Histories, Hegemonies & Hate: Journalists’ Challenge in Addressing the Politics of Mass Distraction in the Global Electoral Cycle

Histories, Hegemonies & Hate: Journalists’ Challenge in Addressing the Politics of Mass Distraction in the Global Electoral Cycle

This article was kindly written for us by Joshua Castellino, Executive Co-Director & Professor of Law of Minority Rights Group International and is the first in our series; Journalism and Democracy in the Super-Election year.

Joshua Castellino


Journalists under siege in reporting from frontlines of heavily polarized societies are facing an even bigger challenge as 2024 becomes synonymous for being election year. A non-exhaustive list of countries where governments are turning to their electorates in seeking overall governance mandates includes Algeria, Belize, Botswana, Chad, Comoros, Croatia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Georgia, Ghana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Lithuania, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Mozambique, Namibia, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Romania, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Soloman Islands, Somaliland, South Africa, South Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Togo, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay and Venezuela.

These elections appear to come at a good time. The call in many countries for system change has grown desperate due to growing inequality, exacerbated by the predicted sharpening of the climate crisis. Environmental harms are deepening scarcity, leading to increased competition and societal polarization, with few ideas emerging for sustainable economic growth that would benefit the many rather than the few.

Viewed as purely a game of numbers, it would seem logical that wherever free and fair elections are held the thirst for system change would catalyse governance change through the ballot box. Yet projections across the range of countries listed above suggest that most, whether they support the incumbent or vote for change, will be unlikely to elect governments willing and able to address severe societal challenges.

A toxic combination of histories, hegemonies and hate is at play. These bind polities in many states built on illegal or outdated political settlements, with illegitimate borders imposed during colonization legalized through decolonization, through inherited power structures that generate wealth for those that control them. With disillusionment echoing loudly, hate has become a powerful tool to enforce division, generating powerful politics of distraction.

Fairly narrated – rather than the officially sanctioned – histories of the world’s 195 sovereign states would show how many countries are built on seizures of lands from local populations followed by extensions of authority over communities through erection of a patriarchy rooted in land ownership. While individual property ownership may have been the way in which some cultures evolved, colonization transmitted this across the globe as the most important form of wealth generation. The defeat of communal land ownership and notions of ‘the public good’, at the hands of wealthy individuals with an anthropocentric view of the planet also simultaneously generated the environmental crisis.

Decolonization supposedly ended this European ‘white’ domination as states emerged from this form of oppression from 1945 onwards. Yet each state emerged in the image and likeness of the colonial master: within boundaries they constructed to differentiate their properties from each other. Independence movements used vehement rhetoric and creativity to defeat the colonial rulers. Yet the new governments moved into the same vacated palaces, maintained the same forms of law and crucially, the same extractive and anthropocentric means through which wealth could be generated. The typical post-colonial state had to contend with myriads of ethnicities, tribes, religions and linguistic groups, pushed together by colonial borders now jostling under the roof of a single centralised sovereign state. Many adopted active policies of nation-building, hoping to merge communities into a single national identity like the one that existed under their former colonial masters.

This hybrid identity inevitably favoured the most powerful group within the new states. Reliance on the extractive model not only meant that a form of hegemonic control over resources was maintained, it privileged access to the former colonial masters who continued to gain financially from commercial exploitation through unfettered market access for their corporations, including through carefully curated physical insecurities that justified growth in an arms industry escalating sales on both sides of newly created borders.

Globalization seemed like it could lift the under-development curse that post-colonial states inherited from the systematic draining of their wealth. Instead, it created a process by which resources could be controlled more tightly and new financial hegemonies could be built. Privatization of public goods removed wealth from the public purse while generating market and price related scarcities, which turned the trickle of immigration from poorer countries towards the richer countries into a regular flow. These flows initially consolidated the national wealth of richer countries, boosting economies and building infrastructure that assisted commerce. The extractive development model was accompanied by mechanization, eliminating need for labour, while increased privatization meant that the state was no longer obliged to provide services to all.

The resulting scarcities are sold to the public as the fault of ‘the other’ as scapegoating, previously deemed too divisive to address, became a standard operating tool. Against this backdrop to the 2024 global election cycle journalists have a central role in recording what is occurring in societies and within the electoral process. Pre-electoral narratives have highlighted the climate crisis, rising prices, shrinking of the civic space, growth in inequalities, human rights violations and flight of assets through corruption. Yet it seems inevitable that these stories will struggle against submersion by sponsored stories: that scapegoat communities, undermine political opponents or even narrate alternative visions of what is transpiring in society.

In the battlefield of ideas traditional paid mainstream journalism appears to be struggling for space against sponsored versions of the truth that appeal to sentiment and seek specific political outcomes. The pressure to counter this narrative without directly engaging with it and letting it become the story requires sophisticated communication tools.

Many conspiracy theories and alternative truths inundating the public square respond to anger surging through the masses. Yet this anger is carefully absorbed and misdirected away from the anthropocentric greed that has driven many species to extinction while making some families insanely rich. Careful misdirection prevents the anger from focussing on the patriarchy which has subjugated public and private life into a fiefdom. Increased privatization that has commodified human existence that can be bought for the right price is also exempted. The anger is only partially directed at escalating prices for the meeting of basic needs.

It is instead directed with full venom at ‘the other’. People (women multiply affected), who are different – minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, stateless persons, LGBTQI+ persons, and other forms of declared and/or imposed human differentiation. These ‘communities’ where they even exist as such, are either not mobilized as a group or are too small to change the outcomes of the mass popularity contests that national elections have become. They are convenient scapegoats that can be bullied, with the bullies that undertake this heralded as heroes for protecting the ‘nation’ from the impurities of ‘the other’.

For journalists at the frontline the solution is simple to articulate: stories of electoral coverage must focus on questions of governance that really matter – efforts to address social inequality, suitable responses to the climate crisis, attempts to address human frailty against scarcities, and creative ideas for sustainable economic growth beyond the defunct extractive model. Focusing on these stories while avoiding the ambient noises being made will be critical. This agenda is simple to articulate but tough to realise: the increasing risk to journalists is likely to grow exponentially during the electoral cycle as a direct consequence of their reporting. It is also likely that intimidation will feature strongly to make ‘official’ narratives disseminated through the clientelist press regurgitate through independent outlets.

Standing in solidarity with other serious journalists, irrespective of the coherence of their perspectives will be equally important. The kind of solidarity displayed towards those striving to report from the Gaza frontlines will be important and may serve to mutually reinforce a beleaguered profession. Science tells us that the task is an existential one. Getting it wrong in this electoral cycle may hasten the closing credits to the tiny but disconcertingly disastrous chapter of human existence on the planet.

If you face legal threats because of your journalism, we can help.

Minority Rights Group is the leading human rights organization working with ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and indigenous peoples worldwide. Joshua Castellino is the Executive Co-Director & Professor of Law at Minority Rights Group.

Media Defence is the sole organisation who’s core mission is to provide legal help to journalists, citizen journalists and independent media across the world. We largely represent independent journalists, bloggers, and smaller media outlets facing threats for their essential public interest reporting and efforts to hold power accountable. As journalists confront escalating threats and harassment while advocating for free elections, fair democratic participation, and access to reliable information, our support is increasingly critical.

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