Not withstanding the broad and common use of Malvinas to refer to these islands, in a Guardian article of 3 January 2013 the authors felt it necessary to place this name in quotations marks. For the UK-given name, Falkland Islands, no such marks were judged necessary. Quotation marks were also applied to the word “colonial”, used by Argentine president to characterize the British claim over the islands. Whatever connotation President Cristina Fernandez intended, the use of the word seems singularly appropriate. For 140 years (1841-1981) the British governments officially defined the islands as a “Crown Colony”, then changed to the blander “British Dependent Territory”, and in 2002 blander still, British Overseas Territory.
The message to Guardian readers was clear: the government of Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over these islands is absurd political posturing, involving a made-up name (Malvinas) and irresponsible rhetoric (colonial). While the Guardian may disagree with the Argentine (and Latin American) claim, it is condescending and crassly nationalist to place Malvinas in quotes, but not Falklands. At least the article should say, “known as the Malvinas throughout Latin America”. Placing colonial in quotation marks is so vulgarly biased as not to merit comment.
Lord Carrington, foreign secretary under Margaret Thatcher at the time of the infamous war over these islands, observed that “there were all sorts of reasons why a settlement was to the advantage of everybody.” This statement continued the now-lost approach of the late 1970s by the Foreign Office to reach an agreement involving some form of transfer or sharing of sovereignty over the islands with Argentina. Had the article confined itself to implicit nostalgia for a colonial past, one could dismiss it as the type of nonsense one reads from time to time in the British press (though usually in The Telegraph, the Sun and worst of all The Mail). On the contrary, the authors proceeded to wade into a transparently nationalist attack on the Argentine government.
Referring to unnamed sources (“critics”, nationality and political orientation left to our imaginations), the article describes President Fernandez as “an unashamed populist and nationalist”.
“Populist” is one of those adjectives which when applied to a politician or policy signals a range of pejorative characteristics from corruption to profligacy. The user of this term gains the great advantage of casting a blanket condemnation (“poisoning the well” in debate terminology) that needs no explanation or verification. If the faux condemnation rests on an unnamed and untraceable source, then the writer is “home free”, as it were. The subject, in this case a president, and her policies are dismissed without consideration of their merits.
To round off the complete lack of journalistic professionalism, the Guardian authors roll out the perennial favorite explanation for a policy by a foreign government contrary to the perceived national interests of Britain. President Fernandez “is seeking to deflect attention from social disharmony at home”. It is instructive to reflect on that speculation. David Cameron’s government has implemented economic and social policies that brought hundreds of thousands of protestors into the streets during 2011 and 2012. Might it be possible that Mr Cameron’s explicitly intransient position on these South Atlantic islands result from him “seeking to deflect attention from social disharmony at home”? The article not speculate on this possible British motivation, and I strongly suspect that the authors have never thought of it.
I also suspect that neither President Fernandez or Prime Minister Cameron pursues her and his policy toward the Malvinas/Falklands because of domestic reaction. Rather, they are both motivated by national self-interest enhanced by the possibility of discovering valuable natural resources. In most cases, conflicts of national interest lead to negotiation and compromise. However, for the UK media, the idea that the Argentine government might be pursing its legitimate national interest in a dispute with the British government is, so to speak, foreign to them.
The colonial epoch engendered a rampant nationalism in the populations and media of the colonial powers. An essential characteristic of this ideology was the conviction in the “mother” country that the behavior of people in the colonies was child-
like, requiring the civilizing and impartial oversight of the matron. The Cold War continued and deepened this same nationalist ideology in a slightly obscured manner. Nationalism in the former colonies and client states was viewed as immature and irresponsible posturing with no valid basis. In contrast, the governments of the powerful industrial countries presented aggressive pursuit of their national interest as part of a civilizing mission to bring peace and development to the world they dominated. The Guardian article on the British-Argentine dispute over territory in the South Atlantic shows clearly that the end of the Cold War did not end the nationalist illusions of the former colonial and Cold War powers. The longing for a glorious colonial past is not merely or even primarily the nostalgia of the reactionary Right, such as UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party). How much better UK society would be if that were true. On the contrary, the condescending belief that the UK government pursues a reasonable and flexible foreign policy, and the policies of countries such as Argentina reflect “populism” and political posturing, permeates the media, the government and much of the population.
The United Kingdom is hardly unique or even extreme in this regard. In Europe the German government and most of the people of that country believe that no rational alternative exists to the appalling policies of austerity imposed on weaker EU governments and countries. Central to this condescending arrogance is the dismissal of objections from Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain as “populism”, that shows lack of fiscal responsibility. In the United States we find this great power mentality in its most developed form, manifest clearly in the US government’s economic tensions with the leadership in China.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the New York Times adopted the slogan. “all the news that’s fit to print”, which appears on its masthead to this day. The Guardian, along with almost all major newspapers in the United States and Europe, might consider the motto, “all the news that’s fit to distort”. That’s why we have Real News Network.-
John Weeks is author of several books on Latin American countries and recently spent time in Buenos Aires.