The Media Industrial Complex Part I: Weapons of Mass-Distraction, Silencing Free Speech
Updated: Jun 7, 2021
The misappropriation of mass-media by the political elite has radically altered the way that government Institutions communicate. Extending the reach and disruptiveness of institutional authority on a scale not seen since the days of the demagogues of the Roman empire, who would solicit the masses through appeal to the lowest denominator of ignorance and prejudice.
Todays media industrial complex, with a wave of its hand, enables a privileged political elite to influence billions globally, unrestricted by national borders and unimpeded by the necessary checks and balances which a democratic system would otherwise ensure through public ownership of media assets.
An emerging theme in this frame of reference is the global emergency modal, which mandates politicians as the torchbearers of global solutions, whose voice is legitimised in the echo chamber of the media. Indeed, the build-up to COVID-19 was characterised by a series of political stratagems, each serving to place politicians front of stage and the public on high alert. Notably, Brexit, climate change, US-China hostilities, dominated mainstream media and transformed the national emergency modal into a global one. Uniting world-citizens behind a common cause, while normalising in-your-face politics.
But when authority is validated by the solutions it can offer, to solve the problems which it proclaims, are we licensing those in power to manufacture the mythology of emergency, in order to ratify their would-be agenda? From 9/11 through climate change to the pandemic, each major event has been exploited by the power elite to bring about transformative policies which in turn reshapes the global landscape.
In this setting, it is important to examine the ramifications to society at large when a lack of neutrality and bias towards big political agenda becomes widespread. Especially when an equitable society is built upon a healthy relationship between citizens, government and the media.
Put into perspective, the media is the public’s instrument of mass communication, our ability to be heard, to debate, view facts, and comprehend the world around us. It is the proxy by which our ideas of citizenship are informed, especially those concerning political ideology and the level of governance we are prepared to tolerate. But most importantly, the media is entrusted with bringing politicians and the political process to account for its actions. The media is therefore by decree, a representative of the people, with a duty of care to thoroughly examine the issues of the day, and report those facts squarely to the public, who themselves have inalienable rights to fair, informative and unbiased media, which acts solely for and on behalf of the people. But unfortunately, our mainstream media is out of step with the public's best interests and is by contrast has become the proxy of a political elite and their globalist consorts.
Machiavelli, Edward Bernays
No indictment of the influence of mainstream media would be complete without acknowledging the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, widely considered the father of modern propaganda.
Bernays believed the masses were driven by arbitrary factors beyond their conscious understanding, which were inherently dangerous to society and should be manipulated by a capable few. He argued that these libidinous, emotional and instinctual drives could be harnessed and channelled by a corporate elite for economic benefit. So, appealing to the tycoons of the 1920’s, who powered America’s industry, he encouraged the use of mass production by big business to effectively subvert those primal, irrational and animal urges into drives towards consumerism. Bolstering America’s economy in the twenties, and winning Bernays the admiration of politics and industry alike.
Bernays was especially concerned with the power of using common corporate and political ideology to engineer consent, and having witnessed first-hand how effective the use of propaganda was during the war, in gaining the consent of the citizenry, Bernays, set about advancing the principles first established by his uncle Sigmund Freud -applying those same techniques of psychological control to engineering the consent of the people during peacetime. His success and legacy ranged from creating an endemic of empowered feminist smokers in the US, to influencing the Nazi's, when his techniques were later adopted by Joseph Gobells, the Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich, who used his ideas to compound the cult of Führer around Adolf Hitler.
Bernays theorised that the masses follow the opinions of leaders, and if you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you would automatically influence the group under that influence. His pioneering of propaganda still percolates the media and government today, especially his theory: "the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind."
To understand the reach of the mainstream media in the 21st century, it is important to point out that at no time in human history, have politicians benefited from the immensity of spotlight that it receives in the 21st century. Owing largely to massive deregulation of corporate media ownership into the hands of a few conglomerates, who, as payback for government leniency, sweeten the deal with a a commensurate of media bias, tantamount to deregulation of the political narrative. Thus ensuring the State’s agenda takes priority over the media’s social contract to its citizens, to present fair, unbiased and impartial information.
Indeed, global media consolidation has significant implications to society at large, when. As so-called representatives of the public’s best interests, the media is tasked with upholding a strenuous culture of corporate and political transparency. This is the bedrock of any healthy democracy. But the heterogeneity of media ownership is in rapid decline, meaning the influence and representation of the public’s best interests is seriously jeopardised.
Media conglomerates began to emerge in 1981 when Reagan initiated a program of widespread deregulation of the strict anti-monopoly laws which had been in place since the second world war. Ushering in a new era of media company mergers, that shrunk the US market from fifty multimedia players in 1983 to just six in 2017. Resulting in the vast transfer of public ownership of media assets into private control. As of 2020, 90% of US media is owned by four corporations: Comcast, Disney, Viacom & CBS and AT&T, who exercise international market dominance, operating as hegemony in foreign markets.
