Posted March 27, 2014
by Jerry Alatalo
“Real news is bad news.”
– Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
If a major news organization is exposed for falsifying reporting, what should the penalty be for that action? After hearing reports of alleged BBC broadcasting over the airwaves of digitally manipulated film footage, the search for more about this issue began. It didn’t take long to come across the following report by “The Truthseeker” at RT, which zeroes in on the scandal.
It is difficult to come up with the proper response to information presented in this report. To be honest, perhaps the response which best describes one’s reactions is sadness and disappointment. This feeling is the most relevant because of the realization that, if this scandal had not been uncovered, the odds that further military actions in an already disaster-stricken Syria would have increased greatly. If this report’s assertions are true, then the perceptions of millions of viewers of BBC news have been manipulated in greatly disappointing ways.
After sadness and disappointment, the next probable response – at least for men and women who are new to media manipulations – will be feelings of confusion and bafflement. The inevitable questions come to one’s mind. Can this really be true? Is this RT report some kind of double propaganda effort? How do I know who is telling the truth anymore? It is understandable that people will experience strong emotions upon hearing allegations of major media manipulation, often leading to further questions of a more analytic nature about media ownership and the public relations aspects of news reporting.
From the preface to “The Media Monopoly”, a 1983 book by Ben H. Bagdikian:
“…There was, it appeared, a double standard: sensitive to failures in public bodies, but insensitive to equally important failures in the private sector, particularly in what affects the corporate world. This institutional bias does more than merely protect the corporate system. It robs the public of a chance to understand the real world.
Our picture of reality does not burst upon us in one splendid revelation. It accumulates day by day and year by year in mostly unspectacular fragments from the world scene, produced mainly by the mass media. Our view of the world is dynamic, cumulative, and self-correcting as long as there is a pattern of evenhandedness in deciding which fragments are important. But when one important category of the fragments is filtered out, or included only vaguely, our view of the socio-political world is deficient. The ultimate human intelligence – discernment of cause and effect – becomes damaged because it depends on knowledge of events in the order and significance in which they occur. When part of the linkage between cause and effect becomes obscure, the sources of our weakness and of our strength become uncertain. Errors are repeated decade after decade because something is missing in the perceptions by which we guide our social actions.
My personal associations, professional experience, and research tell me that journalists, writers, artists, and producers are, as a body, capable of producing a picture of reality that, among other things, will signal “weakness in the social order”. But to express this varied picture they must work through mainstream institutions and these mainstream institutions must be diverse. As the most important institutions in the production of our view of the real social world – newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books, and movies – increasingly become the property of the most persistent beneficiaries of mass media biases, it seems important to me to write about it.”
Here are the final paragraphs from Mr. Bagdikian’s “The Media Monopoly”:
“Each generation has to establish its own priorities and reinvigorate the best principles of the society. This generation is no different. By raising small, minority voices today, this generation, like the Jeffersonians 180 (now over 210) years ago, can produce a change that will strengthen American democracy and validate the principle of a truly informed consent as the basis for a free society.
The arrogance of corporate power has reached levels that leave no doubt that it prefers private greed to public civilization. Corporate power, exercised through the media and government, openly ridicules governmental functions that serve ordinary people, while demanding the government further enrich private fortunes. Corporations erect glistening skyscrapers and display lavish private goods – options in a rich country – while sneering at appropriations for public services, food for the poor, and money to educate the nation’s children – moral obligations for a rich country.
The media provide unintegrated fragments of this arrogance without the coherence that brings understanding. The major media speak with clarity and persistence about the sins of the powerless, but they do not speak with clarity and persistence about the sins of private power.
There are times when the voices of ordinary men and women can prevail over this power. In the 1980s, against years of patriotic preachments by government and its corporate backers, an astounding collection of Americans voted for an end to the insanity of nuclear escalation. To do this, they had to mobilize against the military-industrial complex, which to a dangerous extent is now the military-media-industrial complex.
It is a start. From this start must come a drastic reordering of power in American society, including a reduction in the concentrated control of news, public information, and culture. Change can come democratically and with justice if ordinary people extend the work of those who produced the vote for a nuclear freeze: if they learn from informative media, if they will understand the mechanics of power, if they will vote consistently for issues and leaders devoted to direct, immediate, and unequivocal measures that get to the heart of a decent standard for everyone. If they do this soon enough and effectively enough, they can alter the course leading to social wreckage and disorder at home and nuclear catastrophe in the world. If this generation of Americans exercises its responsibilities to political morality, it will be following the dictates of eighty years ago by that remarkable physician-philosopher William James:
The deadliest enemies of nations… always dwell within their borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.”
Communications Professor Ben H. Bagdikian wrote “The Media Monopoly” in 1983. After more than three decades, the world still calls on true men and women to act reasonably…
To strike corruption swiftly.