The video explosion of the Eighties, which has made the medium commonplace in Western countries, is now reaching deep into the developing world. And if the content of videos has caused concern in the rich world, it causes even more in the poor, according to a special issue of Media Development.
Manufacture of video hardware is dominated by just two Japanese companies, Sony and Matsushita. who control 90 per cent of the world market in video cassette recorders (VCRs). But it is America’s similar monopoly of the software - the US is responsible for 90 per cent of videotape content - which has greater implications. Even the Canadian Government has said that it is ‘simply unacceptable’ for US distributors to determine what Canadians see, so it is easy to understand why people in the Middle East and Asia should be worried about the impact of these programmes on their social and cultural life.
Britain is more saturated with home videos than any other country in Europe, with one VCR in every three households, but it is by no means the world’s most saturated country. Kuwait. for instance, has a VCR in 92 per cent of its households - this is in part due to oil riches but also to the fact that film theatres are very rare in Arab countries.
Video is spreading surprisingly fast in poorer countries, most particularly in South-East Asia but also increasingly in Latin America - there are estimated to be 700,000 in Brazil. VCRs even seem to squeeze into places where they are frowned on and their importation is barred - there are 400 in Ethiopia, and in Tanzania (where there is not even supposed to be television) during the 1982 World Cup videos of each match were hot properties on the black market.
It is the urban elite which inevitably has most access to videos - in Bombay, for instance, skyscrapers are wired together so that a central video system plays films into each apartment. But India is just one country where the new technology is bringing moving pictures to people who rarely, if ever, had the chance to see them before. The low cost and portability of the system means that it can reach people in small towns who never had access to Indian cinema. Even where there are cinemas, entry to a video parlour is, at two rupees, half the price.
There has been concern in the West about ‘video nasties’ with a high content of violence and pornography - a 1983 survey in West Germany showed that, of the features rented, 75 per cent were of the action/horror/war type and 12 per cent erotic. Countries with strict traditional values, such as Islamic cultures, are inevitably even more worried by this kind of content Governments also worry about more people being drawn to the cities as villagers see an affluent lifestyle on their communal screens.
But video can be a positive influence, too - it can be a way of spreading information about a repressive government which controls all the official media. In the Philippines. for instance, smuggled videos of a Japanese documentary about the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino were circulated eagerly, while in Chile illegal videos of the Hollywood film Missing have proved a powerful politicising tool for those too young to remember the 1973 CIA-backed military coup, the story of which it tells. In Brazil, too, more than 60 groups are using video packs for conscientisation and educational training.
The video explosion cannot be contained - so it’s important that it is used as a progressive tool and not just as a faster way of spreading the dominant Western ideology.
IN NI No. 148 we reported that opposition to the military rule of General Pinochet was mounting. Now aid officials in the country maintain that the government is so frightened by the increased protest that it has deliberately obstructed community-based relief initiatives following the devastating earthquake in March.
The connection between the two phenomena might not be obvious but, during the Seventies, post-earthquake experiences in Nicaragua and Guatemala led independent community relief and reconstruction organisations to become the basis of important opposition political movements. Moves against the most vocal and established community organisations both in Santiago and the largest provincial cities late last year make it clear that the Chilean authorities are already aware of the potential threat posed by such groups.
The earthquake itself was the country’s worst natural disaster for more than 20 years, hitting the three most densely populated regions. It damaged 85 per cent of peasant housing in the central region and a confidential report by the National Emergency Office estimates that more than 700,000 people have been made homeless.
Yet tight control has been imposed on the distribution of non-government assistance. There have been numerous reports of church trucks being intercepted by the military, who have then unloaded relief supplies into government warehouses. Similarly, a public rally organised in San Antonio by Radio Chilena was dispersed violently by the local police. Aid organisers were forced to leave the area without distributing emergency supplies of food and clothing which had been funded by an appeal to the radio station’s listeners.
Local church officials who are organising communal kitchens in the badly-affected towns of San Antonio and Melipilla have been accused of being ‘communist subversives’. Meanwhile the National Emergency Office, which is in charge of the government relief effort, will only accept requests for assistance from individuals and refuses to work with community representatives.
SOME words are so shocking that they cannot be uttered in ‘polite’ society. Homosexuality was once like that. Now financial journalist Anatole Kaletsky has broken another taboo by writing a booklet based entirely on one such previously unspeakable word. The word is ‘default’. Governments cover their ears when it is said and bankers pretend not to hear.
Default is what happens when countries cannot - or will not - pay their debts. It was not even considered at the time of the lending spree after the oil price shocks of the Seventies, on the grounds that ‘governments never go bust’.
Publicly the banks still stick to that line. As government after government finds that it cannot make its repayments on time, rescheduling’ is agreed with its creditors. But the terms of the rescheduling are often financially expensive and politically onerous and many bankers, while reassuring their shareholders that the crisis is being contained, privately admit that there are dangers ahead.
But over default there is a conspiracy of silence. ‘One major default could trigger off a collapse of the entire Western banking system’ is the conventional boardroom wisdom. Debtor countries do not discuss it much either, partly because they fear stepping into the unknown and partly because they fear reprisals.
