Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Propagandists in the service of the powerful

For more than half a century, the Soviet Union's news agencies were universally recognized as untrustworthy. Strict political controls ensured that content served interests of the nation's autocrats.

In the democratic world, most have been contentedly confident that a free press was a reliable guardian of the public interest. We assumed it was accessible so any reasonable person could impart information and ideas without barriers. However, not all people are as smug. Noam Chomsky maintains that today's mainstream corporate media manufactures consent in favour of unregulated capitalism and the political powers supportive of it.

Chomsky argues that the vested corporate interests controlling newspapers, television, and radio are propagandists in the service of the powerful. Political and financial interests ensure that media companies bias content accordingly.

Journalists used to talk about a "Chinese Wall" separating editorial and advertising personnel but the concept is now intermittent. Sometimes that's rather innocuous. On Global TV News last weekend, a commercial for Whistler Mountain lift tickets was followed by a two minute "news story" about the resort. It doesn't take a cynic to imagine the commercial fee ensured exposure in a news segment.

More problematic is the current blitz of advocacy advertising that viewers are presently experiencing. It comes from government and industry groups, particularly ones trying to promote controversial projects. There is historic evidence that investigative reporters and vigilant mass media have been associated with increased government accountability and lower corruption. However, when government becomes the largest advertiser, they buy protection for their political misdeeds. Media scrutiny goes away when the subjects are large advertisers.

The other night, I logged the commercials on Global TV late news. In almost 16 minutes of advertising, 25% of it was advocacy advertising by Northern Gateway pipeline promoter Enbridge and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. The governments of Canada and British Columbia were responsible for six TV spots in one hour. Local business accounted for only 18% while national commercial accounts took up the remainder.

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9 comments:

  1. Norm, back in the 70s we understood the perils to democracy posed by media concentration of ownership and cross-ownership, the two hallmarks of today's corporate media cartel. Corporations are loathe to sacrifice return on investment for the sake of defending democracy. For that reason they have much to lose by maintaining the traditional role of "watchdog of government" and a great deal to gain by instead serving as lapdog of government.

    Those of us who witnessed the grotesque pandering of Mike Duffy as he earned his way into the Senate understand how seriously askew journalism in Canada has become.

    Corporate media is about selling messaging, not information. They can't control information but they can control what they manufacture, messaging, and that makes it a far more lucrative commodity.

    I have long argued that if we are to wrest our democracy from the clutches of corporatism, it must begin by shredding the corporate media cartel. The health of any democracy depends on citizens having access to the greatest range of opinion which requires diverse ownership of media outlets.

    This is a commitment we need to hear from our opposition leaders. That they stand mute on this speaks volumes.

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  2. By the way, Norm, mind telling me where that picture was taken? You're no hell but that tree is magnificent.

    Cheers

    MoS

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    Replies
    1. Sucre, Chuquisaca Department of Bolivia. Tree is thought to be over 1,000 years old.

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  3. Let's see, Norm. If I add my age to your age... nah, forget it, we're still not close.

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    Replies
    1. I like that photo because it reminds me that the life span of one old man is tiny when placed beside an ancient element of nature. It serves as a reminder that our transitory existence is comparatively insignificant so we should leave only small footprints as we proceed.

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  4. Every time I manage to get into a stretch of old growth I feel the same.

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  5. Corporate media shills...wholly "owned" subsideraries of big business...the media is "not" the message...the corporate agenda is. Unless this changes...everything is going to change for the worse.

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  6. Interesting, the "we will" messaging on the Northern Gateway ads — instead of "if we get the go-ahead." This certainly gives a nod to the cynics who think it's all a done-deal.

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  7. Lately... it would appear that the "pipeline" debate is shifting, to the east coast, and a new "heavy bitumen" refinery, is to be built, in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. The " objection heat" is forcing the implementation of plan B. The reversal of a pipeline currently being used, is under consideration, as well.

    Intresting development...

    ReplyDelete

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