Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shutting up and listening #2: The right to be heard


This weekend, I read James Peck’s 2011 Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights. One section discusses the 1980 MacBride Report, which focused on global media access and what Peck calls the “right to be heard.”

At first the whole section seemed somewhat out of place. Peck is trying to confront the reigning human rights interventionist vision with one that takes political and economic self-determination and resistance to imperialism seriously. But the more I considered it, the more I appreciated the epistemic dimension of empire and how fundamental communication rights appear to the realization of all other rights in the global arena.

Recognizing the right to be heard could have profound consequences for imperial projects. I was thinking about this question as I read about the desultory coverage of the genocide trial and conviction of former US-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (in the most depressing news I’ve heard in some time, the conviction was recently overturned by the Constitutional court). FAIR reports:
According to a search of the Nexis news database, some prominent outlets haven't just ignored the U.S. role–they've ignored the story altogether. On the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), there have been no references to Guatemala genocide trial at all over the past two months. The Washington Post ran one brief item (5/12/13) about Ríos Montt's conviction .*
A US ally and beneficiary of US support was tried and convicted of genocide. Of genocide. And the major networks in the US didn’t cover the story. (Compare this to the unceasing coverage of the Jodi Arias spectacle.)

How different would public debate in the US about foreign - political, military, corporate, IMF, “humanitarian,” “democratizing,”… - intervention look if the right to be heard were realized in any meaningful way for Guatemalan (and other Latin American and global) victims and social justice activists? Working toward the realization of the right to be heard necessarily involves a collective struggle for institutional change, but as individuals we can practice being virtuous hearers globally the same way we should be locally. We can shut up and listen.

*There appears at first glance (which might be deceptive, of course) to be far more coverage of the overturning of the conviction than there was of the conviction itself.

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