'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
A View From SQUALL Central
With media, politics and advertising merging ever more concentrically, there is no longer any border control between PR, news-spin and truth.
Squall 14, Autumn 1996, pg. 4.
Whether or not we acknowledge the authority of Julius Caesar or Pope Gregory XIII, we live by the calender they created. At the end of the decade the Julian/Gregorian calendar moves into the year 2000 with a significance far greater than a mere number change. Indeed the Millennium is a phenomenon with major social consequences.
In the run up to the year 2000, our collective social psyche will be bombarded with histories and future possibilities, as we assess the past and project the future. The vigour with which we make and absorb these assessments will be unique.
The battle to impose interpretations and selective answers on this fluxial period of self-assessment is already well underway. It is no coincidence that the subject most strictly controlled by the national curriculum is history.
It is often quoted that journalism is the first draft of history.
But for most eye witnesses, subsequent national media coverage begs questions of whether the journalist was present at the same event. We shrug and say well that’s the media for you, the event bent to fit the formula. But then six months later an academic seeks to describe a social pattern and trawls the press cuttings for the factual accuracies. The consequence? A history.
Although journalism can never fully divorce itself from an author’s subjectivity, the written report can be substantially reflective of the event. Its ability to achieve this, however, takes conscious investigative effort.
If, for instance, the editor’s stipulations are based on courting advertisers, fulfilling two way information deals with spin doctors, or pushing a publisher’s ideology in every story, the results are inevitable. A history of media supersedes a history of event, with a mask of confident objectivity inducing a false sense of authority.
A new diverse representation is needed if our thinking minds are not to atrophy into fodder for clever spin doctors.
So who are the filtrating commentators who author the historical first draft? For the most part they tread similar to the political theatre and its cast of politicians. The majority were educated in public schools, many graduating from Oxbridge.
If you believe this sort of education provides an unassailable degree of learned objectivity you might rest assured that the news filtration process is in safe hands. However, this is not the case. For the Tony Blairs (Oxford) and Michael Portillos (Cambridge), the Alan Rusbridgers (Guardian editor - Cambridge) and Charles Moores (Daily Telegraph editor - Cambridge) of this world, dominate both politics and comment. In essence, however, they present slightly differing shades of the same frame of reference.
Despite such attempts to homogenise culture, society is multi-angular and therefore deserving of multi-representation. The majority of people in Britain were not educated either in public school or an Oxbridge college. And yet the right to rule and the right to commentate are the preserve of yet one more exclusive and unrepresentative club. For all intents and purposes, this is the establishment reflected throughout politics, television, print journalism and radio.
Whilst it is true the odd representative feature results from ‘inviting a non-staff journalist to dinner’, repetition of angles molds public opinion, not one-offs. Meanwhile, politicians, editors and staff-journos, drawn largely from similar backgrounds, perpetuate the incessant filtration of a narrow field of view.
Perhaps this is one reason why newspaper sales are generally in decline. And yet a new diverse representation is a necessity if our thinking minds are not to atrophy into fodder for clever spin doctors. For the most part the cross on a voting form has already gone this way.
As much we may try to ignore the media, we cannot avoid absorbing the incessant messages successfully designed to reverberate throughout the social psyche. With media, politics and advertising merging ever more concentrically, there is no longer any border control between PR, news-spin and truth.
‘Truth? What is that but a successfully imposed interpretation,’ argues the spin doctor.
By way of an answer, the truth may refer to such questions as whether or not the single bullet which killed WPC Y vonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy was fired from an adjacent building rented by MI5. Whether or not Government ministers were aware of British arms sales to Iraq. Whether or not an MI5 infiltrator was used to undermine Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Miners.
And whether the many unconsidered questions such as these, indicates that the great democracy we lay claim to is a gross pretence. For democracy and manipulation are mutually destructive.
The $1.4 billion spent annually on McDonald’s advertising ensures a dictatorship on modern imagery best exampled by a recent worldwide survey suggesting more people recognise McDonalds’ golden arch logo than they do the Christian cross. Meanwhile, the sponsorship relationship between McDonald’s and The Times ensures regular sycophantic articles and occasional McDonald’s supplements. And to cap the unholy trinity, Michael Portillo is more than willing to don a McDonald’s baseball cap for a photo-shoot (see page 11). Media, politics and advertising, mutually interchangeable and loyal only to the highest bidder.
It was in many ways laughable when the BBC and Channel Four recently apologised for being seduced by Greenpeace’s media output over the Brent Spar episode. With professional lobby groups like Ian Greer Associates having carefully calculated access to minister’s ears, could it not equally be argued that multi-national organisations like Shell have a large and undemocratic influence on national politics. The day the BBC and Channel Four apologise for being seduced by the 10,000 government press releases published annually, is a day we may say that a sense of democratic balance has returned.
Ironically, as we approach the end of the millennium, only adverts reflect society’s multi-facets on a national level, acknowledging that consumers are not homogeneous. However, such representation is not designed in any way to inform, or indeed represent.
It is designed to sell and ultimately to become the author of market requirement and thus of culture itself.
The prevailing ideology over the past 17 years of British politics has ensured the enthronement of the market as the ultimate criterion of social worth.
In such ways the market has become systemic both practically and philosophically, with the importance of every social facet argued down to its immediate economic worth. Those facets at the bottom of the subsequent league table are casually relegated into a division of social inconsequence or even criminalised.
If money is the ultimate criteria of value then all fine and dandy. If not we face crisis. And it is thus argued that both British politics and national media are in this state.
The other multi-representative media phenomenon of recent times is the internet and world wide web. At present this information source remains uncensored and still largely untainted by the market myopia infecting every other communications arena.
But, as anyone who subscribes to a service provider will know, the web is a deluge of information, the source, integrity and substantial basis of which is uncertain. The only way through this http tidal wave will be the development of source reputation, which presently depends once again on media.
The necessity for investigative information sources prepared to delve beyond market PR or establishment hegemony, increases in proportion to the complete lack of it; democracy and accurate information being mutual prerequisites.
As McDonald’s UK Marketing Manager said recently: “It is our objective to dominate the communications area… we are competing for a share of the customer’s mind.”
In the Millennium mind flux, which history will triumph - truth or market spin?
At best, Journalism can play a significant part in providing some of the intelligent opposition necessary to check the prevailing excesses of market induced political corruption and selective historical interpretation. It is a sorely missing ingredient from the media/politic/marketing soup worryingly referred to as the mother of all democracies.