How to read (and understand) the corporate press. Case study: Serbia

If you walk by a newsstand and pick up a magazine like  Businessweek or a newspaper like the Wall Street Journal, you know that you will be reading ‘the news’ from the perspective of large business interests, and the stories will be slanted to fit into their perspective and worldview. But what about mainstream newspapers and news organizations, such as BBC, Agence France-Presse, AP, Al-Jazeera, The New York Times  and all the rest? Are we getting ‘objective’ reporting about news, especially economic news, which gives us a clear understand of micro and macro economic conditions? No, of course not. All of the news organizations listed are themselves huge corporations, publicly traded on Wall Street, and have boards of directors who themselves sit on other companies’ boards.

What’s humorous to observe and study is the language that reporters for these companies use when reporting on political and economic issues facing countries. The language is carefully crafted to appear as neutral, independent , and objective when in reality it is nothing of the sort.

Let’s take a recent article from Agence France-Presse about recent elections in Serbia. AFP refers to Aleksandar Vucic , the Deputy Prime Minister as a former ‘ultra nationalist hawk.’ This is simple code language, used often in the business press, to refer to a leader who doesn’t ‘play ball’ with the international money lenders and tries to keep his country independent, strong, and sovereign. The big corporations and banks have no use for countries like that. They want weak, impotent countries with puppet dictators whom they can easily control.

Now, however, Vucic is no longer a ‘a nationalist hawk’ who is against joining the EU. He has ‘reformed’ himself and is a new man! Now, he is happily steering Serbia into full EU membership and thus subjugating a once proud and independent country to rule by a bunch of European bureaucrats residing in Brussels. He will no doubt be receiving heaps of praise from media such as AFP.

 

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The article goes on. The reporter informs the readers that Serbia ‘has often been seen as a defiant international pariah since playing a central role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.’  I wish I had a nickel for every time an organization like AFP or the New York Times referred to Serbia as a ‘pariah.’ In fact, Serbia’s leaders did what any country’s leaders do when attacked by foreign forces: fight back and work to protect their people and borders. Serbia’s real crime was that it was stubbornly independent and didn’t want to trade in its sovereignty for the chance to join the EU. But the lazy writer for AFP is counting on his readers not knowing history or understanding the language he is using.

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In the following paragraph, this reporter gives a couple of statistics detailing Serbia’s current economic troubles- which of course were the result of its being a pariah and not playing ball with Brussels, the IMF, World Bank and Goldman Sachs- and then gives the solution. The reporter writes: “The next government will have to focus on reforming antiquated labor laws and cutting down on bureaucracy, analysts say.”

 

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This is classic IMF/Wall Street lingo, understood perfectly well by those in the upper echelons of the business class, but little understood by the average reader. First of all, who are the ‘analysts’ the reporter writes of? Notice he doesn’t bother to name his sources. He doesn’t need to. No doubt these so-called ‘analysts’ work for Wall Street. He also cleverly phrases it in a one-sided manner, to give the impression that there is no debate on this now, that it’s a foregone conclusion what the new administration in Belgrade must do. ‘Antiquated labor laws’ is phrase that business writers love to hurl at governments , especially of countries like France which have strong laws on the books to protect their workers from amoral and rapacious corporations. ‘Cutting down on bureaucracy’ is another timeworn and favorite phrase of the corporate press. They want governments to gut all the departments which are in place to protect workers, children and families so that the corporations can have free reign to do as they please, i.e. extract, pollute, and exploit.

The nameless reporter plows ahead in the next paragraph. “The new government will also have to push through a stringent austerity package, including the privatisation of 170 state-owned companies, along with subsidy cuts and tax increases.”

Again, where is the reporter getting this information from? It looks as though he has the IMF/World Bank loan form right in from of him. Serbia, he is telling us, will have to drink the same bitter medicine that Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Greece and others have drunk. The banks and large trans-nationals will come in to rape the country of its natural resources, buy all the state companies for pennies on the dollar and subject its population to years, possibly decades , of imposed poverty and disease. Again, it’s presented as if this is the only viable solution, and a done deal. The only thing left is to sign on the dotted line. The same thing will happen in Ukraine, and all the articles about that country will sound just like this one.

‘Austerity’ and ‘privatisation’ mean rape and pillage. But the business press always prefers to use polite language, so you must learn how to translate.

 

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