We live in a world of continual news reports. Anytime of the day or night you can turn on your television, radio, or computer and receive updates on the world’s situation. Satellites beam information from the four corners of the world on a continual basis, providing a continual update on whatever is considered “hot”.
Images of grim faced reporters are flashed into our living rooms; terse sounding voices emanate from our radios; and scrolls of typeset flash across our monitors: each one striving to provide us with the “big picture” first. But how “big” is that “big picture”?
Most broadcasters are going to only show news that is pertinent to their viewing audience. If you are watching a regional broadcast you’re sure to receive the latest crime reports, municipal news, and updates on the local sports teams. If the station is an affiliate of a larger network at some point you will receive some international and national clips that head office has deemed important enough to make available for local consumption. Usually they are the stories that the national broadcast team will be covering in greater depth latter in the evening.
Dependant on the country you live in, and sometimes even the region of the country you live in, the important stories will vary according to what the broadcasters believe you want to know about. If you live in Quebec Canada for instance, and there is any story making the news about the issue of language or sovereignty you can be sure that will be the lead item.
Similarly if you live in the United States the lead story will have to do with either the latest news from Washington, or updates on the situation in Iraq. Broadcasters, newspapers, even Internet sites, exist to make money for their owners. (Even supposedly “public” broadcasters like the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (C.B.C.) operate on that principle) It only makes sense that they offer up material that will appeal to as many people as possible.
Invariably what results is an across the board uniformity of stories and information. Nobody who depends on market shares for survival risks editorializing for fear of alienating potential audience. This means that any statement issued by any public figure, no matter how far fetched or misinformed, will be reported verbatim and lent the veneer of legitimacy associated with appearing on the news.
All of our politicians have learned long ago how to exploit this and use it for their own ends. They can make the wildest accusations about opponents in a political campaign and know it will be reported without question. If a newspaper headline reads that candidate “A” accused their competitor of being unpatriotic, the simple fact that it is printed without commentary or analysis lends it an air of credibility.
Once something is presented as “fact”, no matter how farfetched, by the media, it’s as if it has been given a stamp of approval. No matter what happens afterwards the first impression is what sticks in people’s minds. Your mother didn’t know how right she was when she stressed the importance of making a good first impression.
The media, much to the hilarity of people on all sides of the political spectrum, have always staked out the moral high ground of objectivity. They claim it is their job as reporters of the news to not tell people how to think, just to let them know what’s going on. They seem to forget that there is a difference between analysis and opinion.
Unbelievable as it may sound, it is possible to analyse a situation without venturing a personal opinion. Instead of blithely reporting that someone has said 2 + 2 = 5 and leaving it at that, why not point out that 2 + 2 actually equals four? As long as you don’t call them mathematically challenged, you won’t be offering an opinion.
The media often adorn themselves with titles like International, World News, or something similar. It sounds impressive doesn’t it? But what does it really mean? I know that in Canada the C.B.C. makes no bones about it and says right up front something along the lines of: “The stories that matter to you from a Canadian perspective”.
That means when they run a story on the softwood tariff dispute between Canada and The Untied States, we hear from the Canadians involved, and get the Canadian view on the matter. Perhaps they’ll let an American speak, but only so his points can be rebutted.
On the other side of the border, if the story is even making the news, I would guess the opposite would be true. Spokespeople from the American lumber industry, and Industry and Trade, would be trotted out to give their view. Each side will use their media to spread their word to the people. The cast might stay the same, but dependant on which side of the border you are on, the role of villain and hero switches.
That’s why if amuses me so much to hear anyone accuse another media of being propaganda. In its current incarnation that’s all any mass media is anymore. Open any newspaper; watch any broadcast, and some one’s view is going to be propagated as the truth. Whether government policy, moral standards, or casualty lists of civilians from a war. Everything that is printed or televised is designed to shape opinion.
Certainly state controlled media outlets are more obviously controlled, but hasn’t our media, through its refusal to analyse, become no more than a mouthpiece for those with power? If any dare stray from the official line they are vilified as being unpatriotic or playing into the hands of our enemies?
The sad part is that we, and I mean we in all the supposed free press countries, not just the United States, have gone along with this. The press, and the public have all allowed the erosion of our one means of questioning authority to happen without complaint.
While the Internet has opened up discussion, in the form of blogs and independent news web sites, the majority of people still obtain their information from the same old sources. While the Internet does provide anyone with a computer the chance to voice their opinions in public, and provide a means for dissemination of dissenting view points, how long will it be before it is co-opted into the mainstream.
All the major networks, and newspapers maintain a web presence, as do radio stations and politicians. What is going to make the virtual world that much different from the real world? If you go to any site that has political discussion all you are likely to find is people slagging each other about their opinions. That’s not going to lead to a freer and opener expression of the news.
What it comes down to is what are people going to be satisfied with in the form of news. As long as we continue to turn to and accept the mainstream outlets nothing is going to change. We will continue to get a very limited view of the big picture.