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The Media-tations

A proper gander at propaganda, journalism and freedom of speech.

Marcus Aurelius never wrote The Media-tations as he never had to deal with people like Rupert Murdoch. Also, the former Roman Emperor’s word was law so media bias, diversity and/or integrity was not a problem for him as what he said went. Be that as it may, these are very real concerns for us now that we are experiencing which people are gradually becoming more aware of, but not immune to falling prey to.

The primary role of the media is to hold the government (or ruling authority) accountable for its actions. This is essentially what freedom of speech along with freedom of information is designed for; the last thing you want is for any government to be able to silence any form of dissent or critique of its governing or to control the media to simply be a mouthpiece for what the government wants people to hear.

“This leads us to why media diversity is crucial; to prevent media-government collusion.”

Now, what happens when the media fail to uphold their end of the bargain on behalf of the people? People will lose faith in the media and this has become clearly evident over the past 15-20 years, even more for some people. Media credibility has become a huge issue in part due to the saturation of information out there, but also due to the lack of trust/faith shown for the media to report the facts and ask the hard questions. Instead, we see a lot more agenda, opinions, slants and spin put on the news to evoke us on a more emotional than rational level and to help corrupt people maintain positions of power.

“Much like politicians, we get the media we deserve; the people aren’t demanding rigour so why would the media waste time and money doing it?”

I cannot stress enough the importance of good, rigorous investigative journalism which takes time, effort, resources and skill. I find that most people who parade themselves as journalists nowadays are nothing more than glorified bloggers. I read their pieces and I find myself going: “where’s the objectivity?”, “where’s the critical thinking?”, “where’s the fairness, accuracy and understanding both sides of the argument?” I find there are more and more people who are likely to write articles before the event has even happened.

“I don’t think people would read objective news because it wouldn’t be interesting enough nor would it generate enough revenue to sustain itself.”

It’s the “uninformed vs misinformed” conundrum, but a good general rule I use is that if it’s no longer in the news after two weeks it’s not important enough for me to take serious interest. Most of what I see in the media is filler material. I see a move away from previously trusted institutions to select individuals, that is, until that person becomes untrustworthy – which is in part why I think there are more character assassinations now, because it becomes easier to dismiss people without attending to their ideas or arguments. Thanks largely to technological advances, certain individuals are cutting out the middle man per se and bringing the information directly to the people. In today’s day and age, you could almost make the case that the messenger may be more important than the message; what is more memorable? The person or the content?

“I’ve seen a rise of useful idiots in the age of popularity propaganda”

Propaganda isn’t just something Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis utilised in World War II. We see a growing number of people (of all heights of popularity) getting involved in an increasing number of issues, concerns, causes and problems around the globe at local, national and international levels. Now, this is a prime time for propaganda to flourish given the nature of information intake and the current state of the average person. The reach and influence of some of the most popular people on the planet are the envy of governments, politicians and organisations around the world – small wonder they are being sought out to help win elections or promote causes and particular views on topics.

“Freedom of speech or full of shit – it’s ironic they’re the same acronym.”

Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence, many seem to forget that part. There are many things that we are trying to work out in ourselves, others and the greater society – some of these things are quite large and complex – and we need to able to think, articulate and discuss what’s of concern. Generally, anything of value is going to generate strong views and we need to be able to voice these no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it might be. The key thing to remember is it’s almost a guarantee that we won’t get it right the first time; it may take several discussions back and forth before we get anywhere close to the source of the problem, the real issue at hand, the truth and/or practical solution.

Provided we still believe democracy is the best current form of governance, a fair, rigorous and diverse media is essential to its proper functioning. 1984 and Brave New World are commonly, although maybe not always accurately, invoked fictional examples of where we might end up should we lose faith in democracy and free inquisition. An authoritarian “ministry of truth” banning books, suppressing information and concealing the truth versus a hedonic, drug-infused Soma-tose where no one cares to read and the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance. While we don’t live in either society both books are recommended reads and I challenge you to think of yourself as one of the people in charge of maintaining these cultures; how you’d feel oppressing people under the guise of “truth” or keeping the public wilfully ignorant and numb to reality.

We need, now more than ever, a media that will pursue matters in the interest of the public and whom we can trust to hold our governments accountable for their deeds and misdeeds. Our duty as informed citizens must also not prevent us from holding both the media and the government responsible for their roles in society. And perhaps most crucially, we need to be answerable to ourselves that we have done the best job possible of upholding the values that are dearest to us.

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