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by Andrew Kennis
Thursday, May. 31, 2001 at 2:34 PM
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.
The Strawman's Revenge -
IMC's E-zine Of Media Analysis
FTAA Reporting in U.S. Corporate Media:
Infrequent, Imbalanced & Substanceless
By Andrew Kennis
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. A database search of 6 months of coverage shows just how lacking the coverage has been.
The only relief came in letters to the editor.
While the importance of the Summit has been openly
acknowledged, millions of Americans who rely upon the corporate
media for news have learned next to nothing about
it and its implications for their own lives and futures.
Basic Facts MIA
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 Summit, 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 Summit and its implications for their own lives and
Rundown of U.S. Corporate-Mainstream Media Coverage
A database search found 208 articles that
mentioned the FTAA in the last six months,
only 23 in mainstream U.S. print media.
The few articles covering this issue have
lacked balance and failed
to report on substantive issues.
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. Meanwhile,
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.
Two letters to the editor were the only opinion pieces
expressing dissent. All editorials favored the FTAA.
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 news pieces contained only government quotes, one only business quotes.
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
In U.S. Mainstream Media, the fact that the FTAA is a Secret Document is Itself a Secret
The draft text of the FTAA is secret, but no
U.S. corporate papers reported on the non-violent civil
disobedience in Canada
to obtain the secret draft.
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 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
NAFTA provision allowing corporations to sue governments),
it did not mention that the draft of the text itself is secret.
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 Public's Opposition to "Free Trade" Is Virtually Non-Existent in U.S. Corporate-Mainstream Media
The Atlanta Journal did quote a Senator who
stated that NAFTA was "not popular at all"
however, there was no further explanation.
The reader is left to assume that such opposition is nothing
more than irrational "economic fear."
The article was no exception.
Several of the few articles that reported on the upcoming Summit 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
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
For more articles by Andrew Kennis,
see the supplemental page of The Advocate,
an independent student paper of New York City.
This article was originally published on the NYC Indymedia Website on April 18, 2001.
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