Sunday, 26 February 2017

Media Industry as Manufacture of Consent & Content


Media Industry

Media, also known as the fourth pillar of any democracy, plays an important role in keeping the mass aware of what is happening around the world. But is media fulfilling this role objectively? What has been noticed is a trend of agenda setting being done by the media, making the media industry a manufacturer of consent and content in some way or the other.

This concept has been discussed at length by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book ‘Manufacturing Consent’. In this book the authors outline a propaganda model which describes ‘a very important aspect’ of the function of mass media – that is, to serve the dominant hegemonic interests of powerful groups such as governments and global corporations. Of course, media do not overtly disseminate propaganda unless they are state-controlled or controlled by powerful economic interests. On the contrary, Herman and Chomsky endorse Gramsci’s theory of hegemony by claiming that mass media are usually sympathetic to government policies and corporate decisions, and tend to marginalize dissenting voices. Media may appear to be free in democratic societies butthey are by no means neutral or unbiased in the way they represent real events and people. The propaganda model proposed by Herman and Chomsky is made up of five ‘news filters’ that mass media deploy – consciously or unconsciously – when they report on current affairs.

The first filter is the size, ownership and profit orientation of mass media institutions. Nowadays, the huge costs involved in establishing any mass media enterprise capable of achieving long- lasting success mean that smaller companies cannot compete within existing ownership structures. This means that there is little scope for new, alternative media institutions to challenge the giant corporate networks such as Disney and Viacom. Also, the power of media corporations is significant because they tend to have far wider economic interests in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, oil and IT. This is why big corporations are keen for media outlets (some of which they might own or have shareholdings in) to report on political and international affairs in a way that identifies with their point of view. Owning or holding shares in media institutes proves to be profitable for the corporates in many ways. For instance, Reliance industry holds major stakes in TV18 group and ETV, giving it preferential access to content from TV18, which runs television channels and websites including CNN-IBN, CNBC-TV18 and Colors. This content can then be distributed through Reliance subsidiary firm Infotel, which is setting up a 4G wireless broadband network across the country, eventually creating huge amount of profits. Also this ownership pattern would create a pressure on these media groups to always abide by Reliance’s point of view and avoiding content that goes against the giant corporate’s wishes. The recent shunting that took place within TV18 channels is also believed to have been a move initiated by the Reliance industries.

A second news filter is the advertising. The dependency on advertising has the effect of forcing mass media institutions to tailor their material to an affluent audience – that is, the ideal audience for advertisers. The ‘mass audience’ as defined by advertising-led mass media is therefore a distinctly middle-class or even upper middle-class one. By contrast, media that aim to cater for working-class or more radical, anti- consumerist audiences are discriminated against because, in this ad-fuelled climate, companies will not invest in advertising space for audiences who lack spending power – or lack the will to spend. Moreover, even mainstream media that cater for affluent audiences can easily lose advertisers unless they avoid programs with serious complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with the ‘‘buying mood’’.

The third filter is the sourcing of mass media news. Most of the news we receive is derived from ‘official’ news sources such as the PMO, White House, Downing Street, etc. These sources are given special status by media institutions because they are traditional, reliable and accessible providers of news. Of course, these are government sources designed to communicate public information (or propaganda) via mass media to the public at large, and mass media give a privileged voice to government sources in return for a ready supply of news streaming. This factor no longer has as drastic impact in terms of news as it used to have initially because of alternative forms of sources available to the media industries now, but dependence on the government institutes for government advertisements (example- election ads, etc.) has similar effects. Media institutes avoid raising voices against the government in power in order to continue receiving the government ads and respective revenue from those ads. In these ways, official government and corporate sources can manipulate and manage news media for their own ends by privileging their own messages over those of oppositional sources.

The fourth news filter is ‘flak’, meaning negative responses to a media statement or program. Flak is instigated by both businesses and government, thus keeping a check on the media content. The government is a major producer of flak, regularly assailing, threatening, and correcting the media, trying to contain any deviations from the established norm. A popular example of this is that of flak produced by Tony Blair’s government in 2003 against BBC for alleging their public relations personnel – particularly Tony Blair’s Head of Communications, Alistair Campbell – for making last-minute changes to the dossier on Iraq’s so-called ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in order to sensationalize the threat and make the dossier more convincing as a justification for war. The BBC was bombarded with criticism from the British Government, which then led to a legal inquiry – known as the Hutton Report, written by a close ally of Blair and New Labour – that found no malpractice on the part of Government and biased journalism on the part of the BBC. Greg Dyke, then Director-General of the BBC and someone who staked his authority on the principle of journalistic independence in this case, subsequently resigned.

Such instances prevent the media from being objective in turn making it a manufacturer of content that is line with the government’s point of view.

The fifth and final filter (mostly catering to the western media) is the ideology of anticommunism that is wide- spread across American and Western media more generally. Western ideologies of free-market capitalism are implicitly and explicitly regarded by mass media as superior to communist ones.The politics of Western mass media are therefore very much in keeping with the politics of the countries in which they operate.

These five filters contribute to the manufacturing of content by the media industry. They produce certain content keeping in mind all the factors or obstacles and thus create consent among the public regarding a particular issue. For example: The Operation Green Hunt1 implemented by the Indian Government since 2009 has more often than not casted animmovable identity for the Naxalites in as much as the US ‘War on Terror’ did in context to the Muslims. The media has many a times acted in perfect alliance with the state-power in manipulating the ‘Naxal’ not only as a terrorist but a potential national threat without analyzing all sides of the situation. Same is the case with news reportage about states with AFSPA implemented. Fearing government flak, the media avoids criticizing various barbaric actions of Indian military in Jammu and Kashmir and some north-eastern states.

The media was also found creating consent about the victims in the Nirbhaya gang rape case.

Corporate media thus acts as a profit-driven institution, which tends to serve and further the agendas of the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society.