Sunday, August 30, 2009

Truth in Media

Hello everyone, welcome to the SIS 640 Group 1 blog! I'm sure this class will touch on many interesting topics this semester and hopefully we can provide some insightful comments into those. I'm looking forward to reading what everyone else thinks of the readings.
For my first post I wanted to focus on something I noticed in both Thussu's and Matteart's articles, which bothered me a great deal. The use of the media and journalism to promote specific agendas. First, full disclosure, I was a newspaper reporter for a while before coming to American, so I may have idealizations about the industry, but I do realize that many people do not necessarily think of news in such a way. For me, journalism and news reporting overall is about the facts. Letting people know what is going on either close to home or far away, the good, the bad, the ugly, everything, and then allowing them to make their own conclusions. In my mind it is not about trying to sway a reader (or viewer or listener) to your side or distort the facts to make one side look better and the other look worse. It is also most certainly not (to me) a vehicle for pure entertainment and the chance to make a profit publishing falsehoods because it sells papers.
However so much of both of those articles focused on government, corporation, or individual attempts to do just that. Governments held a disturbingly large stake in this business in order to promote their own propaganda. The USA used Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to wage propaganda war against the USSR and the article stated that similar radio and television stations are currently in use to prop up the Western case against opponents in the Middle East. This especially bothers me as it is propaganda disguised as news. The listeners are led to believe that what they hear is the whole truth. While it may be true it also most likely a highly biased version of that, which the listeners may never realize.
Governments also used the media to manipulate the public's view of their own actions. In the Mattelart article there is discussion of the Crimean War and how photographers were told to only take pictures of idyllic scenes of soldiers that made war look like a picnic, under the guise of not scaring families. After reports of horrific battles and massacres the military then required official accreditation in order to report on its activities. While some parts of the military activities should be confidential for the safety of soldiers, families and the public do deserve to know what their loved ones and country are actually doing. They need the facts in order to make their own judgements, not just blindly believe whatever their government tells them. It is a slippery slope to fascism and dictatorship after that.
I was equally, if not more disturbed by William Randolph Hearst's blatant disregard for journalistic integrity. When his photographer told him there was no war in Cuba, Hearst said he would provide it. Which he did in the form of the Spanish American War. While factual reporting on actual events is one thing, to manufacture a war, which kills people, can ruin countries, and otherwise destroy lives, just to sell papers is reprehensible. If you want to sell scandal and excitement when their is none, write a fictional novel or make a movie, don't toy with others' lives for your own personal gain.
These acts give journalism a bad name, leading people to (sometimes rightfully) mistrust the media. Even today it is hard to find sources of unbiased reporting. Recently there were reports that the US government was denying access to reporters who published unfavorable stories about the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every major news channel and paper seems to have their own "slant" on a story despite their frequent claims to the contrary.
I suppose journalism never was what I idealized it to be, a search for and desire to spread the truth and inform people about the goings on of the world. It has always been and always will be a business and a tool for profit and propaganda. I suppose the best we all can do is question our sources, look at multiple points of view, and figure out the truth for ourselves.


  1. Your post is indeed thought-provoking :) and I have thoughts that I'd like to share.

    First of all, I think it is important never to idealize journalism, and never to make it into something it is NOT (yes, a VERY common misguided attempt). Being a reporter myself, I think it is fair to say that no one can be truly objective in his/her writing; but then, what is MORE important is that no matter what kind of writing it is, it can never be PERCEIVED objectively... just because we are all human and because each of us carries a huge load of baggage making up our mindset and personality. Pure objectivity cannot, by default, be a human characteristic. And that is exactly what power structures have been exploiting for centuries, to maintain their influence and enhance their power. It simply cannot be otherwise now - ESPECIALLY now - with all the communication "capabilities" of the modern world.
    Secondly, you touched upon misleading people by making them believe the information they are getting is truthful (referring to VOA, RRE/RL, etc.). Well, coming from the ex-Soviet region, I have observed - MANY TIMES - the fact, that many people are blindly WILLING to believe everything VOA, for instance, says, just because there is no other alternative source of information considered as credible. Not that the VOA is credible; but just because there is so much hatred of local authorities, basically ANYTHING coming from the West is unquestionably taken in as true. The US is aware of this fact, and unfortunately, makes very good use of it.
    And lastly, you mentioned about limiting the reporter's freedom of operation... Very true. But what do you think about the "embedding" of reporters with regiments, in the first place? How can a reporter do their REAL job, when they are SO constrained? Could their writing be ANYwhere close to objective? Wasn't the system faulty from the VERY start?
    I just think that there is a different side to it all. And, JUST as you said yourself, we need to seek out alternative sources of information, and try figuring out the best POSSIBLE picture ourselves. Thanks to the Internet, now that's possible, at least...

