Where do you go for your daily news? Always assuming you actually bother to try and keep yourself informed about news, events and current affairs. I find it a little surprising but, if you look at newspaper circulation statistics, along with the demise of so many publications in recent times, apparently many people tend not to bother any more.
Increasingly, in this digital age I suspect you’re not actually choosing to read many newspapers, if at all, however; irrespective of your chosen news source, be that printed or digital media, how confident should you be that the news you consume is factual? Is the information you are reading, seeing or hearing factual? In reality much of it probably isn’t.
It’s not so much that overt lying is always taking place, more that facts are being mischievously manipulated… intentionally and accidentally. It doesn’t really bother me too much, I’ve never taken journalism that seriously. Even less so when the printed or spoken word is delivered as journalistic or editorial opinion, rather than simple reporting.
Today, perhaps more than ever before throughout my life previously, I find my self shouting at headlines from under furrowed raised eyebrows… “That’s Bollocks!” Then I move on to assess the content and quality, or not as is sadly too often the case.
But today, it appears (to me at least) that there are increasing numbers of people who are content to either; not be really that concerned about what is fake or factual. Or worse, are only ever prepared to accept ‘news’ which matches their own preconceived belief… content to shout at mirrors in their echo-chamber of personal ideology. We all need to be a little more selective about what ‘news’ we consume and importantly, think about what actions we choose to take because of it.
Don’t Feed The Beast: Just because a story appears online, doesn’t make it true. The internet is great, but it can also be used to spread disinformation in the form of misleading news and content. (sharechecklist.gov.uk)
It’s slightly ironic that our Government would be telling people how to avoid sharing fake news, when they are so often vehemently accused (by many) of disseminating similar half-truths, disinformation and/or lies. Our once-loved public service broadcaster – ‘Auntie Beeb’ – is also no longer immune from the myriad of accusations about; “political bias” or being little more than a “Torrie Mouthpiece” but hey… it’s all news!
While the BBC is widely held to be more trustworthy than other news media, most of the public believe the broadcaster’s reputation has declined in the past 20 years. (PR Week)
Complaints about the ‘political bias’ of the BBC also aren’t really a new phenomenon (see here). Politicians, pundits and people (mostly) on the left of politics have often bleated that about the “Beeb being blue”. This was especially evident during the run-up towards the 2019 election and, mostly to be expected after the outcome was finalised. So, could this be the end of the BBC as we know it?
It comes with the territory. Ever since, in its very first years, it survived its first run-in with a politician on the make by the name of Winston Churchill (that was over the General Strike of 1926), it has had to deal routinely with politically motivated claims of political bias. (The Independent)
Some suggestions that these latest “election bias accusations” have put the BBC “under threat” this time around, might still be a little premature. Assuming the BBC’s (arguable) impartiality; would silencing Auntie Beeb actually benefit, let alone improve any social and political discourse? I doubt it. Who or what would inhabit the void left after any demise of the BBC?
I’m not entirely convinced that the calls to silence or muffle Auntie Beeb will mitigate against the prominence of misinformation. After all, most political parties think the broadcaster is against them, at some point in their career. Many political leaders have had their arses kicked by savage media critique over the decades and long may that continue. But, most politician’s are similar in their distaste of media scrutiny, particularly when they are challenged and displayed in less than a glowing light.
I don’t necessarily believe BBC comments and observations have been aimed in a single political direction however; as a public service broadcaster balance is critical and they did struggle to strike that true balance between the Waring factions, who were constantly changing tac. Perhaps those who are quick to complain and apportion ‘blame’ (another modern and inherent social trait), actually needed to put more effort into their own PR teams and next time, be a tad more selective about who speaks for them?
The 2019 UK General Election has been a fine example of how Public Relations and Political Propaganda so often gets conflated. Today, the world is full of so-called ‘Fake News’ …ask Donald Trump.
POTUS (and others) often bemoan Fake News, Or, at the very least, make suggestions and allegations about facts being fake (or manipulated), the latest trait is the ‘alternative facts’ label. But these complaints are commonplace and not confined to politicians. They are especially prevalent amongst those who don’t like what it is they are hearing from the media. But, is this really a new phenomenon or, is it simply that more people in our society are belatedly waking to the age-old ‘disinformation’ process?
The “misinformation war” about the young boy in Leeds and the ensuing political accusations, mostly born in partisan PR battles on social-media was another clear case in point.
Ads are ‘indecent, dishonest and untruthful’ – A campaign group is calling for fact-checking of political advertising to be a legal requirement after what it describes as a “fake news and disinformation general election”. (BBC News)
But, it has probably always been so (see here). It’s just now, our ‘news’ is circulated, consumed and interpreted in the blink of an eye, thanks to the power of the internet.
