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Satya Sagar: The Lying Machine

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    Media: The Lying Machine By Satya Sagar Znet I have finally managed to do it ! Quit the habit ! The horrible, horrible habit of reading the newspaper and
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2005
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      Media: The Lying Machine
      By Satya Sagar

      I have finally managed to do it ! Quit the habit ! The horrible,
      horrible habit of reading the newspaper and watching news on
      television EVERY DAY !

      Let me quickly tell you the results of giving up my addiction. In
      just two months of ignoring the daily news I breathe better, sleep
      better, eat better and can think clearly for the first time in many
      years. Kicking the daily media dose, I can assure you, is like
      getting over the mother of all modern bad habits.

      Of course the disgusting mainstream media coverage of the invasion
      of Iraq with its (ahem!) bedded journalists, hype and lies has got a
      lot to do with my decision to quit the habit. But that is not the
      complete story.

      There is something else about the way the modern media has taken
      over my mind so completely that I am revolting against. The daily
      involuntary switching on of television news channels. The daily rush
      to the gate to pick up my morning newspaper. The frantic surfing of
      internet websites in search of those sensational headlines.

      Sorry, I think there is something terribly wrong with the velocity
      at which all this is happening. In fact, the more I think about it
      the more I am convinced that if we are to get to the bottom of why
      the MEDIA SUCKS we should figure out the very physics of wind, heat
      and matter in motion that combine in deadly fashion to produce this
      whoooooosh sound.

      There is something structurally flawed with the modern media
      industry. So it is just not enough anymore to complain about the
      media's hypocrisy or deceit without seeing the roots of such
      behavior in almost every other aspect of our world too.

      But first let us take a look first at the usual reasons why the
      media machine peddles sensational half-truths and sly lies much of
      the time. Nothing less than outright lies- is what we have been
      getting from the media about the US/UK invasion of Iraq all these
      days. What is it that makes an average journalist lie for a living?

      Let me attempt an answer by telling you about the strategy, related
      to me once by a senior Indian bureaucrat, to keep the media lying on
      behalf of the establishment. According to him there are three
      distinct approaches adopted by those in power to keep the so-
      called 'free' press completely pliant.

      The first way to deal with a journalist getting close to the truth
      is to bribe him/her with money, favors of different kinds, promises
      of plum posts etc., Many journalists, underpaid as they are in the
      developing world, succumb to the temptations of such baksheesh.

      In a profession where information is the main commodity being
      marketed, the more sophisticated journalists routinely get bribed
      with 'scoops' and other special bits of 'insider' information from
      their sources. While these journalists pretend that they are the
      ones who are 'cultivating' their sources, it is very often the
      clever source who is 'planting' stories and reaping an
      entire 'harvest' of lies through the scribe.

      If the journalist persists with telling the truth the second tried
      and tested method used to silence him/her is to physically threaten
      him/her or actually beaten up. Again in the developing world this
      happens only too often with many journalists losing their lives
      every year. And this is the same tactic that was adopted by the US
      coalition forces in Baghdad when they deliberately bombed the Al
      Jazeera channel's offices killing their correspondent or when they
      shot journalists holed up in the Palestine hotel during the recent
      invasion of Iraq. Assassination was once considered the most extreme
      form of censorship but in our age it is evidently becoming the
      choicest form.

      The third and apparently most effective method to get a journalist
      to lie on your behalf is to pump their egos and lavish them with
      praise in public. That, said the bureaucrat, will keep the scribe
      completely servile to your every command for nothing really moves
      them more than the delusion that they are somehow very important to
      those in power!!

      But moving beyond the level of mere individual hacks, an even bigger
      obstacle to the profession's ability to tell the truth is the media
      establishment itself, which imposes a huge amount of censorship on
      its employees mostly for political or corporate reasons.

      It could be a media house trying to win concessions and contracts
      from the government that kills a piece of news that may adversely
      affect its relations with the ruling regime. Or it could be a large
      corporate house that threatens the media owners with withdrawal of
      lucrative advertising if it went ahead with the broadcast of
      damaging information.

