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Breaking down of Little Brother

The Economist (the link, alas, leads to their premium content) has an interesting little article about fake news – ‘news’ broadcasts put out by the government via local television networks. Bogus reporting (or, more kindly, a video equivalent of issuing a press release) they call it:

The televised interview with John Walters, the White House drug tsar, ran on hundreeds of local stations before the 2004 Super Bowl. “Many parents admit they’re still not taking the drug [marijuana] seriously,” explained the news anchor. “Mike Morris has more.” It ended with the usual sign-off: “This is Mke Morris reporting.” It looked like a new report, and quaked like a news report. but it was not one. The segment had been produced by Mr Walters’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. The apparently independent Mr Morris was on contract to the government.

As the Economist points out the government should not be in the business of advocacy, but it may use public money to provide information. The question is which is which? Regardless of the formality of the decision and which watchdog or arm of the administration has the final say about the legality of such “news management”, the issue here is transparency. Both the government agency and the news programmes should identify the originator of the material they are running.

The most interesting point of the article is not even that – it is highlighting that this administration does not think that the press has “a check-and-balance function” and that this is a fundamental change of attitude compared with previous administrations and makes this one’s use of fake news different.

If there is nothing special about the press, then there is nothing special about what it does. News can be anything – including dress-up government video footage. And anyone can provide it, including the White House, which through local networks, can become a news distributor in its own right. Given the proliferation of media outlets and the eroding of boundaries between news, comment and punditry, someone will use government provided information as news. In short, the traditional notion that the media play a special role in informing people is breaking down.

The conclusion is one that many bloggers have been trying to break to the traditional media and journalists.

Behind all this lies a shift in the balance of power in the new business. Power is moving away from old-fashioned networks and newspapers; it is swinging towards, on the one hand, smaller news providers (in the case of blogs, towards individuals) and, on the other, to the institutions of government, which have got into the business of providing news more or less directly. Eventually, perhaps, the new world of blogs will provide as much public scrutiny as newspapers and broadcasters once did.

For myself, I am not too worried about “covert propaganda” in government broadcasts provided there is an individual somewhere in the process who will simply blog about it on his blog…

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6 comments to Breaking down of Little Brother

  • For myself, I am not too worried about “covert propaganda” in government broadcasts provided there is an individual somewhere in the process who will simply blog about it on his blog…

    That’s a little complacent. People reading blogs are likely to be better-informed-than-average on political issues. However, most people don’t read blogs and aren’t very well informed on most issues.

    That’s not going to change, and it’s the people who merely watch and trust the TV news who will be duped by this kind of tactic…

  • David

    The McCain-Feingold Act prevents political campaigning by certain groups – among them corporations. I found it odd that the act included a media exemption. Is CNN a corporation or media? Can CNN use this “media exemption” to campaign for its candidate? In fact, did CNN, the New York Times, LA Times and the major U.S. broadcast corporations (ABC, CBS and NBC) all use this “media exemption” to engage in political campaigning not allowed to other “non-media” corporations?

    We all know they did. So, I suspect the Bush administration is now taking the position that the “media”, which are in fact nothing more than major corporations which unscrupulously skew information in their favor, can do this, so can the Bush administration.

    Rather than bemoan the “politicization” of news, I would that we create alternate avenues of information which are not dependent on either the government or corporations. In fact, those avenues have already been created. This site is one of them. It is now up to the individual to sift through all forms of information, including bogus government propaganda in the form of news reports, to decide for ourselves what we wish to believe.

  • That’s not going to change, and it’s the people who merely watch and trust the TV news who will be duped by this kind of tactic…

    It is not necessary for everyone to read blogs, the whole point of the blogosphere is that it is starting to have an impact on the MSM (mainstream media).

  • Bernie

    I am not too worried about “covert propaganda”

    Is there any other kind? I find advertising is the most straightforward stuff to judge. You know the airtime was paid for and comes straight from the people who benefit from your acceptance of the message. With anything else I always reserve judgement.

  • …the government should not be in the business of advocacy, but it may use public money to provide information. The question is which is which?……

    As the UK government is now the biggest advertiser in the country, this is a very loaded question. With a referendum next year (Unless France says Non) the difference between information and advocacy is an important one.

  • JSAllison

    So let me see here. The folk whining about ‘fake news’ are the same ones that receive these segments and promptly plug in these no muss, no fuss bits and run with them… And then they are outraged because…?

    Just what is keeping these paragons of hypocritical mediocrity from announcing that this piece or that was furnished by gummint sources?