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Media Manipulation

By smill May 10, 2010 3210 Words
Media Manipulation
Sarrah S. Millwala
Hussain M. Vakharia
Nimra Azmat
Szabist University

Focusing on the work of Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, Media manipulation is the greatest unsolved mystery in today’s world. In trying to uncover the main focus of media controllers, sociologists have discovered a whole new theory of media manipulation by the elite in the spread of propaganda. The role of media in any democratic society around the world is to keep the population abreast of global news that is unbiased and impartial to any politics. Instead of sticking to its dictionary definition, media moguls filter the content and show to the world a highly politicized global image which is meant to serve a greater purpose than just disinformation. My intent in conducting this research is to put forth the evidence and opinion of many that media is not an unrestrained bird that holds a mirror to the world, but it is actually a tool of the elite and other groups to keep the world under their wing so they can successfully continue their policies and blemish the world order for their own personal benefit. My findings are backed by certified statistics that highlight the changing structure of media ownership from diversity to a more closed control group. It is a revolution that has occurred throughout the world, yet the worlds’ best kept secret.

The term Media Manipulation is a well known concept in the 21st century. The basic idea is to expose the large conspiracy carried out by the manipulators and reveal to the world how much of what they thought was true is in essence an intricate web of lies directed at a inculcating a specific thought process. The whole concept, as researched by Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, is to abolish the myth that democratic countries have a free media, that a privately owned media enterprise is not a politically impartial media network and how the diversity of media ownership has discreetly narrowed down to a few hands. (Bagdikian, 1997) (Chomsky, Media Control , 2004) According to Chomsky, Media manipulation was actively carried out in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson to turn the complacent masses of the United States to war hungry civilians during the Second World War. The large scale propaganda launched during his administration was successful enough for the US to justify entering the World War with a resounding majority supporting the decision, where as just a few months earlier they had considered American involvement in the European based war quite unnecessary. In one quick campaign, the population was put under an eminent communist scare and destroyed trade union and freedom of press. This successful campaign was the start of blatant manipulation that got full support of the independent US media. (Chomsky, Media Control , 2004) US media today is the pinnacle of manipulative schemes carried out by governments wishing to curb the information being transmitted across the civilian masses. In a research carried out by Bagdikian in 1997, pointed out that if media products such as news papers, magazines, book publishers, and radio and television stations were owned by separate individuals, there would be a total of 25000 owners. (Bagdikian, 1997) Such a vast spread of media proves the importance this kind of information distribution network holds. To learn that 25000 sources of media are bent on exalting a specific ideology across the globe for the interests of a few elitist or political individuals is indeed a huge breach of freedom as advocated by democracy. Such a large scale infringement of rights is happening amongst us is not a hard phenomenon to prove. In fact, there are large databases that are hidden from the public, but available to us now which openly declare the manipulation of the independent media in everyday life. (Bagdikian, 1997) Amongst the many examples, the clearest one is that of The News on Sunday. The British newspaper proclaimed in its editorial charter that it was a socialist publication which was independent of political institutions. It planned to expose the British society by declaring the causes and effects of social inequality and unequal distribution of wealth, power and prosperity. On the surface the paper aimed at destabilizing the power structure established in British society. Of course this concept was highly unacceptable to the elitist bloc, hence, it was reported that after being launched in 1987, The News on Sunday was shut down after only 7 months. (Trowler, 2004) There are many such examples of free media being a threat to existing structures and eventually being removed from the public eye. During the Gulf War, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) were the most active source of journalism. PBS MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour cheer-led US missile attacks on Iraqi cities and at the time NPR seemed to stand for National Pentagon Radio. These news stations provided a more in depth coverage that was biased towards the U.S. attacks. Sociologist Charlotte Ryan’s study of the NPR network deduced that NPR was in cooperation with Washington officials and establishment pundits to set the news agenda broadcasted every day. NPR’s basic news source of about 26% originated from government officials. (Solomon, 1998) We can easily identify the irregularities in broadcasting in the media but not many of us realise the political agenda behind most of media broadcasts. The most widely known politically aligned media channel is the Fox News Corporation that has supported the right wing quite openly and is renowned for its media slurs in the field of politics. Though it claims to be completely unbiased since many conservatives lavish praise on the network, it has a pro-liberal body that no one can deny. (Solomon, 1998) Select independent media, in any country, are politically neutral. In Pakistan, Dawn is more so a rather politically charged asset that is used time and again by politicians to fling mud during elections or otherwise. The media though may deny a tilt towards any political party is still used as an arrow to bring down opponents in the media struggle. It is well known that one, who controls the media, controls the masses. It is an ideological flaw when people declare that privately owned media equates free media. The BBC News Corporation is classically recognized as an unbiased and impartial reporting agency, but this view has been attacked by Damian Thompson, Blogs Editor of The Telegraph, (e-news), 27th October 2006, that the BBC’s commitment to bias is no laughing matter. (Thompson, 2006) The greatest form of conditioning is repetition. This is further put forth by imagery and putting forth information in a subtle way. According to researches by the Glasgow Media Group, media messages are full of connotative codes that evoke emotion and feelings in a person. (Trowler, 2004) The most common example of media conditioning is seen by the issue of gender representation in media. Media reinforces capitalists’ ideologies as advocated by Marx. He says that the mass media in every form reinstates females in a passive role and men in an active role. Even children’s books and stories follow the same theme. Disney movies have also reinforced this ideology that females no matter how strong mentally must await their Prince Charming who will sweep them off their feet and give them endless happiness. According to Marxist feminists, this conditioning reinforces women to wait for men to provide for them and remain good home makers instead of fighting for their rights in the work force. The Glasgow Media Group also talks about agenda setting being a common practice in media corporations. (Group, 1976, 1980) Agenda setting involves specific media content being tailored to match elitist perspectives. For example, newspaper editors under Rupert Murdoch tell stories about Murdoch’s telephone calls to direct the content of the front page. (Trowler, 2004) Even if we set aside the blame on media corporations for setting content of their media, the journalist are not free of blame. Journalists of major corporations are trained to specifically broadcast a certain type of message across to the audience. Their style of reporting impacts the public very much. This can be seen in the aftermath of the Iraqi War where many American journalists roamed around with the US Army, reporting the conditions of the Iraqi’s but at the same time from behind the US Army hence never negating their image of freedom fighters irrespective of the views of the Iraqi civilians. (Trowler, 2004) It is not only the news that impacts the people but also subliminal messages in movies, books and magazines. The influence of media is not restricted to reinforcing social norms but also to simply offer a different perspective that can be used negatively or positively by the audience. The influence of media is best illustrated by the headline of Observer International, Sunday 18th November, 2001, which blamed the movie ‘Scream’ for influencing a teenage girl’s copy cat murderer. (Trowler, 2004)

