New NHK boss Katsuto Momii got into trouble in Japan last month for comments on comfort women for Japanese soldiers during World War II and for suggesting that the state broadcaster should support the Japanese government in the territorial dispute with China.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was similarly criticized for asking the state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to support government policy. The ABC has long been criticized for left-wing bias in the opinion pages of the Murdoch press which, given its own well-known biases, is especially ironical.
In the United Kingdom, former top executives of papers in Murdoch’s News Corp stable are currently on trial for their roles in the phone hacking scandal that engulfed British media.
What of U.S. media? The relative decline in U.S. global dominance will inevitably lead to a retreat of the U.S. media footprint around the world as well and translate into a corresponding erosion of U.S. soft power. The trend will accelerate if outsiders lose faith in the objectivity of U.S. media analysis. An important explanation for the surprisingly rapid inroads of Al Jazeera in the Middle East market was the dissatisfaction with the biased coverage of regional affairs by the once-dominant Western media.
The vulnerability of the U.S. media to manipulation of facts, evidence and opinion by the government was vividly shown during the Iraq war in 2003. Reporters and columnists failed to challenge the inflated threat assessment by the Bush administration based on demonstrably inadequate, incomplete and manipulated evidence, self-serving cherry-picked intelligence, and flawed analysis.
Former Australian diplomat Alison Broinowski notes: “Of Rupert Murdoch’s 174 newspapers worldwide, not one editorially opposed the war, and once the invasion began, many commentaries became hysterically supportive.”
Similarly, after a month in the United States, Rami Khouri wrote: “any impartial assessment of the professional conduct of most American media outlets in covering the Iran situation would find it deeply flawed and highly opinionated to the point where I would say that mainstream media coverage of Iran in the U.S. is professionally criminal” (Daily Star, April 6).
To this litany can be added their coverage and analysis of the recent diplomatic row between India and the U.S. Multiple layers of complexity and nuance were reduced to India wrong, America right.
The dots connect a woman working as a maid for an Indian diplomat in New York, her husband’s working for a U.S. diplomat in New Delhi, the U.S. diplomat’s and his wife’s antipathy to many things Indian as posted on social media, and an easy route to coveted permanent entry into the U.S. Requirements included the filing of criminal charges, the willingness by the employee to testify against the employer, and an advocacy NGO’s and a prosecuting attorney’s acceptance of the maid’s testimony over the diplomat’s.
The whole chain could well be false, but that requires an independent and impartial investigation. The U.S. media accepted the maid’s narrative and prosecution case seemingly at face value and strongly applauded the diplomat’s arrest for committing crimes against U.S. visa and labor laws and regulations on the basis of two great American self-sustaining myths: egalitarianism and the rule of law.
The blunt big-picture reality is that they endorsed the U.S. policy of subsuming foreign diplomats to U.S. legal jurisdictions while using the full weight of U.S. economic and diplomatic muscle to keep American diplomats (and soldiers) beyond the reach of foreign legal jurisdictions.
Washington, as well as Beijing, Delhi and Moscow, is similarly happy to put others in the dock of the International Criminal Court but refuses to accept the court’s jurisdiction over its own actions.
The editorials and op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Financial Times (and Australian) repeatedly recalled previous Indian diplomats caught in similar troubles. But they stayed silent on more heinous crimes committed by U.S. officials misbehaving abroad, from accidental deaths in Kenya (2013) to killings in Pakistan (2011). Because the indefensible double standard cannot be justified, the second part was never mentioned. Oversight or hypocrisy?
They also neglected to mention that the case, involving a contract signed in India between two Indian citizens, was already before India’s courts.
By failing to mention this, they avoided the need to explain and justify why U.S. legal proceedings should be privileged over India’s. Providing a justification might have been right or wrong; not noting the facts was deceitful.
Similarly, in an intriguing outbreak of groupthink, they kept mentioning the recall of identification cards for U.S. officials in India as an example of petty and vindictive over-reaction. India had unilaterally issued diplomatic ID cards to all U.S. Embassy and consular officials.
Angered by the treatment of its consular officer, India recalled all diplomatic ID cards and re-issued diplomatic or consular ID cards as appropriate. But the second part was simply ignored as just another inconvenient fact that would contradict the self-righteous narrative.
Outraged opinion writers also made sure to mention that security barriers had been removed from around the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, but neglected to point out that the barriers were removed from public land as an inconvenience to Delhi’s citizens. To compensate, India substantially increased the police presence around the U.S. Embassy to ensure there was no net reduction in security coverage.
Because “Few governments in the world have the geopolitical heft” that India has, says Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, “virtually every other government in the world was quietly cheering on the Indian government as it insisted on total reciprocity in the treatment of Indian and American officials” (Indian Express, Jan. 12) You’d never know this from the U.S. media.
In the end this is more of an indictment of the U.S./Western media’s professional integrity than of India. It would also appear to be against their own interest as the world order changes and the likely media market growth is in the rest of the world whose citizens are better read and informed in real time than ever before. They can spot and will look down on journalistic laziness, double standards and intellectual dishonesty.
Ramesh Thakur is director of the Center for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (CNND) at the Crawford School, Australian National University, and adjunct professor at the Institute of Ethics, Governance and Law, Griffith University.