Tag: sharon beder

Fraudulent democracy

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for pics of corbyn and may together

In a genuine democracy, contrasting and conflicting ideas would be presented in the media in a fair and balanced way to allow the public to make informed choices at General Elections. But in reality, the media corporations who provide the electorate with ‘news’ are antithetical to the kind of democratic accountability they purport to espouse.

That the growth of democracy in the twentieth century has occurred alongside the growth of corporate propaganda, is concomitant to the lack of genuine democracy which prevents the public from being able to make the kinds of informed political choices described. In short, corporate media propaganda is used to protect corporate media power against genuine democratic forces.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than the media’s negative reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the position of Labour party leader which was secured through genuine grass-roots democratic forces. The well documented attacks against Corbyn which are largely ideological, will almost certainly increase in intensity as the General Election gets closer.

The leaking of Labour’s election manifesto pledges by the Tories accompanied by an obliging mass media were intended to form part of the strategy of attack. However, what they didn’t take into account was the extent to which the public were supportive of the proposals. Rather than proving to be unpopular, Corbyn’s plans that include “a series of [viable] proposals on investing in public services, taxing the wealthiest and scrapping tuition fees…are popular with millions of people” [1]. Indeed, the public overwhelmingly support Labour’s nationalization pledges across the board.

Concentration of power

If the election was to be hypothetically decided on the basis of Corbyn’s policies alone, the Labour leader would win it hands down. But the media conglomerates are guided by another agenda which is to ensure their privileges and concentration of power are maintained. As Corbyn potentially prevents them from sustaining this state of affairs, the public’s attention has to be diverted from the core issues, towards the emphasis on the Labour leader’s alleged personal traits.

All things being equal, it’s not the case that Corbyn hasn’t a realistic chance of winning the next General Election, rather, it’s more a case that the corporate political-media establishment will do everything in their power to ensure that he doesn’t. If that means it’s necessary for them to depict him unfairly as a bumbling idiot, then so be it.

The disconnect between the popularity of Corbyn’s policies, and his inaccurate portrayal by the media, is deliberate. The intention is to dis-associate him, as an individual, from his popular policies in the public’s collective mindset.

The strategy appears to have traction. Labour’s gap with the Tories in the polls is huge, albeit steadily closing. Yet, as previously highlighted, Corbyn’s policies on key issues are widely popular with voters. How else to explain this apparent dichotomy other than putting it down to the notion that the media’s demonization of Corbyn is working?

Isabella Stone provides some useful observations:

“It’s hardly difficult to discern how people might be being influenced to a negative view of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. I’ve just come back from my local Co-op where I had to stand in the checkout queue next to the newspaper stand. Virtually all the papers (except the Mirror) had negative headlines about Corbyn; the Mail, Sun and Express featuring unflattering photos of him and shrieking headlines about how much his policies are going to cost us all.

The Daily Telegraph even stooped to showing a photograph of Len McCluskey sprawled on some steps, having accidentally tripped. The implication of this last was that the man is a clumsy prat, rather than an unfortunate person who may have hurt himself in an accident. Even the Radio 4 Today programme presenters had a little giggle this morning over a joke about Mr McCluskey’s “clumsiness”. You don’t have to be remotely interested in politics to get the message.”

But it’s not just the typical right-wing press who are engaged in the smearing of Corbyn. The corporate media’s hostility towards the Labour leader crosses the traditional left-right divide (in truth, a close-knit ideological consensus of opinion). The “liberal-left” Guardian is no exception. This is despite the fact they are eager to portray themselves as being above the fray in terms of the promotion of the laughable idea their mission is to bring power to account:

“Here at the Guardian, ideas and opinions have the power to change the world for the better. Our independent journalism holds power to account across the globe and brings information that is suppressed into the public domain.”

Presumably, what the Guardian refer to as “holding power to account” includes their demonization of the leader of the opposition in terms professor James Curran described as “an enormously simplifying first draft of history.”

To my knowledge, not once has the Guardian challenged any of the Corbyn propaganda myths reproduced by their market competitors. They include the notion the Labour leader supports Hamas, is a cheerleader for anti-semites, has funded Holocaust deniers, has tolerated anti-semitism in the Labour party, has been on the payroll of state-funded Iranian media and is an apologist for the IRA.

