Proposed legislation effectively states that agribusiness and journalism do not mix

Published on: J-Source, March 28th, 2011

In both Iowa and Florida, a series of proposed laws are working their way through the state legislatures which, if passed, would make it illegal to take pictures or videos of farming conditions.

According to Senators Jim Norman of Florida and Sandy Greiner of Iowa, the purpose of the proposed bills is to target animal rights groups such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), whose activists have, in the past, taken footage of questionable farming practices and conditions.

Aside from possible violations of the First Amendment rights of the press, many animal welfare organizations see the proposed bills as corrosive to the transparency of big agribusiness, an industry whose ethical treatment of animals and livestock have been questioned in the past.

As reported by the Examiner.com, PETA’s Jeff Kerr has stated that lawmakers should work to show people where their food actually comes from and how it is processed rather than demonizing investigative journalists and activists who uncover cases of animal cruelty.

The Globe and Mail has reported that, if passed, those who take pictures or videos of farms without permission can end up in jail for years. Iowan Senator Sandy Greiner has further suggested that those who take footage of animal cruelty are also complicit in perpetuating such cruelty, since they are not doing anything to physically stop the abuse.

“I mean, they film it to bring a business down and that individual that’s abusing those animals should be prosecuted as well as the person filming because they’re allowing it to happen without attempting to stop it,” said Greiner. Senator Greiner did not address whether this legislation would impede the rights of journalists to cover such acts of abuse in order to inform the larger public of systemic animal cruelty.

Senators Norman and Greiner have also found supporters for their bills in the pro-agribusiness Animal Agricultural Alliance (AAA). The AAA has stated emphatically that investigative journalists and activists have to be taken to task for trying to advance a “vegan agenda” via demonization of farmers and meat processors.

“It is imperative that activists be held accountable for their actions to undermine farmers, ranchers and meat processors through use of videos depicting alleged mistreatment of animals for the purposes of gaining media attention and fundraising – all in an effort to drive their vegan agenda,” the AAA said in a press release.

The Globe and Mail has also reported that in addition to their support for these bills, the AAA has agreed to go set up works shops in the future in order to train employees of big agribusiness “to spot a pesky investigate reporter or PETA member.”

In the past, businesses have been brought down due to the work of investigative journalists who uncover cases of cruel farming practices. Such work has revealed that large agribusiness corporations have not functioned well ethically when left unchecked by a watchdog press.

The proposition to suppress journalists who investigate and monitor agricultural businesses highlights how the press can be given the short end of the stick when legislative propositions line up strategically with large corporate interests, all in the spirit of being “pro-business”.

Ultimately, such legislation has an adverse effect in the dissemination of crucial information, as it seeks to make the work of investigative journalists–enshrined by the United States constitution–illegal.

Steven Zhou is a graduate of the University of Toronto at Mississauga. He is a regular contributor to The Canadian Charger E-Weekly, and has also written for Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, and The Electronic Intifada. He will be pursuing a Masters in Journalism starting this fall, and is currently a volunteer for Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).

middle east, muslims, politics

No-Fly Zone in Libya: let us be clear

What is “liberal intervention” but a deceptively labelled concept meant for making military intrusion possible? The abstract idea of a utopic and humanitarian bouquet of bombs and missiles may be easy to imagine in a world filled with disinformation, but history has taught us that such pseudo-events do not exist. Remember the former Yugoslavia? Remember Iraq and Afghanistan? Those who tell us that Libya 2011 is “unique” embrace the overbearing clichés  churned out by the corporate media.

Libyans must determine their own fate. If a no-fly zone is unquestionably what the rebelling Libyans want, then so be it. But let us harbour no illusions and tell it like it is. Full stop. A no-fly zone imposed upon Libya will be a serious, multifaceted, military operation controlled by the United States and its lapdog, the United Kingdom (perhaps also France). Russia and China have both expressed serious reservations. Thus, the usual suspects have returned, as have the vague “responsibility to protect” (R2P) non-ideologies they espouse. It is like a bad dream recurring over and over again.

