Liar, liar, factories on fire
by Maha Mirza
NOWADAYS the global media seems to be euphoric about us. Every now and then, The Economist heaps lavish praise for our apparently astonishing economic happenings. Lately, JP Morgan added Bangladesh in its catalogue of ‘Frontier Five’. The McKinsey Report spotted Bangladesh as the next hotspot for global apparel bazaar. After finished havocking the Greek economy, Goldman Sachs kindly positioned us in its next-eleven brochure. And the World Bank confirmed our eligibility for a sharp 8 per cent growth. Meanwhile, our own leading newspapers have gone ‘gaga’ over the prospect of us being on the directory of the club of new-rich. We obviously continue to hog the headlines for wrong reasons. Before getting ecstatic over the prospect of Bangladesh going super rich, ‘eight per cent’, middle-income, moody’s darling, hot and sizzling ‘Double-A’-investment-destination, and what not, it was vital for any responsible journalist to ask a few simple questions. Who are these guys, Goldman, Morgan and McKinsey? And what is this 8 per cent hullabaloo all about? Does this 8 per cent thingy offer clean water? Does it deliver low-cost hospital beds? Low bus fair? Low-cost food, fuel and fertiliser? Does it pay off 12 million of our farmers? Does it shelter six million of our migrant workers from terrifying living conditions? Does it halt our factories from manufacturing charcoaled dead bodies? In its most fertile seasons of good growth what makes India evict 8 million of its farmers from the countryside? At a spectacular 9 per cent growth rate, what makes 836 million Indians live under 20 rupees a day, and 32 Indian farmers commit suicide every minute? Any journalist/editor with a reasoned mindset would correctly address the futility of such number-based development visions. In the last few years, we have seen otherwise.
When media lies, people die
ON NOVEMBER 23, 2012, (only 72 hours before the Ashulia slaughter), Prothom Alo, the most circulated Bengali newspaper of Bangladesh, had reported a classic saga of the nation’s so-called blockbuster economy. The editorial looked spellbound with foreign pampers and painted a glorious picture of an ‘8%’ utopia. With the display of a smiling textile teen, the front page column declared the industry to be the buttocks-saver of the nation. However, what the report had not told us is the decade-long pauperisation of a vast chunk of rural and urban poor in such sewing camps. It carefully shrugged off the horrific tale of Ha-Meem, Spectrum, KTM and Garib & Garib (who collectively choked more than hundreds of its ‘garibs’ to death). Most importantly, it chose not to photograph the remarkable resemblance between the payroll and the poverty line.
Earlier this year, we have seen the leading newspapers of this country openly pampering Pascal Lammy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, for ‘assisting’ the nation in daydreaming to be as affluent as Singapore! Apart from the global denunciation of the WTO due to its incredibly arrogant anti-farmer actions, the organisation is also responsible for the suicides of hundreds and thousands of farmers all over the South. But yeah, never mind, on April 2, The Daily Star, another leading newspaper on the same line of business, couldn’t help headlining on Mr Lammy’s so-called ‘wise counsel’ of ‘opening borders to battle poverty’! The very next day, Prothom Alo published an identical piece. ‘Pascal Lammy’s hope’, it captioned! Admittedly, with the chief’s ‘hope’ and ‘counsel’, along with his back-patting, our media has proved itself to be quite efficient in gradually shutting down the cause of the common men from its ‘airtime’. Secondly, for heaven’s sake, what kind of journalism tags along with the demos and memos of WTO?
The very next day, on April 4, after an appalling eviction of thousands of residents of Kuril slum, both Prothom Alo and The Daily Star headlined: ‘City suffers as slum dwellers block Airport Road’. Both made a clear selection. The ‘city’ over the ‘slums’! The class character of our media is quite visible by now. (After slamming the ‘slumdogs’, the same group of editors eagerly publishes/translates Arundhati’s ‘Maoist’ passages! ‘Fashionable’ they are!)
The Media Inc
THIS throws up an important question. Is our leading media playing its moral role of comforting the afflicted? Or is it structurally compelled to be in a business of comforting the already comfortable? The ownerships of our media (both print and satellite) at this point is deeply linked with a fabulously huge business conglomerate of a whole spectrum of merchandise: cell phones, washing machines, mosquito coil, diet Pepsi, fire insurance, spinning mills, Aerosols, rubber plantation, pain killers, beef pepperoni, red & hot BBQ chicken, tube lights, literature fest, and what not. One wouldn’t want to gloom the consumer price index while owning pretty much one quarter of the entire economy. No ‘Badnaam’ is good, as darling DSE index may tumble.
