Commanding Heights

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Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy is a six-hour documentary from PBS purporting to inform the viewer about economics: what have been the different ideologies about managing the market, how did we get where we are now, and what is the nature of the modern world economy? It's certainly an interesting topic and one that's worthy of a thorough, in-depth, objective exploration. However, Commanding Heights has a fatal flaw, which can be concisely expressed in three words: conflict of interest.

How would you feel about watching a documentary on cancer, funded by cigarette manufacturers? Do you think that alternative medicine and preventive care would get a truly fair shake on a program funded by large pharmaceutical companies? Well, how about a documentary on economics funded by large global corporations?

Yes, Commanding Heights may be a PBS production, but it's far from independent or unbiased. The first thing that's shown are advertisements from the corporate sponsors of the program, including Federal Express and British Petroleum. In fact, a little digging turns up that one of the original large sponsors of the series was Enron... an uncomfortable connection that PBS downplayed after that company's scandalous demise. In other words, the money behind the program comes from sources that have a deeply vested interest in promoting a very particular, pro-big-business, pro-deregulation economic agenda. And it shows: Commanding Heights is largely a propaganda piece for global mega-corporations.

The bias evident in the program is a real shame, because the topic is an interesting and substantial one, and the documentary's makers have done a good job on the whole of presenting the material in an engaging and well-organized fashion. Each of the three two-hour episodes presents a frustrating duality: I found it informative on areas of modern world history and politics that I knew little about, but the evident bias, not just in the interpretation of...
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