Since the media is so rigidly controlled, the question arises that amid governmental protection to consumers, how are corporations able to manipulate the media so extensively? This question is answered by Bagdikian who believes that the control of media has shrunk from a larger base to a much smaller one. Hence, the controlling interests are also narrowed, avoiding disputes and conflicts. He talks about how in the span of years, corporations have merged and expanded thus giving way to greater access and a more centralized control. Diversity of ownership has shrunk from 50 corporations in 1984 to 26 in 1987, then 23 in l990, and followed by less than 20 in 1993. By 1996 the current number stood at only 10 corporations. The most dominant corporations in terms of media resources are known to be Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, News Corporation Limited (Murdoch), Sony, Tele-Communications, Inc., Seagram (TV, movies, cable, books, music), Westinghouse, Gannett, and General Electric. (Bagdikian, 1997) These corporations have a diverse group of media resources such as books, movies, recording studios, television stations, magazines, internet sites, radio networks etc. Moreover they also control a large section of media outlets in different forms.

Viacom for example has 30 cable stations which cater to the youth, children and adults. Its stations include popular channels such as MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, TV Land and Comedy Central. Viacom has made over $13 billion in sales in just one year which makes it not only the most biggest recipient of importance in the countries that it operates but also a very powerful ally in the world of media networking. Viacom has expanded to theme parks and film production with Paramount Studios. It controls the most widely watched children’s channel; Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. Its 4000 chain stores of Blockbuster movie rental is scattered along UK and USA, now even expanding to China. Viacom has been involved in numerous scandals which do not last long as head line news. It was involved in a multi-trillion dollar scandal under George. W. Bush’s regime and the news didn’t even hit front page in many of the local newspapers. Reported in the New York Times in 1999, Sumner Redstone, Viacom’s largest stockholder, signed a takeover of CBS at $37.3 billion. Such huge amounts of money appear quite infantile to such large media companies who are at a quest to decrease the diverse ownership of media companies. Through this occupation, Viacom added more cable shows and filming studios to its holdings. (Herman, October - December 2001)

But long standing media giant, Rupert Murdoch owns not only cable television shows but every other resource available. His total holdings exceed 100 media resources. He owns 26 book groups and 29 newspapers spread out in USA, UK and Australia. This may not sound like much, but when getting into details, you realize that Star TV Asia reaches "more than 300 million viewers in 53 countries across Asia (and) STAR is watched by over 173 million people every week." (Terton, 2004) If we continue to state his far reaching influence, we stumble upon the tabloid, The Sun, with an active readership of 4,000,000 people. His interests have not ended with holding such a vast empire. According to various sources he plans to stabilize his name in the UK. Under the heading of; ‘Murdoch and Laborite: Britain’s New Odd Couple’, the New York Times reported on July 21st 1995 that Rupert Murdoch was Britain’s most powerful non-Briton. They further said that critics charge him with destabilizing the monarchy and snatching elections due to his media outlets being so influential. He owns 37% of Britain’s newspaper market. (Terton, 2004)

