Noam Chomsky on the Role of the Media in Information Dissemination

31 Oct 2009

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Discussing language, politics and the role of the media in information dissemination at the Commonwealth Club in California earlier this month, Noam Chomsky also makes some interesting observations about nuclear powers, including Pakistan, which this week has been under siege of violence.

Newspapers vs. the Internet

Responding to the following question, Chomsky reflects on the role of newspapers and journalism in modern day society as well as access to information.

In light of the phenomenal growth of the Internet, there is a great deal of concern by media people about the decline and disappearance of newspapers and shrinking content of newspapers -- and given the change in the traditional means of information delivery, should society be concerned that something vital to democracy is being lost?

Chomsky argues, “Something is being lost.”

Most people can blog on the Internet and express an opinion, but this is no replacement for domestic and foreign bureaus doing good research and inquiry to inform people about real events on the ground.

Chomsky does not necessarily admire the way that the mainstream media does their research - there are flaws in their methods - he nevertheless believes that news media are a source of information that can't be duplicated by people sitting at their computers expressing an opinion.

It is possible to get access to a wide range of information on the Internet Chomsky says, but even that is based on reporters on the ground and “if they are gone, a lot is gone that can't be replaced.”

The Media and Access to Information: The Case of Nuclear Programmes

Regardless of the fact that the mainstream media does filter out much of the information that we need, the Internet is still no substitute for real reporting.

The challenge, of course, is to get the media to ask the right questions.

Using the current big media question as an example - Will Iran get a nuclear bomb? - Chomsky argues that this is an important question, but that there are far more important questions that we need to focus on in relation to nuclear technology and weapons.

For example, in Mexico there is an extremely good newspaper, Le Granada, which Chomsky read on a recent trip to the country. It ran a wire service report that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had passed a resolution - not about Iran (which is usually reported about inaccurately) - but calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and to open its nuclear facilities up for inspection.

The United States and the European Union tried to block the resolution and when they failed to block it, they voted against it. But it passed anyway.

Given the fact that there is so much hysteria about Iran concealing something, the IAEA resolution is important news, says Chomsky and to the best of his knowledge it was not reported in the US media.  

However, he says, there was a report in the Washington Times that Aemrican President Barack Obama had assured Israel that they wouldn't have to react to the resolution.

There are also other countries that are not concealing their nuclear programmes and getting away with it.

Recently (about a month back) the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution, which was treated by the American media as a resolution against Iran and a victory for Obama. But, says Chomsky, if you read the resolution, which can be found online, it was directed against America, Israel, India and Pakistan as nuclear powers.

What's harder to find out, says Chomsky, is that India greeted the resolution by announcing that it can now produce nuclear weapons comparable to the US and Russia.

This information is not impossible to find, but news bureaus are not reporting it.

There are three countries in the world that have never signed the Nuclear non-proliferation Treaty: India, Pakistan and Israel’ and in each case their weapons programmes have been significantly supported by the US.

In the case of Pakistan, “sometimes called the most dangerous country in the world, with some merit,” argues Chomsky. Its nuclear programmes are a gift to the world from Ronald Reagan. 

Reagan’s administration pretended that they didn't know that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons in the 1980's because they wanted to maintain massive support for the dictatorship of Zia-Ul-Haq, the most vicious dictator in Pakistan’s history who was also carrying out a radical “Islamization” of the country with Saudi and US support -- and we're living with the consequences of that, says Chomsky.

In the case of India, just about a year ago, the US entered into a treaty with India, which effectively authorizes Indian nuclear weapons production.

Chomsky doesn’t dwell on Israel’s nuclear capabilities because that’s “obvious” he says. 

But, argues that here we have three countries that are openly defying international institutions and monitoring agencies like the IAEA, announcing that their nuclear programmes are moving along fast -- and in each case they are supported by the US.

“It takes work to discover these things,” says Chomsky. Theoretically you could find out these things, but with massive research, he argues.

The problem is the failure of the media to provide this information.

Chomsky says that we could get around the media's failure to present this information if there were active organisations, which could work together to find out information, discuss it as well as circulate it. But in the absence of organized entities providing this service, “individuals on their own, can’t face this.”

At a later point in the Commonwealth Club discussion, Chomsky also contends that since the Second World War, there has been a huge campaign by the media to try and get the world to hate government and this is supported by big business.

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