Trouble in Greece, but don’t blame the media

On the Greek news agency site, the Greek Reporter, Anastasia Chaini tells us 800 Greek Right-Wing Racist Blogs are under police supervision. Meanwhile AP are running this story about the rise of the ultra-right in Greece which it links with increasing economic hardship.

The xenophobic rage exploded in May, when youths rampaged through a heavily immigrant neighborhood in broad daylight, knifing and beating foreigners. The attacks left at least 25 people hospitalized with stab wounds or severe beatings. Athens has since suffered a spate of hate attacks by far-rightists.Last November, the leader of a neo-Nazi group won a seat on Athens’ city council, with an unprecedented 5.3 percent of the vote.

Make you wonder what Brendan O’Neill was thinking on Q&A last night when, after conceding that some early news reports jumped the gun in blaming “muslim terrorists” for the massacre in Norway he then goes on to say

something worse has happened since then…left leaning commentators and liberal commentators have highjacked this tragedy…have tried present right wing writers as the cause of all violence and horror in the world.

Apparently (according to O’Neill) to do so is to embrace the “media effect theory” ie certain words and images, certain symbolic representations can induce a particular course of action in the public. He labels this as “ideological highjacking” and mentioning Andrew Bolt in particular he says reading Bolt means people will die.

Furthermore, O’Neill says this has implication for freedom of expression, in particular the possibility of censorship and less press freedom arising from the liberal commentariat who are urging the sort of supervision mentioned above .

Now the problem here is having set up the stakes for his point of view. O’Neill while conceding the ethnic racial basis of Breivik’s massacre goes on to make the rather sensational claim that there can be no link between right wing commentators and such extreme violence because to say so is to assert that words kill people.

The only people who say words kill are censorious people

O’Neill writes in more detail here but I think he is missing a point.

Does O’Neill believe that words and pictures can influence human behaviour? It would indeed be quite odd if he didn’t as the editor of a medium devoted to publishing words and pictures. Perhaps the only behaviour he imagines to be influenced is our entertainment but even so he must to some extent accept that words and pictures have some effect on the viewer’s state of mind.

As humans are we completely immune to the influence of symbols? Perhaps, after all cause and effect might be difficult to prove with the utmost of certainty but surely the every day evidence, the growth of advertising and public relations for example, suggests that human behaviour can indeed be influenced by what we see and read.

So it seems problematic to assert as O’Neill does that there can be no link between the ranting of some right wing nut cases on the internet or reporting like the Sun in London who blamed Al Qaeda for the Norway massacre. It is also difficult to see how one cannot fail to be critical of people like Bolt who likewise immediately jumped onto the suspicion that the terrorist attack in Norway was Islamic in origin.

Regardless of any lack of journalistic integrity demonstrated in assuming the massacre was the work of Islamic terrorist, it is telling that the Norway massacre quickly stopped being a terrorist act when it was revealed there was no Islamic connection and in fact the ideology of the perpetrator was a native Norwegian from the far right. If words are unimportant or cannot influence our behaviour, according to O’Neill, then why would we not use the label of terrorist to describe the behaviour of someone who committed what is in other contexts described as terrorism?

O’Neill seems to conflating two separate issues. The left commentariat were highlighting the political motivation for the way the news was initially covered which indirectly reveals the right wing sympathies of parts of the media. Yet rather than admit such leaning, those who made those mistaken utterances then proceeded to denigrate the left for what? Picking up on the way the news narrative changed when a non-islamic Breivik was identified?

What is revealed is the mainstream media is imbued with a “natural” tendency to associate all terrorism with Islamic groups and thus perpetuate the conventional logic that only Islamics are terrorist, or worse, create a suspicion that all Islamics are terrorists. But rather than admit this, the focus is then shifted onto the left wing and liberal commentators rather than discuss any influence the right wing through the media might have in creating the public environment that breeds people like Breivik.

The censorship issue that O’Neill should be addressing is more insidious than an imagined police state. It is the self censorship of the mainstream media that represses left agenda items as un-newsworthy or uninteresting while permitting discriminatory “othering” of our fellow human beings on the basis of their race, colour, religious belief or gender.

While the mainstream media continues to be the mouthpiece of the corporate world then its institutionalised right wing bias will remain and the public narrative will continue to be based on right wing agenda items, such as the terrorist threat posed by the Islamics.


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