  2. I noticed the same thing about the articles. I was going to post something similar to what Kate wrote, in terms of the ways in which technological advances, such as the telegraph, radio and television, have been used to promote ideas of a country, state, or individual internationally. It was useful here in the US during the Civil War and since the invention of these technologies, I find the various ways in which governments have used them strategically for political purposes.
    What is interesting to note is that the telegraph, radio, phone, television, information-sharing technologies, when they began were used to promote, persuade, manipulate and share ideas. It is true that today these technologies are similarly used. However, as they began to be more dispersed internationally, there was a need for agreements and control between all the parties. I recently read an article about a bill that might be passed that would hand the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet. ( This relates to what we briefly talked about in class about cyber threats since we rely so much on the internet now, how will these threats be avoided and how will the internet be monitored and controlled. As Lena pointed out we now have the internet to try to figure out more and get more information to more effectively get information and make our own conclusions about events, but I think even news on the internet, blogs, and reports are subjective. It is difficult for a person to let go of their biases, history, pasts, and culture completely. I think writers very often admit to this. Fictional stories are rooted in personal experiences. We tend to read/hear news from the sources who share our views more closely. I think we do have to get information from sources we trust and make our conclusions about what they are reporting. The problem is that many people don't do this and take everything they hear/read as factual and do not question the media.

  3. Both of these comments, for me, focus on the same thing. We (as students) feel frustration at "many people" who take TV/internet/etc stories at face value, taking the medium itself to be trustworthy instead of considering the humn beings behind it. As Amparo said, "I think we do have to get information from sources we trust and make our conclusions about what they are reporting. The problem is that many people don't do this and take everything they hear/read as factual and do not question the media."

    Again and again, after meeting someone who believes those terrible email chains or watches only one news station like Fox, or just generally feeling that people are not questioning the media enougn, I think 2 things.

    1-- we need better and more media literacy education in public and private schools to help students be savvy, critical media consumers. This is something that is definitely catching on in some schools, but I think it should be mandatory, and would certainly be more helpful than NCLB multiple choice testing.

    2-- the problem is not so simple as people needing to be critical of the media they consume. Why shouldn't people have a news source that they can trust? Some people don't have all the time in the world to be looking into every single story they hear to piece together what seems to be the real story. That is doing the job of a journalist, and while I am all for citizen journalism, and all for being a responsible, informed citizen, I think people deserve better than the sensational, fear-mongering crap that is so often spewed at them by our media system. But it's the nature of the system that is contributing to the problem as well. When news networks compete for ratings and revenue, yet are beholden only to their corporate owners or shareholders, we can't expect them to be serving 'the public interest'-- that is, unless people demand it of them. Instead, the news stations do what's easy and what works. Conflict sells, so why not paint everything in that light?

  4. "I suppose journalism never was what I idealized it to be, a search for and desire to spread the truth and inform people about the goings on of the world."
    That is so profoundly sad to me. I too have the same idealization of journalism. That is what journalism should strive to be - should we give up that ideal because reality doesn't line up with it? But that is on the reporter side.
    On the consumer side, I agree with your other commentors - people need to be educated to view media critically. In fact, as an Intercultural Communication focus, I believe this criticalness needs to be cultivated in order to understand cultural bias in all forms. The reason that media is not 'unbiased' is because people can not be unbiased - yet America, in particular, perpetuates this idea that education or knowledge can be distributed completely neutral or 'objective.' Word choice, sentence construction, topic selection, what/who you include or focus on versus others - these very minimums of oral or written communication are choices, that reflect implicit assumptions or goals.

    Since journalism began, there has been a desire to share the truth, to show the 'other side of the story' in opposition to what is already out there. THIS IS STILL OUT THERE! The bigger issue is what is the truth? Is it objective or subjective? Is the news supposed to be corrective (of inaccurate info/views) or mediative (between two views)? And what if there are more than two sides? How do you give 'equal' coverage - do you give the same space to the minority opposition as the mainstream, or do you make them representative?

    Once you add this to the complexities of advertising and ownership crossovers, telling the news 'as it is' because very, very complex.