Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Power of the Media

When I was younger, I used to consider Western media such as CNN as the truth and nothing else but the truth. I never questioned what was said by the capitalist media and the views they espoused became my own during conversations with family and friends. During those days, I never tried to go beyond the rhetoric to see what was NOT being said.

As time went by, however, I became much more critical of the capitalist media. I realised that a journalist or a contributor to the media is, deep down, a person who is trying to transmit their viewpoints across to the world in order to achieve certain goals. Of course, given the fact that most Western countries have adopted a predominantly capitalist economic model, it is not surprising to see that most newspapers, radio stations, and TV channels broadcast pro-capitalist messages. Furthermore, I have noticed that anything or anyone who tries to criticise capitalism is usually either ridiculed, demonised, or simply ignored. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are the perfect examples of this phenomenon.

While the Western media barely ever takes a break from transmitting speeches about democracy and human rights by individuals such as George W. Bush or Gordon Brown, it rarely focuses on what has really happened throughout history once the sweet rhetoric of such people is brushed aside in favour of the hard facts. I will try to shed some light on this point in this post so that every time you hear a UK or US government representative talk about democracy and human rights, you will be able to go beyond the rhetoric and examine the facts.

I guess that few people have heard about a certain Sandy Mitchell. The latter was a British citizen who spent some time working in Saudi Arabia as an anaesthetic technician. In the year 2000, he was accused of being involved in two bombings that shook the country. The authorities arrested Sandy and subjected him to a great deal of torture. Back in the UK, his sister struggled almost constantly in order to push the British Government to do something in order to secure her brother's release. The Foreign Office was clearly terrified of upsetting the good commercial relations that existed between the UK and Saudi Arabia and were, therefore, very reluctant to do much in order to obtain Mr Mitchell's release. As stated by Mark Hollingsworth and Sandy Mitchell, the authors of Saudi Babylon: Torture, Corruption and Cover-Up Inside the House of Saud (2006), "It was clear from the Foreign Office reports that ministers were raising the case but there was no negotiation, lateral thinking or pressure being applied" (p. 163). The same authors added that "Secret trials, torture, no legal defence after uncorroborated confessions and arbitrary detention without charge are features of the Saudi judicial system. Crimes involving national security are so broadly defined that they encompass all non-violent opposition to the government. The Saudis refuse to allow the UN Human Rights Committee to investigate allegations of systematic torture in the Kingdom" (p. 228).

Sadly, it seems that the Western media hardly ever criticises the appalling human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. The authors of the aforementioned book stated that "Concern for human rights in Saudi Arabia ranks very low on the agenda of the US and UK governments. Apart from noting that women face discrimination and the court system is secretive, abuse of human rights is barely mentioned by the UK Foreign Office or in US State Department presentations to Congress about programmes to promote democratic values across the world" (p. 229).

The media is extremely powerful. I believe that it should do much more than simply broadcast capitalist messages. The media should trigger discussions and focus on genuine attempts to reduce the suffering of millions of people all over the world.


Friday, 12 September 2008

Career Aspirations

A few days ago, La Delirante and I met this girl at a private educational institute. She said that she graduated as a lawyer, but has never really worked as one. Indeed, her current job has virtually nothing to do with her legal studies. She did not complain about the fact that she is not working as a lawyer. The girl said that compared to some of her university colleagues who went on to work as lawyers, she has a much better job. We asked her about decent work opportunities for lawyers here in Malta; her comments were far from encouraging! She said that unless one comes from a family of established lawyers or has strong connections, it is extremely hard to find a good job as a lawyer in present-day Malta. A friend of hers, she told us, had tried to work as a notary and opened an office, but hardly anyone ever turned up. This friend ended up working in a call centre.

Studying something and ending up having to work in a sometimes totally different field is a situation which seems to be affecting a growing number of university graduates locally as well as in many other countries. I spent four years of my life studying Psychology. I was one of the top students in my course, graduating with a high B+ average from university. I also studied Philosophy for several years. When I started looking for a job related to my studies, I could not find anything that matched my knowledge and skills. Some of my classmates ended up working for organisations that helped individuals suffering from a number of behavioural problems, but their jobs were often terribly ill-paid and with very bad conditions. I still remember one girl telling me that she sometimes had to work at night as a sort of security guard in a home for troubled teenagers. She said that she would take a book with her and spend most of the night reading.

