Media malpractice?Mass media is not merely a means of disseminating news; it is also very important for moulding opinions
On July 10, this newspaper carried a report claiming that the Nepal Army’s plan to run an FM radio station triggered a debate about the propriety of a government agency running an institution that indulges in mass communication. Foremost among the opponents to the Army’s move were civil rights activists who seem to be firmly under the belief that, other than a government or state agency, any Tom, Dick or Harry can run mass communication media. Over three thousand kilometres west of Nepal lies Qatar, a country that now faces challenges from four of its immediate neighbours. The four countries have put forward a 13-point demand to ease the Gulf area crisis. One of their demands is that Qatar close down the Al Jazeera news channel. This anger against the media—or rather against those who run the media—is difficult to understand, as Al Jazeera, an English language channel, is by far the best international news channel. On the other side of the world, in the United States, President Donald Trump has poured venom against news channels and print media for allegedly issuing “fake” news criticising his tenure.
Media isn’t cheap
The saying ‘medium is the message’ was first coined by Marshal McLuhan in 1967. This saying indicates that the message sent out to the people through radio, television and print media is a reflection of the opinions held by the owners of the media. They aim to influence and indoctrinate people with their own sentiments. Another old saying, that ‘one believes what one hears all the time’, is put to good use by those who run media organisations. Of course, many who are employed by media houses carry out their duties in an honest manner without realising that the organisation they work for has a particular agenda in mind.
Mass media requires heavy monetary investment, especially in the audio-visual medium. Yet today, even a small country like Nepal is flooded with different television channels. The cost of running a television channel is extremely prohibitive; a channel has to maintain a physical station, with technicians and journalists in different parts of the country requiring payment of wages and salaries. Hardly anyone can afford to operate a media house without covert or open support from those who have the means to offer financial backing. One major source of income for the media is advertisements, but some TV news channels make do with few ads. One sees minimal advertisements on international TV news channels such as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN) and Al Jazeera. BBC is said to have over 35,000 full time and part time employees across the world. This makes one wonder: Who funds the huge expenditure these media houses invariably incur?
News that is cast by most international media houses tends to be opinionated. Opinions in individual talk shows or columns in newspapers need to be construed as the views of the individuals airing or writing them instead of as something that reflects the opinion of the media organisation itself. But in countries with low literacy rates and with an even lower number of educated citizens, the media can and does mould people’s thinking the way they want. Hence mass media is not merely a means of disseminating information and factual news; it is also very important for moulding opinions. No wonder that the trust Americans have in the mass media shrank from the all time high of 72 percent to the all time low of 32 percent in 2016.
The manner in which mass media sides with the big powers to condemn small countries like North Korea is an example of media bias. While nine countries including the US, Russia, India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons, North Korea, on the other hand, cannot experiment with long range ballistic missile systems. Nuclear weapons are a threat to the world and must therefore be destroyed all over the globe, but would the nuclear powers do so and subsequently reduce their influence? Conjecture holds that the US and Russia possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. It seems that most of the mass media think it is acceptable for the two countries to possess weapons that can destroy this world several times over. However, there are definitely many journalists and media persons working for these outlets who think differently.
Then there is the question of religious groups who have wreaked havoc all over the world. Al-Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS have been dubbed terrorist groups by most countries, and the national and international media have followed suit. The armed conflicts perpetrated by these groups have been called terrorist activities. However, if these organisations were not guided by religious beliefs but by political philosophy instead, would they still be termed terrorists? One can wonder. This is because there are many instances where groups guided by political ideologies have indulged in similar conflicts and once they succeed, their victory turns them into legitimate forces. One does not have to go far to find an example; this happened in our own country where over 17,000 people were killed during the civil war between the Maoists and the government of Nepal. But today, the Maoists are a legitimate political entity. The media needs to inform the people correctly, fairly and in a balanced way so that McLuhan’s saying that the ‘medium is the message’ can be proved wrong.