Increasingly, our news is being delivered by less than transparent outlets, all with personal or organisational agendas. The commercial and political power of electronic ‘news’ is further enhanced by the fact; many people rarely look beyond the headlines. If they do, many of those headlines are actually little more than click-bait, designed to draw you towards a bombardment of commercial advertising. This in turn has given rise to the “sham news sites” that are making big bucks from fake views (see here).
It has long been acknowledged and understood that, news has power, especially when it can be manipulated commercially (or politically). You only have to consider the Murdoch dynasty for the evidence of that fact. But, the history of propaganda suggests that our society has always been impacted by similar processes and for decades. Propaganda and misinformation (aka PR) have been a solid bedrock of society since the early part of the 20th Century, if not before… mostly for commercial purposes.
Can we really ever combat fake news? Some suggest that one way is to preserve and maintain the (assumed) integrity and purpose of localised journalism (see below).
Mitchinson has a point and I have no particular reason to doubt his personal ethics however; even his “respected” organisation (employer) have their own commercial interests. Ones that undoubtedly underpin their very purpose and existence.
Misinformation, including false rumours, insults or pranks and examples of more deliberate disinformation or malicious content, like hoaxes and computational propaganda are nothing new. As with any news parody or satire, which can also be taken as misinformation, if taken seriously by the unwary recipient, often spread as if it were true. Especially in our digital age of ‘new’ media.
George Orwell warned us about today’s still emerging social structures and our problematic issues. But, as we animals vigorously and vociferously rail against our tenant farmers, are we totally convinced that we won’t end up living in a dictatorship controlled by our very own Comrade Napoleon?
I’m sure that most of us would (at the very least) be reluctant to accept the dystopian social structure, as outlined in Orwell’s 1984, even if it was one of limited proportions however; many people do still believe we are heading in that direction. It’s actually the desired goal of the elite and controlling classes, over possibly millennia, if you subscribe to the beliefs of many conspiracy theorists.
Orwell suggested that governments would ‘tightly control information, in order to keep the population in line. Whereas Aldous Huxley, another ‘visionary’ social philosopher informed us about the Brave New World a place where; purpose and ‘control’ is achieved by ‘publishing so much information that readers really didn’t know what was relevant, true or factual and what could/should be disregarded. The concept which suggests “ignorance is bliss”‘ but is it? Really? Could 2019 actually be Huxley’s ‘new’ world?
Recently, Wolfie Jules, a welcome and avid critic of my musings amongst the Twitterati, made me aware of an interesting article at The Counter Information Blog. The site examines how historically, the media have probably always been… “highly efficient at moulding public opinion.” It illustrates how ‘influencers’ pass on their opinions to those already in awe of their oratory. I actually agree.
The Art of Double Speak; …Within this group there are opinion makers who are often journalists, writers, and cultural producers of some sort or other, and then the larger number of the intellectual or schooled class who follow their opinions. (The Counter Information Blog)
This classic but ever present situation is now a prevalent factor within many digital communications and our use of social-media. Where; a great deal of ‘expert’ opinions are being delivered without challenge or subsequent discourse, confined within an echo-chambers of nepotism and adulation. One of the major problematic factors here is; the distinct lack of effective governance, by less than transparent entities. Where the information we see, hear and share is manipulated by complex algorithms for commercial (and political) purpose.
The article also highlighted how ‘mainstream’ media – Film and TV/Radio programming – tend to “blur the lines between fact and fiction.” Ever more so it would seam since the advent of inane genre the Reality TV show, which constantly get lapped up by the chattering throng. Brace yourself for some Breaking News: It’s not bloody real-life, contrary to common belief.
Continuing the discussion about mainstream media and the film, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World – the article went on to show how it fulfils the prophesy of Edward Bernays, an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations. Bernays succinctly observed that; films are “the greatest unconscious carriers of propaganda in the world today.” Again, he is probably correct.
Much of how many people see the world, and behave within our society, is born in what they have seen at the movies. Or from what insidiously seeps out from their TV screen in their living room or worse, what they were presented with on Facebook. Aaaargh!
Why is all this accepted and swallowed without question. When did we become so blinded by what is often puerile trivia or, have we always been so dim? In some respects it doesn’t really matter. Entertainment is just that, a source of simple escapism from the stress and strain of daily life. And that’s OK too, just so long as we recognise the differences.
Too often, I see and work with people who’s beliefs, behaviours and emotions are so intrinsically entwined within their past media consumption, as to harmful for their personal mental health and wellbeing. When you start to strip back beliefs, to look for the causal factors behind many personal but problematic issues, like anger, fear, dismay etc. you often find perceptions and thoughts that were born of media consumption… that’s scary.
The secret is not to allow yourself, or your thoughts and beliefs, to be sucked into this process of covert social-engineering!
For some unconscious reason, I’m reminded of a Norman Wisdom catchphrase. It was made famous in song during the Madchester era of popular culture. A time when the colourful Shaun Ryder (he of Happy Mondays fame), along with other artists merged alternative rock with acid house and dance culture to deliver a new sub-genre of music.
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