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Propaganda vs plurality


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Follow up to my "Documenting Facts?" lecture looking at the ways in which documentaries have sought to expose the limitations of news when dealing with the 'war on terror' (focussing on Israel/Gaza).

There's an accompanying video playlist here:

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Propaganda vs plurality

  1. 1. Propaganda vs. plurality? #mac201 YouTube playlist 1
  2. 2. Global media  We live in the global age. We live in a world that has become radically interconnected, interdependent and communicated in the flows of information and culture – including, importantly, news journalism.  Simon Cottle, 2009: 1 2
  3. 3. Global media  “we have a consciousness of the world, as a whole. That is a bounded, holistic and finite place.” (emphasis added)  Cottle, 2009: 1 3
  4. 4. Ideology  In exercising their symbolic and communicative power, the media today can variously exert pressure and influence on processes of public understanding and political response or, equally, serve to dissimulate and distance the nature of the threats that confront us and dampen down pressures for change. In such ways, global crises become variously constituted within the news media as much as communicated by them  Cottle, 2009: 2 4
  5. 5. 5
  6. 6. 6
  7. 7. Immigration 7
  8. 8. 8
  9. 9. Public perception: benefit fraud % of welfare budget lost to fraud 30 25 20 27 15 10 5 0.7 0 Belief Actual Source: TUC, 2013 9
  10. 10. Immigration 10
  11. 11. „Unpeople‟  „The great moral citadels in London and Washington offer merely silent approval of the violence and tragedy. No appeals are heard in the United Nations from them… The distant voices from there should be heard, urgently‟  (Pilger, 2009) 11
  12. 12. Channel 4 (2011) 12
  13. 13. Ideology  In recent years a substantial amount of research has been carried out by various organisations in order to discover what the British public thinks about immigration and asylum. Most of this research has discovered that public opinion tends to be significantly hostile towards asylum seekers. For example, a MORI poll conducted in 2001 found that 44% of people agreed that Britain should not take any more asylum seekers. The same poll also estimated that 74% of people believed that refugees came to the country because they thought Britain was a „soft touch‟ (  Saeed, 2007: 182 13
  14. 14. Propaganda  Propaganda is mainly perceived in the West as an aspect of Communist, Fascist or totalitarian regimes where the media is controlled by the state. It is assumed that in the West, where much of the media is in the hands of private enterprise, that formal propaganda is absent.  Saeed and Laverty (2006)  On Sunspace 14
  15. 15. The American Dream? 15
  16. 16. The American Dream?  We're the America that sends out Peace Corps volunteers to teach village children. We're the America that sends out missionaries and doctors to raise up the poor and the sick. We're the America that gives more than any other country, to fight aids in Africa and the developing world. And we're the America that fights not for imperialism but for human rights and democracy. …  My fellow Americans I want you to know that I believe with all my heart that America remains "the great idea" that inspires the world. It's a privilege to be born here. It's an honor to become a citizen here. It's a gift to raise your family here to vote here and to live here…  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican National Convention 31/08/04 16
  17. 17. Military expenditure 17
  18. 18. Media power?  McQuail describes the mass media as “the means of communication that operates on a large scale, reaching virtually everyone in a society to a greater or lesser degree" (2000:4).  According to Allan, "journalists […] news accounts shape […] our perceptions of the 'world out there' beyond our immediate experience" (2010:94) 18
  19. 19. Primary definers  Stuart Hall (1978) considers that the primary definers of what is „important news‟ and what the „correct‟ perspective on what news should be (such as from politicians, business leaders etc.) are in fact very important.  The ideas of such people have hegemonic value in society and in the media, the latter because their ideas become integrated into concepts of news values, and professional journalism and so on.  See Saeed (2007: 7) 19
  20. 20. Machinery of representation  „what and who gets represented and what and who routinely gets left out (and) how things, people, events, relationships get represented ... the structure of access to the media is systematically skewed towards certain social categories‟  Hall (1978: 95) 20
  21. 21. Media and the public sphere  Who gets access?  How do news sources influence the news agenda, which in turn can influence public opinion  (video to follow: Unseen Gaza and Reuters)  The news media, both press and broadcasting, are said routinely to privilege the voices of the powerful and marginalize those of the powerless 21
  22. 22. Representations of social groups  How social groups and interests are defined is also part and parcel of factual content production.  For example whether social groups are representationally legitimized or symbolically positioned as “other” or deviant can have far reaching consequences. 22
