The dependency between government and media is a contentious issue in contemporary times. The media, once termed the Fourth Estate due to the unique role it plays in society, is supposed to be the conscience of the First Estate, namely the government. Yet, a simple analysis of the functioning of media organizations makes obvious that its role had deviated from the purported ideal. Rather than serving the interests of the general public, the media is shown to serve vested interests of the powers that be.
In this scenario, some of the predictions made by sociologists are proving to be true. For example, Structural Functionalist Theorists, such as Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton, proposed that deviation from social norms will lead to retribution and ostracizing, which would prove to be a powerful deterrent for such behavior. And in the context of the near monopoly of the mainstream media, alternative viewpoints (deviation) are suffocated through lack of financial viability or the risk of criticism.
In this manner strict social control is established. (Edgley, 2000, p.23)
In any critical discussion of modern geo-polity, the word ‘propaganda’ finds recurrent mention. This is nowhere truer than in discussions about the policies and actions of the world’s only superpower, the United States of America. In his book, ‘Managing Public Opinion: The Corporate Offensive’, Alex Carey says that in the United States, “great progress had been made towards the ideal of a propaganda-managed democracy, whose principal aim was to identify a rapacious business state with every cherished human value” (Pilger, 2005).
If the objective of this propaganda framework is met, then notions of democracy and individual franchise will be overwhelmed by constructs of the public relations industry in the form of advertisements and business-controlled news. In essence, Alex Carey is suggesting that in the United States, the media has become subservient to the state (Pilger, 2005). Again, we see overtones of Structural Functionalist theories in Carey’s assessment. It is then natural for ‘anomie’ to set in and lead to greater dissidence to state authority. As anomie grows, society will reach a point of high conflict between the power elite and the general population. With elite media having state authority and financial resources at its disposal is more likely to quash any social uprising, leading to a consolidation of dominance and control over the population. (Goodman & Goodman, 2004, p.41)
A key talking point amongst the intelligentsia is the dangers posed by lack of diversity and representation in the mainstream media’s coverage. The phenomena of media concentration, which has seen greater consolidation in the last decade, give rise to production of news content that serves the interests of select media elite. This concentration of power in the hands of large media conglomerates makes it easy for them to set the political agenda on the national scale as exemplified by Rupert Murdoch’s near monopoly ownership of media space in Britain. It is no surprise then that the issues that media coverage, in general, is infested with their personal biases, prejudices and interests. The general public, made helpless by this system, is presented a narrow political agenda that holds no real significance for them (Eldridge, Kitzinger & Williams, 1997, p. 27). In other words, while the media has the power to elicit a policy response from the government, the outcomes tend to benefit the media elite and ruling classes rather than people. In this sense, media can be said to serve an imperialist agenda. In this climate, only a few news stories get picked for publication/broadcast among numerous other pieces competing for the same space/time. The journalists in charge of deciding the news content are subject to personal biases, external coercions (both implicit and explicit) and other constraints that influence their decision making. For these reasons, there are only a minority of journalists who adhere to standards of objectivity and professional integrity, while the rest succumb to various pressures consciously or otherwise. This decline in journalistic ethos is seen across geo-political entities and cultures, making it a cause of concern for all (Eldridge, Kitzinger & Williams, 1997, p. 28).
Eldridge, J., Kitzinger, J., & Williams, K. (1997). The Mass Media and Power in Modern Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The book gives a detailed presentation of the state of media in Britain. It places its analysis on several sociological theories in currency, giving the reader a comprehensive picture. The book succeeds in validating theories through factual proof.
Edgley, A. (2000). The Social and Political Thought of Noam Chomsky. London: Routledge.
The book is very relevant to discussion on media and propaganda, because it is dedicated exclusively to the social and political thought of Noam Chomsky – the leading social critic of our times. The book also draws heavily from Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, a thesis he first expounded in his 1980 book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media, co-authored with Edward Herman.
Goodman, A., & Goodman, D. (2004). The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing America’s War Profiteers, the Media That Love Them and the Crackdown on Our Rights. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin.
The sibling team of Amy Goodman and David Goodman fill their book with many practical examples that validate expressions of anomie, social control, social stratification, etc. They also present copious evidence to the imperialist function attached to mainstream mass media.
Pilger, J. (2005, April 11). From the BBC’s Capitulation to the Israeli Government, to the Rush to Eulogise a Deeply Reactionary Pope Pressure on the Media Is Leading to Insidious New State Propaganda. New Statesman, 134, 21+.
John Pilger is renowned for his brave journalistic reports from places of military conflict and political chaos. He brings the same vim and vigor to this report cum analysis on contemporary media scene. The author cites recent findings by sociologists to back his arguments. Media’s role as an instrument of coercion, control and domination is persuasively illustrated.