Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Product is You!
Towards Understanding The Media

An Editorial
By Brent Erickson

Corporations sell products. Media Corporations are no different; they manufacture a product and sell it to their customers. But just what are, most magazines, newspapers, radio, television shows and web sites really selling?

Most people feel like they already understand the media. The death of model Anna Nicole Smith, the breakdown of singer Brittany Spears and other such stories are in the news for one reason, money. The masses want their sensational news and the media is simply making money by supplying the demand of the public. If Noam Chomsky sold as many newspapers as Anna Nicole and Brittany, he would be on the front pages instead of them. The customer is always right.

Though there is more truth to this argument than perhaps the person who makes it first realizes, this view is ultimately both condescending and inaccurate. Opinion polls show repeatedly that people are much more open to and interested in challenging issues than is reflected in most media outlets.

However the media continue to publish and broadcast an often fractured and distorted picture of the world with little objection from the so-called “educated” members of society. The fact that most of us in Canada and the U.S, despite being intelligent individuals, are unaware of the level of indoctrination in our countries, unfortunately only demonstrates the effectiveness of the propagandist system under which we live.

To be aware of the factors that influence media content is to develop Media Literacy. Media Literacy means bringing critical thinking skills to bear on the messages that inform, and entertain us every day. There are many factors shaping media content, two of the most fundamental to consider are; owners, and advertisers. These two variables, though they determine to a large extent how we see the world, are rarely are mentioned in discussions of the “Liberal Media”.

Media Ownership and Concentration
The number of corporations that control nearly all North American media has fallen from only 50 in 1983 to about 6 today. Media moguls such as Rupert Murdock and Conrad Black are known to media activists as stanch opponents of diversity and pro-labor sentiment, but even they are small potatos compared to some media owners. General Electric Corporation, one of the worlds largest weapons manufactures owns NBC / CNBC, networks that seem quick to push for war. Likewise with Westinghouse Electric Company, a corporation that owns a large number of media holdings including the CBS network.

According to the media watch group F.A.I.R, in December 2002 then CanWest Global Communications CEO Izzy Asper, who’s company owned the National Post, 14 large city dailies, 120 smaller dailies and weeklies, and the Global TV network, among other holdings, made the decision to require all of its daily newspapers to run corporate editorials produced in its Winnipeg head office. Though known to be liberal on certain social issues, Mr. Asper held much more conservative views than the majority of Canadians on many subjects (most notably support for Israel) and fire journalists who did not agree with him. His sons David and Leonard Asper have proven even more extreme since taking control of Can West after their father’s death in 2003.

F.A.I.R adds “The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) and the Quebec Federation of Professional Journalists (QFPJ) have denounced the actions of the media giant as ‘a disturbing pattern of censorship and repression of dissenting views.’”

The old sayings “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” and “Never bite the hand that feeds you.” are good to keep in mind when assessing the role advertising plays in shaping media content.

Commercial magazines generate over 50% of their revenue from advertising, Newspapers about 80%, Radio, TV, and web sites get close to 100% of their revenue from advertising. Because such a large amount of money (over $175 billion a year in the U.S alone) comes from not the selling of media content itself, but the selling of audiences to advertisers the public is not the customer in our media system, we are the product!

The so-called “media content” is only the bait to generate audiences for advertisers. If the customer is always right, that customer is the car company (which might deny global climate change) who paid for the ads, not the person who buys the magazine or who watches T.V. This is why there has been such an effort made to stave out public broadcasting and push it into the commercial arena where corporate “sponsors” can regulate the content. Noam Chomsky could attract more viewers than a new Pamela Anderson sex tape and he still would be excluded from the front pages unless the advertisers gave it the green light.

If we do not, as a society develop a minimal degree of Media Literacy and push for, what has been called “Media Democracy” we are losing more than we will ever know. As U.S congressman Bernie Sanders recently said, “If you are concerned about Health Care, Iraq, the Economy, Global Warming you must be concerned about Corporate Control of the Media.”

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