Murdoch’s ownership is not as disturbing as the control that he has demonstrated in politics and law making. Murdoch’s agenda is neither right wing nor left wing. His only interest is further expansion and deeper establishment of his control and influence. He manipulates nations for the sake of his own interests. He is granted privileges not granted to any other newspaper in Britain, as reported by the New York Times, which allowed him to buy 5 national newspapers. This is against the Monopolies Commission, but time and again he has been allowed to go around the commission thanks to the privileges granted to him by the candidates he has helped get elected. This includes famous names such as Margret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Michael Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union, contacted Murdoch personally in 1991 when he wanted to have his memoirs written. In fact, he was on the list of Gorbachev’s most favorite people at the time of Gorbachev’s coup that led to the fall of the former Soviet Union. (Terton, 2004) Such power in the hands of one man who being foreign based (Rupert Murdoch is an Australian) could establish such a huge power base in USA and UK is phenomenal.

Though the existence of such media controllers is undeniable, Chomsky believes that the whole media division operates on a continuing ideology that has been in place since the advent of media. He says that owners belong to a certain group or class and they conform to the values and ideals that come with taking the post of influential media owners and their own class norms. Journalists entering this field also conform to the ideas that materialize at the top of the hierarchy. Chomsky says that this is the only way that media corporations cooperate with each other; they follow a set pattern of thought processes and policies. (Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, 1989) These large companies deal in millions of dollars and are not easy to confront. They have made their ways around numerous laws and participated in voting off bills that limit media monopolies. Chomsky says the media serves the interests of the state and corporate power, it is only natural then that the state would repay these media giants by offering them more control to exploit the masses and expand unchecked. The magnitude of power of this media cartel is demonstrated by Bagdikian. He says that the political power of the cartel can be seen by the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, in which a single owner was allowed to own holdings in the same field. For example, a company could own more than one station in the Radio industry. This cuts down on the diversity available to the public. (Bagdikian, 1997)

Though the argument for media manipulation is strong, there are opinions that beg to differ. The pluralist school of thought argue that media is a business, and therefore will cater to the people what the people wish to hear. It operates like any normal business scheme on the basis of demand and supply. Hence, according to pluralist, media content is actually a reflection of society and dictated by market demands instead of ruling or elitist ideology. (Trowler, 2004) Pluralists don’t deny the existence of media monopolies; neither do they deny the existence of governmental control over these monopolies. According to them Marxists perspective tends to understate the power of state regulation when dealing with the media. They put the forth the example of Rupert Murdoch and Microsoft. Rupert Murdoch was denied part in the auction of the fifth national terrestrial television channel in the UK (Channel 5) because of his extensive media ownership. Similarly, when Microsoft was found guilty of violating anti-trust laws by the American Justice Department in April 2000, the court imposed regulations and monitoring of Microsoft’s activities to increase competition and control its monopolistic powers in the market. (Trowler, 2004)

Another perspective, the postmodernist, believe that the notion of power is liquid, that is, it’s not concentrated in a few hands but is distributed among people. Media doesn’t always take the side of the powerful corporate since power doesn’t always belong to them. Public pressure can sometimes over rule corporate interests because they, the public, are after all the majority. Postmodernists highlight this theory with an example of the Shell oil platform Bent Spar. In 1998, Shell planned to dismantle Bent Spar and dump it into the sea. An alliance was formed between the media and the public, who after much hue and cry, managed to prevent the oil platform being dumped on the ocean floor. (Trowler, 2004) This example shows that the media caters to everyone, and not only corporate ruling interests. Different pressure groups, with different interests can come together to serve a collective interest aided by the media. Hence, postmodernists find it wrong to blame the media for being a tool to exploit the people.

Conclusively, media has been confirmed as a source of holding and spreading power. It connects people to the world and is the strongest method of propaganda. Due to its importance, governments step in to protect its citizens from possible brain washing and half truths. But we have seen that over the years, these same care taking governments use the media for their own ends. The diminishing diversity of media enables the media moguls to get richer and control the flow of information solely and exclusively. In this new age of globalization, it has become even harder to keep a check on the mass media. Media manipulation has escalated dramatically, and its effects can be seen all over the world. In the words of Malcolm X, “The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses” (


Bagdikian, B. (1997). Media Monopoly. Boston: Beacon Press.
Chomsky, N. (2004). Media Control . New York: Seven Star Press. Chomsky, N. (1989). Necessary Illusions. South End Press.
Group, G. U. (1976, 1980). Bad News, More Bad News. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Herman, E. S. (October - December 2001). The Global Media Giants: Firms that dominate the world. Educate Magazine . Solomon, N. (1998). Big Media Myths. Censored News Stories.

Terton, B. F. (2004). The Man Who Rules The World. The Moderate Independent . Thompson, D. (2006). The Telegraph .
Trowler, P. (2004). Communication and the Media. In H. &. Holborn, Sociology, Themes and Perspectives (pp. 832-863). London: Harper Collins.

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