      Given the overwhelming dependence of the media industry on
      advertising revenues such factors can have a devastating influence
      on the work of ordinary journalists employed by these media houses.
      Advertising, which mostly consists of promoting half-truths and lies
      about commercial products anyway, cannot really be expected to
      support the telling of truth about anything anywhere.

      And what purpose do all these lies serve ? To keep the asses among
      the masses under perpetual CONTROL of course. For when we open the
      daily newspaper it is not we who read the news but the newspaper
      that barks out orders to our subconscious. Think this, think that,
      vote X, vote Y, you little man !

      When you switch on a 24 hour news channel it gets worse. Much worse.
      For the images flickering at high frequency on your television
      screen have the power of sheer hypnosis. While you may think you are
      the one pressing all the buttons the sad truth is that you are the
      one being controlled remotely. Buy, buy, buy, buy, you bozo ! says
      the television screen to you relentlessly. And after some time you
      say bye, bye, bye, bye to your own consciousness for the rest of the
      day (and the next morning it starts all over again).

      Have I become a complete cynic after so many years in the
      profession? A self-hating hack ? A Judas in the media pack ? Nothing
      of that sort please, for I would also defend journalists from being
      specially singled out for criticism.

      For those members of the public who believe that most journalists
      are worthless creatures, who don't have the guts to tell the truth
      and constantly suck-up to their political and corporate masters - I
      will say you are damn right. But I will also add however that the
      proportion of such journalists in the profession is not very
      different from the general ratio of worthless creatures in the
      society they come from.

      After all is this not what most people do in their daily lives in
      most professions. Bury the few truths they possess, suppress their
      nobler instincts, say YES to every demand their bosses make and yet
      come out of it all with a 'clean conscience'? So why should the
      media be any different?

      Of course, there are those numerous people of courage and character
      who stand up for their and other people's rights, who are kind and
      human and generous and do many wonderful things. But the journalist
      profession too has those who would do honor to the ideals of
      journalism. Braving bombs, bribes and barbs of every kind- committed
      to telling the unvarnished truth with complete honesty.

      If many members of the public believe that the media, which is
      supposed to be the fourth pillar of popular democracy has become in
      fact the fifth column of corporate autocracy I will say you are bang
      on target. I will again however caution that this has become
      possible only because as societies we have given up the citizen's
      right and indeed responsibility to both inform others and be
      informed entirely to the media industry.

      Not unlike the way we have given up the task of looking after our
      health to the medical industry, our sense of justice and injustice
      to the legal industry, the education of our children to the
      education industry, the governance of our societies to both
      governments and industry. If the media in our times has become
      powerful beyond purpose or proportion it is WE THE PEOPLE who are to
      blame. So stop complaining.

      To really understand the dubious dynamics of the modern media
      industry we need to look beyond the fallibilities of individual
      journalists and even the 'usual suspects' of corporate control over
      and political pressure on the media industry. I feel we need to
      understand some of the industry's deeper structural problems to
      figure out what is going so wrong. In our era of consumerist
      capitalism in many ways we may need to take a closer look at the
      idea of modern INDUSTRY itself.

      It is my conclusion that the media lies not just due to some
      slavish, unscrupulous journalists and editors or even their evil,
      corrupt corporate masters but because the media industrial complex,
      as it has evolved today, is meant for nothing else except- LYING.

      When the media lies it is only doing its job. Like shoe factories
      produce shoes, car factories produce cars and bomb factories produce
      bombs- the entire media factory is structured to do nothing else but
      produce lies- daily, 24 hours a day. The media industry as a whole
      is a LYING MACHINE (if a few gems of truth drop from your daily
      newspaper consider this a bait for you to swallow the rest of the
      day's lies)

      Here are some aspects of the modern 'industrial' condition which
      forces the media to lie all the time and also allows the daily
      newspaper and 24 hour news channels to have so much control over our
      lives. These are:

      The Time is Money Trap: For long, working as a reporter for several
      national dailies and television channels in India and later in
      Thailand I have felt severely oppressed by the very idea of 'daily
      news'. I understand the need for news per se- to add one more source
      of information that the public can access. Whether the 'news' is
      good, bad or ugly is a different issue but there can be a certain
      value to having a system of public information in any society.

