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FTAA Reporting in U.S. Corporate Media: Infrequent, imbalanced & substanceless

by Andrew Kennis Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2001 at 4:42 PM
AndrewInQuebecCity@yahoo.com (418) 523-6782

U.S. corporate media have openly acknowledged the importance of the FTAA, yet have not significantly covered it. At the same time, the little coverage that exists has been imbalanced and generally lacking of substance.

FTAA Reporting in U.S. Corporate Media:
Infrequent, imbalanced and
generally lacking of substance

Qu ec City, Canada: "The forthcoming Summit of the Americas prompts the most elaborate security operation in Canadian history," reports Ken Warn, of the British based Financial Times (April 10). "Negotiations on a separate Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) have been underway for more than six years," reported the Washington Post, noting further that such talks would "top the agenda at a hemispheric summit scheduled for April in Quebec City." (February 26). The trade agreement that is expected to be finalized, implemented and approved no later than 2005, will expand NAFTA across the whole continent of South America and the rest of Central America (it currently applies only to Canada, the U.S. and Mexico). While the importance of the Summitt, which is due to meet on April 20, has been openly acknowledged in the media in both the U.S. and abroad, the U.S. corporate media has failed to substantially report on this significant issue. As a result, in light of the fact that millions of Americans rely upon the corporate media for news, many folks have learned next to nothing about the upcoming Summitt and its implications for their own lives and futures.


Rundown of U.S. Corporate-Mainstream Media Coverage

A database search that gathered articles that mentioned the FTAA at least once in their text and that were from the last six months compiled 208 hits. Amongst the 208 articles only 23 were from U.S. mainstream media print outlets. While over half of the newspapers in the search were U.S. based papers, only a little over 10% of the articles came from these U.S. papers. The New York Times returned zero hits while the Washington Post only had three hits.

A closer look into these results reveal that the few articles that have covered this issue have had a lack of balanced reporting and a failure to report on substantive issues surrounding the FTAA. Of the pieces that were analysis articles, three mention activists, but only one quotes grassroots activists though does not touch on the issues in any substantive manner. One analysis mentions the "abject poverty" of Mexico, but spends only a couple of sentences on this development of NAFTA. Erstwhile, the same article fails to mention that wages in Mexico have dropped 23 percent since the implementation of NAFTA - a fact that was actually left out of all 23 articles. Another analytical piece contains all government quotes while one other contains quotes only from the business community.

There were two letters to the editor, one of which had an incorrect headline (listing NAFTA as the main topic of the letter, when it was the FTAA that was solely addressed). These letters to the editor were the only opinion pieces expressing dissent against the FTAA. Hence, the editorials were the least balanced amongst the twenty-three items of coverage, as all were in favor of the FTAA and all but one were written by government officials (while one other was from a conservative think tank). Such a performance mimics what happened shortly before the IMF and World Bank met last year on April 16, as all the editorials that the New York Times wrote expressed support for the meeting and disdain for the protests and the protesters (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting wrote a sharp critique of this).

Four of the news pieces contained only government quotes while one contained only business community quotes. An actual attempt was made to express the sentiments of protesters in the case of two news pieces (one was a longer version of the other), though one of these pieces described them in the headline as people who have an irrational "economic fear" of corporate globalization. Two short news pieces made only a passing mention of the FTAA, while two briefs did the same as well.


In U.S. Mainstream Media, the fact that the FTAA
is a Secret Document is a Secret In and of Itself

The draft text of the FTAA is secret and has not been released to the public. Nevertheless, the St. Louis Dispatch - paraphrasing a Canadian government official - reported that the official said that the FTAA "would be made public . . . [As opposed to] the past, [where] negotiations went on behind closed doors." (April 8) Meanwhile, there were no reports in U.S. corporate papers about the non-violent civil disobedience that was undertaken in Canada (over 80 arrests) by a coalition of activists, who attempted to obtain what is still the secret draft of the FTAA. A basic principle of journalism, in theory at least, is that quoting government statements should not unquestionably be taken as truth. Beyond the rhetorical promises of Canadian government officials, there is little (if any) evidence to suggest that the text will be released. Hence, the popular (and largely unreported) opposition to such undemocratic measures exists to quite a large extent.

Other papers have specifically referrred to the importance of the text, such as the USA Today, which quoted a U.S. trade official as saying that the FTAA "talks have produced a draft text that . . . should stand as the framework of a pact." Despite such acknowledgements, USA Today and other papers have still failed to write about the fact that the very "framework of the pact" is secret (as was the case in this April 2, USA Today article).

While the Christian Science Monitor did report on the existence of secret "Chapter 11" trials (a provision where NAFTA allows corporations to sue governments, under the auspices of World Bank officials), it did not mention that the draft of the text itself is secret. (April 3) Like the Monitor, The Los Angeles Times also managed to mention the secret nature of the negotiations. (March 25) On the other hand, it also reported that Latin American governments favored such arrangements, without a hint of a source or a quote from one country that has gone on record with this position. Meanwhile, the report did not refer to the fact that the draft text is secret, nor did it refer to the fact that some of the most popular resistance has come from that very region (in particular, from Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Argentina - all of which have had tens of thousands attend mass protests against corporate globalization in recent months).


Explanations &/or Analysis of Opposition to "Free Trade" amongst the Public, Virtually Non-Existent in U.S. Corporate-Mainstream Media

Several of the few articles that reported on the upcoming Summitt at least referred to popular opposition to "free trade," such as the Atlanta Journal & Constitution (April 5). Although the Journal did not quote an ordinary person or a grassroots activist, it did quote a Senator who stated that NAFTA was "not popular at all" in his state, and that he thought he spoke "for most senators who say there are large segments of the population in their own states where that's also the case." Such a quote would have been a great way to start to analyze why there is so much popular resistance to "free-trade" measures - however, there was no further explanation. The reader is left to assume that such opposition is nothing more than irrational "economic fear," as the headline mentioned above suggested.

The Atlanta Journal article was no exception, as other pieces referred to popular opposition against "free-trade" while not elaborating on such opposition - even while in the midst of expressing support for it. Such was the case when the Washington Post wrote in an editorial that "the candidate who profited most from the trade issue in the 2000 elections, [was] Ralph Nader, [who opposed all major trade treaties that the U.S. has agreed to]," and then went on to argue in favor of a "move up by two years [of] the target date for completion of the FTAA." (February 6)

In light of these results, it becomes pretty clear that in terms of coverage of global trade and economics, there are few other issues that highlight so effectively the corporate media's inability to report in a balanced, accurate and substantive fashion on major issues effecting people all over the world.



For more articles by Andrew Kennis,
see the supplemental page of
The Advocate,
an independent student paper of New York City
.

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