The world faces many problems – some of these are root problems which, if we strike at them first, will make it far easier to solve many other problems. This is one such problem:
Mainstream media is distracting us, and is biased. Have you been following the latest politician battles or VIP scandals? Most of us check the news frequently, but what we’re being fed by mainstream is just a small window into the available opinions. The “left” and “right” they present to us are actually only an artifially small subset of available positions, with reasonable opinions that don’t support the existing system often becoming marginalized.
In the book Manufacturing Consent, authors Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky describe a propaganda model; in the words of Wikipedia, the authors argue that “corporate-owned news mass communication media – print, radio, television – are businesses subject to commercial competition for advertising revenue and profit. As such, their distortion ... of news reportage – i.e. what types of news, which items, and how they are reported – is a consequence of the profit motive that requires establishing a stable, profitable business; therefore, news businesses favoring profit over the public interest succeed, while those favoring reportorial accuracy over profits fail, and are relegated to the margins of their markets”.
Furthermore, the authors say, media is dependent on governmental news sources, and is “subtly excluded from access to information” if they make their source unhappy. Such exclusion creates financial danger for the news media business and is thus tried to be avoided. “The dominant mass-media outlets are large firms which are run for profit. Therefore they must cater to the financial interest of their owners – often corporations or particular controlling investors. The size of the firms is a necessary consequence of the capital requirements for the technology to reach a mass audience.” News media must furthermore also “cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers.”
The “political-media complex" is a name given to the close, symbiotic-like network “of relationships between a state’s political and ruling classes, its media industry, and any interactions with or dependencies upon interest groups with other domains and agencies, such as law ... and, particularly, corporations – especially the multinationals”.
As an example, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting in a 2003 study on the coverage of the Iraq war stated that “the network news disproportionately focused on pro-war sources and left out many anti-war sources. According to the study, 64% of total sources were in favor of the Iraq War while total anti-war sources made up 10% of the media”. Importantly, media often frames issues using loaded words which are persuasive in their own rights, dividing the world in good and bad, them versus us. News not fitting this intent risk getting a spin beyond recognition, or becoming completely omitted.
Besides bias, a very numbing effect of media is the distraction they deliver. If they don’t focus on issues that matter – as in: how much they affect us, and how much knowing the information could potentially benefit us or cause progress for the better – they’re not doing their job.
Why is this a root problem? A root problem is one which, as soon as we solve it, leads to the potential solving of quite a few other symptom problems. As soon as media puts their eye on what’s important, people can more easily unite behind the causes that matter and change things. If the public becomes honestly educated in more objective ways, then they have the tool to work towards a better society. If the current system players are openly criticized when they’re failing us, we can replace them with better alternatives. As long as this is not the case, mainstream media holds the power to marginalize reasonable opinion. Even when we might hold the same reasonable opinion as others, then, we might be afraid to speak it, feeling alone in our position.
How can we strike at this root problem? The internet gave us an abundance of communication tools and places, and is growing to add even more year by year. We can now discuss politics on social news sites like Reddit, upvoting and submitting what we consider to be important. Efforts like Humans Inc and PlainSite are underway to create problem discussion and voting spaces. Dan Gillmor in We The Media writes, “Humans have always told each other stories, and each new era of progress has led to an expansion of storytelling.” We can voice our opinion on Twitter, in blogs, podcasts or videos. Naturally, many of these citizen media outlets are in turn still influenced by mainstream mass media. We need to be careful not to repeat the bias and distraction, and we need to be actively pushing the news that matter.
Dan Gillmor continues, “Big Media ... treated the news as a lecture. We told you what the news was. You bought it, or you didn’t. You might write us a letter; we might print it. (If we were television and you complained, we ignored you entirely unless the complaint arrived on a libel lawyer’s letterhead.) Or you cancelled your subscription or stopped watching our shows. It was a world that bred complacency and arrogance on our part. It was a gravy train while it lasted, but it was unsustainable.”
For any news bit, ask yourself: am I being played? Do the words express strong bias towards protecting the current established system? Are the “two sides” presented in the story actually only the two sides of an extremely narrow segment on the opinion plane? Am I watching a show fight between two puppets, aimed at distracting me? Or does this news bit really matter another year from now, and is presented in an honest, non-conflicted way? And if mainstream media fails, how can I get active in creating and participating in citizen news, and push marginalized voices that matter? Let’s help the news that help us; let’s ignore or fight the ones that don’t.