It can be said accurately that the Internet and other technologies have forever altered the way media works. Governments, most notably those that claim strong protections for individuals’ right to speech and information, recognize the control they have lost due to the ability of average citizens to act in some capacity as journalists to provide information about events that may have otherwise gone unreported to the masses. Those governments are working feverishly to regain control of all mass information.
Most people carry cellphones now that double as quality recording devices and have the ability to upload content to the forever-moving current of online information. This has led to many things: Politicians are caught in unpolished moments; dignitaries are asked questions that may not have been asked by reporters; the state’s abuses, however small, are reported; and revolutionary ideas are more easily traded from citizen to citizen.
When American journalist and writer Hunter S. Thompson first coined the phrase “gonzo journalism” — becoming part of the story while still disseminating the who, what, when, where, why and how information important to all news — in 1970, he likely never could have fathomed the idea that one day the Internet and various other technologies would create the number of individuals who are involved in the practice today. But, to the dismay of statists and control freaks throughout the world, the Internet has become a breeding ground for just the type of writing and reporting Thompson espoused; it is now sparking revolutions and dissidence on a larger scale than ever before.
Citizens of the United States traditionally believe that theirs is the freest market for news and information in the world because of the rights to free speech and free press outlined by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. The press, however, has been manipulated since its beginnings in the United States.
The earliest forms of American mass media came in the form of pamphlets and news sheets, distributed during the Colonial period, that were filled with stale news items from across the sea in Europe. Later, Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in helping to establish more modern and localized newspapers in the United States. These newspapers were often filled with the political opinions and ideas of whoever owned them, a trend that — despite the myth of objective journalism — has continued throughout American history.
Today, the news is, at best, entertainment and, at worst, pure mind-numbing propaganda. Mainstream media in the United States — including newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations — are now largely controlled by six corporate behemoths. If you rely on information provided by just about any mainstream media outlet, you are relying on the corporate elite who control General Electric Co., Time Warner Inc., The Walt Disney Co., News Corp., CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc.
In the 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, contrarians Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman outlined the problems with mass media and how the business model inevitably leads to propagandized content.
Chomsky and Herman outline five filters for editorial bias in seeking to explain how government and corporate interests retain control of what is and isn’t reported:
- Size, Ownership And Profit Orientation Of The Mass Media: The First Filter. The authors argue that the mainstream media, largely owned by a handful of massive corporations that also do business in other markets, is used often to drive profits under the guise of public information. Thus, it is a corporate propaganda tool. Also, they argue that dependence on government for general policy support — business taxes, interest rates, labor policies, and enforcement and no enforcement of the antitrust laws — along with the need of cooperation from members of government with reporters on the frontlines, leads to an alliance of easily corruptible entities. Thus, government propaganda.
- The Advertising License To Do Business: The Second Filter. Chomsky and Herman conclude, “Advertisers will want, more generally, to avoid programs with serious complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with the ‘buying mood.’ They seek programs that will lightly entertain and thus fit in with the spirit of the primary purpose of program purchases — the dissemination of a selling message. Thus over time, instead of programs like ‘The Selling of the Pentagon,’ it is a natural evolution of a market seeking sponsor dollars to offer programs such as ‘A Bird’s-Eye View of Scotland,’ ‘Barry Goldwater’s Arizona,’ ‘An Essay on Hotels,’ and ‘Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner’-a CBS program on ‘how Americans eat when they dine out, where they go and why.”
- Sourcing Mass-Media News: The Third Filter: The authors write that mass media need a steady and constant flow of reliable and credible information. They have not the time to be everywhere at once, so they congregate around political and corporate institutions whose mere status and prestige lend credence to their information. They write: “The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest.”
- Flak And The Enforcers: The Fourth Filter: According to Chomsky and Herman, backlash from people in positions of power keep mainstream media in line. They write, “‘Flak’ refers to negative responses to a media statement or program. It may take the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches and bills before Congress, and other modes of complaint, threat, and punitive action. It may be organized centrally or locally, or it may consist of the entirely independent actions of individuals.”
- Anticommunism As A Control Mechanism: Chomsky in recent years has updated the fifth filter, changing Communism to terrorism. But the premise remains the same: Fear of a faceless enemy threatening Americans’ way of life keeps people coming back for more information. It also provides the state a sound platform upon which to build liberty-assaulting initiatives in the name of safety.
The ideas put forth in the five filters are easily researched and proved in the age of the Internet, and many people who have never even heard of Chomsky or Herman know these things about mainstream media. In just the past couple of months, the scandals surrounding News Corp. media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the selective reporting in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and the overblown coverage of tired, fully rhetorical battles in the “War on Women” debate have all offered prime examples of why Americans no longer trust the corporate-controlled mainstream media.
The newfound — coming in just the past decade or so — widespread distrust of the mainstream media has led many people to seek out other sources of information. This has, in turn, led to a rise in the national appetite for alternative media, and the gradual lessening of corporatist and statist control over news and information. So, the elite corporatists and their government puppets have moved to make certain that the stranglehold is not lost.
Recently, legislation such as the Stop Online Piracy Act and others raised concerns among Internet freedom advocates and was stopped by a backlash. Other piracy-related bills are lying in wait and will be rammed through Congress soon enough. Who is pushing for piracy-quelling laws (read, censorship)? The entertainment industry, which says profits from movies and productions are being sapped by content pirates. But, consider this: The same major companies that are whining about film production profits also own major stock in news channels. They need censorship not so much for the film industry, but to regain control of the news media and the American psyche. There is no possible way for them to continue to propagandize all information as an army of alternative media reporters are putting out conflicting information en masse.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) accused the United States and the U.K. of posing major threats to Internet freedom by way of “hasty” legislation in a recent report.
“What I see during my work is fear,” said Dunja Mijatović, who heads OSCE. “Last year we commissioned a study on media freedom in 56 states. The results are not very rosy. Governments are trying to restrict or suppress in the interests of security. Legislation is very hasty.”
Last week, House Republicans and Democrats voted 248 to 168 to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which will make it easier for Internet companies to provide information about their users and their networks to government intelligence agencies. There has been little backlash with this bill because it is not as blatant in terms of censorship as SOPA, but is another step in the direction.
Americans believe they have a reliable source of information in the mainstream media and scoff at the idea of countries that have state-controlled media. The United States’ corporatocracy has worked to provide the illusion of an objective media, while still reaping the benefits of propagandizing all news.
In those countries with admitted state media, tyrants openly quash alternative news sources and jail those who create them. For now, the 1st Amendment will not let that happen in the United States. So elite statists and corporatists will have to quash alternative media the American way: by pushing legislation that censors Internet content in the name of safety and protectionism. That is, unless alternative news media ban together and — in the spirit of gonzo — not only tell the Nation what is happening but also make the public angry before it is too late.