According to George Orwell, modern era is an epoch (to use the Frankfurt term) of culture industry when manufactured reality is propagated by the mass media. It is typically the age of false communication when one talks only what the system manufactures; it is effectively the age of double think when one holds simultaneously two contradictory opinions; to believe that democracy is infeasible under conglomerate hegemony at the same time believing that the western political regimes are the guardian of democracy. The Newspeak or the language generated by the system through the telescreen (run by the ministry of truth) is a deceptive medium employed to manipulate reality and to narrow the range of thought; for war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. The novel may seem a dystopian fictional story but the allusions it pointed to have loomed ominously over the modern era, take for instance the Echelon project; which is a global system for the interception of private and commercial communication (Scmid, 2001, p11), is a mass surveillance project, the notion is alluded to in the novel as “the Big Brother is watching you” (Orwell,1982, p4) to mean that you are constantly under the surveillance of the authority. What we call today the modern mass media have an imperious hand in entrenching the shackles of servitude and political passivity. The Frankfurt school which is known for its critical theory and high criticism of the mass culture and media argued that “technology in the realm of culture, produced mass culture that habituated individuals to conform to the dominant patterns of thought and behaviour, and thus provided powerful instruments of social control and domination” (Kellner, p2). The mass media have thus a crucial role in determining the different forms of consciousness and modes of thoughts and speech in people’s life in a way that best suits the moneyed and the political classes:
The mass media culture articulates a set of dominant values, political ideologies and cultural forms into a hegemonic project that incorporates individuals into a shaved consensus, as individuals became integrated into the consumer society and political projects like Reaganism or Thatcherism (Kellner, 2015, p6).
This is to say that our thought and consciousness, our feelings and deeds are molded into one ideology or a unified consensus. The power that the media possess to control and deceive the consciousness and reason is the crucial point here. Interestingly, in the eighteenth and ninetieth century, the enlightenment intellectuals and philosophers urged man to use substantially his own reason and consciousness to discern the truth and to unshackle himself from political and religious tyranny. However with the advance of modern science and psychology, it was discovered that conscious thought (reason) comprises cognitive processes which a person is aware of and can observe his mental and emotional processes while the unconscious thought functions outside his awareness (Zhang and Wang, 2012, 772–782). Thus the unconscious mind proves to be superior to consciousness because it affects unwillingly how people think, behave and speak. The unconsciousness is a set of repressed and accumulated feelings and impressions that can be controlled and manipulated without being aware and can gradually change one’s opinion and attitude. Propagandists like Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays invested heavily on this notion, for them the mass media and propaganda are tools that must be used by the elite to rule the public without physical coercion. Lippman prompted the term “the Manufacture of consent” which is the manipulation of public opinion through propaganda to accept the elite’s agenda. For Bernays in his book Propaganda, he compared the masses to great beast and bewildered herd that can be easily manipulated, he said:
Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism (the unconsciousness) of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country; we are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind. (Bernays, 1928, p. 37)
Thus the aim of this paper is to deal with the mass media through a cross-cutting or multidisciplinary approach; to show that the mass media is deceptive and to understand why it cannot be an incentive and a free medium; we must broaden the topic to include other indispensible disciplines (psychology, politics, history ... etc). However, the most important question here is not whether the media are deceptive or incentive (most people believe that the mass media are factually deceptive medium) but the point is how much influence it have on our life, thinking, opinion and behaviour and how is this influence exerted? What are the techniques used by the mass media manipulate our unconsciousness to manufacture consent? What is it in our brain mech.