The top-dogs of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Central command, Robert Gates and General James Mattis respectively, have both concurred that the implementation of a no-fly zone means—without any doubt—the destruction of Libya’s air defenses. This appears to be a standard prerequisite for the sending of any jets from a “protecting power”. Getting the United Nations to back a no-fly zone is tough enough, given the reservations by Russia and China, but certain international agreements (rules of engagement) will have to also be addressed, just so the forces controlling the air do not shoot at each other—or a civilian airliner for that matter.

The implementation of a no-fly zone is also commonly perceived as a reduction of violence. This is not true. First of all, it is ludicrous to say that Qaddafi’s instruments of death are confined by the air. His usage of mercenaries (mainly as snipers) is infamous by now. Second, a no-fly zone would mean more—not less—planes and missiles flying through the skies. What will this do to the surrounding areas?  If the Qaddafi air force is as formidable as some R2P apologists will have it, then a battle in the skies will ensue. What will this mean for the people on the ground? Anti-aircraft weaponry also includes missiles shot from the ground, operated by their corresponding personnel. This means U.S.-U.K.-France troops directly on the ground in Libya. What will become of them when—God-willing—Qaddafi is ousted?

Furthermore, how serious is Qaddafi’s aerial power—actually? The official numbers are 227 fighter aircrafts and 35 attack helicopters. It is certainly a scary tally, and should not be underestimated. However, let us again be clear. Most Western countries have their planes repaired, maintained, and serviced around half of the time. The rate is astronomically higher in Libya. So far, not more than a few planes have attacked the rebels. The bombardment of Brega, a key oil port in eastern Libya (quite close to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte), was carried out by a single jet that dropped all but two bombs. Military and air force analysts have noted that “lone-wolf” operations are extremely rare to begin with, due to high risk, not to mention only to drop two bombs. This is the closest real indication of the Libyan air force one can get thus far. It means that either the Libyan air force has some seriously disenchanted pilots (the two bombs dropped on Brega were—according to some eye-witnesses—purposely off-target, and left no casualties), or that the fleet is so deficient that no more than one or two planes can get in the air at one time.

Given these ramifications, how desirable is a no-fly zone? Suffice it to say that a more serious assessment of Qaddafi’s military power will have to be done by the media (a difficult proposal given that the international media in Libya is  under lock-down and cannot move freely).

Wahid Burshan, a Libyan political analyst and activist, has expressed that “taking Libyan air defenses out…and things like that…in order for them [the U.S./U.K.-France] to manage the skies…could be problematic. The Libyan people may consider that hostile and it may tip the point to Qaddafi’s favour.” Burshan also pointed out on Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story that the military in Libya is not always 100% pro-Qaddafi, and seriously antagonizing the army may not be the best strategy. It may be useful to remember the two Libyan pilots who defected from the Qaddafi camp in February and landed their planes in Malta after a refusal to obey orders and bomb fellow Libyans.

At best, it seems that the Libyan people are divided on the idea of a U.S.-U.K.-France imposed no-fly zone. Based on all the information one can gather from rather opaque reports coming out of Libya, a no-fly zone may not be worth it right now—but a better assessment may be available to us and the people of Libya in the future.

Note that serious reservations for a no-fly zone as of now is not grounded in the opinion that it simply will not work. It may work, especially given Libya’s weak defenses. Rather, serious reservations arise out of several concerns: (1) once Western powers are involved in the Libyan revolution, they are involved in that revolution’s future outcomes—and the future of Libya—Qaddafi or no Qaddafi, (2) the information regarding the will of the Libyans themselves is extremely opaque, and a serious cost-benefit decision has yet to be made by Libyans, and (3) despite some calls not to compare Libya’s situation to other similar (proposed) interventions previously, serious analysts take into account the past behaviour of Western powers.

On that last point, let us just say that suspicion is a much understated sentiment as of now. Given that Prime Minister Cameron recently returned from a trip selling arms to his Gulf despot friends, the principle motivation for this R2P inspired spirit of intervention is just too hard to take seriously.