“The Medium is the Massage!” Part 2.

How I oh-so wish this post was just about the commercial media.

In my first post today, I described some of the background detail of the political economy in which the Jersey media operates.

So, in this, Part 2 of today’s post, I will describe some of the theory that underpins critiques of the media.

Considered on a global basis, we might place different types of media-control into three categories. And note: I’m referring to control-models – not the means of transmission of ‘information’, such as print, TV, Radio etc.

These categories of control might be described as –

1: Privately owned commercial media working in democratic societies.

2: Publicly ‘owned’ or state-sponsored media working in democratic societies; the BBC, for example.

3: State controlled media of the kind run by dictatorships and regimes.

For the purposes of this post, we can concentrate on 1 and 2 of the above categories, because we know that state-controlled media of the kind used by nutty dictators will produce largely ‘engineered’ fictions, designed to prop-up the regime. I don’t think there is much dispute over that point.

My main focus will be upon category 1, for a good reason. Why? Privately owned commercial media is, by a huge margin, the dominant category of media throughout the democratic world. Institutions such as the BBC are comparatively rare.

So, considering commercial media – the vast bulk of media in the free world – let us ask ourselves a question:

What is the purpose of such media?

The answer to this question is key in gaining an understanding of how the media works.

The purpose of such media is to make a profit for its owners.

So how do commercial media make their profits?

Or ask a more pertinent question.

What is the “product” of commercial media?

What “good” is it selling in the marketplace?

The “product” – the “goods” for sale – touted by the media – are you and me.

The “product” of commercial media is its audience.

And to succeed, commercial media has to sell its “product” – the audience – people like you and me – to its market.

The market it is selling to are advertisers, and potential advertisers.

So to succeed, commercial media needs a big fat “product” – maximum readers, maximum listeners, or maximum TV viewers. High ratings. The more people are consuming your particular media – the greater value your “product” has – the higher price you can charge advertisers.

But simple quantity of audience numbers just isn’t enough. The “product” has to meet certain other requirements – the audience has to fulfil certain “qualities” as well as simple quantity ratings.

We can conduct an easy experiment ourselves to see the sub-divisions of the potential audience. Consider – when watching commercial television, notice how the nature of both the products advertised, and the adverts themselves change – from program type to program type.

Romance – or costume-drama? What are the products advertised. Make-up? Clothes? Glossy women’s magazines?

SAS drama – or boxing match? What are the products on offer? Razors? Sports cars? Beer?

Make your own observations. And this is just to scratch the surface of the opinion management industry.

Volumes upon volumes have been written about how to capture, corral and control audiences. There is simply too much literature on the subject for me to go into detail here; though, as I suggested in an earlier blog, I will post a recommended reading list sometime soon.

Just ask yourself – just how many more costume-drama TV adaptations of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ does the world need? Why, do you think, TV companies want a new version – at what seems to be about every two years?

This kind of program is the framework upon which the TV companies can display a category of their product. A large female audience – probably a substantial percentage of which will be middle-class – and thus have money to spend. ‘Excellent!’ Just what the advertisers – the pay-masters want.

‘That Jane Austin? She really gives good “product”’

In 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman published a very famous book – “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

In the book they posit a tool – a frame-work – which can be used to understand the mass media; what they describe as ‘the propaganda model’, but other writers have since described as ‘the five-filter media-model’. The ideas in the book have been adapted, somewhat, but, essentially; it remains an extremely robust piece of social analyses.

The application of this analytical methodology reveals the power, the wealth, the motivations of, and influences of the mass media. It describes how ownership and wealth are able to “filter” out news that does not serve the interests of the rich & powerful.

So what, then, are these ‘five-filters’?

The model proposes that there are five basic mechanisms which largely determine what we – the audience – the “product” – are fed. And how we are marketed to the media’s pay-masters.

1: The size, market power and ownership of the media, and the profit motive which drives it.

2: The need to appease and appeal to advertisers, who are the major source of income for much of the mass media.

3: Sourcing. Or where do the ‘stories’ come from? Who drives the news agenda? This is the immense power to ‘originate’ ‘news’, to package and market it to news-outlets. The ability of resource-rich corporations and governments to employ spin-doctors and copy-writers; the ability to spend vast sums on lobbying – to, effectively, write the ‘stories’ in the form of pre-formed press-releases which can be conveniently copy & pasted by overburdened and under-resourced ‘churnalists’.

4: ‘Flak’ – or a constant attritional stream of criticism, complaints and aggravated legal harassments engaged in to “discipline” the media. The ability to withhold stories, information, and interviews from any journalist that pitches a story in a way which does not suit the purposes of wealth & power.

5: ‘Monsters’. Back when Chomsky & Herman were writing Manufacturing Consent, the big bad monster used to frighten the population into supporting governments, the state and the military-industrial complex was communism. But communism died away, so new ‘monsters’ were needed. Things were looking pretty quite in the 1990s – remember Francis Fukuyama, and his book “The End of History”? But, as history shows us – emperors, kings, dictators, governments – all have needed “enemies” – a common “threat” that would unite their populations behind them. Today it’s Islamic terrorists – tomorrow it will be something else. Nothing quite whips the media and the population into line like “patriotism”.