While the media regularly bring up Corbyn’s connections with the latter, they have never mentioned Michael Fallon’s support for apartheid South Africa, his opposition to all international sanctions against the apartheid regime, in addition to British government interventions in individual cases of human rights abuse (see Craig Murray).

This kind of bias and media hypocrisy is consistent with academic research:

  • The London School of Economics and Political Science found strong media bias against Corbyn, claiming the press had turned into an “attack dog” against the opposition leader.
  • The UK’s public service broadcaster gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s critics than to his allies at the start of the 2016 Labour coup, according to content analysis from the Media Reform Coalition.
  • An LSE survey found that 74 per cent of newspaper articles ‘offered either no or a highly distorted account of Corbyn’s views and ideas’ and that only 9 per cent were ‘positive’ in tone.
  •  Research carried out at Birkbeck similarly found a strong bias in ‘mainstream media coverage’.

Battle lines

Given the evidence outlined above, it is clear that battle lines have been drawn, not between left and right competing political factions and policies, but rather what are regarded as the acceptable boundaries by which these contrasting narrative are allowed to be expressed and the lies and misinformation challenged.

What is rarely acknowledged is that the true nature of corporate power would be revealed if these forbidden lines were to be exceeded. But since they are not, the media’s:

“changing contours are seldom explored, its goals and targets seldom identified. This is counterfeit journalism because the surface of events is not disturbed. It is ironic that, while corruption among the system’s managers and subalterns is at times brilliantly exposed by a group of exceptional journalists, the wider corruption is unseen and unreported” [2].

The extent to which counterfeit journalism is able to continue functioning depends largely on its ability to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent. This is largely achieved through coordinated political and corporate media mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques. As Noam Chomsky explains:

“The primary function of the mass media…is to mobilize public support for the special interests that dominate the government and the private sector. The need for the dominant forces in society (a relatively concentrated network of corporations including media), to satisfy their interests, imposes some very sharp constraints on the political and ideological systems”.

The greater Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived threat to the corporate media’s attempts to manufacture the public’s consent, it correspondingly stands to reason the greater will be the media’s personal attacks against him. Under these circumstances, a fair and honest evaluation of Corbyn’s popular policies would, from their perspective, be counter-productive. Far better to undermine his credibility by drowning out his policies.

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Anti-Corbyn plots & the myth of the un-electable left

By Daniel Margrain

 

Corbyn speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival and Rally in 2015

 

In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” The corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent in order to defend their interests against the forces of democracy. This is largely achieved as a result of coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques.

The result is the media underplay, or even ignore, the economic and ideological motivations that drive the social policy decisions and strategies of governments’. Sharon Beder outlines the reasoning behind the coordinated political, corporate and media attacks on democracy:

“The purpose of this propaganda onslaught has been to persuade a majority of people that it is in their interests to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result the political agenda is now largely confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.”

This is the context in which the UK political and media establishment are attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and demeaning the membership who had the temerity to vote for him, securing the biggest electoral mandate of any Labour leader in British political history. It’s the possibility that Corbyn will break the iron-clad neoliberal consensus that scares the establishment the most. As Mike Sivier has shown, the significant role the media have played in undermining Corbyn’s leadership, as well as their failure to explicitly acknowledge the establishment coup against him, can be traced back until at least April.

But arguably, the plot to oust Corbyn began the moment he became leader after a hardcore group that included shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, shadow communities secretary Emma Reynolds and shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker, all refused to serve under him. Others included shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Shabana Mahmood, shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh and shadow Cabinet Office minister Lucy Powell.

The corporate media also played their part in what has arguably been the most vitriolic and biased reportage ever witnessed against any British political figure in history. What Media Lens accurately described as a “panic-driven hysterical hate-fest right across the corporate media spectrum,” actually began during Corbyn’s campaign to become leader. As the media analysts noted at the time, “the full extent of media bias against Jeremy Corbyn can be gauged simply by comparing the tone and intensity of attacks on him as compared to those directed at the other three candidates: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.”

