Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: Censorship and the Contents of News

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Censorship and the Contents of News

Censorship and the Contents of News
--About Invisible Censorship

"Throughout my entire career. I have never been censored. I've been at ABC News for forty-one years, and throughout that time I have never been censored." –TED KOPPLE (“Feet to the Fire” Page 33)

I was not surprised at all to see this part of the book. This is America, it is normal.
Because if you look at the the definition of censorship by Mr. Koppel, that is a situation that can only happened in Soviet Union and China during the Cultural Revolution.
"Censorship involving the government saying, 'You can not report what you want to report. You have to show me everything that you intend to put on the air and we will then decided whether you can or whether you can't'" (Feet to the Fire Page 34)
So where do we think the media especially Fox are so “pro-Bush”?
"The fact that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration before it, like very administration I've know in the thirty-tow years that I've been working in Washington, tried to influence what gets on the air and what doesn't get on the air--that's not censorship. That's political influence." (“Feet to the Fire” Page 34)
That is also the same situation in China. When I was invited by David Tafler of Muhlenberg College last week to talk about what the media business is like in China with students and faculty, everybody was asking me about how the systematic censorship was working in China.
For people here, news in China was heavily censored and journalist was a dangerous job to do. However, the news continued to appear on internet and on TV here about "Chinese journalists thrown to jail" was actually the same story and the same "Journalist" instead of "journalists"--people just can not remember his poor Chinese name as people here having problems spelling my "stupid Chinese name" correctly.
Today, a country like China, with so intense business connections with rest parts of the world, does not have the possibility to carry out direct censorship. It just can not be possible. The reality there is just the same as the situation here--political influence. It is reasonable that China now still has some problem about free press, it is a country started to have contact with other countries only about two decades ago. You can not just put the system and standard of free press here on the situation in China. Just imaging what will happen if ABS, which is own by Disney, report something very bad about the social image about Disney Inc., some body will not get promoted and maybe will lost his job there.
For the first thing, most (not everyone) media agencies there was owned by the state. And nobody is really that stupid to report stories that will definitely put the state into an awkward position. And the state, actually want the media to serve as a "surveillance eye" instead of a "against party." And in this case, when it come to the point of reports, journalists really need to have the intelligence to decide if his report is going to serve as an "surveillance eye" or a "devil rebellion's advocate".
The ruling part of China, which has been in power for 57 years, definitely has more influence over media elites there than Bush administration here. And that is the reality. They don’t need to make phone calls to tell somebody to pull a report or a TV show--reporters and editor know how to do.

"The pressure comes from the ratings not doing well. When the ratings don't do well, sponsors don’t want to pay as much money for each thirty-second commercial anymore, and if the sponsors don't pay as much anymore, then the Disney Company doesn't earn as much any more." (“Feet to the Fire” Page 35)

That is the reality of media today. In a country like the United States of America, people really don’t need to read about the news too often. This is a couldn't be more stable society and the only that may influence people's living were just things like the effort of the White House to low or rise the tax. But ordinary people can not do anything about it. For people under any powerful state power system, it really doesn't make any big difference if they organize some demonstrations or not. Everyday different people demonstrate at different places in America to stop the war in Iraq but nobody really make any difference on the progress over the war.
The position of news media now is rather awkward--they are producing something that is not really a necessity for their customers. CNN does not really do a better job on serving the audience that Comedy Central, and news reporters to some degree carries the same weight as Eric Cartmen from South Park Colorado.
News today need to give the audience what they want to see instead offering the audience what the media think what they should see. This decides the media actually need to make compromise with the innocence of the generally public. News reporters may know better than their audience or may not. But when it comes to the taste and point of views about the news, they need to be no more "smart and long-sighted" than their audience. Nobody want to be proofed stupid, and the audience want to see something that can prove their smartness rather than their stupidity.
So when Fox said America should liberate Iraq, it reflects the feeling of its audience. When CNN talked about "brutality of Communists in Tiananmen" they really reflects American general publics idea about what China should like--they should be doing those things CNN alleged them doing.
"People watch television while they're brushing their teeth, taking a shower, taking care of other bodily functions, making love to their wives or their girlfriends. They don't pay very much attention to television It's not an activity. " (“Feet to the Fire” Page 29)
The problem now is not about censorship, it is about people's interest in news coverage. As long as the news is not directly influential to their daily life, most people do not have to turn on a TV and sit there for 10 minutes or longer concentrated to know what has happened in last 24 hours. People's priority these days for watching TV is no longer to get news (maybe haven never been like that), instead, they turn on a TV to have some sort of entertainment and relief from daily pressure. This means they selectively accept what is conveyed to them on TV news.
And contents of news actually reflect what people want to see.
If you complain about censorship, turn to another channel. They will know you don’t like it when they look at their rating.


Blogger A. Mattson said...

Well, this is closer to an essay than a post. Good work. An interesting comparison of China and the U.S.
The difference that Koppel makes between censorship and political influence is crucial. State power is wielded indirectly through political and economic influence here. The battle against cost-cutting imperatives was a bigger problem for Nightline then government censorship.

I also agree that the lack of interest shown by the American public in foreign news is the real obstacle for the commercial news media. No interest, no ratings, no coverage.

4/24/2006 11:13 PM  

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