Kaletsky stresses that the current policy paralysis on debt stems from the illusion that borrowing countries must either co-operate fully in renegotiation or flagrantly repudiate their debts. He argues for an intermediary position: ‘conciliatory default’.
In this scenario a debtor government would announce a unilateral rescheduling in which it would offer to pay the banks at a much-reduced rate of interest; part of its remaining interest obligations would be turned into new long-term loans, and it would demand relief from the rest. Debts to public institutions like the World Bank would be fully serviced.
Rather than threatening retaliation, the banks would probably make a counteroffer. In effect long-term debt renegotiations would re-open, but with a key difference: the framework for bargaining would be set by the demands of the debtor, not by the needs of the banks. It is because the needs of the banks have been paramount that the terms imposed on the debtor countries have been harsh and short-sighted.
Daniel Nelson, Gemini
In Europe racism is rarely linked with people’s traditional land rights; but in North America-and Australasia it is a vital anti-racist issue. In Australia the Labor Government has broken its promise that
1988 - the bicentenary of European settlement - will be a year of justice for Aborigines and reconciliation between black and white.
The Government has recently released what it describes as the ‘preferred national land rights model’, promoted as the basis for legislation which would ensure that there would be equality for Aborigines in all states. Despite a referendum in 1967 which overwhelmingly gave the Federal Government responsibility for Aboriginal affairs, state governments have held on to their powers. Several of them are antipathetic to land rights and to self-management by Aborigines.
When announcing the decision to frame land rights legislation, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Holding, described the beginning of European Australia as among the most brutal and genocidal in history’. He said that Aborigines had to be recognised as first owners of the land and that the human rights of Aborigines had to take precedence over the rights of the present Australian states.
Yet the ‘preferred model’ represents a back-down in the face of pressure from state governments and from mining companies. It allows traditional Aborigines to claim vacant Crown land but neither private land nor land set aside for public purposes. Vacant Crown land is almost universally arid or desert country, too poor for sheep or cattle. But, in a twist of geological fate, it often covers an abundance of minerals.
Aborigines in remote areas now face the latest white invasion: by mining companies. the activities of which threaten both their physical land and their social life.
The ‘preferred model’ allows for disputes between Aborigines and mining companies to be referred to a tribunal - but this tribunal will only make recommendations to governments. And the majority of governments - including a Labor Government in Western Australia - have shown that they will cave in to mining industry pressure.
Aborigines have not shown themselves to be anti-mining. Some communities are partners in operations and some have formed their own companies. But they feel overwhelmingly that, if they do not have the power to veto mining, the decision should at least be left to an independent arbitrator and not to politicians.
The use of illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine may hog all the media attention but, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), all its member states have expressed profound concern over the dramatic increase that has occurred in alcohol-related problems. This is particularly so in developing countries, where alcohol consumption has now become a feature of everyday life.
Between 1965 and 1980 the worldwide production of beer for commercial purposes more than doubled. The traditional brewing areas of North America and Europe maintained their place as largest producers and highest per capita consumers but the developing a remarkable rate of increased consumption. Indeed, the rate was so high that, if continued, it would lead to per capita consumption levels comparable to Europe’s by the end of the century. Meanwhile the production of spirits rose by 67 per cent, with per capita consumption going up by one third.
The general feeling among member states is that the availability of wine, beer and spirits has been increasing at a rate above that of population growth. It is therefore extremely likely that public health resources worldwide will be placed under greater strain in the future because of alcohol-related problems. The real fear is that many health care systems in the developing world will not be able to cope with this increased burden on their already minimal facilities.
Passing the buck
The Bhopal tragedy has ceased to be ‘hot news’ in the West - but Indian journalists, at least, are refusing to let the incident slip from public notice.
The leak of MIC gas from the Union Carbide plant in December left 2,500 dead and 50,000 maimed. But the damage to the community did not end there - four months later an average of two MIC-affected residents were dying every day, according to the Indian magazine Sundas’.
Almost a quarter of Bhopal’s total population of 800,000 has been affected by the gas - they are suffering from diseases like tuberculosis and from disorders of the lung, eyes, liver, kidney and brain. And Sandai’ claims that as many as 50 per cent of the children being born to gas-affected mothers are underweight, premature or have some physical deformity.
Union Carbide, led by chairperson Warren Anderson, originally chose to insist that there was nothing wrong with the plant, that the gas leaked almost by act of God. But now the corporation is passing the buck to its Indian subsidiary. It accepts that the plant was unsafe but lays the blame at the door of its Indian managers, claiming the disaster could have been avoided if the plant had been properly maintained.
Union Carbide has even gone as far as to hint that local managers might have caused the world’s worst industrial disaster deliberately - by introducing water into the gas storage tank. Anderson declared: ‘the question of sabotage will have to be answered over in India’.
Sunday asserts boldly that Anderson and Union Carbide are lying. Certainly the company’s lack of self-criticism and refusal to accept responsibility only makes its ethical standards seem all the more unacceptable.