Corporations, Globalization and the Media: An Interview with Linda McQuaig

Oct 3rd, 2008 | By FEO Admin | Category: Comment

Jeffery Klaehn

LINDA McQUAIG is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author of eight books, including Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire, It’s the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet, The Cult of Impotence: Selling the Myth of Powerlessness in the Global Economy, Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths, All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust and the New Capitalism, and The Wealthy Banker’s Wife. She currently writes a weekly political column for the Toronto Star.

Jeffery Klaehn: How did you come to do what you do? What factors have influenced your writing?

Linda McQuaig: I got into political journalism by working for the student newspaper, The Varsity, while I was a student at the University of Toronto [in Canada]. I was always attracted to issues of power. This led me to an interest in economic issues. Economic issues tend to be covered in the business sections of newspapers, even though they’re about much more than business. They’re about the distribution of power and who gets what share of the resources. My interest was always to bring these issues into the main part of the paper, so to speak, to write about them in a way that made them understandable and relevant to ordinary people (like myself) and to show how the financial elite has managed to put in place economic policies that favor its own interest, at the expense of the rest of society.

For instance, tax policy issues are typically covered in the business section, even though they have enormous impact on the general public. If a business group manages to win tax reductions for business and high-income people, this affects everyone. The rest of society will have to pay more tax, or important public programs will be cut back, or both. Similarly, if a business-funded think-tank like the C.D. Howe Institute convinces the Bank of Canada to adopt strict anti-inflation policies, this leads to high interest rates and high unemployment. That is good for those with large financial assets (in other words, rich people). But it is extremely bad for ordinary working people. High unemployment not only punishes the unemployed, it also weakens the bargaining power of labor and strengthens the bargaining power of employers. So what the Bank of Canada does is far more than just a business story. But stories about the Bank are almost always confined to the business section and written for a business audience, in a way that obscures the significance of monetary policies for everyone.

My interest has always been to try to take what appear to be technical and complicated economic issues and show how they generally boil down to basic principles that aren’t that complicated. Hidden behind the apparent complexity is a simple reality: the financial elite has managed to use its influence to win the economic policies it wants, to the detriment of the general public. I’ve always tried to shine a light on how this happens.

Jeffery Klaehn: Other nations, such as Sweden and Norway, have rejected structural adjustments and corporate rule. Intuitively, this would seem to challenge the presupposition that corporate globalization is inevitable.

Linda McQuaig: You’re exactly right. I think the example of the Scandinavian countries-as well as many European countries-amounts to a refutation of all those arguments about globalization and the supposed need to cater to corporate interests. The Scandinavian countries have generous, far-reaching social programs, beyond what we can even imagine here in North America-free dental care for children, free university tuition, five weeks (or more) paid vacation for all members of the workforce, in addition to extensive health, education, labor retraining and pension systems-and yet these countries manage to be extremely competitive in the global economy. It’s striking that the Scandinavian countries consistently dominate the top ten rankings of the World Economic Forum in Geneva; Finland is currently number one.

If the North American public were aware of all this, it’s pretty clear that there would be demands to move closer to a Scandinavian-style system. But the public is largely unaware of this reality. As a result, the business elite has been able to sell the argument that we must choose between generous social programs and economic competitiveness. From there it’s a quick jump to the argument that without economic competitiveness it’s impossible to sustain much in the way of social programs, so economic competitiveness-including small government, low taxes, etc.,-must come first. But, as you point out, the example of the Scandinavian countries demolishes this argument. Clearly, as the Scandinavians have proved, countries can have generous social welfare systems and still rank at the top of the world in economic competitiveness. It’s a slam-dunk rebuttal of the corporate position. Hence we hear little about it in the media here.

Jeffery Klaehn: To what extent do the media operate as a system of power?

Linda McQuaig: Well, I think what we’ve just been talking about is a good example of the way the media operate to control the way we think about things and to limit our understanding of what options are available to us-in other words, as a system of power. It’s not that media outlets get together and decide to block information about the success of the Scandinavian model, or that individual news organizations have policy guidelines that prevent their reporters from covering this story (or any other story that might lead the public to conclude that our government is moving us in the wrong direction). Such stories are not banned, but they almost never seem to make it into the mainstream media, or if they do, they are buried in the back pages where they are unlikely to have impact.

There is a subtle kind of censorship involved here. The corporate interests who own our media don’t like the Scandinavian model, with its high taxes and greater level of social equality. They subscribe instead to the ultra-capitalist model of low taxes (particularly on wealth and corporations). And they appoint publishers and editors-in-chief who hold similar views. And these people in turn make sure that these views dominate the news organizations they run. There’s nothing particularly surprising about this. Obviously, if the media were owned by environmentalists or feminists or vegetarians we wouldn’t be surprised to find their pages and airwaves generally reflecting and promoting these viewpoints. So the fact that corporate interests own the media means the media, for the most part, reflects and promotes positions favored by corporate interests. There are variations within the corporate view. The Toronto Star tends to be more liberal on a number of issues than the Globe and Mail or the National Post. But they all promote views that fall within the corporate mainstream, with the occasional dissenting voice permitted (although almost never in the Post) in order to create an impression of balance.

This isn’t overt censorship (as in external government censorship), but it amounts to a fairly systematic internal control of ideas. Reporters or editors who fall too far outside the mainstream on issues that are important to the corporate elite-it’s okay to hold divergent views on issues like capital punishment or same-sex marriage-will be branded as too radical or opinionated (as opposed to the ‘objective’ pro-corporate positions), and will find their work marginalized and their careers going nowhere. Certainly promotions within major news organization tend to go to those who share the overall political and economic mindset of the senior editors and publisher, who in turn share that mindset with the ultimate owners. It’s a fairly tight system of control, but the strings being pulled are hidden from public view. Hence it is possible to maintain the illusion that we have a ‘free press’, whereas in fact, we have only a partially free press. It’s free, as the saying goes, to those who own it.

This interview is excerpted from Jeffery Klaehn’s edited collection, Bound by Power: Intended Consequences (Black Rose Books, Montreal, 2006). This original work contains additional exclusive interviews with a range of noted scholars, including Noam Chomsky, John McMurtry and Brian Martin. They speak candidly about understanding power, the global market and the various forces within it, and the costs of dissent. The book also features an exclusive interview with David Miller, widely known for his writings on propaganda, who speaks openly about Iraq, U.S. and corporate world domination, the origins of the propaganda model in the United Kingdom, and the death of Dr. David Kelly, British weapons expert who leaked information to the media about what the British government knew about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

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