It is a sad time for journalism. In China, the state’s Communist Party is getting ready for its 16th congress in November, and the state-owned media will be kept on a tight leash. The propaganda department of the Communist Party released detailed “guidelines” for what reporters in China may cover and what they may not. The government of China knows the power of journalism and how it can shape the perceptions of a nation by simply telling a story _ or not telling a story as the case may be.
Newspapers are a major source of news in China. Thus, Chinese who want to be informed about the day’s news in their country get a skewed story of what is really going on. The stories are skewed purposefully. They are skewed to benefit those who do the skewing _ those in power.
Rather than providing an “objective” journalism that benefits all who can read it, the Chinese get a yellow journalism meant to meet the bottom line and tell a story as the Communist Party wants it told. The Chinese have little means to verify the validity of a story if they suspect that it is biased or erroneous, giving the newspapers, and thus the state, a lot of political power.
Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to China. In fact, it is not too dissimilar from what is going on in our own country. I’m not just talking about how the corporate media is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer media conglomerates _ although this also plays a major role in what stories are reported and how they are presented.
Have you noticed over the past year that major corporate media outlets have just been obsessed with this “War on Terror” and the “Challenge of the Nation,” as if we were on some mighty and holy crusade to obliterate all that is “evil” lurking in the darkest corners of the globe? Now more recently they are focused on “Gulf War II: The Liberation of Iraq.”
These titles sound like something out of a TV Guide _ as if global politics was a sitcom and the storylines were being dictated straight from the White House Studios. The stars of our show, George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein battle mano a mano in a race against the nuclear time clock. Will the secular West triumph yet again; leading thousands of women to liberation as they overthrow their patriarchal oppressors? Or will the fundamentalist Muslim terrorists get the upper hand; destroying all that is good in the world and killing thousands of Americans? Find out on the Fox Spin Channel.
There have to be other things to cover.
Corporate print, radio, and television media are creating so much hype about the threat of Iraq that it makes you wonder whether this news is being covered because people are genuinely interested in bombing Iraq or if it is all a ploy to saturate the atmosphere in hawk talk. The latter is not as off base as you might think.
Although the constraints on US media are not as stringent as they are in China, there is far from what we call a “free press” in this country. Late last year, a number of national corporate media organizations, in consultation with the US government, agreed to “self-censor” themselves regarding certain topics because the government wanted to guide the perceptions created by media and thus effect the track of national discourse.
One of the concrete “no-no”‘s they stipulated (publicly) is that one should not release any information that might assist terrorists. It might sound like a plausible national security measure, but the problem is, who gets to decide what information may assist terrorists? After all, in this time of hyper-patriotism around the “War on Terror,” spilling too much information about what our government is doing might fuel the fires of rabid anti-war doves.
But some of this censored information might be things that you and I would like to know. How are we to base our opinion on our President’s foreign policy if we don’t know what the effects of our activities in Afghanistan are? Why should we continue to pay taxes if half of it is fueling a war we know little about? And where is Bin Laden anyway? Is any of this information really going to assist terrorists? What is the real agenda?
Now, you might say that these media organizations chose to censor themselves and they had the freedom to do that, and thus we still do in fact have a free press. But practices such as “self-censorship” and skewed reporting create a misperception of global politics among the American public.
The corporate media is mis-educating us about the world. I mean this not in the sense that they are lying to us, but that we’re not getting the whole story. Corporate media institutions are beginning to seem more like cheerleaders for the “War on Terror” rather than “objective” spectators. The media debate is not centered on the question “should” we attack Saddam Hussein, but rather “when” and “how” we should do it. Who decided on this shift in the debate? It certainly was not me and unless you are reading this from the White House Studios, it probably was not you either. So keep a look out. Our independent press may not be as independent as we think it should be