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

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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.

Next Story

News Organizations in Myanmar Receiving Threatening Messages Over Rakhine Coverage

Thar Lun Zaung Htet, editor-in-chief of Khit Thit Media who has received three threatening messages, said the senders are issuing the threats for specific purposes and that news professionals must be cautious about what may happen after they receive such mail.

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Myanmar journalists of the privately owned Eleven Media Group work in the company's newsroom in Yangon, Oct. 12, 2018. RFA

Prominent news organizations in Myanmar have received threatening messages from unknown senders warning them not to refer to the ethnic military the Arakan Army (AA) currently engaged in hostilities with government troops in western Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state as an “insurgent group.”

Fighting between the AA, which is fighting Myanmar forces for greater autonomy in Rakhine state and is supported by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, and Myanmar forces reignited in late 2018 and exploded in early January after Arakan soldiers conducted deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.

The Myanmar government has labeled the AA a terrorist group and instructed its forces to crush the fighters.

Since April 1, journalists at Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group, 7Day Daily, Mizzima, The VoiceDemocracy Today, and Khit Thit Media have received the threats via social media messengers and email, warning them that they will face mine attacks if they continue to refer to the AA as insurgent group.

The threatening messages say that the AA is not an insurgent group, but an Arakanese army carrying out a revolution for the “Father Nation.”

“The news media needs to stop portraying the Arakan Army incorrectly to misinform the Rakhine public and other ethnic groups,” the messages say. “Otherwise, the news media organization will see damage and we will blow up your newsroom by mine attacks.”

Khin Saw Wai, a lower house lawmaker from the Arakan National Party (ANP) who represents Rakhine’s Rathedaung constituency, told RFA’s Myanmar Service in an earlier report that the AA had sent envelopes with bullets to village authorities in Rakhine state.

Kyaw Zaw Lin, chief editor of Eleven Media Group, said he reported the incident to the police and other authorities when he received a threat.

“We have never experienced such kinds of threats coming from an armed group,” he said. “We have reported them to the relevant authorities. We alerted international organizations working on press freedom. We also filed a case with the police force.”

Myint Kyaw, joint secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, cautioned journalists to refrain from taking actions that could give more attention to the senders, who remain unknown.

“I agree that we should report this to law enforcement officers such as the police force,” he said. “We should take that kind of action. But these are threats coming from an unidentified source. As a media council, if we take action further than that, it will amplify the source’s message. We might be realizing the source’s real goal if all media and authorities take the threats seriously.”

“As for our media council, as an intermediary between the press and law enforcement authorities, we have a plan to issue alerts on the issue to all parties concerned,” he added.

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“This fake news was intentionally spread to instigate fear among the public,” he said. “Because we have had such experiences in the past, we must question what is happening now. It was not a single incident. It happened multiple times between 2012 and 2014.” Pixabay

Just like in 2012

Kyaw Min Swe, a consultant for the Myanmar journal The Voice who recently received a threat, recalled the allegations of “fake news” that inflamed Buddhist-Muslim communal conflict in religiously and ethnically divided Rakhine in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead and displaced more than 140,000, saying that he is suspicious about the real intention of those who are sending threats to the media.

Religiously-motivated riots that started in Kyauk Ni Maw village quickly led to murder and arson amid widespread public fear that was intensified by the spread of fake news on social media, he said.

“This fake news was intentionally spread to instigate fear among the public,” he said. “Because we have had such experiences in the past, we must question what is happening now. It was not a single incident. It happened multiple times between 2012 and 2014.”

“Given the examples and incidents that occurred in this country in the past, I suspect that it is true with the [current] case too,” he said. “I suspect this is an attempt to instigate a public sensation.”

Thar Lun Zaung Htet, editor-in-chief of Khit Thit Media who has received three threatening messages, said the senders are issuing the threats for specific purposes and that news professionals must be cautious about what may happen after they receive such mail.

“[Those] behind these threats must [belong to] an organization with specific purposes,” he said. “They seem to be very knowledgeable and well organized. I see this as only a first step.”

“We don’t know what the second and third steps will be,” he said. “There could be many possibilities, given the fact that the rule of law is very weak in this country.”

Thar Lun Zaung Htet also said that actual attacks could occur, putting the safety of journalists at risk given current hostile attitudes towards the media by a pro-government public.

“They could be murdered, physically attacked, arrested, or get into trouble anytime,” he said. “I view this threat as the first step of what could be coming. Not long after this, the second or third steps will come. Journalists must be extra cautious about what they are reporting.”

AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied that his outfit had sent these threats to the media and said it would conduct a probe into the matter.

“We strongly denounce the intimidation of the media by sending them threats,” he told RFA. “This is a very cowardly act [by someone] who is using our identity because they are too scared to reveal their own.”

“As an organization, we will conduct an investigation and take necessary actions to track down the [senders],” he added.

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Supporters of the Myanmar military have also sent threats via email to four news organizations, including Radio Free Asia, demanding that they stand with the military. The messages also included death threats for journalists who are seen as siding with the AA. Pixabay

“The AA doesn’t have any reason to send such threats to the news media,” Khine Thukha said. “We want you to know these are not ours.”

Support only the military

Supporters of the Myanmar military have also sent threats via email to four news organizations, including Radio Free Asia, demanding that they stand with the military. The messages also included death threats for journalists who are seen as siding with the AA.

The same message carried in the emails was posted by a Myanmar military supporter group under the name Patriot Soldiers Group.

A message received by RFA tried to influence RFA’s editorial policy, demanding that the media to show support for “the only military” in the country in reporting on the Rakhine conflict and not report with bias favoring the AA.

It also warned that those who failed to comply with the demand would face the same fate as Ko Ni, a prominent human rights attorney and advisor to the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was assassinated in January 2017.

Also Read: Unexpected Deaths of Innocent Civilians: Fearful Villagers in Rakhine Fleeing From Their Homes

Some have speculated that Ko Ni was targeted for being an outspoken critic of anti-Muslim attitudes held by Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalists and the country’s powerful military.

Major General Tun Tun Nyi from the Myanmar military’s committee denied that army officials were behind the threats.

“Sending anonymous emails that contain threats is a criminal offense, and whoever is doing it shouldn’t have done it,” he told RFA. “I think the sender is trying to implicate the military and further complicate issues that are already complicated.” (RFA)