Dont Worry the MAI is Alive and Well
By : Digsandbox -
On April 29th, The Globe and Mail tried to explain to its readers How the Net Killed the MAI in a front-page news article. By all accounts, from any grassroots groups spoken to who opposed the MAI, the pretense that “grassroots groups used their own globalization (the Internet) to derail the deal” was quite a stretch. This seemed to be the Globe’s way of admitting there was large grassroots opposition without having to spell out the debate to its readers, for fear of making the content of the MAI known.
Editorials in the Globe in the past few weeks tried to assure readers that, like Seinfeld, it is an “agreement about nothing”.
The MAI is the Multilateral Agreement on Investments. Grassroots opposition to the agreement has been much greater than anyone in the major media had predicted. Editorials in the Globe in the past few weeks tried to assure readers that, like Seinfeld, it is an “agreement about nothing”. But according to John Urquhart, the Communications Officer for the Council of Canadians, it’s quite the contrary. Urquhart said the MAI is not an agreement that invests in countries or democracies, and exists only to gain security for the large multinationals and the companies they do business with.
“The victory that we should be celebrating is not that the MAI is dead. In fact, it is very much alive, and the OECD said so. Instead, what ought to be celebrated is that the member nations of the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) can no longer negotiate the agreement in secret,” said Urquhart in an interview with Internet News.
Internet News interviewed smaller groups such as the Citizens Concerned About Free Trade (CCAFT) and The Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. Suggestions that they became high-tech wizards poised to overthrow any treaty they disagreed with, was considered laughable.
Nancy Bennett, coordinator for the Network said that the organization’s web site didn’t have audio capabilities, and that there was no technical skill or funding available for the site. The network had issued statements about the MAI, but at the time of this writing, they were not posted on their site (www.web.net/~dcfrn/).
Organizer Marjaleena Repo of the CCAFT said that at a recent Vancouver meeting only a fraction of people said they had heard about the meeting via the Internet. “Three-fourths of those who attended the meeting said they heard about it by reading posters put up around town.”
Repo accused the Globe of distortion, because it gave some left-wingers, many who took the article seriously, false hopes.
Any attempt to give the impression that grassroots grou
ps are using the Internet to an extent that would derail trade talks of any kind seems fraudulent.
Quoted prominently in the Globe article was Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, a group opposed to the content of the Free Trade and the MAI. John Urquhart, spokesperson for Barlow, said that they were true quotes, and that the Internet had played a role in their efforts, “…but its role was a marginal one.” However, Urquhart hastened to add that “the headline was overstated.”
The impression of the article was that suddenly the left-wing grassroots organizations were promoted to the level of “high-tech wizards.” The Council of Canadians is not a grassroots group by any stretch but they do represent many of those groups across Canada who are opposed to how multilateral trade deals are negotiated. Any attempt to give the impression that grassroots groups are using the Internet to an extent that would derail trade talks of any kind seems fraudulent.
All of the grassroots organizations interviewed in the Toronto area opposed to the MAI said that not only was the Internet not used all that much, they had neither the time, money, nor people to use it to any degree of effectiveness.
Urquhart explained the Globe’s tactics.
“The Globe couldn’t explain the opposition to the MAI by making direct references to its content or by offering quotes explaining why anyone would be opposed to it. But they still had to explain to its readers, many of them Bay Street investors, why people are opposed.
The answer was to blame technology.” According to Urquhart, the Internet became the scapegoat for the failure of high-priced PR firms, governments and transnational companies to convince the public that the MAI is a positive agreement. In other words, the discussion on the content of the MAI was safely averted in favour of more propaganda.
Although the Internet helps coordinate global efforts, Urquhart said it was just part of a much broader grassroots campaign involving postering, phoning members, and setting up public petition booths.
Repo said that only 13 per cent of Canadian households are connected to the Net whereas in European countries such as Finland, the number of online users was much greater. “In Finland,” she said, “there is a critical mass of people where online activism is more effective, because with more people there is more feedback, and more technical know-how.”
In Canada, Repo said she receives on average 2,400 emails from various individuals and mailing lists. “It is depressing to realize that there is not enough time, money or manpower to read them all or even to learn how to manage the e-mail properly.”
The potential of the Internet appears to show itself in larger humanitarian groups with deeper pockets, such as the Council of Canadians, Oxfam, or Amnesty International. John Tackaberry, spokesperson for Amnesty International explained that the use of e-mail has greatly influenced their effectiveness on the release of political prisoners, where the delivery of information to places halfway around the globe is usually time-critical.
Jesse Hirsch, a volunteer director of the New Media Institute at the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto, said that there aren’t many left-wing groups currently focusing on using the Net as a communications tool. “Much of the reluctance to focus on an Internet presence is based on a fear and insecurity of the technology. But there is a definite void that has to be filled.”
For more Net Culture stories, see our Net Culture archive.