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Why listen to media that exists to profit?

I’ve written a few times now on this subject (Media immediacy, Media and responsibility, Media within democratic society) as well as on the dynamics of money (Values and the economic), and here I want to look at how that intersects.

To dive right in, I’m surprised at times by the assertion that media is a business and exists for profit. Obviously it’s true, everything these days is a business; but part of me perhaps naïvely viewed it as a public service. Codes of ethical conduct do put it more in that position, but it seems revenue increasingly influences many aspects of media behaviour.

In trying to decide how much that matters, I came back to the ideas of Aldous Huxley and “Manufacturing Consent” discussed in the third media post above; both describing media as a sort of propaganda that sustains society. If a collective way of life is supported by information (whether strictly in our best interests or more to serve the system itself) then surely the function of the media truly does matter. Yet if we’re overrun by information, conflicting opinions, and blatant or subtle attempts at influence then this foundation begins to appear shaky.

Bringing things back to money, to me this raises questions of trust and authority. If someone has a financial interest in conveying information then that must affect the content we’re offered. Of course, we currently live in a profit-based world; but facts and ideas are very powerful, so their communication could be seen as an almost sacred responsibility given it informs the inner life and social reality of so many.

Modern life’s unusual in many ways. For one, we have access to so much information: it’s conceivable to become aware of all that’s going on in the world. Then there’s this proliferation of ideas and opinions available constantly through technology. We ‘can’ know everything and, as intelligent and social creatures, we want to; but that places us within a deluge of questionable information. Can we feasibly assimilate all that?

Things I’m talking about aren’t purely financial; more about a daunting reality of competing influences. But the pursuit of profit clearly seems to muddy some already turbulent waters. Are we receiving the neutral, impartial information we so need in order to make educated decisions in all areas of life? Or are we being subjected to more attempts to influence, attract and persuade? How do we decide who to trust for our knowledge? And are voices we listen to “free”?

I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t listen to media; only that what’s contained there doesn’t exist purely to inform. And information matters: it shapes our ideas, attitudes, priorities, and decisions. Many industries count on that and put massive resources into it; some of which struggle to be heard, while others seem intent on causing confusion. As humans trying to see through the mist of irrelevant yet profitable distractions, it’s challenging to know what to ignore and where to focus; but that seems to be our situation.

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