The intensity of the media attacks on Corbyn increased after the election despite the fact that he secured ‘the largest mandate ever won by a party leader’. The focus of these attacks included what colour poppy Corbyn would wear, his refusal to sing the national anthem or whether he would wear a tie or do up his top button. All of this was granted national news headlines and incessant coverage. Not to be outdone, in October last year, the BBCs political editor Laura Kuenssberg featured in an almost comically biased, at times openly scornful, attack on Corbyn’s reasonable stance on nuclear weapons. The BBC then broadcast five senior Blairite Labour figures all opposing Corbyn without any opportunity for an alternative viewpoint.

Kuenssberg followed up this hatchet-job three months later when she helped to orchestrate the live resignation of Labour shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty on the BBC2 Daily Politics show as a pre-requisite to accusing Corbyn’s team of ‘unpleasant operations’ and ‘lies’. Then came the April 12 Telegraph article – a non-story about Corbyn’s state-funded salary and pension.

Allied to all this, have been the attempts by the Blairite Friends of Israel rump within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to topple Corbyn using the specter of antisemitism as a weapon with which to achieve it. Arguably, among the most comprehensive analyses of the McCarthy-style witch-hunts undertaken so far has been by Tony Greenstein (who remains at the forefront of moves to combat genuine cases of antisemitism on the fringes of the Palestine solidarity movement) in addition to the brilliant investigative work of journalist Asa Winstanley.

In an excellent piece published by the Electronic Intifada (April 28, 2016), Winstanley outlined the links between right-wing, anti-Corbyn and pro-Israel forces within the Labour party. He meticulously showed how this lobby manufactured an ‘antisemitism crisis’, pinpointing the individuals involved, the tactics and dirty tricks used and the connections to powerful individuals whose ties lead to pro-Israel groups both in London and Israel.

The latest attack on Corbyn centred on another contrived ‘antisemitism’ accusation, this time made by Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth who Wikileaks have revealed is a ‘strictly protected’ US informant. Smeeth staged a highly publicised walk-out during Corbyn’s launch of a review into the Labour party’s supposed ‘anti-semitism crisis’ last Thursday (June 30) which, as Jonathan Cook pointed out, was in fact, “a crisis entirely confected by a toxic mix of the right, Israel supporters and the media.”

A few days earlier another manufactured and staged anti-Corbyn story made the headlines. This time it centred around a Corbyn ‘heckler’ at Gay Pride, who in fact, as Craig Murray observed turned out to have been Tom Mauchline who works for the public relations firm, Portland Communications, whose ‘strategic counsel’ is Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former media chief who helped to sell the illegal invasion-occupation of Iraq.

In addition to all of this, Corbyn’s pro-Remain position with respect to the EU referendum provided his critics with the ammunition they needed in their attempts to undermine him further. Chief among these critics is Angela Eagle, one of the many Oxford educated Blairite plotters who resigned her post in order to position herself as a potential replacement for Corbyn and who claimed to be dissatisfied with Corbyn’s performance during the EU referendum campaign. However, as the graphic below would appear to indicate, Corbyn did much better than Eagle in defending their respective Remain positions:

According to a YouGov poll, Eagle commands just 6 per cent support from Labour members while a greater number than last time said they will vote for Corbyn if he were to stand again. In other words, just like last time, Corbyn would likely win more votes than all the other candidates combined. This grass-roots popularity for Corbyn must be seen against a backdrop in which the Labour party gained 60,000 members in one week following the attempted coup against him. Membership of the party currently stands at about 450,000 – a figure that is higher than it’s last peak of 405,000 members last seen under Tony Blair’s leadership.

This would almost certainly translate into Corbyn receiving more votes than his Blairite predecessor Ed Milliband did at the last General Election. With the proportion of the Labour vote increasing under Corbyn, the two main parties are neck-and-neck at 32 per cent. This undercuts the recent claims of elder statesmen like David Blunkett and Neil Kinnock that Corbyn is an electoral liability for Labour.

