On June 24, 2021, Apple Daily journalists hold freshly-printed copies of the newspaper’s last edition while acknowledging supporters gathered outside their office in Hong Kong early, as the pro-democracy tabloid was forced to close after 26 years under a sweeping new national security law. AFP
The Joe Biden administration bans domains that hosted Iranian news websites. Saudi Arabia demands that Qatar shuts down Al Jazeera television channel. The United States bombs Al Jazeera offices in Afghanistan and Iraq during the US occupation. The Donald Trump administration refuses to grant media accreditation to the Russian news agency, Russia Today. China forces the closure of Hong Kong’s popular newspaper Apple Daily this week. There is something common in all these state actions. Those who wield power do not want the people they govern to know the other side of the story. Hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists have been killed, wounded, jailed or attacked in their attempt to tell the other side of the story.
In journalism, we have been taught that news is something someone wants to suppress and the rest is advertising. In reality, barring a few media groups, most corporate and state-run media give largely advertising in the guise of news which promotes someone’s agenda.
Journalism schools say that what makes a story newsworthy is its timeliness, significance, relevance to readers, proximity and human interest. But there is more to news than meets the eye: Hidden motives with the ultimate objective being power.
In the international domain, news is manipulated by those in power to maintain or reinforce their dominance in world politics and economy. The big powers dominate the world economy by controlling us – our preferences and thoughts – through the media. In the capitalist world, it is the free media and in autocratic or authoritarian nations, it is the state-run media.
In the years gone by, the traditional print and electronic media were their tools. Today, in the digital media era, advanced algorithm decides what we read and watch online. In the past, we watched television, but today the smart TV watches us and keeps records of our preferences. In our search for answers, online search engines and social media companies decide for us. We happily let it happen for convenience’s sake, but hardly do we realize that such information eventually shapes our opinions and controls our minds. This is mind invasion.
“In the 1970s, developing countries tried to resist the West’s dominance in information dissemination. The Non-Aligned nations, most of which were newly independent states, feared a different form of colonisation by their former colonial masters through cultural and information invasions”
In the 1920s, the corporate media promoted smoking among women with a catchy slogan ‘Light a torch of freedom’. Since then the art of abusing the media freedom to achieve corporate or political agendas has grown by leaps and bounds. It is so subtle today that the misled will not know that what they are being fed is fake news or news with agendas. Mind you, it was only after the ‘trustworthy’ New York Times endorsed the then US President George W. Bush’s unsubstantiated claim about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that the public support for the Iraq war grew. In Britain the famous Evening Standard carried the fake news that Iraq could assemble its WMDs within 45 minutes to attack British targets.
In the 1970s, developing countries tried to resist the West’s dominance in information dissemination. The Non-Aligned nations, most of which were newly independent states, feared a different form of colonisation by their former colonial masters through cultural and information invasions. With support from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Non-Aligned nations wanted to change the fundamental imbalance in information dissemination and set out to create what they called the New World Information and Communication Order complete with a world body to monitor news and mechanisms to counter misinformation and unfair portrayals.
As expected the biggest opposition to the proposal came from the United States. It argued that the New Information Order which the UNESCO and the Non-Aligned Movement were trying to bring about would undermine media freedom by ultimately putting an organisation run by governments at the head of controlling global media. It also saw the new move as a barrier to the free flow of communication and to the interests of American media corporations.
Cultural diffusion often works in favour of the dominant culture. People in less dominant cultures adopt the lifestyles of the dominant western culture and buy its products while believing their news because our minds have been shaped by the western media including films to think that everything west is superior. Perhaps the only exception is food, with Turkish, Middle-Eastern, Mughal, Indian-Pakistani and Chinese cuisines maintaining their culinary superiority in the West.
Often news and viewpoints published in or aired through the western media go on to build up public support for or against an issue at an international level. But the selective nature of the western media coverage of global issues adds credence to claims that there is a link between the media policy and political agendas. While camouflaging their bias and prejudices, the wily media decide what to report, how to report and how much to report the global issues of their choice to serve power centres and their interests. There exists the Orwellian ministry of truth which uses the media – and the social media – to obtain conformity with the dominant culture and its political agenda. This is media imperialism.
We would like the media to be fact-based, value driven and agenda free. But ugly journalism is replete with agendas within agendas. If we analyse how the western media reported the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Israel’s recent Gaza war which killed more than 250 Palestinians, including 66 children, it becomes clear that some Western media have been programmed to portray freedom fighters as terrorists, oppressors as victims and injustice as justice. They promote wars without fact-checking high claims of presidents. The US war on Iraq was based on deception. This is the world information order today with its essence being power – not information to serve the people or for the media to become the voice of the voiceless. Any challenge to this power-centric global media order is immediately neutralised. This explains the US attacks on Al Jazeera offices, its ban on the domain that hosted the Iranian news websites and the refusal to grant media accreditation to Russia Today. This also explains why the US is on a witch-hunt against Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, the whistleblower website which began to expose US war crimes and other secrets.
If the US justifies its action on the basis that these news websites and television channels are used for propaganda by Iran and Russia, then it only suppresses freedom of speech. Let people see the both sides of the story and decide for themselves.
On the other side of the globe, rising power China has little tolerance for independent media and free expression as its crackdown in the name of national security this week on Hong Kong’s free media shows. To check against the two evils – media deception and State assault on the media — there is an urgent need to retrieve the UNESCO file on the New Information Order conceived by the Non-Aligned Nations and generate a public debate, especially in view of the social media’s growing role as a news provider without any checks. The people have the right to know the truth devoid of propaganda or agendas.
Disclaimer: Invasion of the mind through media imperialism By Ameem Izzadeen - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view