      But a newspaper every day ? Why ? What is so 'daily' about news,
      which like life itself is so unpredictable and random ? Why not
      print a fat newspaper on days when there is lots of 'news' and take
      a vacation on days there is none ? Who made the law that says a
      newspaper has to be brought out every day and that reporters like me
      have to 'file' copy every damn day ? (And if we can't find anything
      worthwhile to say 'invent' copy to fill up the daily newsprint.)

      The same goes for 24 hour television news channels. Who needs news
      24 hours a day except complete lunatics? What else is 24 hours a day
      in our lives ? Should we allow the yak-yak-yak-yak of the daily news
      compete with the very beating of our hearts and the natural rhythms
      of our respiratory systems ? Why have we allowed these maniacal
      peddlers of news to take over our lives, our minds and spray-paint
      our innermost thoughts ?

      This oppressive regularity with which the modern media churns out
      its products I believe is part of the larger capitalist syndrome
      that seeks to convert all human time into money. The Capitalist
      Clock (together with uninterrupted power supplies that turn our
      nights into day) has carried out a mechanical coup in most
      industrial societies. It has taken over our lives completely. And
      who does this really benefit ?

      The factory owners, the bankers and the bosses of every kind of
      course who need slaves to work round the CLOCK- 24 hours a day. The
      newspaper and television industry follows the same logic of 24 hours
      of non-stop work for its employees irrespective of the context and
      unmindful of the consequences for anybody. 24 hours of the cash
      register ringing in the moolah from the advertising industry is all
      that they want. Time for the media, like all other industries, is
      money- a concept which ironically leaves them little 'time' to tell
      the truth !

      The Human Zoo: In his celebrated book 'The Human Zoo' Desmond Morris
      outlined brilliantly what urbanization had rendered a large
      proportion of humanity into. Animals trapped in cages of steel and
      concrete, shackled by lack of space- both material and spiritual.
      Articulate animals either chattering away nervously to drive away
      boredom or listening to others chat away nervously in TV talk shows
      and 24 hour news channels. Millions of lonely animals, marching
      lockstep to the commands of remote masters- willing to suspend their
      own thinking, willing to kill and die- rather than face their
      loneliness together, collectively, or even in groups of two and ten.

      It is in this context that the media industry thrives. By providing
      the non-stop flow of 'analysis', 'information', 'entertainment' to
      FILL UP our empty souls, help us lighten the burden of TIME weighing
      heavily on our frail clockwork consciousness. To create spectacles
      that tickles our tired brains. Tickle us to death if need be.

      And as the news media today competes with the movie and
      entertainment industries for the hearts and minds of audiences it
      has steadily adopted the same techniques, the same colour and gloss.
      The glamorous newscaster on your television screen today could well
      be the action hero of a Hollywood or Bollywood flick tomorrow. And
      because of the intensity of this competition between the two
      industries, the news they show you is usually as fictitious too. All
      bright, shining LIES.

      Cerebral Uber Alles: Is that not the dictum that decides who
      dominates our societies - the Intellect Above All? Those who think,
      plot, plan, speculate, theorize, manipulate ruling over those who
      work with their hands, shed blood, sweat and tears - feet planted on
      mother Earth? Ok, I know the priests with their magic and tricks in
      ancient Egypt too got away with daylight robbery but I don't think
      the political and economic domination of the 'informed' and
      the 'informers' over the 'uninformed' has ever been to the extent
      that we witness in our industrial/post-industrial societies.

      The internet boom during the nineties was one reflection of the way
      information had suddenly become the key to all riches. Is it a
      coincidence today that the richest man in the world for quite some
      years now is someone who deals with 'software'. Mr Bill Gates - who
      holds the keys to the gates of information and bills you to open
      them for a few hours before the next version of the gate (or window)
      comes along?

