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September 21, 2008

The Media damages society?

My eldest daughter, who sometimes posts here as "the Postulant", recently sent me her thoughts on media coverage of events in an e-mail which I reproduce for your edification here. She noticed that the recent hurricanes in the US barely got a mention in our daily papers, more engrossed in the morass of a government running out of ideas and long out of honesty. She asks the important question, "Is the Media good for us or our society?"

I've come to the conclusion, having read a book called Quirkology, that the media actually damages society. It is good to know what's going on, but all of the emotional tugging is quite obviously affecting people deeply - the media is generating fear, anxiety and depression, all in the name of ratings. The whole knife crime situation is a prime example - a top copper was quoted this week as saying that more children were carrying knives now than ever did before, because they see reports that other kids are carrying knives and arm themselves in self-defence.

My colleagues and I listened to a brief demonstration on how to talk to the media at a recent conference and one of the things our PR guys said was "journalists often don't have time to get facts straight, so make sure you speak clearly, don't use too much terminology, ask them to read it back to you and be prepared to repeat yourself". I'm wondering where the "investigative" part comes into journalism if they're basically repeating exactly what some PR guy has told them...

So yes, your Katrina articles of 2005 struck a chord - how hypocritical of the media to fly in with celebrities, when they could have flown helicopters in loaded with food and water :S

I have long pondered some of this myself, particularly having been misquoted by the press on several occassions I am all to aware of the danger of talking to any journalist. Therein lies the conundrum; we expect to be informed of events as they happen, particularly via the visual media, but sometimes, to provide that information undermines any hope of achieving a resolution. As soon as the cameras appear at a demonstration the more extreme elements begin to "play to the camera" and I have personally witnessed such scenes. One, in particular, involved an rather fun demonstration where the atmosphere was almost carnival like - until the TV News turned up. Suddenly the heavy mob appeared, complete with hoods and balaclavas and attacked the police and the stewards. Naturally, the police retaliated - and the cameras, with some interesting editing, managed to show only the "brutal" police response.

It frustrated the British Military planners throughout the Second World War, that highly sensitive information passed to our US counterparts frequently ended up emblazoned across the front pages of US Papers. The German Abwehr didn't even have to get out of bed to gather secret information. Now its endemic in the UK, let the government of the day decide on something some civil servant doesn't like and you can guarantee it will be front page of the Sun or the Daily Mirror the next day. There is a very fine line between public information and propaganda, equally there is a very fine line between providing the public with essential information and causing untold damage to sensitive negotiations, military operations and commercial activities. The past week of financial crisis could probably have been much less damaging had the media circus not pursued it with such grim vigour and a determination to be as negative as possible.

The truth, as my daughter points out, is that the Media do damage our society. They print opinions, frequently misusing or using bias in the presentation of facts, to shape and change opinion. Its an old trick, one that the Communists and the Nazis used to great effect in the twentieth century - and one our socialist liberal dominated media now use with impunity.

In answer to my daughters initial question though I would say that the reason the damage done by Ike and other hurricanes has not been as well covered as Katrina in 2005 is simple. The fact that the US has not been shown as being incompetent in its response to these disasters has meant that our left wing liberal media have not been able to use it to do any "Bush Bashing" or to denigrate the US itself.

And that answers the main question. Is the Media bad for society? Yes. Certainly as long as it is driven by aparatchiks whose politics decide how information is presented or the facts distorted in order to present a biased or misleading picture. Something to watch methinks!

Posted by The Gray Monk at September 21, 2008 12:53 PM

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I must admit I hadn't considered the propaganda angle - the media doesn't seem well-organised enough for that to be a worry at first glance, but if they're just repeating what they're told, perhaps we should be more cynical about what we're told...

Posted by: Postulant at September 21, 2008 08:15 PM

The best propaganda is that which carries just enough of the truth for the untruth it is presenting to be believable. I'm not sure the media is smart enough per se - but it is being manipulated to a very large degree to alter and sway public perceptions and opinions in a wide range of issues - global warming being a prime example.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at September 21, 2008 08:39 PM

Propaganda is nothing more then framing the truth in a way to get a desired response. All news agencies serve up some kind of propaganda.

Posted by: Skipjack at September 22, 2008 06:18 PM

Correct Skipjack, except that the media bias in the UK has been left leaning for so long it has succeeded in redefining the political spectrum so that the Left now appears to most as the Centre and anything to the Right, such as your own country is labelled as "Far Right" if not Fascist.

Propaganda is also about the selective presentation of facts and the timing of their release. One of Mister Blair's "Spin Doctors" infamously sent round an e-mail on September 11 2001 saying "This is a good day to put out bad news". She was right of course, with media attention on what was happening your side of the pond, no one would make a fuss about the release of figures which should up, yet again, Blair's government as incompetent and rotten to the core.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at September 22, 2008 09:36 PM

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