  23. 23. Representations of social groups  In recent years and in specific contexts we could observe the emergence of „information wars‟ or „media wars‟, a situation where news media becomes a battleground of images where the information flow is often controlled and spun by the states in power  (see Cottle, 2006; Miller, 2004) 23
  24. 24. Agenda Setting: PR  Moloney (2006) notes that „manipulative activities‟ have been a part of the public relations history  Philips and Young (2009: 227) “telling partial truths is inherent to PR practice”  Stauber and Rampton (1995: 2) argue that “the best PR is never noticed” 24
  25. 25. Agenda Setting: PR  Wilcox (2003) refers to this as the „technician‟s mentality‟, which means that PR practitioners are solely concerned about how the message is communicated, and not about the content of the messages. This argument can be supported by a survey published in the PR Week in May 2000. The findings showed that 25% of PR executives admitted lying, 39% said they exaggerated the truth, 44% was unsure about the ethics of tasks they would be asked to perform and 62% believed they compromised in their work  25
  26. 26. Third Party Technique  Involves placing pre-formed message in the hands of the media:  Hiring of journalists or bloggers to write favourable copy  Using in-house scientists to dispute studies  Industry sponsored front groups  Astroturfing 26
  27. 27. Torches of freedom? 27
  28. 28. The „War on Terror‟ 28
  29. 29. „Occupied‟ Palestine  According to Philo and Berry (2004), there is a strong tendency in the media to report the conflict from the Israeli perspective and to omit the historical context of the events.  Likewise Thussu and Freedman (2003) suggest that the news as the power to make the viewer take sides in conflict through news journalistic representation.  Moreover it could be argued, Israel is also supported ideologically, particularly by the Orientalism discourse that constructs Palestinians as a foreign „other‟. 29
  30. 30. Dispatches: Unseen Gaza (Channel 4, 2009) 30
  31. 31. Gaza, 2008/9  3RD party Technique  Organisations such as BICOM invited and funded journalists to Israel for “fact finding” trips.  Philo and Berry (2009) note that during the Gaza war the Israeli National Information Directorate made sure that everyone “spoke the same message with the same words”. 31
  32. 32. Gaza Flotilla, 2010 The War You Don‟t See (2010) 32
  33. 33. Consequences? 33
  34. 34. Consequences? 34
  35. 35. Tony Benn fights back 35
  36. 36. Social media  Israel government recruited 1,000 volunteers with the objective of flooding news websites and blogs that the ministry term as anti-Israeli with pro-Israeli opinions.  Israel government held a World Citizens Press Conference via Twitter only 4 days after the initial onslaught (Chomsky, 2009).  Silverstein suggests that there has been a concerted effort on Israel‟s part to flood the web and news media with crafted materials in an attempt to turn public opinion toward Israel (Silverstein, 2009: 1). 36
  37. 37. How to make sense of this?  Factual media, despite claims to truth, are a battleground for ideological warfare  Documentary film-makers and news outlets are implicitly involved in shaping and re-shaping public understanding of events 37
  38. 38. 3 paradigms 1. Manufacturing consent • 2. (Herman & Chomsky, 1988) Media of contest • 3. (Wolfsfeld, 1997) Media culture • (Kellner, 2003) 38
  39. 39. 39 39
  40. 40. 1 - Manufacturing Consent Five news “filters”:  1. Ownership and profit orientation  2. Funding via advertising  3. Over-reliance on „official‟ sources  4. “Flak” targeting the media  5. The need to engage a „common enemy‟ (via anti-ideologies) 40
  41. 41. 2 - Media of contest 1. Political protest more influential than media but there is giveand-take 2. Political voices do not always maintain dominance 3. The power of the media/politics fluctuates 4. News is framed in cultural contexts and „read‟ differently 5. Dissidents can combat unequal resources and use news media as a tool for political influence 41
  42. 42. 3 - Media culture  Media permeates all aspects of popular culture and impacts upon identity formation  Local engagement/reception of media spectacles  „Social and political conflicts are increasingly played out upon the screens of media cultures‟ (Kellner, 2003:1) 42
  43. 43. Media as cultural industries manufacturing consent in support of dominant interests Media as multi-purpose arenas in which strategic and symbolic conflicts are waged Media culture as pervasive, meaningful and contested, and constitutive of identities 43 43
  44. 44. Media as cultural industries manufacturing consent in support of dominant interests Media as multi-purpose arenas in which strategic and symbolic conflicts are waged Mainstream media Public sphere(s) Minority and Alt. media „public spheracules‟ New media „counter public spheres‟ Public Screens Media culture as pervasive, meaningful and contested, and constitutive of identities 44 44
  45. 45. Deportation halted 45
  46. 46. Questions to consider:  To what extent can documentaries expose the „truth‟ or combat propaganda?  To what extent are they able (or not) to go beyond the limitations of mainstream news?  Consider pressures of: funding; time; scheduling; scale; risk  How might documentaries be critiqued as ideological?  Are all formats as culpable as each other in offering specific versions of reality? 46