Friday, 31 October 2008

Crisis visions: hedge fund seers and lefty misanthropes

We've had the credit crunch punch, the recession confession and now the post-lesson depression.

Ah well, at least we can be thankful for the collective efforts of all those financial analysts, market-makers and political economists rushed onto our screens to explain and brainstorm solutions to the crisis.

even gave a hour to hedge fund billionaire Hugh Hendry, whose apparent Don't Bank on the Bailout remit was to tell us how deregulatingly irresponsible the banks and City-watchers have been and just how crazy it was to believe the boom could go on indefinitely. The government also gets it in the neck from Hendry for bailing out the banks, a state interference too far, he warns.

How endearing it was to hear how Hendry and a small band of marginalised others had predicted the collapse.
A sage missive, indeed, from this market seer.

The key 'hook' to the film comes where Hendry tells us he's no ordinary guy. While everyone was on the up-escalator, he was busy betting on the downward version - making plentiful short-selling millions for his hedge fund in the process.

We should, of course reserve some plebeian gratitude for the bold Hugh. Sure, he's up-front about his own rake-it-in pursuits. But at least he's telling us where capitalism got it all 'neglectfully wrong' - a neglect which, apparently, doesn't seem to include our Hugh's own greedy, destructive dealings.

Irony, it seems, is as stone dead as Milton Friedman.

From ex-chancellors and finance ministers to city analysts, Newsnight and other comfy media chairs have been filled by 'serious' examiners of the crisis. While old monetarists like Norman Lamont are given privileged studio room, critical left analysts of capitalism and high finance are largely disregarded as political misanthropes, carefully excluded from view.

Ann Pettifor, for example, has been forecasting this crisis and talking about the implications for some considerable time now. There's also a wealth of such analysis hosted by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now. Little or none of this cuttingly-informed opinion ever makes into mainstream media discussion.

There's a select understanding of what constitutes a 'critical' voice here. We do get the occasional 'balance', as in Naomi Klein's recent Newsnight appearance discussing whether capitalism 'works' - note the agenda-setting theme.
Yet, it remains an intellectual tokenism in the selection and dissemination of left voices (often slotted quietly into Newsnight's 'end-of-week, wind-down' Friday edition).

Newsnight also rececently paraded Francis 'End of History' Fukuyama via satellite link, getting his apparent high opinion on the crisis and how to counter the recession. Alas, Gavin Esler didn't seem to think the
paradox of Fukuyama's past discourse on capitalism's 'historic triumph' worth mentioning - nor his long-standing association with the US neocons.

What's 'left', 'green' and read all over?

This is typical BBC invitation. From prime-time news to Question Time,
only 'left-leaning' guests the BBC feel comfortable with get the nod.

It's a selective approval evident in the kind of groups and spokespersons consulted on a range of issues.

One recent example involved BBC online reporter Mark Kinver seeking-out the
"left-leaning" Green Alliance for comment on Gordon Brown's 'new' climate body.

As highlighted in a recent Media Lens Alert, Kinver stated that:
"Green groups have welcomed the creation of a new energy and climate department in Gordon Brown's government reshuffle."
He considered Green Alliance, headed by Stephen Hale, to be an "independent organisation" typifying green approval of the measure. Yet, a cursory look at GA reveals its expansive connections with big business and government figures. As noted by Media Lens:
"The BBC was here taking us deep into Orwell territory. Hale was a special adviser to Margaret Beckett when she was Secretary of State for the Environment. The most recently available accounts indicate that Green Alliance has received funding from a range of sources which include government departments: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for International Development. Funding and support for Green Alliance have also come from centres of green activism like BP, Glaxo, Lever Brothers, Shell, the BBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Tarmac and the privatised utilities."
Asked by Media Lens "Why can't the BBC do better than this", Kinver claimed that he had:
"balanced the left-leaning Green Alliance's views with the comments from the free-market think-tank, Policy Exchange"
I sent this to Mark Kinver in response:
Dear Mark,

I was very interested to read your reply comments to the Media Lens Editors with regard to their current Alert. It's yet another valuable insight on how BBC and other correspondents see and misrepresent the climate change issue and broader world of 'left-right' divisions.

As Media Lens have shown, it doesn't take much click-of-the-mouse investigation to identify Green Alliance's corporate backers and government connections. Hardly “left-leaning”.

When Stephen Hale proclaimed: "Hallelujah. A department of energy and climate change, and not before time...”, shouldn't it have occurred to you that there might be a more expedient motive behind this new 'cabinet inclusion' ?

Your mitigating thoughts about the “Whitehall village” and ”balancing” of comments from Green Alliance and Policy Exchange further exemplifies the kind of safe, narrow spectrum of political life made available by the BBC to the general public.

This 'neutral' presentation of the 'green debate' and selective reference to 'left' groupings is standard fare across BBC news and current affairs. Consider that the average reader of such a piece might automatically assume the “left-leaning” bona fides of Green Alliance. Consider, likewise, how that might cast the government as being very receptive to serious green-left views. Whereas, we know that the government's proclaimed 80 percent 'carbon-reduction policy' remains massively compromised by its ongoing promotion of carbon-intensive industries such as airport and road expansion. That's the real reason why a malleable outfit like Green Alliance is 'on-board'.

It's distinctly worrying that a journalist of your seniority can't apparently see the base politics behind such collaborations. I mean this in a kindly-critical vein. As noted many times at the Media Lens board, journalistic understandings are largely shaped and encouraged by the kind of institutional values and practices they see around them – all maintained and fashioned in protection of the political elite and big business. Thus, the “Whitehall village” and its corporate lobbies do, indeed, become the epicentre and source of media-filtered politics.

One way of pushing for real climate-addressing policies and other social change is to encourage reporters out of that cosy habitat – a process which requires them to look much more closely at the world of co-optive politics, as well as the rich resource of 'alternative' information on such matters so often dismissed or ignored by media editors and journalists.

I'd be pleased to get your thoughts.

Kind regards,
John Hilley
Mark promptly replied:
Dear John

Thanks for your email. It is good to know that there are sites/organisations like Media Lens that critique the narratives and dynamics of news stories.

The purpose of the story I wrote was to let people know that Gordon Brown had formed a new department that brought the climate and energy portfolios under one roof, plus initial reaction from those involved in the relevant policy areas. We had this story on our site within an hour of the government confirming the news. It was a quick on-the-day story, not a considered commentary on the implications - this was tackled by our Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin later in the day.

With that in mind, I am happy with the story I wrote.


Few regrets there, then. Still, while now-familiar with this kind of 'rolling news' explanation, one hopes that something registers in the minds of mainstream reporters about what prevails beyond their own hallowed media rooms.

Perhaps it'll prompt parameter-policing editors and copy journalists to sneak a look at sites like ZNet some time. They might even get a little shock education on those professing to understand the crisis.

Meanwhile, for your intellectual delectation, here's Ann Pettifor with a real left-green analysis, and Naomi Klein with her latest forensic essay on the Bush clique's last raid on the Treasury.

Beyond the triple crisis: a new green deal

The Bailout: Bush's Final Pillage

Enjoy the illumination.


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