Stand up and fight for your rights!

24 November 2007

Stand up and fight for your rights! One should not forget that, if it were not for the efforts of those who had gone before, the world would be an altogether different place than it is today. We need only mention the names of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela among those who fought for justice and opposed racism …

And yet the problem persists. Not long ago the UN Special Rapporteur, Mr Doudou Diene, drew our attention to the fact that racism is a phenomenon that is growing all over the planet, no matter what continent, no matter what country …

Who are the ones to blame? The questions are numerous and the answers few. On one hand you have the populist political parties who tend to promote these ideas; on the other, there are those listening to them and believing them. Nature abhors a vacuum, and racism abhors an empty mind and pours in to fill it. However, I presume that we all have our share of the responsibility.

"Do not put people in boxes. Generalization is a dangerous thing that I do everything I can to avoid", an old friend told me long time ago when he told me his experiences of the Second World War. This was a time when many Norwegians sought refuge in Sweden. "When a Norwegian did a silly thing, all the Norwegians were accused of being bad, even if it wasn’t the case." In each society, in each country there are good people and bad-but it is always easier to highlight the negative side than to praise the positive.

The day I told some of my friends that I was off to Khartoum, Sudan, several of them told me to be particularly careful. The recommendations were numerous and well intended, but what they had seen on TV had given them the impression that it was one of the most dangerous places in the world. The reality I found in Khartoum was far from what I had expected. So the media too have to assume part of the responsibility.

Television, for instance, has a strong impact. People tend to believe the things they see on TV. "I have seen it on TV and therefore it must be true…" During the big strikes in France in 1996, Pierre Bourdieu denounced the power of TV after having been invited to a television show where most of what he said was cut. The implications for Bordieu were catastrophic as not only his neutrality as a well-known scientist was questioned but he was also labeled as a communist. One would assume after seeing the interview as it was broadcast on television that he was supporting the strike-something he never did. The only thing he had tried to do was to give his sociologist’s explanation. Later, he wrote a book denouncing the power of the media, saying that one should always bear in mind that the editor, the journalist and finally the owner of the TV stations could manipulate the images. We should be aware that we will always see the images from the perspective of each of these persons, and therefore it may not necessarily reflect reality.

Recently InfoSud, a Geneva-based alternative news agency, launched a campaign to denounce the economic pressure that was put on journalists in order to sell the "news", and that this was in fact hampering the neutrality of the journalists and the profession as a whole. The people working in InfoSud told me: "It we do not do it, nobody else will", So let us hope that people will wake up and learn to analyse what they see on TV or read in the press. Perhaps it will give many of us a better understanding of what is going on…

Have a nice day!