Noam Chomsky in the documentary manufacturing consent believes that it is the primary function of the mass media to mobilise public support for the special interests that dominate the Government and private sector.
Chomsky is asked to elaborate on this theme and believes that the concentrated network of major corporations control the media with two groups to be influenced. The first two groups Chomsky illustrates are twenty percent of the population who are perceived to be well-educated such as Doctors, teachers, writers, etc who are supposed to vote. The other eighty percent is to follow orders, not to think, or pay any attention and it is this group that Chomsky believes that pays the costs.
This he feels can be seen in the tabloid press which focuses on the celebs of the day, scandals, and popular television shows such as the X factor or Coronation Street. Its aim is to offer a distraction from the real issues of the day and as a result prevent people from questioning things or getting involved.
Nevertheless it can be argued that the popular press do try to manipulate its readership depending on its political stance. For example during the wave of ‘austerity cuts,’ people on benefits are targeted as feckless scroungers. Anger is raised with headlines such as the Daily Express screeching that there are four million scroungers in Britain,’ whilst the Daily Mail is outraged that ‘seventy five of incapacity claimants are fit to work.’
Instantly people are not questioning the cuts or the tax dodging activities of major companies but the vulnerable and the needy. There are no questions why some people are working but with their pay so low have to claim tax credits. Nor are there questions about the cost of living rising so high that the use of food banks is on the increase. An interesting point is made by the former Lib Dem PM Sarah Teather who believes the attacks on people on benefits is more of a tactical strategy to gain popular electoral support for next year’s elections.
Reading between the headlines
The general view within the popular press is that the majority of its readers only look at the headlines. Consequently you can imply something to garner support such as this headline from the Daily Star a couple of years back ‘Asylum cheaters let off with £70 million.’
By reading the story more closely it was down to the Home Office making the mistakes with overpayments going directly to the hostel owners who provide accommodation to asylum seekers and therefore have no influence on the payments. It was also found that Home Office staff had also been wrongly over paid.
However by reading the initial headline you would assume that asylum seekers have deliberately connived and plotted to obtain money dishonestly.
The Sun newspaper has only recently just stopped the practice of using their page three girls to sell their editorial opinion as the model’s own. Tim Ireland on bloggerheads exposes the propaganda used to pursue the paper’s political stance. For example one model praises Tony Blair for taking action in Iraq whilst another praises a Government initiative. This practice stopped in July 2013 but shows the lengths some media outlets use to promote their own agenda.
Influences on Government
If it wasn’t already known how much influence that Murdoch had on the Government then the Leveson inquiry made that abundantly clear. Jack Straw when speaking at the inquiry stated ‘What I perceive of Mr Murdoch’s approach, particularly with the Sun and the News of the World, was that he reckoned that his political influence would be greater, if as it were, his support was available in return for what he thought he could get out of it.
‘And I don’t mean some deal, because I’ve seen no evidence of a deal. But he thought there was something in it.’
This came about after the phone hacking scandal that saw the end of the News of the World. The actual scale of the hacking was breathtaking as the phones of celebrities was hacked and even more shockingly the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, victims of 9/11 were also alleged to have been hacked.
Murdoch it appeared had too much of an influence on politicians. For example the Fox news network is so right-wing that it is now seen as a joke. However this has not stopped Murdoch who before the hacking scandal wanted the BBC to be broken up with his son hypocritically comparing the BBC to George Orwell’s 1984. ‘As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.’ This incidentally all fell to the wayside as did his bid to take full control of BSkyB.
Of course this works both ways as the majority of newspapers backed the Government’s stance over the 2003 war in Iraq with one headline screeching that Brit’s were ‘forty five minutes from doom!’
Then when it was found that Iraq did not appear to have any weapons of mass destruction (even when they presumably checked underneath Saddam Hussein’s bed) it became a war of liberation, despite the fact that prior to the first Gulf War, in 1990, the Government where quite happy to do business with Saddam Hussein.
Indeed you can as far back as the 1984 miners strike and the Printers dispute in 1986 were the majority of the media were not only openly hostile to the strikers but biased towards the Government.
Forget the fact that the miners and printers were fighting not just for their livelihoods but the very communities themselves. Indeed there were a large percentage of mines that still had plenty of coal to make themselves economically viable for at least the next twenty years.
Media coverage gave the impression that miners and printers were attacking the ‘valiant,’ Police Force who were doing their best of keeping law and order. No mention of the Police attacking peaceful pickets or running amok amongst small mining towns, or of the fact that mysteriously their lapels with the Officers number were missing, or of miners being beaten up in custody. The battle of Orgreaves is a case in point.
It has taken twenty-three years for the truth to be acknowledged when David Cameron in 2012 apologized for the failure that caused Hillsborough and the attempted cover up. Documents from the independent Hillsborough panel found that there was a failure of the authorities to protect people and an attempt to blame the fans.
This was seen with high-ranking officials in the South Yorkshire Police and the Conservative MP Irvine Patrick who fed stories to the media and led to the Sun’s disgusting headline ‘the truth.’ It was in short a disgraceful attempt to cover up the incompetence of the authorities. As a result the newspaper is boycotted and reviled in Merseyside for its lies.
Coverage and bias
Criticism has also been hurled at the BBC and other established media establishments of not being impartial and failing to cover major events in depths. For example the protest against the cuts in the NHS during the anti – austerity rally in Manchester 2013 was scarcely covered, albeit a couple of minutes of airtime on the BBC.
This despite the fact that fifty thousand people had travelled down to the City centre of Manchester, were the Conservative party was holding its annual conference. There where no clips of organisers or protestors to explain the reason why they were protesting, apart from the shout of ‘Tory scum,’ which could give the viewer the impression that it was a just bunch of bolshy left-wing militants stirring up trouble.
Sky news focused on the only arrest of the demonstration even though Greater Manchester Police praised the peaceful and lawful manner of protestors.
Pictures of the actual march were used as wallpaper whilst the political commentator of the BBC talked about the Conservative party conference. The event failed to arouse much interest in the newspapers with only a few column inches at best.
The media coverage during the student protests against tuition fees in early November 2010 was all focused on the violence. However another demonstration two weeks later saw students unnecessarily kettled and then for no apparent reason Police horses charged the protestors.
There was scarcely any coverage apart from the Guardian that used the clip caught by one of the kettled demonstrators. Nor was there any debate about whether kettling was necessary and why the Police felt that it was necessary to charge an already contained crowd with Police horses.
The rise of Social media
With the rise of social media such as twitter, blogs, and access to other news outlets there is a variety of choice in trying to obtain the truth somewhere. For example most phones have cameras and smart phones are now becoming the norm. This means as in the case of the above clip of the Police charging students that the story can get out by people who are actually on the ground.
In turn this means that the traditional press are being forced to follow the story if it becomes big because they cannot allow their rivals to gain an advantage.
Once you were pretty much limited to the popular press for news whereas now there is a lot more choice to get the real story. In essence social media has the potential to make us all journalists and to question more. Maybe the likes of Murdoch who was described by Tunku Varadarajan, the editor of newsweek international as ‘the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers,’ influence might start to wane.