Confusion over the term “media”
Re-capping a typical day; I am rudely awoken by a shrieking radio commercial demanding I take advantage of the manager’s craaazy insane bargain prices. My vulnerable semi consciousness already affected by crude advertising before hand and eye are coordinated to slam the snooze button. The Saturday Age greets me in a less intrusive, although still attention-grabbing manner. The bold headlines demand consideration, striking photos tantalize the imagination and advertisements entice by sophistication, among other ploys. T.V Hits hums in the background while I sift through the paper, now too expansive to be rolled into one single cylinder. Just a regular Saturday morning and the media inundation I am embraced with is taken for granted before even stepping out of the comfort of my pyjamas. How is this bombardment of media affecting my everyday life?
As I flick through the sections it is clear that political issues submerge the cultural, economic and general sections of the newspaper. Particularly as terrorist hazards loom whilst contradicting theories of the P.M and the leading party divide the nation in critical pre-election hysteria.
Despite claims to objectivity, most mainstream media groups are politically aligned, either to political parties, governments or to some broad ideological position, around which they fashion their journalistic approach. This is very common not only in developing countries, also in Western liberal democracies. (Steven Ratuva)
We are fortunate that we as Australians are privy to well-rounded journalism. Within the one newspaper I can hear an array of voices, teaching me how to think rather than what to think. The media has a fundamental role in intellectual reproduction in society. In other words, it helps to shape, pass on and facilitate ideas and views among people in a trans-cultural and sometimes trans-political way. But increasingly, this has been undermined by the media monopolies, which control television channels, newspapers and even radio stations. This has a number of effects.
Firstly, it effectively diminishes people’s choices in terms of what they receive; secondly, it leads to intellectual hegemony, where the media selectively determines what we should know and what we shouldn’t know; thirdly, it helps to reinforce dominance of a particular political viewpoint representing political hegemony, especially in a world increasingly dominated by the US and its few allies.
Members of ‘The Frankfurt School’ including (Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the first generation, followed by Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin, amongst others) were highly significant as they were the first to set forth a critique of the rise of the mass media (in their day, cinema and radio were the ‘new’ media). Thus defined one important direction for Marxist criticism ever since.
‘This is the ideological critique of the media- the idea that the media taken together form an institution within capitalism which serves to reconcile the exploited class to its fate.’ (John Sinclair, 2002)
The question remains relevant today; Do wealthy media industries (eg. the Murdoch empire) aim to separate the working class from the wealthier classes to ensure sustainability of its power of the media, (and hence the world)?
Referring to Murdochs most dramatic and controversial proprietor-driven bias in Australia in recent years Rodd Tiffen (2002) remarked, ‘It is far from certain that there will be market punishment for proprietorial bias.’ Murdochs newspapers and news shows suffered in public popularity because of his crude interventions.
We must remember that the media is not an autonomous, objective and innocent entity with a ‘god’s eye view’ of the world. They do not always have the interest of humanity at heart.
Rather, in many cases, it is a struggling human institution, driven and molded by the need for economic survival, political patronage and public legitimacy. Journalists find themselves caught between these powerful political and economic imperatives and have to juggle, jinx, goose-step and wriggle their way through these to survive, let alone succeed, as journalists.
For economic survival, the media has to ‘sell’ itself using various techniques such as news sensationalism, advertisement, market competitiveness and business strategisation such as mergers and even monopoly. But how these are carried out may sometimes be ethically questionable.
The media industry may not alienate the poorer classes intentionally, it is just the unfortunate fact that poorer classes are generally more susceptible to being ‘brainwashed’ by media, rather than having a critical opinion to see the bigger picture.
The Italian theorist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) believed that wealthy upper class achieved its power over the working class by achieving its always resistant and unstable consent, rather than by illusion or deception. Whereas his contemporaries believed that the media induced ‘false consciousness’ through diversion and misinterpretation, so that the working class never realized the historical destiny which Marx predicted for it. Gramscis theory wasn’t as simple as popular thought, his significant reformation made the ideological critique of the media more socially complex and conceptually refined. Challenging media studies to consider his idea of ‘hegemony’ and the many messages contained within media messages- as distinct from one ideological meaning.
Through Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, Western Marxism was able to incorporate other important European interpretative traditions into the study of media, namely semiology and structuralism.
Semiology being the study of signs. Structuralism was a broad intellectual movement, largely based in France which linked psychoanalytic and anthropological theory and semiology which together as one propelled what is sometimes called the ‘linguistic turn’ in cultural theory.
‘This refers to a turn away from the more sociological and political economy modes of analysis found in the Marxist tradition, and towards the study of media representatives as such.’ (John Sinclair, 2002)
The mainstream media in Australia, especially the widely circulated tabloids and broadsheets, do not really have any sharply distinctive ideological voices. They tend to swing between ‘left’ and ‘right’ politics. Australian television stations are much more politically critical and ‘progressive’ than their US counterparts. The Government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has been labeled by John Howard supporters as ‘left-wing’, and in need of reform. The debate between pro-Bush/pro-Iraqi war ‘right-wing’ journalists and anti-Bush/anti-war ‘left-wing’ journalists has been raging in the television and print media in the last few months in an exciting way.
Having spent time in the U.S, it is obvious their media industries are by and large politically and intellectually narrow, compared to their Australian counterparts. It’s a reflection of the ideological straight-jacket and political myopia of the ‘American Way’ and ‘American Dream’ thinking, where everything starts and ends in America. Television news and programs for instance are exclusively American in focus and the rest of the world does not exist except if their half-literate president is visiting another part of the world which most Americans don’t even know exists, or if their military heroes are out bombing and liberating a terrorist hideout in a far-away desert land. Therefore media industries are able to exert direct and indirect control over the thoughts and actions of its audience, in this case- the American public. To put this theory into current events we just have to look at the frenzy of war-mongering by Bush and the willingness taken up by the mainstream media to help ferment and inflame collective irrational hysteria and mob blood-lust, the ideological and moral cornerstones of American patriotism. ‘Death to the enemies of America’ became the daily soud byte. Anyone opposed to the killing of Iraqis was declared un-American, evil or insane.
Media studies inform us how to look at media institutions with a critical eye, always questioning the source and motivation behind the text, in a hope we do not become vulnerable proletariats!
With the influx of ‘new’ media come feelings of excitement, anxiety, tension, fear and anger. It can be difficult for some to accept this ‘new media’ (the digital age), rather these people tend to grasp to the past and regard change as the cause of all social ills, political problems and social degeneracy. We must embrace change because we can rarely prevent it, nevertheless it is vital keep a barrier, a sieve surrounding our minds to ensure we are not brainwashed by the powerful media industry. We must be savvy ‘media readers’, especially in the times in which we live. If not we may become ‘cultural dupes’ as has recently happened in regards to the Iraqi War; media mogul, Rupert Murdoch used his media empire to mobilise US and world opinion towards the Iraqi ‘war of liberation’. The media in the US became the propaganda institutions for deception and lies about the Weapons of Mass Destruction and other myths.
“Media and Communications: Theoretical Traditions” in S.Cunningham and G. Turner (eds), The Media and Communications in Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2002, pp.23-34.
Bazalgette, G. “Why Media is Worthwhile” in D. Fleming (ed.), Formations. A 21st Century Media Studies Textbook, Manchester University Press, Machester, 2000, pp.5-14.
Thompson, J.B. “Self and Experience in a Mediated World”, The Media and Moderninity: A Social Theory of the Media, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1995, pp.209-219.
“Media and Communications: Political Economy and news” in S.Cunningham and G. Turner (eds), The Media and Communications in Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2002, pp.35-45