In his excellent work, Media Imperialism, Oliver Boyd Barrett points out an increasingly direct exercise of market supremacy by media in the most powerful countries over national media in less powerful countries. This overarch is further compounded by the complicity of search engines like Google, who manufacture the necessary ranking favouritism to extend the power of US media conglomerates from their own backyards to all corners of the globe.
In the post-digital age, there is further alignment of legacy media and new media with the infrastructures and technology that enable their mass communication, including cable, satellite and wireless, as well as the devices and hardware that broadcast that content and the software and operating systems which the technology incorporates. This vast monopoly over communications technology has resulted incomplete market domination by single media corporations who own and operate all major forms of communication, through a process of absolute vertical-horizontal integration.
Silencing Free Speech
So, what are the ramifications of media consolidation in the twenty first century in the context of privacy and free speech and specifically in relation to the the current global emergency, COVID-19?
To answer this question, we must first look at digital media, notably Facebook and Twitter, who are fast becoming news monopolies. Facebook, for example, is the number one source of news in the US, with four in ten Americans using Facebook as their go-to for news, compared with six in ten millennials, who are using Facebook specifically for political news. Which is especially disconcerting, considering Facebook was purported to be the fixer of Trump’s 2016 Presidential victory.
Another point to consider is the Entertainment value of digital technology, which is merely the tip of an iceberg, that reveals under its wake, a sprawling web of surveillance, control and manipulation, being harnessed as a battleground for intelligence and surveillance agencies to spy on domestic citizens, under powers granted during wartime. This involves the electronic monitoring in real time of every word of every phone call, every text message, every social media post, every website visited, and every form of electronic communication. Best illustrated in the UK by new powers granted to the British Army's PSYOPS’s unit, 77 Brigade, to counter coronavirus misinformation online with the use of non-lethal forms of psychological warfare. Who it should be noted, is the same British Army formation accused last year by a Scottish MP of using online bots to spread disinformation, promote pro-Boris sentiment, and undermine Scotland's democracy.
Moreover, Facebook, alongside the BBC, Reuters, Google and Microsoft have joined forces in the establishment of the Trusted News Initiative, an industry collaboration of major news and tech organisations working together to identify and stop the spread of harmful coronavirus disinformation. Which, as one journalist put it, is distinctly sinister, with media organisation’s designating themselves as ‘trusted’, when surely that is for public opinion to determine.
Meanwhile, the British government has established the Rapid Response Unit within the cabinet office, whose aim is to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours, which, it claims could cost lives. Marking possibly the first time in human history where the ‘threat’ of a condition known as ‘misinformation’ has been flagged as being ‘life threatening.’
In conclusion, the overreach of technology companies throughout the pandemic on issues relating to freedom of speech is nothing short of astonishing. For instance, Facebook extended its ban on free speech to include back to work protests, actively removing posts promoting protests of government stay at home orders; Youtube manually reviewed and removed thousands of videos which it claims spread dangerous or misleading coronavirus information; and Twitter, who takes the prize, deleted posts from Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro encouraging citizens to go back to work, in a move that sees a corporation from one country, publicly interfering with the democratic process of another sovereign nation.
Accordingly, could the next manoeuvre in these flagrant attacks on freedom of speech, see the introduction of new government powers to officially license what it considers to be bona fide online news media only, in a move to silence alternative media indefinitely, and provide an impunity airbrush against controversial publishers like Julian Assange?
In this context, it is worth pointing out, that during the pandemic, the word ‘conspiracy theory’ is being kicked around as the word ‘communism’ was during the McCarthy Witch Hunt. A major political event in the 1950’s that branded prominent members of society as communists or communist sympathisers, resulting in 400 incarcerations in unfair trials and many famous actors and scriptwriters unable to work again. Using the misnomer of communist, McCarthyism targeted liberals as subversives, blacklisting members of the film industry known as the Hollywood 10, and forcing one of Hollywood’s founding fathers, Charlie Chaplin, to flee the US for Switzerland, risking the confiscation of his assets as a result.
The subsequent whitewashing of critical voices in the 21st century, reminiscent of McCarthyism, continues with new media instruments of censorship emerging this time from the private sector. A club of venture capitalists have teamed up with seasoned Wall Street publishers, and self-appointed themselves the fair arbiters of what constitutes real news from propaganda. NewsGuard Technologies is a self-styled anti-defamation league for the virtual century, that is truth-rating online content to fight what it considers to be false news, misinformation and disinformation. Joining forces with Google, who own over 90 percent of the Internet search market, and Microsoft Corporation, who have forcibly installed NewsGuards ‘news filter onto millions of devices without user permission.
In conclusion, could these draconian intrusions into the public information sphere represent the first moves of a sinister encroachment by corporations into the private information space, to actively listen into and censor our telephone and offline conversations, together with our private content, diary entries and blogs? Considering just how integrated products like Microsoft Office, Google Drive and Apple Devices are into our daily communications. If this sounds like something from the pages of a sci-fi novel, think again. Canadian Psychology Professor and New York Times best-selling author, Jordan B Peterson, had the plug pulled on his Google and Youtube accounts, and was banned from accessing 15-years of emails and important documents composed in Google Drive, when the tech giant took offence of his public refusal to adopt gender neutral pronouns.