In Plato’s allegory of the cave, one can see people chained in the cave, they are unable to turn their heads and all what they can see is the wall in front of them. Behind them, the puppeteers; using fire, hold up the puppets that cast shadows on the wall. Thus, the world or the picture of the world is represented to the prisoners through the wall. They are unable to see the right shape of the puppets; they cannot see the real objects and the right world that is behind them. What the prisoners see and hear is actually the shadows and echoes of reality and they would think that the things they see on the wall are real. They know nothing of the real causes of the shadows and they will construct their vision and opinions about the world upon what they see on the wall. The remarkable turnaround in the allegory is when one of these prisoners courageously breaks away and follows the light to the outside. Effectively, it is difficult at first to see the real world and how marvellous it is, the freed prisoner feels obliged to free the other prisoners and introduce them to the real world. Ironically; the rest of the prisoners blindly refuse to follow him and think of him as an absolute lunatic (Plato,VII 514 a, 2 to 517 a, 7). This reminds us of the story of Thersites in the second book of the Illiad where this poor soldier questions in dauntless bravery the significance of the Trojan war, taking into consideration the sufferance of his fellow soldiers who had been away in war for nearly eight years. Thersites questions the opulent and luxurious life the upper classes have on the back of the poor classes. It is the poor, as Thersites maintains, who made the opulence of the wealthy, the pronoun We represents all the repressed, the poor and the soldiers who gave their lives for the well-being of their tyrants. He also questions the significance of wars; past and modern wars are not actually fought for the well-being of the people but for the interests of the elite. The common man is the scapegoat for the failure of the elite to preserve peace and for their craving for more and more wealth (is it still more gold you will be wanting?). Above all, Thersites addresses his fellow soldiers in the assembly, he said “my good fools, poor abuses” he describes them as being fool because none of them dared to question the established order. None of the commoners even questioned his status. Interestingly; the reaction of the rest of the soldiers is the same as our prisoners in the cave; they first laugh at Thersites and exalted Odysseus “this is far the best thing he even has accomplished” (Homer, 1998, line 225) and then they say “never again will his proud heart stir him up to wrangle with princes on words of revilement” (Homer, 1998, Line 225). In fact, Thersitesis defending his fellowsdaring to ask for their rights but since they are not conscious of their rights and had a false consciousness (that was imposed by religious myths), they considered the established order as it is as the right order “Homer stresses repeatedly that Thersites’ character and behavior violate the laws of order that keep people in their place” (Roberts, 1994, p. 49)
By the same token; the mass media represent or display the shadows of reality or the illusion of reality and demonstrate to the audience how the world order is perfectly the ultimate order that can ever and never be changed. Indeed, the audience can only see and hear what the system is presenting because there is no other way to obtain knowledge and reality except from educational institution and the mass media “A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another”, (TheTranscriber, 2006, p. 31) the system embeds the chains of unconscious servitude through education and the mass media to manufacture consent. Effectively, reality in the age of mass media no more exists because it is created by the media and alternatively a false reality is therefore created to be consumed by the masses as real. This is what Jean Baudrillard (a French sociologist, philosopher and cultural theorist) defines as Hyper-reality; it is a condition in which what is real and fictitious are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between them, when one ends and the other begins. Language and meaning are especially deceptive tools used to create this hyper-reality, in fact hyper-reality functions through the distance that exists between the signifier (the word) and the signified (the meaning). For instance, the signifier or the word terrorist has no concrete image and meaning but it is the task of the media to play the role of transmitter of meanings through associating the word terrorist with a bearded man or head scarf woman. Consequently, the media embeds this mental image in the minds of its viewers.
In his book the Gulf War did not Take Place, Buadrillard speaks of how the media creates a false realty that is perceived as reality. The war for him did not happen in the real sense; it was represented, by the use of certain signs and words, in a way that completely misrepresents reality. The term war itself should supposedly be used to refer to a conflict between equals but the American armed forces used airpower to bombard civilians and it did not completely engage in the war and therefore it was not a war but an attack. Additionally, what was permeated by the media as a war of peace was in reality a calamity full of rape and mass killings of innocent people who were represented as being terrorists. In this sense, Baudrillard contends that “We are all hostages of media intoxication, induced to believe in the war” (1991, p. 25). Cinema and Hollywood movies, in particular, were used to uphold the picture of war as a war of peace and the representation of the other (the way the colonized people were depicted in colonial literature, usually submissive and sometimes utter silent with no voice or no language) as being terrorists sustained the ideology of politicians.
To move to the second point, hyper-reality and propaganda are easily absorbed by the masses because people in general have particularly some common qualities (they are for example emotional and their cosciouness is vulnerable to the unconsciousness). In addition to the educational system that moulds them into one frame. Accordingly, those who want to control and manipulate public mind need to have deep knowledge of the psychology of the people. This task has to do with the modern profession generally called public relations counsel. The latter is the agent who, working with modern media of communication and the group formation of society brings an idea to the consciousness of the public. The public relations counsel is concerned with the courses of actions, doctrines, systems, and opinions and the securing of public support (Bernays, 1928, p38). The first characteristic of the masses is that they are guided by almost exclusively unconscious motives. Their unconsciousness can easily succumb to the impulses it receives, that is to say, it is sufficient to appeal to the unconscious desires of the masses in order to manipulate them. Additionally, the masses are effectively impressed by excessive sentiments, the abusive use of violent affirmations, exaggeration, affirmation and repetition. Hitler himself acknowledges this fact when he said in his book Mein Kampf that:
The whole art consists in doing this so skilfully that everyone will be convinced that the fact is real. Its function consists in attracting the attention of the crowd and not in educating. Its effect for the most part must be aimed at emotions and only to a very limited degree at the socalled intellect. (Hitler, 1924, p 136)
Hitler here devoted a large part of his book in dealing with propaganda and the role that the media have to play in the mobilisation of the crowdsor the masses.