This narrative is consistent with the notion that the left are un-electable more generally. Such a narrative is a myth. As Craig Murray posited, the idea that you have to be right-wing to win elections is belied by the fact that the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon won the people of Scotland over on a left-wing ticket. Secondly, as he rightly says, there is no point being elected just so you can carry out the same policies as your opponents. Third, the British public’s ‘enthusiasm’ for somebody like Blair in 1997 was not based on policies known as Blairite. As Murray astutely points out:

“The 1997 Labour Manifesto  was not right-wing. It did not mention Academy schools, Private Finance Initiative, Tuition Fees, NHS privatisation, financial sector deregulation or any of the right wing policies Blair was to usher in. Labour actually presented quite a left wing image, and figures like Robin Cook and Clare Short were prominent in the campaign. There was certainly no mention of military invasions. It was only once Labour were in power that Blair shaped his cabinet and his policies on an ineluctably right wing course and Mandelson started to become dominant. As people discovered that New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, to quote Mandelson, their popular support plummeted. “The great communicator” Blair for 90% of his Prime Ministership was no more popular than David Cameron is now. 79% of the electorate did not vote for him by his third election.”

Murray continues:

“Michael Foot consistently led Margaret Thatcher in opinion polls – by a wide margin – until the Falklands War. He was defeated in a victory election by the most appalling and intensive wave of popular war jingoism and militarism, the nostalgia of a fast declining power for its imperial past, an emotional outburst of popular relief that Britain could still notch up a military victory over foreigners in its colonies. It was the most unedifying political climate imaginable. The tabloid demonization of Foot as the antithesis of the military and imperial theme was the first real exhibition of the power of Rupert Murdoch. Few serious commentators at the time doubted that Thatcher might have been defeated were it not for the Falklands War – which in part explains her lack of interest in a peaceful solution. Michael Foot’s position in the demonology ignores these facts. The facts about Blair and about Foot are very different from the media mythology.”

The reality, as one commentator on twitter put it, is that in corporate media and political establishment parlance, “‘un-electable” is media-political code for ‘likely to be highly electable but ‘will not serve elite interests.'”

This description applies to Corbyn. The ‘un-electable left’ meme is likely to intensify the longer Corbyn manages to hang on. In these unsettling and unpredictable times, it’s the one propaganda weapon the establishment is certain to cling to as their means of attempting to prevent democracy from breaking their grip on power.

Turning Children Into Consumers

Children are naïve about advertising and can easily be manipulated and exploited by marketers to want and demand their products. Corporate marketers believe that over time they can be shaped into lifelong consumers with brand loyalties and that can be profitable for decades to come. What is more, children influence family spending decisions worth hundreds of billions of dollars on household items like furniture, electrical appliances and computers, vacations, and even the family car.

Corporations began targeting their marketing messages directly to children during the 1980s, as affluent adult markets became saturated with consumer goods. Large firms established ‘kids’ departments and smaller firms specialised in marketing to children. A number of advertising industry publications were created such as Selling to Kids and Marketing to Kids Report. The academic literature began to feature studies of children as consumers.

In the US the amount corporations spent marketing to children under twelve increased by five times between 1980 and 1990 and ten times more during the 1990s. In 2004 around $15 billion was being spent marketing to children. Conferences on the best ways to market to children are held all over the world. There are also awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries.

Much marketing to children now consists of sales promotions such as direct coupons, free gifts and samples, contests and sweepstakes, and public relations exercises such as using celebrities and licensed characters to visit shopping centres and schools. These additional forms of marketing have supplemented rather than replaced advertising as the importance of the children’s market has grown. Their aim however is the same as advertising.

The international children’s market is increasingly attractive to transnational corporations who seek to make their brands and products popular in different cultural milieus. The food industry was a pioneer in these efforts. In 1997 Brandweek magazine noted that McDonald’s was the favourite fast food all over the world and Coca-Cola the favourite drink.

COMING TO A SCREEN NEAR YOU

Not only are there many more advertisements aimed at children but they are increasingly infiltrating the private and public spaces where children play and learn. Today’s children are confronted with advertisements almost everywhere they go. There are now television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines delivering underage audiences to advertisers 24 hours a day.