In 2008, at a time when the American financial empire was about to pound, The Economist, The Times, The Independent, along with JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, persisted to publicise their deep-rooted allegiance to the toxic tubes of global finance. This well fleshed out network of alliance continued to push people to put their pennies down the deeply contaminated pipelines, and insisted, it has never been so good before! Right after the hodgepodge, the same big boys lined up to explain what went so fundamentally wrong in the economy!
Yet, never have our mainstream media shown any serious intellect to underscore the audacity and the allegiance of this financial alliance. This is no secret that Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are well-planned podiums for dangerous financial practice. They bet on food prices, buy post-tsunami stocks and make millions out of radioactive Fukushima fallouts. They blow bubbles with old people’s pension, make rubbles out of world economy and take billions at home as bailout bonuses. Whether it is tsunami or earthquake or tropical cyclones or nuclear leakages, they bet, spin and assemble money out of the mere smell of reconstruction. Their stock prices rock-n-roll with the arrival of Katrina, Isabel, and Sandy. (Warning: once they put you on their next-eleven-checklist, you better hide your stockpiles). It is also vital to note that the same financial giants on October 2011 donated a sum of $4.6 million to the NYPD in order to slam down the Wall Street occupiers from Zukotti Park! Never mind, if JP Morgan says we are the next bomb, bomb we are.
An elite-media conglomerate
IN ORDER for our neo-elite to satisfy their newly found self-esteem, in a slum-capital like ours, the upper class, the child of our rising prosperity, seems to have gradually created a ‘parallel universe’, a ‘privileged island’ of its own, intriguingly overstaffed and habitual with a flamboyant portfolio of foreign product. And that requires masses of foreign notes.
Our eternal hunger for foreign exchange, our unmistakable mood for imported goods, our uncontrolled appetite for Japanese cars, Chinese tyres, Indian fashion, and our irresistible desire for super malls with constant supply of Kelvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, require foreign coins. Owing to our ‘cheap’ little people and ‘non-existent’ fire exits, foreign currency to our urban-upper-class has become what opium is to the Taliban. What is striking about this mechanism is the incredible sense of entitlement of the elite over the sweat, blood, and flesh of our migrant and textile workers. Surely, our media has brainlessly added ‘butter’ to such aspiration.
And here we go. The corporate media is busy pumping sunshine into the life of the consumerist elites, telling them how wonderful it is, while a few million of our factory workers remain strangled in hopeless poverty and nearly a thousand of them are already dead in the process of building a more comfy way of life for us. Amusingly, after the lords of the factories have completed killing so many, the same media is now shedding crocodile tears by digging up countless numbers of findings and footages ratifying how terrible it has been all along! (My my, isn’t that damn late to show that it’s never too late!)
Facts vs. fantasy
IN A rapidly changing economic map of the world, our media ought to do its homework seriously. From London to Madrid, Berlin to Athens, Roma to Cairo, the live-in-action-global-crowd has become enormously successful in tearing apart the emperors’ last piece of clothing. Alternative economic thinking is on the rise, and a range of global media has picked up the stories. Rivers, farmers, unions, and activists are getting cosy with the news bulletins. Climate change debates are seriously defying the very validity of the mere production-based economic vision. Little indigenous people, their local ways of life and their displacement by dams and development projects are making routine headlines to giant channels like the BBC or Aljazeera. This is the natural turn taken by a major part of global journalism. This new visionary groups of journalists are neither KGB-funded nor Trotskyites. These are professional journalists trying to do their job by separating facts from fantasies. It is only ‘politically correct’ to expect that our media would perform its professional task by causing disturbs to the hegemony of such suited-booted economic models. As far as our media’s sense of right and wrong is concerned, God help the country.
As of today, our mainstream media has kept its loyalty towards 8 per cent growth and never bothered to pinpoint that GDP reflects nobody’s reality. It remained addicted to the tale of a middle-income-kingdom, dared to explain how to calculate that crap and continued to contribute to a dangerously faulty economic vision that comfortably keeps millions of our workers in deadly assembly lines, perfectly capable of producing charred skeletons for Anjuman Mafidul. Through this sort of settlement, three decades of poverty-line-paralleling-textile-wage has been nationally accepted, and it is accepted in the name of marching to a euphoric paradise of double-digit-growth. As they say, when the rich and powerful piss on the poor, the elite declares, it’s trickledown economics.
To make things worse, media says it’s raining.
We know by now, hips don’t lie. Editors do.