      I am convinced that the power of the media industry in our societies
      comes similarly from its control over the gates of public
      information of all kinds from politics to professional crime (same
      difference ?). It is because of this skewed distribution of
      material/monetary resources in favor of those who 'think' and those
      who 'inform' that the media industry commands the great influence
      that it does.

      (Who the hell was that enlightenment philosopher who claimed ' I
      think therefore I exist'. A swift kick on the hypotenuse could have
      sorted out his existential puzzle quite certainly besides forcing
      him to think about things more tangible, and less tangential.)

      Hmmm, so what are the alternatives I have to offer? Is this going to
      be a random rant against all modern 'civilization' as we know it?
      Not entirely, I would say. There are plenty of things one can do to
      subvert the logic of modern media and help create a genuinely
      alternative way of informing ourselves and others.

      To begin with one can stop reading the 'daily' newspaper or
      watching '24 hour' news channels. Secondly get more active in
      putting together information, analysis on your own and distributing
      it to your networks.

      But for the larger and long term battle to rescue the media from the
      iron grip of INDUSTRY here are a few things that we need to get
      cracking on:

      Take back your Time: To begin with we need to challenge the
      obsession of modern industrial capitalism with making us work longer
      and longer hours for less and less benefit. The massive struggles by
      trade unions in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere to reduce the
      number of weekly working hours are a welcome step forward. The next
      step is to distribute the burden of all work equally on a global
      scale so that no one set of individuals get to do all the 'thinking'
      while the rest of us spend our lives slogging our butts off. It is
      the hyper mind and not the idle mind that is the devil's workshop.
      An idle mind is the beginning of you, me and everyone getting a
      life. Babies have idle minds too and it is only in the feverish
      imagination of those who make Hollywood horror movies that babies
      kill anybody.

      Once the Capitalist Clock is thrown out of our lives or suitably
      bashed up to match human needs the media industry will have to
      adjust accordingly anyway. No more journalists (like other
      employees) slaving 'round-the-clock' for their capitalist masters.(I
      can't guarantee, of course, that we hacks will actually stop lying
      but at least the frequency with which our lies hit the reader's face
      will diminish considerably.)

      Change your Cities: I am actually tempted to say 'Close down the
      cities!' Or at least dismantle them and spread out the populations
      drastically. Bring back some community life into your alienated
      urban existence.

      Also, as far as I have seen most Asian cities are simply unlivable
      because of the way their sheer concentration of resources sucks in
      large rural populations that finally end up in their urban slums.
      So, stop the looting of the countryside and give back the resources
      already taken from the rural poor. Reverse the terms of trade
      between industry and agriculture. Share national revenues more
      equitably between the town and the village.

      Boy, if that happens anytime I bet not too many people will either
      have the 'time' or the inclination to watch 24 hour news channels or
      read the daily newspaper. Try reading the Wall Street Journal while
      feeding a cow. The cow will love the Journal surely. And the manure
      will be very fertile too.

      Recover your Reality: It is quite widely recognized that one of the
      most dangerous aspects of the so called 'information age' we live in
      is the replacement of our sensual understanding of the world by '
      virtual reality'. So the military honcho firing his Cruise missile
      at a Baghdad suburb thinks he is playing a video game with no
      physical consequences for anybody. Or the ideologue with his bizarre
      blueprint for a new 'century' goes about the business of creating an
      Empire irrespective of its costs in terms of flesh and blood human

      If we restore the balance between the physical and the cerebral in
      our world, the media industry which does nothing else except
      manufacture `reality' for us to consume, will naturally lose its
      ability to dominate our lives.

      One way to cure this modern disease is to seriously take up the old
      debate about how the rewards of any enterprise should be divided
      between the so called 'manual' and 'mental' workers. Since the mind
      and body are normally inseparable- except while watching 24 hour
      television- I would vote for sharing all profits 50-50. Mental
      workers who think they deserve better because they are the ones with
      all the 'ideas' are recommended to try out living in a concentration
      camp. The camps are supposed to be very good for one's concentration.

      Ha ! Now that I have just managed to talk myself out of a livelihood-
      anyone cares for some curry and Hindi music ?

      Satya Sagar is a journalist based in Thailand. He can be reached at



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