There is an undeniable linkage between western institutional interests and the behaviour of media outlets in those countries, to a degree that makes what we like to think of a ‘free press’ little more than a conduit for policy makers to place their agenda before the people.
The straight media – albeit not universally – acts as the agent of government and Establishment organisations in getting a message out to the population without whose tacit approval, or more likely blank indifference, they cannot operate effectively and certainly not with the cloak of impunity that the ‘democratic mandate’ affords them.
Be it government ministers or departments, joint defence pacts as in NATO or bilateral self-interest relations as with the United States, they collectively have an access to and an unwritten control over the media – that’s the media we like to think of as neutral, scrutinising and fearless from which it claims its place as a pillar of democracy.
Media executives learn to ‘manage up’ to powerful outside interests and work to placate them and are drawn into collusion with them against the interests of consumers and often of staff. They become part of the governing elite their media organisations exist to challenge on the peoples’ behalf. Through internal corporate osmosis, a predilection for ‘respectful’ reporting and ‘sensible’ narrative is established as the norm and consolidated by peer pressure from colleagues who learn to ‘read’ the meanings of attitudes displayed by the management.
In coverage of military activities, noticeably, the human inclination to admire those whose job is to risk their lives for country is closely allied to operational policy so that once a decision to commit forces is made, criticism is automatically curtailed.
Executive decision-making in newsrooms is shaped by a need not to ‘betray’ the cause when ‘patriotism’ is needed and voices of dissent are treated like traitors rather than objecting democrats.
The theme is well described by Medialens and reprinted here at Bella http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/10/04/the-comic-book-simplicity-of-propaganda/
However, in recent weeks it has also become apparent that, in a seemingly contradictory fashion, Britain’s (and other western) media have simultaneously become willing propaganda agents for the ‘enemy’ western governments are intent on destroying.
What other explanation is there for the repeated prominent publicity given to staged execution images presented for this very purpose by so-called ISIS thugs? If ISIS really is the enemy and if the media often does act in effect as a front for western governing interests, why would editors play the opposition’s game by helping them to terrorise society? The constant appearance of captured white men in jump suits on their knees in the desert at the moment of beheading – assuming that is accurate – is designed by the murdering gangsters as a weapon of psychological warfare. But that only works if the people it targets – us – see the images and hear often enough the chilling detail. Denied regular access to it, we can keep it in perspective both in our own lives and in the theatre of current affairs where, however tragic, it is merely one of millions of news threads worldwide. We are being bombarded by the instruments of insurgency the jihadists wish us to consume and they are coming through the medium of broadcast news and Press which is supposed to disseminate intelligently on our behalf and which, at other times, is a faithful friend of western military influence.
The ISIS killers are also proficient in social media and are reaching out through professional production techniques to a worldwide audience, a number of whom, inevitably, are seduced by the message. But in Britain that message is the incorporated into our daily news diet almost like the weather forecast, a conveyor belt of horror and leaves us frustrated and resentful. And more inclined to bomb the perpetrators?
The question must be asked because I find there is a dubious moral judgment at the heart of editorial decision-making. For instance, there is a protocol in journalism that suicides are treated with deliberate care because it is a recognisable phenomenon that if, say, a jumper is publicised, there is a strong possibility of a copycat event. Deaths are reported as accidents or go unexplained when the advice is that they may have been acts of suicide.
The precise forensic details of how a murder was committed or a rape performed are often obscured out of concern for public distaste. A judgement is made about the appropriateness of the information for general public consumption.
In this case it may be the journalists have been swept up in the momentum of the story and allowed a wider public responsibility to recede. It may be they know or suspect their competitors will publish and assume they must too. There is no question that evidence of a concerted programme of ritual killing of western hostages is news and must be relayed to the world. The question is more one of weight of prominence and repetition and whether a point is reached when the form of publicity surpasses the need to inform and becomes part of the propaganda operation.
ISIS, however strong, isn’t nearly as powerful as it pretends or as successful as its publicity blitz would have us imagine. By keeping it front-of-house our own mainstream media is inculcating a fear far greater than the actual threat and is coincidentally reaching British sympathisers who are drawn to its support.
The media exposure is also justifying a new bombing campaign in Iraq which, however it hammers ISIS, has already killed civilians and will kill more, creating in turn, more radicalised jihadis – surely the ultimate aim of ISIS. They desire not just to form their own medieval Caliphate but to unsettle the wider world in the hope of spreading their bastardised version of Islam.
Do editors really never take account of the implications of the news they transmit when they know it is part of an Establishment-backed narrative aimed at military action? Shouldn’t correspondents raise the question in their reports? Are we being used in a digital war between the West and Islam?
The irresponsibility of the mainstream media has been epically displayed throughout the referendum process and is illustrated again this week when one of its titans, the Sunday Times, lost its case against the McCanns. What editorial thought process led to accusations that parents who live a nightmare may have connived to block the investigation into their daughter’s disappearance?
No matter how much outcry there is, nor matter the vilification they suffer, the old media and its certainties carry on oblivious. Like governments, the Press and broadcasters used to live by public approval or at least grudging respect. I fear for many of us that has all but disappeared leaving a void yet to be filled.by