political mileage in allowing a long-term US foe to gain the PR boost associated with such a gesture.  The press complied, as it often does, by refusing to scrutinise this blank refusal, or even acknowledge its existence.

The reasons for these media omissions lie at the heart of the media ownership/bias debates and run deep.

At a time when the US healthcare debate centres on the fact that many people in ‘the land of the free’ find it acceptable to deny 40 million impoverished citizens any form of healthcare for their ‘sin’ of not being able to afford care in the land of plenty, the offer of high quality medical professionals from one of the few nations not bowled over by the flawed model of western capitalism is not one with sufficient appeal.

Cuba stands against the US model which dictates how the world should function.  This economic outlook has run generally unopposed since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  The greatest problem with the end of communism was that it left only one system of government.

Right or wrong, every idea needs to be challenged constantly to retain its validity.

Cuba has always represented a challenge to the dominant mode of western free market capitalism and ‘the young upstart’ governments of Venezuela under Chavez and Bolivia under Morales have pushed South America into the unenviable position of the opposition to the consensus.

In times where US health reforms are resisted and 40 million people are denied healthcare in order to stop the country following what many see as the communist model of Britain’s NHS, hearts and minds are not easily conquered.

The crux of the issue is that the media in the UK and the US have nothing to gain by accurately reporting Cuba’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.  As a news provider in the west, the worst crimes to be exposed to are charges of sympathy towards enemy states.

For those who wish to separate journalism from PR, a harsh lesson awaits. Each news source will report in line with the needs of their owners.  These needs may be political or economic, but they don’t differ wildly from the needs of any business owner.

Journalists don’t work to report the truth; they work for the person who pays them their monthly wage.  The news agenda has to fit with the overall aims and business interests of the parent company. When looking at our media, we should never lose sight of this fact.

Journalism is PR and PR is journalism. You work for the person who pays you and invariably, when media companies are involved, those interests are complicated and many.

Reporting on the success of the Cuban healthcare system has been resisted as it is a sore for the US, whose sanctions have failed to stifle a system which attracts student doctors from all over the world and exposes the shame of the United States.

The harsh reality is if any journalist or publication were to extol the virtues of the Cuban health system too vigorously, or mention the Cuban response to emergency appeal which the effort surely deserves, they would find themselves in the worst place imaginable to any news source – out of the loop.

Invitations to press conferences and access to top politicians are hard to come by and easy to lose.  Report the wrong thing too often and you are out. Simple. Gone.

And no news provider can operate without access to government sources.

The truth is out there, but nobody in the west dares to say it out loud.

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When did we forget how cathartic it can be to get really, really angry?

Remember when student protests were a national event?  Nope, neither can I.

I do remember a blissful time, probably in my late teens/early twenties when the world made me really bloody angry, although student protests were infuriatingly useless at the time, mainly as we were far too comfortable, which is quite the opposite problem to today’s selfish, inward looking recession graduates.

When I was 21, we invaded Afghanistan and I was super pissed off at the wholesale abuse of power our government exerted. I simply could not see the logic behind it and would tell anyone who would listen and most of those who would not.

When I was 23, I was in the streets shouting angrily about the injustice of the invasion of Iraq. As a resident of the granite city of Aberdeen, I was denied the chance to march in a meaningful demonstration, most likely due to the fact that a city which had made its name through the exploitation of oil wealth had no appetite for opposing wars in the middle-east.

I also remember the Aberdeen protest for one clear reason, or chronic lack of reason.  With all the protesters gathered at the city’s Castlegate, one key speaker declared that ‘we should not be invading Iraq, we should be invading Israel’ – tragically demonstrating his lack of awareness of the purpose of a peace march.

Now I’m 30 this summer and i’m as insipid and impotent as the next corporate fool, playing it all off as someone else’s war and someone else’s problem. “We tried to tell you and you didn’t listen.  Don’t expect us to mop it up when we have jobs to find”. It is someone else’s war, someone else’s problem.

I have longed for a time of anger and have derided the lack of courage that exists amongst my peers and, most of all, within me.

Then, blissfully, I remembered to watch Charlie Brooker‘s Newswipe and was exposed to the rantings of one Doug Stanhope.

Stanhope - Vitriolic, hilarious, incisive and always ranting

The man is ANGRY and it reminds me of all that is great about rage. I had genuinely forgotten.