As the amount of money being spent increased, the age that children were targeted decreased. A marketing conference in 2000 in New York was entitled “Play-Time, Snack-Time, Tot-Time: Targeting Pre-Schoolers and their Parents”. There is even a US cable station, BabyFirstTV, which aims at under-two year-olds.

Television is an ideal way for advertisers to reach children as it is so omnipresent in homes around the world. In more than a third of the homes of American preschool children the television is on most of the time, whether or not anyone is watching. By the time they get to first grade American children will have “spent the equivalent of three school years in the tutelage of the family television set” and by the time they finish high school they will have spent more time watching television than they spent in class for their entire schooling.

In the UK, the average child watches around 17 hours of television a week. Three out of four children between 5 and 16 have a television in their bedroom. UK children view more than 18,000 television adverts each year.

Individual commercials are repeatedly shown for months and “effectively penetrate” the language and thinking of young children. They repeat advertising jingles and slogans to friends, draw advertising images and logos in their artwork, and discuss advertisements with their friends. Roy Fox, in his book Harvesting Minds, pointed out: “A person’s image and language create his or her sense of selfhood. And this selfhood – especially during our formative years – is the most valuable, fragile quality we’ll ever embrace.” Yet it is sold as a commodity over and over. Today it is advertising jingles that children sing rather than nursery rhymes.

The internet, video games and mobile phones have also provided opportunities for “new, personalized promotions” aimed at children. Children as young as four are being targeted by internet advertisers and often the interaction with the children is unmediated by parents or teachers. UK advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi noted: “Interactive technology is at the forefront of kid culture, allowing us to enter into contemporary kid life and communicate with them in an environment they call their own.”

Advertisements appear on banners at the top of websites, on scroll down frames at the side of the windows, and unbidden on pop-up windows. There are even animated product “spokescharacters” to interact with the children and develop relationships with them so that they can be persuaded to buy something.

Internet advertising is particularly effective at targeting children because they are less able to tell the difference between advertisements and other content. They are more likely, for example, to click on banner ads thinking they are part of the website, offering information or entertainment, and they tend not to take any notice of annotations like “AD” or “PAID” that are supposed to indicate advertisements.

The meagre regulations that television advertising is subject to don’t apply to the internet. Advertisers and marketers are free to merge content with advertising and exploit children with few if any limits. The ads on internet sites are often integrated with the other content of the internet site – games and competitions, music downloads, video clips, discount coupons, online chat rooms, free email, club membership, gossip, fashion tips or advice – which is designed to keep the children engrossed in play for hours at a time and to keep them coming back. Marketers and advertisers are “fundamentally reshaping the digital culture, creating new hybrid forms that blend communications, content and commerce”.

For example the Family Education Network, a division of Pearson Education, runs FunBrain.com and FEkids.com websites for children with “the hottest collections of games and activities” on the internet. It offers advertisers access to “over 7.5 million unique kids targeted by age and gender”, three quarters of whom are between 6 and 12 years old.

Three quarters of food manufacturers advertising on the internet have designed websites specifically for children, some for very young children; many others have websites that have a children’s section. The address of the website is often given on the product packaging. Most of these websites are plastered with brand logos and advertising claims and include links to other food related sites.  On some websites children are encouraged to view television advertisements for the product. On others they are offered branded downloads such as music clips, mobile phone ringtone, desktop wallpaper, screensavers.

EXPLOITING CHILDREN’S LACK OF CYNICISM

It is unethical to advertise to children who are unable to distinguish the advertisements from television programs or internet content, unable to understand the purpose of advertisements, and unable to critically evaluate advertisements and the claims they make.

Between ages two and five most children cannot even differentiate what happens on television from reality. They are very interested in commercials, which they believe without reservation. Marketing consultant, Dan Acuff, notes that until the age of seven children tend to accept television advertising at face value and he advises advertisers how to take advantage of that. For example he tells them that at this age kids are particularly susceptible to give-aways and similar promotions because “the critical/logical/rational mind is not yet full developed”.

Studies commissioned by the US Surgeon General have demonstrated the failure of children under eight to understand persuasive intent. Even if they can differentiate advertisements from television programmes, (and sometimes the boundaries are blurred so that even adults don’t recognise some content as advertising), about half of them still don’t understand that the advertisements are trying to sell them something.

