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Media melee at Copenhagen

By Darryl D'Monte

As many as 3,500 unruly and undiscerning journalists were covering the climate summit

Copenhagen, December 19: Ramnath Goenka once asked what would happen if the spotlight that the media turned on anybody and everybody -- this was well before the advent of TV -- was instead turned on them. One would have to admit that it would be a pretty ugly sight. 

The media in Copenhagen has been an unmanageable and unruly lot. There are some 3,500 of us covering the summit, most having come this week, and journalists – once again, the electronic media – don’t think twice about carrying on conversations at the loudest decibel levels, turning the room into a virtual Tower of Babel. The TV crews in particular are like packs of wolves. They station themselves at every available nook and corner where some VIP may enter and exit and try to get that exclusive byte as he or she makes an appearance. 

The Indian media isn’t very much better. A couple of days ago, we were greeted with the unedifying sight of the pack literally running after Jairam Ramesh who seemed to love his moment of glory, resplendent in his black Nehru jacket and white churidars, his graying mane swaying as he sped down the corridors. 

It is also interesting to see who is most sought-after by the media. On Thursday, it was undeniably Hillary Clinton, who had only arrived that morning and was also basking in the full glare of TV cameras. On Friday, officially the concluding day, the glare swung to the other end of the ideological spectrum -- to the far left. 

Since all heads of state had arrived, including President Obama, the media weren’t let into the plenary sessions and had to listen to the speeches on the closed circuit TVs in the cavernous media room. Obama was listened to in respectful silence. But President Lula of Brazil was spontaneously greeted with a round of applause in the media room after he concluded – a unique honour. 

Hugo Chaves of Venezuela succeeded him and raised the bar with his diatribes against the US, “the great emitter”. He remarked that the whiff of sulphur – which he had originally alleged about the diabolic President Bush, and said that Obama on his election represented a whiff of hope – was still hanging around the corridors of the summit venue. Obama had earlier offered to contribute from 2020 to the $100 billion that rich countries were going to pay developing countries to cope with climate change. He poured scorn over the amount, citing that the US spent $700 billion on defence every year. 

Referring to the clandestine negotiations which were under way at the summit, Chaves mentioned that Obama was trying to “slip a document under the door”. There was a lack of political will on the part of developed countries and he was leaving the inconclusive summit, which was “closing without glory”, to return to his country. 

He joined Bolivian President Evo Morales in his press conference, which gradually expanded to a fuller ALBA – the left-wing coalition known as the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America -- with Cuba and Ecuador joining them on the dais. Chavez was in fine fettle and accused Obama of contradicting himself in the four things he cited.

Morales offered to hold a Tribunal for Climate Change where transnational corporations would be held for damaging the earth. “Life has no price; neither has planet earth,” he declared rhetorically. He admitted that drugs killed people, but so did arms. 

Chaves warmed up to his pet theme. The US had 40% of all vehicles in the world, which they didn’t want to lose. Their automobiles flooded the world and railroads were closing. He was going to build railroads in five Venezuelan cities, which would reduce the greenhouse gases. But he had no illusions that it was the voracious consumer system that was “eating the planet” too. 

He had a parting shot for the media, whom he exhorted to think beyond their cameras and notebooks. “Capitalism is the path to perdition,” he warned. “Much of what the media spreads is capitalist propaganda. Think about it. The world belongs to children, who haven’t been corrupted by it.” The Latin American progressive leaders were mobbed by the media on the dais as they concluded, and a reporter was overheard saying that one seldom saw all these revolutionaries at one site together. Strangely, the media could lionise both right and left with equal fervour, it seems. 

Infochange News & Features, December 2009