Mainstream Media Scares Me

Before I proceed, I need to write a sentence or two about current hot topic: refugees. This will be connected, so I figure I express my opinion up front.

We have situation where things are running out of control. And lack of control and structure is what many people worry about (including me).

Is it appropriate to help, best we can? Sure.

Do we need to throw common sense to trash bin, and ignore all regulation and safety measures in order to do so? Gosh, surely not.

There’s many valid complains when it comes to handling of refuges situation, complains which are entirely ignored and discarded. It’s almost like, nowadays, having a rational well balanced debate is something to be afraid of.

Censorship

Still, even highly emotional debate is better than no debate and Slovene media in this case, showed they indeed will not act as a democratic open platform where population (to which they supposed to serve, and which finance them) could express their opinion.

I’m not talking about commercial media like 24ur.com, they’re known to be dreadfully biased and I wouldn’t trust them to tell me the sky is blue.

I’m talking about national media, Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV) which, when people started expressing their opinion too strongly, simply disabled comments under sensitive articles. Before mentioned 24ur did not allowed them to start with.

They’ve explained this is not a blockade nor censorship, rather their aim is to keep an appropriate level of communication. Some comments indeed were nasty, either against migrants or again us, native Slovens. Neither is particularly nice to see. To suppress all debate based on that, it’s not right though.

To make situation even worst, there were comments which were persistently removed, although they were not exactly (or at all) hateful.

National media, on my opinion, should not be restricting, discouraging or all together removing speech.

Bias

Like western MSM in general, Slovene too had a clear political bias in this situation. It was clear situation is not realistically portrayed. Simply pointing that out, could result in your comment being removed.

Why would national media be pushing any narrative, shouldn’t they be unbiased and objective? They should represent all sides — that’s something they themselves are clearly aware of:

In order to achieve a good balance and impartiality, RTV Slovenia has to ensure an account of the widest possible range of different perspectives and opinions.[1]

When it comes to migrants, the opinion of RTV was not only we should be accepting, but that it’s our moral obligation[2] to help.

The problem of course is more complex, and we should at least be able to have a debate about it. Unfortunately, debate was actively discouraged, and never really presented as part of published articles.

Furthermore, if we look at the background of this crisis, there’s a dark under-reported story, a familiar story of western interventions and democracy exports, which always lead to catastrophic aftermaths.

Right now Russian entered Syrian conflict and as expected, there’s a lot of one sided reporting. Russian aircraft entering Turkish airspace deserve more slander and air time, than US air strike which hit a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, resulted in at least 22 people being killed. It’s interesting how fast the latter disappeared from every mainstream media, and how little it was said about it in the first place.

Properly functioning media, should be eager to tackle important questions from numerous points of view. They should give platform to various voices, especially when there’s a complex problem, like the crisis we’re facing. In this particular situation, labeling everyone who disagreed on any level, to be a racist or a bigot, was highly inappropriate and unprofessional.

Manipulation

Mainstream media is also frightfully manipulative.

When it comes to refuge crisis, there was lots of feel good/bad human stories aiming purely at peoples’ emotions.

This kind of manipulation is widely used, another example is Ukraine, but, we can travel to history, and find them connected to any event. Often to legitimize wars and other horrific deeds.[3]

You put a human story out there, and freely ignore political happening behind.

If media would care, there are dying people all around the world. There are crisis of tremendous proportions which goes completely unnoticed, because there’s no special interests behind them.

While human interest stories might be sad and very worth consideration, they should not be used to legitimize war or destruction.

To make matter worst, human interest stories which media puts out, are often not true. They might be presented out of context or completely made up, or media is just lying by omission.

One particular report, about Trade Unions House fire in Odessa (Ukraine), comes to mind. We we were talking about those horrific events with my wife, and she translated some videos made by pro-Ukrainian protestors, in which they were joking and laughing about bodies of people they’ve just burned alive. It was truly sickening.[4]

Next day, purely by chance, I’ve catch a report about those events on a television, as my parents were watching. Odessa was merged with some other events, barely ten second of time was dedicated to it. It was surrounded by constant mentioning of Russian aggression. At the end, I’ve asked my parents: “So. What do you think happened in Odessa?” They’ve both answered: “Well, Russians killed Ukrainians, of course.” Not knowing the background, purely from that report, I myself could not have deducted anything else.

This is an incredibly dangerous form of manipulation of public opinion. Deliberate omission of information and presentation in a misleading context; it will inevitably lead people into making wrong conclusions, while media can still pretend they’ve reported the truth.

Shaming is another method of manipulation and we’ve seen lots of it lately.

There was an interview with Dr. Mojca Pajnik published on RTV[5], entitled “Mejni režim dobro pokaže evropsko rasistično naracijo” (roughly translated as Border regime shows European racist narration). Dr. Pajnik broaden the definition of racism to a truly absurd level. So far, as a matter of fact, that potentially everyone who’d disagree with her narration, could be called a racists.

Of course, she came late to this party, west is doing this for quite a while, rendering these tactics increasingly useless. Accusations of sexism, homophobia and racism are as often as those of witchcraft in medieval Europe, but much more absurd. For example, declaring an Air Conditioning is Sexists.[6] Of course, with trivialization of these terms, everyone loose, including actual victims of racism, sexism and homophobia, who’s problems are being trivialized.

The only person who benefits is the one who’s making those accusations, as (s)he has now a moral high-ground to silence everyone bellow. I’m sure tenth circle of hell is in making for these people as we speak.

Shaming is the most frightening form of manipulation, which leads to self-censorship. People lost job because of an innocent joke, overheard by overly sensitive person.[7]

More on the topic is the case of Huffington Post (Germany). They’ve decided to post names and photos of people who comment on social media opposing the migrant invasion [sic].[8]

There’s an increasing risk, therefore people are rather silent or very careful. Which is understandable. An individual who have a mortgage to pay and a family to support, surely don’t want to loose his job, just because he dared to express his opinion on a controversial topic, even if his opinion could be helpful or constructive or completely moderate and harmless.

Conclusion

We’re all increasingly loosing freedom of speech, and in some ways, even freedom of thought. We’re increasingly bullied into self-censorship.

Censorship depends on surveillance, and both of these activities are increasing at truly unsettling rate. Tech companies are pushing line of expected privacy further away; each new gadget or a neat service come with a price of privacy.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Atlantic on this topic, that “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”[9]

Of course this line is not static, it’s much different today than it was five years ago. I’m sure Google will not cross it, that would be bad for business, they’re just quietly pushing it.

We all would like to believe there’s some fairness in the world. That world is essentially good. And — it is, but on individual level. Not on political level. Not when big money is involved. Not when we’re talking about media which has a tremendous reach. Not when we’re talking about mega corporations, like Google.

Believing they’re essentially good is, well, naive.

Let’s try to improve situation. Let’s be rational. Calm. Being well informed, does not mean swallowing everything mainstream media serves. That’s just laziness, which comes with a price of being misinformed and manipulated to the level of abuse.

Being well informed starts with calmness, research. Reading. Traveling. Experience. Skepticism, but also openness.

Let’s keep mainstream media accountable. Censorship is not acceptable. Bullying is not acceptable. Silencing is not acceptable. Manipulation is not acceptable. Completely biased reporting is not acceptable.

We shouldn’t be going with the flow, repeating what everyone else is saying or being cowardly silent. If we do, I fear, grim future awaits us. When something is clearly wrong, or when we’re facing a complex problem, we should talk about it, bravely and calmly.

This post was updated on October 2017. Some paragraphs were rewritten or shortened for the sake of clarity.