We, as a nation, have lost our love of protest and I blame the dreaded ‘credit crunch’.

There is nothing like a financial downturn to make everybody a simmering introverted wimp in the face of all that is obviously wrong in the world.

As we get lost in our own selfish financial woes, we have forgotten what it is like to look outside of our reality and immediate sphere of influence to remember to stick up for the rights of others.

And no, I’m not talking about Haiti.  The western response to immediate disasters is heart-warmingly rapid and sincere, but mainly as there is no complicated political agenda to an ‘act of god’.

What I’m talking about are the tricky, muddled, ongoing sores of Iraq and Afghanistan – two illegal invasions which have caused the death of millions of innocent people.  Just so we’re clear. This is my blog and personal issues will appear.

And, let us never forget, a recession a fantastic excuse for selfish behaviour in the absolute.

My 21 year old self would have punched my lights out by now.  So awash was I with my own need for ‘survival’, as if a slight tightening of the purse strings is in any way comparable to the plight of war-torn nations,  that I totally lost sight of all that I used to be so very bloody angry about.

I have been told so many times by the news that I should be poor that I have almost started to believe it.  Perhaps when the news tells me that the recession is truly over, I shall feel bountifully rich again.   Either way, it is not an excuse.

There is a feeling when you get older that you used to be idealistic and somehow gaining a grander comprehension of the realities of the world as you get older is a suitable excuse for selling out on all that you used to hold so dear.

As a 21 year old, I promised that I would never sell out on my principles.  As I aged, I came out with statements like ‘the world is not black and white, but shades of grey’ and ‘the older you get, the less you know for sure’.

Well, right and wrong is not a transient issue.  Right and wrong will always be right and wrong, no matter how your conscience wishes to disguise it.  The only things which get more complicated are your excuses for inaction.

Douglas Coupland's Generation X was a defining novel for the 'baby bust' era

My copy of Generation X seems grossly underused these days.  Where did it all go wrong?  Douglas Coupland has managed to write a follow up,Generation A – and he’s a lot older than I am; why have I lost my way?

So, against this existential woe, enter Mr Stanhope – an American comedian who resists the ‘new Bill Hicks’ label like Pinochet avoided the Nazi label, but who is inextricably intertwined with the heritage of angry US political comedians trying to make us view the world in a wider context, through tightly gritted teeth and deeply sceptical lenses.

Stanhope’s skits for Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe have been the revelation of my year so far and have reminded me why it is so valuable to absolutely loathe what deserves to be so very loathsome.

Take his comments this week (episode 4), about how population control is at the core of the environmental debate.  We can all recycle, drive hybrid cars (if they manage to stop) and buy fair trade goods, but the best thing we can do is NOT REPRODUCE.

As Stanhope says, it is not a popular viewpoint and even the most ardent environmentalists like Al Gore don’t want to share this information with us, but the most harmful thing we can do in our lifetime is to have offspring.

“Sodomy is eco-friendly” – the best quote I’ve heard all week.

The world has passed the point where our population is manageable in comparison to our resources, but nobody has the balls to say ‘stop reproducing’ (apart from China of course and I’m not suggesting their model as a template. Images of discarded foetuses in the street will haunt me forever).

I admire Stanhope immensely, mostly because of his outspoken rants rather than in spite of them.  He may have gone a little far when he told an Irish audience that ‘Irish men f**k kids because Irish women are so very ugly’, but the man has a forceful way of getting his point across.

Agree or disagree with his standpoints, this anger has deserted us in our selfish credit crunch days.  Being angry at the world is healthy and, I would say, necessary.

Fair enough, Bill Hicks galvanised a generation like no other, but that generation has moved on and the current generation needs a champion who says ‘you are right to be pissed off, celebrate it but use it to achieve something’.  Dissent is a vital part of any democracy.

Doug Stanhope is not Bill Hicks and, for every heckler who suggests that he is treading on coattails,  he is at pains to point out that he doesn’t want to be another Bill.  He does however remind us of a vital function of being a citizen in a democracy and the importance of holding up to ridicule the things which simply should not stand.

Afghanistan and Iraq are two such issues.

Let us get really angry because, looking around, there is so much to be terribly angry about.

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