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“Manufacturing Consent”

Having addressed the notion of propaganda in Media within democratic society, here I will focus more on qualities of modern journalism as characterised by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in “Manufacturing Consent”. It’s a fascinating book that, despite having been written in the late Eighties, still seems remarkably relevant and insightful in terms of understanding society and the challenges we’re currently facing in the search for reliable information (see Note One).

Their analysis of the practical impacts of business, consumerism, and revenue demonstrates how such concerns became increasingly influential over time. These days there’s often a slightly resigned acceptance of the power money has over various aspects of our lives: commerce is this undeniable force, and we’re now so inundated with direct or covert attempts to influence our views that it can seem futile to resist. But surely it’s an important reality to remain aware of, as various parties seek to shape public opinion and behaviour through reporting and advertising.

Because the information we receive and how it’s presented to us must to a large extent dictate the collective conversations we’re able to have and the situations we’re most aware of. The ways advertising weakens the perceived importance of information and challenges our ability to engage intelligently with life seems to be a genuine problem. And while our confusion, apathy or despair in the face of complex realities may be useful to some, it seems troubling for society. As is the fact our very awareness is informed by those events or topics we’re offered, and the standards we’re effectively made to accept (Note Two). If political and economic entities were truly acting in our best interests, it might be reasonable to trust in what we read; but that’s a questionable assumption and the stakes seem increasingly high.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the consideration of language and tone in how stories are delivered: the ways subtle shifts in vocabulary or inferred significance serve to inform our attitudes, often below the threshold of our conscious knowledge. It’s not something I’d given much thought to directly, but it’s clearly true that the terms employed would guide our feelings of compassion, disregard or indignation towards the human situations happening across the globe. How we view others and the importance we’re encouraged to give to certain sufferings seems crucially important, especially when such sentiments essentially come to validate or justify specific courses of action.

And while all that could be taken in the direction of ‘conspiracy theories,’ my conclusions were more around the responsibility of fully understanding the systems we’re a part of (Note Three). For me, it’s not so much a question of rebelling against these things but of handling information with that knowledge in mind: it seems wise to have a healthy distrust of concealed agendas and an increased awareness around the content that we allow to influence us. It’s unquestionably a book that’s acutely relevant to our times when, above all, it’s important to be clear on these matters.

Notes and References:

“Manufacturing Consent. The Political Economy of the Mass Media” by Edward S Herman & Noam Chomsky, (Random House, London), 2008 (originally 1988).

Note 1: Trying to understand our times
Note 2: Privacy and our online existence
Note 3: Media and responsibility

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