A study by Roy Fox, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found that children watching athletes in television commercials thought that the athletes had paid to be in the advertisements to promote themselves rather than the products. They believed children in advertisements were real rather than paid actors and they often confused advertisements with news items. Generally they did not understand the commercial intent of the advertisements.

A Swedish Consumer Agency report that contributed to the decision to ban advertising to children under twelve in Sweden noted: “The results of studies that have attempted to distinguish between different degrees of understanding or levels of awareness, all indicate that it is only after the age of 12 that children develop a fuller understanding of the purpose of advertising.”

The problem with not understanding persuasive intent is that children will therefore tend to trust what the advertisement is telling them and not recognise its bias nor that it may “exaggerate, manipulate, pontificate, and cajole” in order to get them to buy their product.

Psychiatrist Susan Linn notes that even if children say they understand that advertisements can be deceptive, they can still be subject to their influence.

Moreover, advertisements often set out to deceive children. Forms of deception in advertising to children include the following:

The use of celebrities to exploit a child’s trust in authority figures.
The presentation of products to make them seem bigger than they are to exploit a child’s limited perceptive abilities.
Focusing on gifts and giveaways rather than the actual product, so that the child is not actually making judgements about the product that is being sold.
The use of jargon and complex language to take advantage of a child’s limited vocabulary.
The excessive use of emotional triggers to exploit a child’s insecurities and gullibility.

JUNK FOOD AND OBESITY

Food companies exploit the inability of such young children to understand the purpose of the advertisements and the deception inherent in them. They seek to make food of little nutritional value seem to be exciting, delicious, and fun.

Free gifts are a particularly effective way of attracting child customers. Free toys can double or triple the sales of McDonald’s meals to children. One of the most successful was the Teenie Beanie Baby which was thought to have sold 100 million Happy Meals in ten days compared with normal sales of ten million per week.

Fast food and cereal marketers often take advantage of children’s natural inclination to collect things by offering gifts in sets as collectors items. For example, when McDonalds gave toy Hummers with its happy meals as part of its “Hummer of a Summer promotion” there were 8 different Hummers to collect. When Frito-Lay offered small collector discs called Tazos free in its Doritos chip packets in 1996 it had to increase production by 40 per cent to keep up with demand.

Advertisers not only promote unhealthy foods but they create a culture where food is eaten for pleasure or fun without any need for discretion, limits or care. Often manufacturers use food additives such as colouring solely for the purpose of making it appealing and eye-catching to children. The UK Food Commission found that 75 per cent of food that contains high amounts of added fat, sugar and salt also contains ‘cosmetic additives’. These additives, including artificial colour, have been shown to increase hyperactivity in children.

Food marketing undermines the efforts of parents, teachers and doctors to teach children about healthy eating. The onslaught of advertisements for fast foods, sugary foods and salty foods encourage children to favour such foods over more healthy and natural alternatives, such as fruit and vegetables. The US Department of Agriculture claims that children get an appetite for high levels of sugar and salt in their food and drinks before they even go to school.

The food and beverage industries have denied the link between their products and weight gain in children and funded several studies to support this denial (see box below). A Yale University survey of 88 studies found that “Studies funded by the food industry simply did not find the degree of negative health effects from soft drinks that independent scholars discovered.
_____________________________________________________________

Some Denial Studies from the Food Industry

Coca-Cola was the sole sponsor of an Australian government study into children’s exercise habits. The ensuing report in 2004 claimed that it was declining physical activity that was the major cause of rising childhood obesity.

Cadbury Schweppes donated millions of dollars to the American Diabetes Association, and shortly afterwards the Association’s chief medical officer denied the link between sugar and diabetes as well as between sugar and weight gain.

Coca-Cola, donated millions of dollars to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry which now prevaricates about the link between soft drink and cavities.

In Australia McDonalds is paying the National Heart Foundation $330,000 per year in return for the Foundation’s tick of approval for nine of its meals. The foundation says the money is to reimburse its costs in testing the meals and auditing McDonalds restaurants.