I eventually ended up working as a Support Officer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My job did not even require a university degree!

Although the acquisition of knowledge can always be seen as useful (and I surely do not regret having studied Psychology), it is extremely frustrating to see how nobody ever turned on the alarm bells when I was about to enter University. Why is it that nobody informed me that the chances of finding a decent job with an Honours Psychology degree were going to be minimal?

A great deal of the textbooks we used were from the US. Such books often gave one the impression that there is such a huge demand for psychologists that a graduate in that area would never have to face the spectre of unemployment! We were being exposed to the US and sometimes to the UK markets, but hardly anyone was ever enlightening us about the Maltese job market!

Several years have gone by since I graduated. I am presently studying and working in insurance. Up to mid-2005, I had absolutely no idea about how insurance worked. Today, I am working hard to obtain my Diploma in Insurance. As I said in a previous post, I love working in insurance. Yet, there are times when I feel that I could do something more than that since one of the things I like most in life is that beautiful feeling that flows in my system whenever I do something to make other people feel happy. At the end of the day, I studied Psychology for two main reasons: I had fallen in love with science and I wanted to help other human beings to overcome various problems in their lives so that they could feel better about themselves.

If I had the opportunity, I would love to be able to study Medicine. I am sure that the study of how countless body systems work would satisfy my craving for scientific knowledge. More importantly, working as a doctor would allow me to really contribute to improving the welfare of many other people. Moreover, there is always a huge demand for doctors and it is, therefore, virtually impossible to end up unemployed.

The dream is great, but how on earth would I be able to study Medicine today? The course is fairly long and it requires full-time study. With all my current financial commitments, I cannot just stop working to spend the next five years of my life studying! Sadly, this is a dream that is going to have to wait for quite a while until it is turned to reality...

I have focused a great deal on my own experience. Yet, I know that there are several other people out there who could identify with various issues mentioned in this post. During the last month or so, I have come across a girl who graduated in Communications and Psychology, but who is presently working as a receptionist (her duties include preparing coffee and hot chocolate for the directors!). I have also recently met another girl who graduated in Geography, but is working for a financial services company.

One question: shouldn't the government do more to see to it that if a person is studying something, there are several good opportunities to apply the knowledge that is gained painstakingly over a number of years? What is the point of having a Philosophy course at university when the newspaper adverts are almost always looking for graduates in Accounts, Economics, and IT?

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Gods that Failed

I have just finished reading a great book entitled The Gods that Failed: How Blind Faith in Markets Has Cost Us Our Future (2008, The Bodley Head) by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson. I strongly believe that all true left-wing thinkers should read this book. The book, however, also offers a great deal of food for thought for all those individuals who support the free-market economy.

The "gods" referred to in the aforementioned book are a number of ideas that have been and are still predominant in several capitalist countries such as the UK. To mention some examples, the authors talk about the effects of "gods" such as liberalisation, competition, and privatisation.

I will end this post with some quotations that will hopefully encourage the readers to purchase a copy:

"In Britain and the United States a very strange sect has seized power. They believe that we can all reach financial paradise. If only certain sacrifices are made. There must be deregulation, there must be privatisation, and markets must be left unmolested, the better to perform their magic. Democratic governments, unions and professionals will all have to accept that there is no alternative. Meanwhile job security, affordable houses and decent public services wither away in the white heat of financial engineering." (taken from the book's blurb)

"The New Olympians are unconcerned with - in fact, hostile to - job security (other than their own), social tranquillity, and the traditional middle-class aspiration for both the good life and the quiet life. Our modern day Olympians sit in judgement in their central banks, their skyscraper blocks in the financial districts and in the headquarters of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. In these houses of the holy, they roll their eyes in despair when they hear that the Detroit car worker, the Argentinian shopkeeper or the Cornish fisherman is complaining that their way of life is under threat. Like it or lump it, that's just the way it is and has to be, the New Olympians say." (p. 5)