Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Finding the Commons in Rescue of Chilean Miners

Last week’s rescue of the 33 Chilean miners was a massive media sensation. It was the kind of human interest story the media loves. The public’s interest had been building steadily since the San Jose mine collapsed on August 5, so when they were finally rescued, after 69 days, everyone tuned in and cheered. Unfortunately, there are important Commons-lessons that the media industry (at least in the U.S.) obscured in their coverage.

First, the mainstream coverage of the trapped miners missed a discussion of the dangers and damage wrought by the anti-Commons ethos of profits, exploitation and indifference. Although the United States was still seeing oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster that took the lives of 11 workers (by the way, today marks the 6-month anniversary of the explosion on the BP well), there was very little scrutiny of the corporate pathologies that led to both crises. Whether drilling for oil, or drilling for copper, neither industry tends to show much regard for the environment. And both BP and the San Esteban mining company had histories of workplace safety violations, and taking advantage of lax governmental regulations. In spite of all this, the Wall Street Journal declared (without any intentional irony) that “capitalism saved the Chilean miners.” [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-kilkenny/capitalism-didnt-save-the_b_765079.html]

The second lesson that the media got wrong was the Commons-based decision of the miners to share the proceeds of their story. Rather than cover the miners’ cooperative impulse in the same feel-good vein as they covered their rescue, reporters speculated about what it would take to break up this collective. The New York Daily News gleefully reported that some of the miners “may break pact of silence, for the right price.”

The rescue of the Chilean miners has certainly been a moving story, but it could be even more impactful if the media were willing to tell a fuller story.

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