Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Strategies for dismantling the mass media

Once upon a time, Kings and rulers would have paid handsomely in gold and gifts to couriers to bring them news from foreign lands. No this is not the beginning of a Christmas tale but a post about how we the ordinary punters are now able to receive so much more intelligence on what is going on around the world than any emperor or king that lived before. The problem is that some people long ago realised this and set about using this to their advantage. Hence we are bombarded with filtered, twisted and fabricated news mixed amongst the real stuff, with the aim of constructing an artificial alignment with or sympathy for a particular geopolitical viewpoint. The media became 'free' but at a price. This price was that they were free to report the excesses and negatives of official western enemies and to concentrate on the lower end of the criminal scale without focussing too much on the criminal activities of the ruling elite. Sure we could tolerate the odd mavericks as long as they were suitably framed and restrained. The idea was to project the image of freedom whilst maintaining a tight hold on the reins of power; to institutionalise the appearance of democracy whilst serving the same interest. Towards the latter half of the twentieth century it appears this effort succeeded in totally replacing the old antagonistic left and ironing out dissent within the political system. But unfortunately/fortunately this time also coincided with the rise and rise of the Internet. The mass media have become the loyal and willing servants of power but now their enemies have a tool with which to fight back.

This is an important topic that is currently neglected even amongst the people who are supposed to be looking at it. What strategies can we adopt as the public that can challenge and eventually replace the mass media? This is not a pie in the sky idea. Of course mass media will still be around for a long time but they are weakening and whatever can be done in practical terms to loosen their grip from around the throat of our perceived reality needs to be done. This website considers the practical steps that could be taken to challenged the power of mass media with the aim of promoting a more participatory media and developing alternatives. Here are a few ideas they throw up for discussion:
Here I outline a number of possible strategies, focusing on what can be done by individuals and small groups to challenge mass media and replace them by participatory network media. It would be easy to make some sweeping recommendations about what should be done, especially by governments. But to be compatible with the goal of a participatory communication system, the methods should be participatory too.
  1. Change one's own media consumption patterns
    Many people are such regular and insistent consumers of the mass media--television, radio and newspapers--that it's possible to speak of an addiction. This also includes many of those who are strongly critical of the mass media.

    Cutting down on consumption can be part of a process of imagining and fostering a participatory communications system.

    Some people may object to this recommendation. Surely, they will say, it's quite possible to be an avid mass media consumer--or to work for the media--while still maintaining a critical perspective and also using and promoting alternative media. True enough. Analogously, a factory worker can certainly remain critical of capitalism and promote alternatives.

    My view is not that cutting back mass media consumption is necessary, but that it can be a useful way to change people's consciousness.

    It is similar to animal liberationists reducing their consumption of animal products and environmentalists riding bicycles and composting their organic wastes. Such individual acts cannot by themselves transform the underlying structures of factory farming, industrial society or centralised media: collective action for structural change is needed.

    Nevertheless, changes in individual behaviour serve several important purposes:
    a) they change the perspectives of individuals,
    b) they reinforce concern about the issue and
    c) they provide an example (of consistency) for others.

    Changing media habits can be incredibly difficult.

    Watching the news on television is, for many people, a ritual. For others, reading the daily paper is an essential part of each day. Although Jerry Mander's book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television has become a classic in alternative circles, no social movement has developed to abolish TV. There are only some small groups, such as the Society for the Elimination of Television, producing a few newsletters.

    One reason may be that--according to one argument--watching television changes one's brain waves, reducing the number of fast waves characteristic of thinking and increasing the number of slow waves characteristic of relaxed states.

    This explains why watching television seems so relaxing: it allows the brain to switch off. It also explains why television is so effective at communicating commercial messages. Images go into the brain without processing; the images cannot be recalled, but they can be recognised, for example in a supermarket. (Source: Fred Emery and Merrelyn Emery, A Choice of Futures: To Enlighten or Inform (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976).

    Another reason why switching off the television is so difficult is that it becomes part of the household. It seems voluntary, and it is to some extent.

    Action must begin at home.

    It is easier to oppose "alien" technologies such as nuclear power, which are not part of people's everyday lives. Challenging technologies that are personal possessions, used routinely--such as television and cars--is far more difficult.

    Except for some people who must monitor the media as part of their work, mass media consumption is, from a time management view, quite inefficient. Think back on all the television you watched during the past ten years. How much of it was genuinely necessary to be fully informed, or was even genuinely informative? A similar calculation can be made for reading newspapers.

    But what if the aim is not efficiency but simply enjoying life and occasionally learning something along the way? This brings the discussion back to lack of participation. Most people have been turned into passive consumers of the media. This will not change until some people take the initiative to break the pattern.

  2. Learn how the media construct reality
    If it is essential to consume products of the mass media, a useful antidote is to learn how these media products are created. It is illuminating to spend time with a television film crew or in a newspaper office. It quickly becomes apparent that of the many possible things that could be treated by the media, and of the many possible ways that this could be done, only certain ones actually are chosen.

    It is also useful to gain some experience on the receiving end of media construction of reality, by joining a rally or media conference and seeing how it is reported, or by being interviewed oneself.

    Another way to gain insight into media construction of reality is to undertake a detailed study of some topic, whether it is child rearing, banking, crime or East African politics. This could involve reading books and in-depth articles, investigating alternative viewpoints and consulting with experts and concerned groups. With a good grounding in a range of perspectives and an ability to think confidently about the topic, it is then possible to make an informed assessment of mass media treatments, including biases and omissions.

    It is important to be aware of how the media constructs reality, but that alone does not change the dynamics of the media. Therefore it is valuable to communicate what one learns about media constructions to others............


Anonymous Kassandra said...

Kebz, this is brilliant. Aside from the odd DVD or Doctor Who, I really haven't watched television since 2001, much to the consternation of friends and colleagues in tune with the current pop culture and celeb nonsense du jour. For some odd reason they can't seem to understand my reasons for not plugging in and tuning out.

Then there's the joke of the media whored out to the corporate world. It's more this than the obvious lack of quality in programming that keeps me from bothering with cable. Honestly, who has that much time to waste? I'd much rather be listening to Radio 4, reading, or just thinking nothing. With all transpiring in the world, sometimes that can be one of the healthier ways of tuning out.

I wonder, has there been any effect on long brain waves tied to computer use? If so, we may not be much better off.

Thanks for the great piece.


7:46 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home