Cable News in the Developing World

I found the coverage of the Chilean mining disaster disconcerting, but could not really put a finger on why.  I found it vaguely wrong to swoop in and do a media blitzkrieg on the successful resolution of the collapse, when so many greater systemic tragedies occur all the time in Latin America, and elsewhere, in the developing world.  I had no good way of explaining this notion any better.  Maura R. O’Connor, however, articulates this line of thinking much better and uses the ongoing disaster in Haiti as an example:

CNN’s twenty-four-hour coverage of the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake, which took an estimated 300,000 lives, doubled the network’s viewership. This coverage undoubtedly played a role in the America public’s response to the tragedy—one out of two Americans donated money to aid organizations. But little reporting has been done since then that asks how exactly that money is being spent, holds aid organizations accountable to their promises, or investigates the American government’s development and economic policies in the country. These policies, argues sociologist Alex Dupuy, have kept Haiti frozen in a destructive cycle of aid-dependence and exploitation for decades, stripping Haiti of its self-determination. “For the level of tragedy, no one’s really being very honest,” said Michael Fairbanks, a development expert, of the American and international community’s rhetoric about Haiti since the earthquake. “[Haitians] are constantly put into the position of adolescence and being infantilized so they can prey on the charity from the rest of the hemisphere.”

The longer American news outlets ignore these critical and complex issues, the easier it will become to view their occasional jaunts to Haiti with cynicism: it’s an convenient place to get B-roll of tragedy and disaster. Their coverage increases viewership, but without a moral component of responsibility towards Haitians themselves over the long-term, such coverage is basically exploitative. And over time, superficial reporting on Haiti’s problems—which plays a role in soliciting charitable donations from Americans-will arguably make the media culpable in the very system of aid-dependence and misguided development policies that help keep Haiti poor.

Cable News in the Developing World

The Vacuity of the Broadcast Industries

Mark Zuckerberg comments that Hollywood seemed to have trouble understanding that he didn’t want to create Facebook to get a girl, but just because it would be satisfying to create the website. This shuttered view of humanity extends way beyond Silicon Valley, and finds its purest form in cable news. According to the well-worn narrative, it’s almost unimaginable that someone in politics does something, because it’s the right thing to do. Rather, one is always motivated because it helps you somehow in the political horserace, or it’s a mistake and blunder. It’s a rather sad view of the world, where no one does anything unless it directly betters themselves vis-a-vis other people.

Human relationships are important. In fact, they might be the most fulfilling aspect of civilization. But, other things motivate people to do things, even if they are abstract notions we don’t all share.

The Vacuity of the Broadcast Industries

Filed Under Ignorant Gringo Talks About Bolivia

There’s a truly bizarre op-ed in the Miami Herald today on Bolivia and her new constitution. I feel like it was written by an adolescent, with its focus on how names have been changed of certain political institutions, and how the author oddly can’t spell Quechua or Guaraní correctly. It’s spelled “Quetchua” and “Guaraní” (and yes the accent is important) and I have to wonder where the editors are on this because this is really basic stuff.

And then the author delves into indigenous communal justice, and begins just making up things:

One of the more unpredictable aspects of the constitution is that it recognizes the right of indigenous communities to practice traditional “communal” justice. That can include stoning, burning and even lynching, and critics call it “vigilante” justice. Local campesino leaders say it’s their way of controlling crime.

This is entirely false, and I have no idea where someone told him this, or whether he just had a daydream. Indigenous communities do have a right to their own justice systems. However, they are subject to several important restrictions under the constitution, including:

Artículo 190. II. La jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina respeta el derecho a la vida, el derecho a la defensa, y demás derechos y garantías establecidos en la presente Constitución.

Article 190. II. The jurisdiction of original indigenous communities respects the right to life, the right to a defense, and all the other rights and guarantees established in the present Constitution. (translation mine)

Take my word for it that stoning and lynching are not permitted under the new constitution. Furthermore, in my time talking with indigenous leaders, the point of using their own justice systems to resolve disputes was not simply “a way of controlling crime,” but a way to structure their communities according to their tradition and cultural beliefs. Lastly, the jurisdiction of indigenous justice systems is still unclear and will be until la Ley Deslinde Jurisdiccional is promulgated after the December elections. It’s entirely unclear whether indigenous justice systems will have criminal jurisdiction over non-members of their communities.

The amazing thing is the entire op-ed is filled with weird falsehoods like this. I only have the time to dissect one little paragraph, but also want to highlight the underlying tone of the piece. The author quotes the mayor of Tarija, opposition politician and apparent racist, who says “There will come a time when no one will be able to control them.” Them being those pesky indigenous people who make up huge portion of Bolivia’s population and the unspoken assumption being, we can’t have indigenous people making decisions and controlling things. It’s a curious phenomena that newspapers pay people to demonstrate their own ignorance.


El Duderino also rips into the op-ed.

Filed Under Ignorant Gringo Talks About Bolivia

Peru’s Not The Only One Who’s Doing Alright

Slate has a nice, little piece about how wonderful Peru’s economy is weathering the downturn. Reading the piece, I kept waiting for the mention of how Peru’s neighbor to the south, Bolivia, is also an economic bright spot in the hemisphere. The article never mentions Bolivia but has this description:

In the Western Hemisphere, one small country has outperformed its larger, richer, neighbors to the north. Its export-dependent economy has weathered the global credit tsunami in good shape . . . Its public finances seem to be sound, and the authorities appear to be making the right countercyclical moves. What’s the name of this mystery country that finds itself on an economic shining path?
(emphasis added)

Actually, Peru isn’t by it lonesome self, and the description could apply equally to Bolivia. Bolivia is expected to grow at least 2% this year, and has the largest currency reserves in relation to GDP of any country in Latin America. Bolivia is also moving ahead with infrastructure investment around the country. Pretty much Bolivia is doing all the things the article praises Peru for doing.

Although I could speculate why this article sings the high praise of Peru’s economy, while ignoring the nearly equal performance of the Bolivian economy, I don’t know if it’s really worth it. I was pondering a more complex analysis of the underlying dynamic here but then I saw that Newsweek has this out today:


These people have an almost comical inability to understand international relations and complex foreign societies. It’s doubtful these people have the ability to make nuanced judgments about the policies and ideologies of Latin American governments. And compared to this headline, a certain political ignorance of small Andean countries doesn’t seem so bad.

Peru’s Not The Only One Who’s Doing Alright