A review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 and paid for by the American Beverage Association, questioned a 2001 study published in the Lancet that found that children were 1.6 times as likely to become obese with every can of sweetened drink consumed per day. Two of the authors of the review had links to the soft-drink industry.

Coca-Cola has established The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness, to undertake scientific research and educate the public around the world about the role beverages play in nutrition and health.
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In 2002 a draft report of the Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases called for stricter marketing rules and labelling, as well as taxes on sugar-rich food marketed to children. It prompted the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the National Soft Drink Association, the Snack Food Association, the National Confectioners Association, the US Chamber of Commerce and several other industry associations to write to the US secretary of Health and Human Services to “express our concerns” that the report would harm the US food industry. The industry letter argued the report “should be substantially modified before being issued by WHO and FAO”.

The following year the Sugar Association “threatened lobbying to block WHO funding if the report was not changed.” At the behest of industry lobbyists the Bush administration opposed WHO anti-obesity initiatives behind the scenes and objected to the way the WHO identified some foods as “bad”.

Manufacturers of junk food deny that there are good and bad foods, but instead insist that all foods have their place in a ‘balanced’ diet. They nevertheless seek to achieve maximum sales of their foods. For example, McDonald’s aims for 20 visits per month per customer. In its brochure Healthy Balance, it stresses the need for “a balanced diet and regular exercise” and implies that McDonald’s can contribute to that balance:

“A typical McDonald’s meal of a Big Mac, French Fries and a Thick Shake contains foods from most of the core food groups, which are sources of riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, thiamine, niacin, zinc, magnesium, iodine and iron…”

They also add protein and vitamins to the list. However a person would need to walk for around 5.5 hours to burn off the calories of such a meal.

Coca Cola’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness emphasises the importance of drinking enough fluids so as not to become dehydrated and argues that any drink suits this purpose so “there’s no need to stick to plain water if it bores you”.

The food industry also argues that achieving a balanced diet is a parental responsibility and that government regulation of junk food advertising represents the intrusion of a “nanny state” into private lives. Advertisers nevertheless seek to market direct to children, bypassing parental gatekeepers where they can, encouraging pester power to overcome parental resistance. Moreover, the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) found that mothers “are at a loss” as to how to make a healthy diet attractive to children in the face of the barrage of marketing making junk food attractive to them.

The food industry also thwarts the exercise of parental responsibility by lobbying against food labelling regulations and other sources of nutrition information being made available to parents. It has successfully lobbied for food disparagement laws in twelve US states making it difficult for critics to point out the shortcomings of their food. Jeff Richardson, director of the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University in Australia pointed out that “food marketing was so manipulative that a central free-market principal – that people would act in their own best interests – no longer applied in relation to food consumption.”

Junk food manufacturers blame lack of exercise, rather than junk food marketing, for the rising tide of obesity and have recently been promoting exercise and associating themselves with exercise campaigns as part of their public relations efforts. Several beverage and fast food companies, such as McDonalds, have given out pedometers. Many have sought to associate themselves with exercise and sport including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Cadbury and NestlÈ. However it is not realistic to believe that regular consumption of junk food can be counteracted with exercise as we saw with the example of the McDonalds meal.

In 2007, when the food industry was under threat of advertising regulation in the US, a group of major food companies including McDonald’s and PepsiCo agreed to voluntarily stop advertising the worst of their foods during children’s television programmes. They will not however, stop advertising these same foods during family programmes such as the enormously popular American Idol, which most children watch. Similar promises were made by Kraft in 2005 and Kellogg’s in 2007.

Advertisers also like to claim that exposing children to advertising is part of their education and enables them learn to deal with advertisements and learn critical skills. However, the evidence seems to be that those “who watch most television tend to be the most easily influenced by a given advertisement” and, in particular, younger children do not become more sceptical of advertisements, the more they see. Heavy television watchers tend to ask for the products advertised more often. Critical skills are not gained by watching more advertisements.

The above is an extract from ‘This Little Kiddy Went To Market – The Corporate Capture Of Childhood.’ (Pluto Press, 2009) by political analyst and visiting professor at the University of Wollongong, Australia, Sharon Beder.