So this is the hidden set of forces – of conditions – which determine how, what, why, when, where and who audiences – the “product” – are fed. This is how the opinion management industry operates.

But does the five-filter model scale down to little old Jersey? Do wealth, power, pressure, ownership, control and self-interest – all of these kinds of considerations – shape how we in Jersey – the audience – the “product” of the local media – are moulded and manipulated?

Come on. Pay attention!

How long have you been reading this blog? You know the answer right now.

The five-filter media-model could have been devised solely on the basis of a study of the Jersey media.

The narrow ownership by an entrenched oligarchy? The absence of meaningful competition? A society in which materialism and greed have been ruthlessly encouraged? A commercial media which has both the need and ability to foster and maintain a paradigm which suits the advertising market? A community awash with cash? Rich and powerful forces – ready and able to get tough – should any local media step out of line?

Yep – it’s all there, isn’t it?

In the future, I will produce some posts which will take an exclusive look at each of the local Jersey media. For now, I will conclude with a few observations.

Now – brace yourselves – I’m going to say something nice about the Jersey Evening Post – err – OK – maybe ‘nice’ isn’t, perhaps, quite the right word, but hey – it’s a start, right?

The JEP is, at least, a nakedly commercial media. It ticks every box in the Rapacious and Ruthless Rag test. It’s a newspaper – thus not bound by any legal or constitutional need to be “balanced”. It has to feed on profit all-round – for itself and for its market. It has to maintain a world-view – a paradigm – that meets and matches the needs of its advertisers. It has to keep us – its “product” – in-line and receptive to the wares of its paymasters.

So – as disgusting and disgraceful as the historic conduct of the JEP has been – as biased – as ethically bankrupt – as misleading – as dissembling – as irresponsible and as damaging to this community as it has been throughout its history (look, I said it was a start, OK?) its actions are, at least, explicable.

No worse than one might expect, really.

But – the BBC in Jersey?

Beloved “aunty” beeb?

Bound by law – as a broadcast media – to be balanced?

Guided by the historic BBC Charter?

Compulsorily paid for via the ‘licence fee’?

No requirement to pander to the market dictates of advertisers?

Not owned by the local oligarchy?

Oh – BBC Jersey! Where did it all go so wrong?

How did you lose your way so badly?

Will “aunty” ever reach down here – and set you back on track?

I will recount the multiple – and truly startling – inadequacies and failings of BBC Jersey in detail in a later post.

Here is just one – to be going on with.

A couple of months ago, a team from the BBC in the UK came to Jersey and made an extremely important short documentary piece for BBC Television; a documentary of colossal ‘public-interest’ importance.

It dealt with the unfolding and disgusting scandal of child abuse in Jersey; on this particular occasion it examined institutionalised abuse actually carried out by the States of Jersey – the island’s government. It included interviews with child-victims, and other witnesses.

Yet – even though this extremely professional program was made by the BBC itself – even though it was broadcast by the BBC regionally – the local BBC Jersey crew actively and deliberately did all it possibly could to minimise publicity for the program. It scarcely trailed the up-coming broadcast, didn’t mention it regularly on radio news broadcasts – and, even after the film had been broadcast on a Sunday lunch-time – BBC Jersey managed to go throughout its entire two hour morning radio news program on the Monday – without so much as mentioning the film – once.

A rock-solid piece of documentary work which convincingly demonstrated the Jersey government to have been engaging in the institutionalised abuse of already vulnerable and messed-up children. For years.

And BBC Jersey? Well, I recorded the Monday morning radio broadcast – and a number of the victims I know were also listening.

For the first time, the interviewed victims – and others with similar experiences – were listened to and given a voice – by a BBC team from the UK.

And BBC Jersey mentioned it not once on the Monday’s news – instead – quite deliberately – preferring to use up chunks of air-time with inconsequential banter, trivia, and banality.

That the Jersey Evening Post might behave in this way – well, for all the reasons I described above – we couldn’t be really surprised.

But when a local BBC team has so clearly “gone native”; when the BBC in Jersey behaves in this way – one is tempted to look to the horizon to see if the four horsemen are approaching.

But no – it’s just another load of invitations to the Jersey cocktail party circuit that I see coming over the hill.

Stuart Syvret

Book of the Post:

The Pin Down Report, by Allan Levy QC and Barbra Kahan.

Joke of the Post:

Q: How many citizen reporters does it take to discover and report on a cover-up?

A: one.

OK, that’s not a joke – it’s a tragedy.

One thought on ““The Medium is the Massage!” Part 2.

  1. chrus

    what a good way of putting it, “BBC gone native”. comparing the Jersey BBC phone in with other local programmes on regional BBC can be quiet revealing. some other regions have more than a daily slot for phone ins, trying to divide the serious and the entertaining. it’s difficult for proper criticsm here as the presenters often shy away, and fill the airwaves with banality with the ‘sorry Roger’ crowd.


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