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Fuelling propaganda: Has the modern media lost its sense of objectivity?

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mass-media

By Gaurav Sharma

What is the role of media? To present the truth in its complete entirety or to shroud the truth in the garb of manipulated and fabricated stories, which serve the vested interests of the political and corporate bosses?

With new technology being developed every single day, the world has morphed into a global economy, deluged under the flow of information bombardment. These sources invariably involve broadcasting the views of individuals that own them.

In his autobiography Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler says, By far the greater part of “political education” or propaganda is the work of the press.”

Propaganda can be broadly defined as dissemination of news, ideas and information for specifically injuring or benefiting an organisation or individual.

Though it has existed for thousands of years, the commercialisation of technology, in the last hundred years or so, has amplified the unethical practice.

While the academia and think tanks, may be excluded from the realm of agencies that voice  such biased information, mainstream media, undoubtedly, falls under the category of the propagandist communication channel.

The mainstream media is owned directly or indirectly by corporations. For example, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries controls Network 18, one of India’s largest media companies. The company owns channels such as CNN-IBN, CNBC Awaz, CNBC TV18, websites such as Firstpost, moneycontrol.com and the license of Forbes India, among other businesses.

“How will they [the Network18 journalists] have any chance of doing a decent story on the KG gas deal [where RIL has the rights to dig for gas and is in dispute with the government], the Radia tapes [taped telephone conversations between publicist Nira Radia and a former telecom minister and senior journalists where she’s lobbying on behalf of several big corporate clients], how will they cover any damn thing?”says P.Sainath, a respected journalist.

Internationally, two of the most ‘trusted’ sources of news, The New York Times and Washington Post host people affiliated with corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Kohlberg and Company, Chevron Corporation, Ford Motor Company among others, as their board members.

In light of such widespread corporatization, media can hardly be looked upon as beacon of unbiased, fair and transparent journalism.

The second important factor in the indoctrination of the media, is the basic fact that the survival of a media outlet depends upon advertising revenue. This gives much weightage to the notion that the media serves the businesses that pay to serve their goods.

Further more, the sourcing of the news is itself very doubtful. Even large media corporations cannot afford to have reporters everywhere. As a result, they have to concentrate their resources in places that hold prospective news stories: government organisations, Parliament, business corporations etc.

This can be termed as selective omission, when commercial interests take precedence over important developments in the hinterland.

Besides, there are many examples of such propaganda being carried out by the mainstream media. Using the basis of social proof, the media often projects a person or country as an enemy, by declaring it be a friend of an already established enemy.

Such brainwashing was used by the media to gather support of the American public against the nuclear arming of Pakistan.

Biases can also be seen when the media fails to bring to light the futility of Vietnam War but greatly advocates the invasion of Iraq, for supposedly holding nuclear weapons.

Back in 2010, a study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School revealed that the controversial practice of waterboarding, a practise in which alleged terrorists are subjected to drowning sensation, was stopped from being termed as ‘torture’ by leading papers such as New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

In 2011, a BBC journalist had revealed the close links between the press and the politicians, in the backdrop of News of the World hacking scandal, in which the now defunct British paper was accused of engaging in phone hacking, police bribery, and exercising improper influence in the pursuit of stories.

The sensationalization of ISIS dominance over the world, is yet another example of the media’s insatiable hunger for hyping and overemphasizing news. There is hardly any mention of the fact that much of the area usurped by the Al-Qaeda outfit, is sparsely populated. Moreover, it has hardly been brought to the notice of the public, that the army of jihadists working for ISIS are still mediocre in size as compared to a nation’s military.

This, however, does not mean the threat posed by ISIS should be taken lightly. But, through such indiscriminate coverage of the terror group, the people are diverted from the whole truth.

The claims made by Noam Chomsky, an American linguist and philosopher, in his book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, that the “The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest”, hold much water, not only for the US, but for India as well.

The corporatization and monopolization of media only serves to reduce the space for differing voices. It is a thorn in the democratic thread of the country that needs to be plucked away.

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English-speaking ISIS Supporters Exploit Messaging App

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up

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English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
The Telegram logo is seen on a screen of a smartphone in this illustration, April 13, 2018. VOA

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up on the terror group’s ability to remain a force in Syria and Iraq, according to a new study that examined their behavior on the Telegram instant messaging service.

The report, “Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram,” released Thursday by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, looked at 636 pro-Islamic State channels and groups in the 16 months from June 2017 through October 2018.

It found that even as the terror group was losing ground in Syria and Iraq to U.S.-backed forces, and even as IS leadership was encouraging followers to start looking to progress in IS provinces elsewhere, English-speaking supporters turned to Telegram to reinforce their faith in the caliphate.

“These are supporters that like to fight uphill battles,” report co-author Bennet Clifford told VOA. “What supporters are trying to do when they’re engaging with this conversation is attempt to shift the narrative away from loss and provide justifications for it.”

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – An Islamic State flag is seen in this photo illustration. VOA

At the same time, these English-speaking supporters sought to amplify their beliefs, supplementing official IS propaganda with user-generated content while also increasing the distribution of instructional material on how to carry out attacks.

“I think it’s part of an attempt in some cases to spin the narrative their way,” Clifford added.

Attraction of Telegram

IS supporters first started flocking to Telegram, an instant messaging service that promises speed and encryption for private communications, in 2015 as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook began a crackdown aimed at Islamic State’s often violent and gory propaganda.

Since then, IS has been hooked by Telegram’s promise that it will not disclose user data to government officials and by the service’s ability to let supporters organize and share large files, including video.

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“No other platforms appear to have developed the same balance of features, user-friendliness, and basic security that could warrant a new switch,” the report said.

That ease of use has long worried counterterrorism officials, who have watched as IS has used the online ecosystem to help plan and carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris, attacks on a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016 and the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul just weeks later.

English-speaking facilitators

In those cases, the attackers appear to have been given instructions from IS officials in Syria and Iraq. But Telegram has given rise to several key English-speaking facilitators who have been operating on the periphery.

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – Karen Aizha Hamidon, who allegedly worked to encourage several Indian militants last year to join the Islamic State group in the Middle East, is surrounded by reporters after attending a hearing at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 3, 2017. VOA

One of them, according to Clifford and co-author Helen Powell, was 36-year-old Karen Aizha Hamidon, who helped mobilize sympathizers from the United States to Singapore to join the terror group or its affiliates.

Hamidon, who was arrested by Philippine authorities in October 2017, has also been linked to efforts to establish an IS province in India.

Another key player, 34-year-old Ashraf al-Safoo, took a different approach before being arrested last October by the FBI in Chicago.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, al-Safoo was a key member of the Khattab Media Foundation, which used hacked social media accounts on platforms like Twitter to disseminate IS propaganda.

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“Much of the propaganda created and distributed by Khattab promotes violent jihad on behalf of ISIS and ISIS’s media office,” the Justice Department said in a statement using a different acronym for the militant group.

While both Hamidon and al-Safoo are now in custody, showing the ability of law enforcement to penetrate their Telegram operations, others are likely to replace them because of the ongoing need of Islamic State’s English-speaking supporters to communicate and find larger audiences.

“While there are a number of disadvantages for Islamic State supporters in the use of Telegram from a security perspective they’ll continue to do it because their balance of outreach and operational security,” Clifford said. “There’s not another alternative at this point in time.” (VOA)