Time to play… Journalist or Soap Actor?

During the last election campaign we saw some of the worst behaving journalists attacking politicians during their trail with ‘gotcha’ questions and at times subsequent arrogant outbursts (See Figure 1). Journalism has never been highly regarded as a trustworthy profession by Australians as seen in numerous online platforms, with one ranking them 29 on a list of 30 professions (Godde, 2021; Hughes, 2022; Ipsos 2021). However, even that small percentage has dropped, especially during and after the COVID 19 pandemic (RoyMorgan, 2021).

Figure 1. Journalists behaving badly 0:00-6:00 (ABC News In-depth, 2022a).

So, why the distrust?

Journalists are meant to be the “mirror” of the real world, and their value of “objectivity” in their work is paramount to their practice, that is, at least in their definition (Zelizer, 2004, p.31). However, as the digital disruptors allow for the dissemination of information from a diverse range of bodies, the lack of transparency between citizens and the media have become a huge issue (ACCC, 2019). Journals such as Independent Australia (Marsland, 2021), The Guardian (Evershed, 2020), ABC’s Media Watch (ABC News In-depth, 2021), and even Youtube journalist FriendlyJordies (2019) have reported on the implications of a monopolized media landscape. The company with all the control is none other than News Corp who owns not only the majority of media parent and children companies in Australia, but has a global monopoly (Noam, 2016). To demonstrate the stronghold of News Corp - otherwise known as the Murdoch Media - the independents listed earlier who were scrutinizing his ‘reign’ were a part of the companies that only covered about 5% of the market shares in Australia in 2011 (Tiffan, 2016).

Examples of the implications of a monopolized media landscape include a parade of misinformation especially in regards to climate change with Murdoch finally changing their position to ‘agree’ (ANC News In-depth, 2021), and the long running narrative that Murdoch favors the Coalition - the Liberal party, over the Labor party. Please see Figure 2 where the Media Watch (ABC News In-depth, 2022) outwardly calls the last election win “A Murdoch Loss”.

Figure 2. “A Murdoch Loss” (ABC News In-depth, 2022).

But, why?

What’s the point of being a monopoly in the media landscape that spreads misinformation and favors a political party?

The best person that could answer this is social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky, who has written extensively about the manipulation of the mass media. Chomnsky writes that monopolies, like the Murdoch media, use its influence to “marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public” (Herman & Chomsky, 1994, p. 2).

How does it do this?

Well, this takes us back to our soap opera actors, no, apologies, our journalists.

They are just one mechanism in the grand enterprise that is the media landscape. Nonetheless they serve as an example of the intermingling between the objective reports we are meant to see from journalists, and blatant propaganda. Adorno and Horkheimer labeled the culture industry as a tool for controlling the masses through commodifying art mediums, forms, etc, to ultimately, train us to think in a certain way (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1993).

“The capital power of the publishers, its dissemination through radio, and above all the sound film have cultivated a tendency towards centralization which limits freedom of choice and barely allows for any real competition. Its overpowering propaganda apparatus hammers the hits into the masses for as long a period as it sees fit … until their weary memory is defenselessly delivered up to them”

(Adorno & Daniel, 1989 p.50).

Our inability to engage with our imagination and think critically as informed by Adorno’s critique, is similar to that of Chomsky’s. The journalists that were meant to deliver news that is “seen as all that happens, without any filtering activity on the part of journalists” are now actors in what seems to be one of the most long running fantastical propaganda films ever written - Murdoch’s Sky News operates 24/7 on satellite TV - (Zelizer, 2004, p.31). Chomsky writes on the propaganda model:

“The essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news "filters," fall under the following headings: (I) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms; (~) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media; (3) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power; (4) "flak" as a means of disciplining the media; and (5) "anticommunism" as a national religion and control mechanism. These elements interact with and reinforce one another. The raw material of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print. They fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the first place, and they explain the basis and operations of what amount to propaganda campaigns.”

(Herman & Chomsky, 1994, p. 2)

At A Loss for Answers

This filtering system that a journalist's work was meant to go through to be objective is completely disregarded once the elite have a hold on almost everything we consume. The journalists are now just puppets with Murdoch as their master. The harder question to try and answer is who controls who? Chomsky’s work makes me think that it is the government who controls the media, but remember that headline after the last election win ‘A Murdoch Loss’ (See Figure 2)? Does this then mean that the media controls the people and thus the government? Or, does the culture and media industries work somewhat harmoniously to control the people and the government? Or, is it all just playing out exactly how they want us to see it, and it is the government who is controlling both the culture and media industries?

I don't know, I just hope I don’t go crazy thinking about it all.


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