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Literature Review September 21, 2007



How does the current media affect and sway public perception of news, local and world issues?

Major media conglomerates use their power and media outlets to portray an often hidden political or social agenda. To do so they spin and manipulate truths, molding information to suit their cause. Authenticity of information is lost owing to this trend, and it has become increasingly difficult for the public to separate fact from fabricated fiction and false, misleading information.

The media has a role to portray true and relevant information and so serve public interest. This notion is seemingly lost on many media giants who are more focused on profit and swaying opinion than delivering a realistic and reasonable account of current affairs and issues. This goes against the journalistic promise to honour societies right to true and honest information. If the media pushes a certain stance or viewpoint upon its audience, public opinion is effected as people receive a biased point of view.

In the 1999 Michael Moore television series ‘The Awful Truth’, Moore raises the point that in this day and age media and corporations have more power over the world than politicians and their governments. This is a serious concern as it causes consumerism to rise, and a certain ‘brainwashing’ of public opinion to occur.

During 2006 documentary ‘America, Living in Spin’ actor Aaron Eckhart says, “You never know what to believe anymore because it’s all spin really. Everything these days is damage control”. The director, David Kofchner states, “We live in a world filled with political correctness, because there is no more honesty, and so spin has taken over”. Media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch employ ‘spin doctors’ disguised as editors and journalists to manipulate stories. In the 2006 movie ‘Thank You For Smoking’ (carrying the tag line ‘Don’t hide the truth, just filer it’), Nick Naylor, a tobacco activist states, “I’m a lobbyist, it requires a moral flexibility that goes beyond most people”. This effectively sums up the role many journalists are now forced to play. ‘OutFoxed’ a documentary focusing on ‘Rupert Murdoch’s war on journalism’ features several ex-Fox News Channel reporters who tell of the lengths this mogul will go to in order to push his right wing, Republican political agenda. The Adbusters Media Foundation, in their article ‘The Resistible Rise of Rupert Murdoch’, confirms this troubling trend. The author Granville Williams writes, “Murdoch continues to exploit his power to exert political influence… [he] is known as an extremely hands-on proprietor, choosing editors who follow his orders and political dictates”. With media tycoons such as Murdoch controlling up to 40 percent of the national press in the UK, US and Australia, how are the public to receive information untainted by personal and corporate agendas?

Media consolidation is a growing concern in countries such as Canada and here in Australia. Quoting Adbusters, “Australia has one of the highest concentrations of media ownership in the western world with two families, the Murdochs and Packers, controlling the country’s newspaper and television markets”. It is little wonder that our citizens are subject to biased and narrow-minded views. This problem was further enhanced “when Australia’s conservative government passed a series of media reform laws last year that removed some of the final barriers to complete media convergence. [When this happened] the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) was nowhere to be seen”. Currently “Australia’s already heavily consolidated media has a strong bias toward John Howard’s conservative government at the expense of any opposition”. It is unfair to not only Australia’s citizens, but also its opposition parties that the media uses its control to promote certain Liberal ideologies over any alternative points of view.

Marshal McLuhan once stated, “The coverage is the War. If there were no coverage… there would be no war”. In other words, without media and journalists to report facts, wars and other such human generated outbreaks would go unnoticed. It is therefore imperative that media outlets inform their audiences of any arising conflicts in order for citizens to form their own opinions and standpoints. In their book ‘Propaganda and Persuasion’ Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donell claim “War propaganda is that branch of public relations devoted to manipulating people’s attitude toward a war, rather than engaging in open dialogue. It includes both pro-war propaganda by governments and anti-war propaganda by pacifists. What makes it propaganda is not the sincerity or insincerity of its originators but its methods of media manipulation, going beyond lies to misdirection, loaded vocabulary, and staged events”. The Adbusters Media Foundation supports this view, “The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have shown that media conglomerates limit the diversity of views, subvert democracy and stymie journalistic integrity”. The media employ many propaganda techniques to do so.

Censorship is a common technique the media uses to control and manipulate the truth. A recent example of a broadcaster censoring an opinion that conflicted with their own views was seen during the broadcast of the 2007 Emmy Awards. During her acceptance speech, actress Sally Field stated, “If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn’t be any god-damned wars in the first place”. This statement was ‘bleeped out’ by broadcaster Fox in the US. This just goes to show that the media can, and do, put a very tight hold on individual opinions and that even entertainment programs cannot escape political censorship. It should be noted that Australia’s channel Ten did air the comment, proving that Australians are slightly more likely to receive alternative opinions. However, the way the current media landscape is heading, Australia may become an ‘unofficial 51st state of America’ if the public does not take back control.

A recent outbreak of documentaries such as Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’, Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Supersize Me’ and Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan’s ‘The Corporation’ marks a positive step in the right direction. Each of these films aims to expose truths that corporations and the media have been concealing for decades. Self professed ‘The ex-next President of the United States’ Al Gore, speaks of scientists being forced to conceal the truth about global warming, “Scientists have an obligation to present the truth as they currently see it… [but they are] being forced to write false testimonies, prosecuted, ridiculed, deprived of jobs and income, being silenced, simply because the facts that they have discovered led them to an inconvenient truth that they are insistent upon telling.” Michael Moore, world famous author and director, uses his 2004 documentary ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ to expose the Bush administrations corruption and hidden links to Al-Qaeda and the Bin Laden family. In his documentary ‘Supersize Me’ Morgan Spurlock puts himself through a thirty day McDonalds diet to prove the harmful effects that the companies food has on ones body. If more activists, creatives and independent media outlets begin using their skills to continue on the path set by Gore, Moore and Spurlock, the public will have access to a greater diversity of views and will be greatly benefited.

In conclusion, it is well known that consumers determine how successful a product will be in the marketplace. In much the same way, the public is able to determine how successful media outlets are in getting their messages across. By equipping the public with knowledge as to the ways and means the media use to influence their opinions, and arm citizens with information about the truth manipulation and agendas of their news sources, we can give the power back to the people. Once people are aware of hidden messages, they will have the option to form their own opinions about issues, rather than taking the political or social standpoint that the media wishes to instill upon its audience.

The article ‘Taming the Watchdogs of Media Concentration’ by Sean Condon shares our goals. “With Major issues like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and climate change still on the horizon, the public today, more than ever, needs a diverse media that can allow them to make informed decisions. But if a handful of corporations control the flow of information, they control the debate: blinded by short-term profits and bound by powerful lobbyists, they are content to leave the majority of people in the dark. A diverse media is crucial to a healthy and just society… It is time for people to speak out against consolidation and demand their media watchdogs be strengthened”.

In closing we refer to Keri Smith, an American artist who writes the following in the introduction to her ‘Guerilla Art Kit’, “The recent political climate has left many individuals feeling like they have no say, powerless to a system that seems to be dominated by corruption and money. Growing mistrust in corporate media has created a need for alternatives. Consequently, independent media such as weblogs, indie news, public art and street art have become a rapidly growing trend, a way for people to take power back”. This very much aligns with our aim to equip the public with necessary means in order to defend themselves against truth manipulation in the current media landscape. As Benjamin Franklin once said “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. We wish to encourage people to, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world” and start creating a fair, unbiased and democratic media for all.



1. keri smith - October 1, 2007

love this article! thank you for including me in it.

small correction, I am Canadian (not american), though I am currently living in the US.

keri smith

2. jerome - August 2, 2008


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