What is the cost of free speech?
“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” I.F. Stone
We have all heard Lincoln’s dictum,
“You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
But we should add the political truth “But you can fool enough of the people enough of the time.”
Without objective information, there can be no meaningful free choices.
Most people believe they have a range of choices in their daily lives and that they may choose among them freely. That is, they intuitively believe that their choices are made autonomously and without outside interference.
How many individual daily decisions are determined by some degree of media manipulation?
Well, for many they can include what we eat, what we wear, how we entertain ourselves, how we groom ourselves. Those that use the media to try to sway our behaviour declare that they are simply providing information that allows informed choices: “advertising ensures that we don’t have to settle for second best. It helps us exercise our right to choose.”
However, this is problematic. Advertisers seek to restrict choice, not broaden it and ultimately they want to determine the choice for you.
So, generally, what you see as a range of choices is really limited options within a predetermined context – the context of the marketplace. (Termed elsewhere as the Overton Window)
And your freedom of choice?
Your choice may well be made on the basis of which product sponsor is most effective in manipulating your perceptions.
This is media determinism in action and it has proven very successful. U.S. businesses spend some $70 billion a year on TV advertising alone. And, as one ad executive comments, “companies would not invest [that much money] in something they thought didn’t work.”
This is discouraging news for those who believe in the everyday consumer’s freedom of choice.
There are, however, other categories of our lives where media determines our thoughts.
You would think that when it comes to choosing political leaders and deciding between war and peace, the public would deserve information approaching objectivity. This is exactly what they never get.
For instance, political campaign promises and party platforms are almost never scrutinized by the media, nor does the media point out that they are only rarely translated into post-election blueprints for action. Instead the media present manipulated information.
Yet such is the power of the myth of democracy that the charade is ongoing.
The mass media are quasi-governmental organs, predictably predictable and predictably dishonest. The truth is not in them.
You don’t need to ban or censor newspapers or critical books, because the only people who read them already agree with them. You don’t need to kick in doors at three in the morning to seize forbidden computers or duplicators. People might revolt against that sort of thing. Better just to keep prohibited topics off the networks and out of the papers with a well-placed word, a hint that access to government spokespersons will be withdrawn or that advertisers will go elsewhere. It is enough.
The alliance between government and media can be seen in what soon followed President Bush’s determination to attack Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9-11, led to an orchestrated campaign of misinformation.
In March of 2003, as the invasion took place, polls showed that between 72% and 76% of Americans supported the president’s war. In doing so, did they exercise free choice? Most of them would probably have told you that they did. Yet a strong argument can be made that because of the misinformation given them in the run-up to the war – for instance, misinformation about the Iraqi people’s desire to be rescued from Saddam Hussein and the notorious issue of weapons of mass destruction – they were in fact victims of the media.
This system is breaking down under the onslaught of the internet.
Papers are losing both credibility and circulation. So are the television and radio networks. We now have a press of two tiers, the establishment media and the net, with sharply differing narratives.
The internet is now primary. The bright get their news from around the web and then read The Times to see how the paper of record will prevaricate.
People increasingly judge the media by the web, not the web by the media. Before the internet, people who wanted a high level of intellectual community had to move to a large city or live on the campus of a good university. Magazines of small circulation delivered by snail mail helped a bit, but not much. Today, email, specialized websites, and list serves put people of like mind in Canberra, Buenos Aires, Bali, and Toronto in the same living room, so to speak. There exists now a decreasing ability to control opinion.
Because growing communication of voiceless groups to realize that they are numerous and have interests in common. It’s a new ball game.
The major media are not comfortable with intelligence. Television is worst, the medium of the illiterate, barely literate, stupid, uneducated, and uninterested. It cannot afford to air much that might puzzle these classes. They are dull because they have to be, bland because they must avoid offending anyone, controlled because they can be. They write to the least common denominator of their clientele because they have to be comprehensible to non-specialist readers.
A major component of the free press illusion is the notion that some media outlets are more liberal while others are more right wing. Widespread belief in this myth further limits the already limited parameters of accepted debate.
The media are as liberal or conservative as the corporations that own them.
Whether you label them liberal or conservative, most major media outlets are large corporations owned by or aligned with even larger corporations, and they share a common strategy: selling a product (an affluent audience) to a given market (advertisers).
Therefore, we shouldn’t find it too shocking that the image of the world being presented by a corporate-own press very much reflects the biased interests of the elite. That’s why every major daily newspaper has a business section, but not a labour section.