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.