Looking positively into the future

The author of Megachange: The World in 2050 turns his attention to NZ.

A few weeks ago, a selective audience was given an informed glimpse into the future by the executive editor of The Economist, Daniel Franklin, based on the book Megachange: The World in 2050.

As reported elsewhere,  his presentation long on the numbers that are already known in advance, particularly demography, economic change and the growth of major new political powers.

But Mr Franklin lacked the time to go into the social and technological developments, many of which will benefit New Zealand. Yet he also recognised the will to accept change is not abundant.

He noted adverse political developments in the West, remarkably similar to those in the 1930s, and the reluctance of politicians to resist those forces.

He ended with an appeal that probably doesn’t attract majority support in New Zealand, judging by the media coverage given to calls to close the economy to global forces:

“My main piece of advice for New Zealand is to stay open – to trade, to other people and cultures, and to ideas. There’s always the temptation when things are changing very fast around you to close up. New Zealand needs to compete in the world of ideas and the more open New Zealand is, the more likely it is going to be able to take advantage of the opportunities.”

From another perspective, the US National Intelligence Council has produced its own ”menu” of the future: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.

Its findings coincide largely with Megachange and it also emphasises the positives of the world becoming more middle class and more prosperous with values that will increasing favour religious, ethnic and national identities.

Asia will assert its economic power over the US and Europe, and a tier of other middle ranking powers in the developing world will surpass countries such as Japan and Russia.

The NIC also identifies 16 “disruptive” technologies that are grouped around potential energy breakthroughs; food- and water-related innovations; big data and forecasting human behaviours; and enhancement of human mental and physical capabilities and anti-ageing.

These topics are barely mentioned in local debates on the future, and is probably why Mr Franklin fears New Zealand will slip into a left-wing backwater.

Interestingly, the continued rapid growth of world population is less due to birthrates in poor and ill-educated countries but because more people are living longer.

When bias becomes a problem
Media studies exercises that try to identify bias in reporting are usually fraught with the difficulties of carrying their own presumptions.

A recent example was a Massey University study, which analysed picture sizes and placements of John Key and Phil Goff in the final days of the 2010 election campaign.

But some studies appear inarguable when the weight of news coverage of some international events runs in only one direction – the coverage of religion and related social issues by the BBC being but one notable example. <  >

The New York Times, as the world’s leading English-language newspaper, has an army of critics, while Rupert Murdoch says one his main reasons for buying the Wall Street Journal is to redress the perceived imbalance of its reporting.

A pro-Israeli organisation, Camera – Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America --  has long had the Times in its sights, accusing it of bending over backward not to be seen as “pro-Jewish” going back to Nazi era.

Camera’s latest study of the Times, for July-Dec 2011, is apposite because we have just had a re-run during the latest events in Gaza.

The brief five-page summary (pdf) of the Camera report contains several pertinent observations that are relevant to New Zealand readers, as they show
how coverage treats Israel with a harsher standards, show little context and favours the Palestinian cause.

While the Times itself cannot be blamed, its influence is such that this treatment must have indirectly led to New Zealand’s decision to back the Palestinian cause at the UN at a time when there is little sign violent methods have been denounced.

“Israeli views are downplayed while Palestinian perspectives, especially criticism of Israel, are amplified and even promoted. The net effect is an overarching message, woven into the fabric of the coverage, of Israeli fault and responsibility for the conflict,” Camera says.

The Hamas agenda
Anyone who is in doubt about this need go no further than read the words of expatriate Hamas leader Khalid Mesha’al, who has been driven out of Damascus and is now rallying his supporters in Gaza and the West Bank:

“We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take…

“We will press ahead with reconciliation [with Fatah] to end divisions and to stand united against the Zionist occupation. Today is Gaza. Tomorrow will be Ramallah and after that [occupied] Jerusalem then Haifa and Jaffa.”

These words must have shocked sympathisers of the Palestinian cause, particularly in the Gulf, where New Zealand’s attempts to curry favours for trade are important. A commentator in Gulf News wrote:  

"That defiant message may have played well with some Palestinians, but it has reaffirmed Israel’s assertion that Hamas wants nothing less than the Jewish state’s destruction. Moreover, his promotion of a course of action that is not doable, given Israel’s military superiority, keeps an unrealistic dream alive."

Conflict and manipulative journalism
For a British perspective, which is important because the bulk of locally published commentary on the Middle East comes there, it is worth reading Tim Black’s analysis of “emotionally manipulative journalism, where making the reader or viewer feel a certain way about a conflict is more important than allowing them to understand it.”

He is referring specifically to coverage of “flashpoints” or conflict, which almost the sole content of what you see on TV.

“…the immediacy of the reporting and the opinion-spinning leaves little room to think, to reflect, to position yourself intellectually in relation to what is happening. The critical distance established by traditional journalism, with its emphasis on a factual narrative, is absent.

“Instead, it looks as if everything is being given to us without mediation; what we’re getting, it seems, is just the raw, brutal truth of people suffering. Such an approach is manipulative. Because at the same time as the absence of a critical, journalistic distance discourages reflection, it simultaneously encourages emotional identification. And with that the demand that we in the West do something grows in force.”

Meanwhile, a pro-Israeli commentator, Emanuele Ottolenghi, who visited here earlier this year, writes in The Commentator about the UN vote upgrading the Palestine Liberation Organisation to a non-member state with observer status. He says:

"[This] has done nothing to move the cause of Palestinian statehood forward. Instead, it repeats the old adage of Palestinian history: rather than seeking compromise with Israel, Palestinian leaders have again put the fate of their cause into the hands of others, foolishly believing that others will deliver what they themselves are not capable of obtaining."