Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A classic example of doublespeak

Wikipedia defines doublespeak as “language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.” It is closely associated with the concept of "doublethink" developed by George Orwell in his classic 1949 novel 1984. Political economist and media analyst Edward S. Herman gave a nice description of doublespeak in his bookBeyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda
What is really important in the world of doublespeak is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program.
I read with some interest an account on Pacific Scoop of the latest issue of Pacific Journalism Review, especially since it was headlined "Pacific research journal slams Fiji censorship, political ‘shackles.’" I therefore expected strong words in the issue's editorial, which is the only article freely available online yet. I was disappointed. I felt I had been the victim of doublespeak, or at least false advertising. If that qualifies as "slamming" censorship and shackling, no wonder the junta wanted me out of the country. Under the headline "Captive to a political elite," the editorial hardly slammed the regime. Its strongest line on the subject reads as follows: "Fiji is a tough, but not wholly insurmountable, problem." It admits that Fiji media are "shackled," but finds lots of space for dissent against the regime, including online. It seems to think the media in the South Pacific should take a look in the mirror first and sees "introspection" as the solution.

From reading the abstracts, the strongest criticisms of the junta would seem to come in articles authored by Mosmi Bhim, a very brave FNU lecturer, and Bob Hooper, a frequent visitor from the U.S. Bhim 's hard-hitting paper is titled "Constitution-making in a stifled democracy: A case-study of self-censorship perpetuating propaganda in Fiji." I have read a 2012 version written before the constitutional review process headed by Yash Ghai went off the rails at year's end and degenerated into a spat that included a clumsy smear campaign, an online leak, and copies of the draft constitution in flames.
Bhim writes of media self-censorship, government warnings of a harsh crackdown on ‘trouble-makers’, and government promises of free, fair, and transparent elections—all in the same breath. With the objective of maintaining the peace, the media can no longer report inflammatory political speeches. But is this a recipe for order? Or will it lead to bottled-up emotions taking more extreme forms?
Hooper's article, which I have just read to my dismay, is provocatively titled "When the barking stopped: Censorship, self-censorship and spin in Fiji." From his frequent visits teaching television journalism, Hooper has tracked the situation over a span of 20 years. He detects a turn for the worse recently as a result of not just the junta crackdown but also geopolitical posturing. His prognosis, notes the editorial, is "grim."
In his latest trip, Hooper encountered a domestic media gagged by lawsuits, a pervasive climate of self-censorship and, for good measure, highly paid US ‘spin doctors’. For Hooper, the Fiji crisis reflects the decline of Western interest and influence in the Pacific, with China and even Russia only too eager to fill the void.
The reference in the editorial's headline to elites comes from the preliminary findings of a national survey of media in Fiji done by Shailendra Singh. It finds "a relatively young, inexperienced and untrained journalist cohort captive to a political elite that serves as its prime news source." Increased education, unsurprisingly, would help make journalists "resistant to rhetoric and able to provide analytical coverage." It will be interesting to compare this conception of elites to that referred to by regime leaders in trashing the Ghai draft constitution earlier this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment