Saturday 13 December 2003

News, Opinions and Propaganda

Why I do not want to be the first to know?
Gone are the days when you were able to listen to the news and be informed of what is going on either around you or around the world. Now, you listen to news programmes and have to decide when it has moved on from news to editorial opinion and then outright propaganda.
I would present is typical scenario. The news is - The Queen had tea today; that should be enough, but the new networks now have to fill in time and turn this piece of information into an experience. For that bit of news, you end up with analysis from the following quarters.
The Royal correspondent [explaining why the Queen having tea is worthy of a slot on the news programme].
An expert on teas [suggesting why tea is healthy, what teas are best and which particular brand of tea the Royals drink, also what to have with your tea and what constitutes a tea as a meal].
Finally, from a think tank an expert [explaining why the stocks on all teas would rise, and those on coffee would fall. How the Queen adds value to the corporate balance sheets of tea companies. Then a list of tea companies with a royal warrant. In addition, fair-trade initiative that allows for a good proportion of tea profits to go the development of farming communities]. Cut to a newsbreak - PG Tips advert!
Seeing this whole development of an experience based on the simple information of the Queen having tea has moved from news to opinions to a subtle brand of propaganda promoting teas. Not every bit of news gets this kind of treatment but many do have varying degrees of extremity falling into all those camps.
The Correspondent - news networks now expend so much in having someone on the ground where the news is breaking; never missing the opportunity to reinforce what you just heard the newscaster say.
Some networks use local correspondents and others fly in a correspondent. Then there are different correspondents depending on the issue, more like a correspondent for every major government department like trade, health or education and other general issues or functions like political, royal, war, sports or European.
However, being on the ground does not mean you get to hear the truth, what we get is still subject to the editorial slant the news network wants to portray.
The Expert - that now seems to be common currency for any issue - this person seemingly has experience on the topic in the news as a participant, authority or observer.
Experts are supposed to lend gravitas to a topical issue and create the impression that you cannot question what they say. We know that in some cases experts do not necessarily represent the truth, rather a perspective and strong opinion on which they are ready to stake their credibility for a price.
For other light-hearted issues, the expert becomes a "rent-a-quote" purveyor of one-liners to punch through a thought. Who selects the expert? Someone involved in the editorial process.
The Think Tank - a definition that saw its first use in 1959 - an institute, corporation, or group organised for interdisciplinary research (as in technological and social problems) sometimes also called a think factory.
My take on this is - consider the workings of a water closet (WC), the tank fills up and is not emptied till the toilet is used, and for as long as the toilet does not need cleaning by reason of usage, the water stays in the tank a ready resource for bacteria and other organisms to feast on.
Using that analogy, a think tank is that last place anyone should go to for ideas, which are stale, rehashed, or at variance with reality. I would rather work for a think river and if that resource needs to be harnessed, then work for a think pipe - there is a need for flow, renewal and ditching old concepts.
A river of thoughts would always be refreshing.
The two most popular global news networks belt out slogans like "Be the first to know" or "Demand a broader view", I really just want the news and I would make up my mind about what I have heard in the context of what I know.
Now if I really want analysis of an issue, then I would like to tune in to another channel that calls in the correspondent, the expert and the think tank, but keep them out of the news.
Being the first to know is only of value if the information gives you some particular advantage over those who were not the first to know, but with millions in that category you can you can only appreciate it if the news what specifically tailored for your hearing, but broadcast with your permission to others.
A broader view
I would like to demand a broader view after having heard the news and then require additional detail. This week the world celebrates 100 years of flight - that is the news.
The broader view is another programme on the progress and developments in aviation over the last hundred years that one company is being favoured over another for contracts to build some new flight belongs to another programme allowing the flourishing of subtle propaganda.
I used to be a news junkie, I still like to hear the news, but use the Internet nowadays to catch-up. The hyperlinks from those news pages to other related issues develop the news into the experience I am interested in, but I am in control of what I want to read.
I get my news from these sites.

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