The second characteristic of the masses is that they cannot discern truth from error or form a precise judgement or any matter “Judgments accepted by crowds are merely judgements forced upon them and never judgments adopted dissension” (Le Bon, 2001, p. 10), the crowds are unable to reason because their unconsciousness has more powerful impact upon them than their reason. They are also impulsive, deprived of critical thinking when it comes to political matters (thanks to the educational system) and imagination has always a much more important part than reality throughout history where the unreal is always of a greater impact and influence than the real. The third characteristic is that the crowds are easily manipulated by religion, faith, historical heroes and patriotism. All these sentiments evoke certain submission to impulses and opinions. Consequently, people are ready to sacrifice themselves for the ideal which they have been inspired. Moreover, the masses have a natural tendency to imitate and that is why fashion among famous actors and idols is so effective.
The third point is how do the mass media control this unconsciousness; the techniques used by the latter to manufacture consent. Distraction is the first technique used to attract the attention of the conscious mind in order to program the subconscious mind. Ultimately your subconscious mind will act on the information embedded in it while your consciousness was distracted. The information is effectively entrenched in the subconscious mind through the use of another technique which is repetition. Repetition of the information embeds it in the unconsciousness “Repetition of the message is mental programming. Research indicates those repeated hearings; whether sought out or not, yield acceptance and even liking” (Haack, 1982, p. 26). The third technique is the use of music which has a very powerful impact on the body and mind. It also controls the emotions so that the conscious mind becomes absent. Le Bon contended that “you can hypnotize people with music and when you get them at the weakest point you can preach into their subconscious whatever you want” (2001, p. 27). Additionally, the subliminal perception, as Steven Jacbson defines it in his book Mind Control in America, is a process whereby you receive and respond to visual and sound information (words/pictures) without being aware of it. Furthermore, the manipulation of language is a very devious technique; replacing words evoking disagreeable images in the imagination of the crowd by other words of which the novelty prevented such evocations. The war on Iraq was justified under the pretext of democratisation and the well-being of the Iraqis as George Bush contended “the primary goal of our coalition in Iraq is self-government of the people of Iraq, reached orderly and democratic process” (Bush, 2003) but the fact was quite the opposite as many Iraqis starved to death because the civilian infrastructure; electricity, communication and water sanitation, was destroyed, in addition to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations as oil revenues were plundered. This is an example of how words and discourses employed and double think change how reality is presented through the media (which sustained Bush’s discourse). Facts remain facts but words change, it suffices to designate in well-chosen terms the most odious things to make them acceptable to the crowds (Le Bon, 2001, p. 30). Monopoly of information (American Army in the Gulf War did not allow journalists to cover the war and some were bombarded) plays also a crucial part in controlling the public opinion. By clever manipulation, people can be led to believe something that is not true when such information is carefully timed and presented by an accepted and respected authority “who controls the past controls the present and who controls the present controls the future” (Orwell, p. 55). Additionally, education of the young is used to condition them to what comes later thereby eliminating the difference between propaganda and education which deprive them of their critical thinking.
The monopoly of information plays a crucial part in Propaganda model; a concept advanced by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in their book Manufacturing Consent in which they speak of how propaganda functions through the mass media and how it is used to establish consent and control the masses. Precisely, the book tries to unquestionably prove that the modern mass media can never be independent because of some stifling factors. The manners into which news and ideologies are structured and manufactured allow the government and dominant private interests to put the message across to the public. The propaganda model works through the first filter which is the concentration of media ownership in which only few and large companies own the media firms like the Westinghouse Electric Corporation which purchased CBS broadcasting company in 1995. These companies exert certain bias towards the information and news they present to the public when it comes to their interests. The second filter of propaganda model is advertising which plays a crucial influence on the way news is represented. Newspapers and television need to attract readers and viewers to cover the cost of production and different outlays. Advertising is the primary income source of the mass media and the competition to attract advertisers may lead to two main consequences. The first may be that the increased competition may lead to a degradation of the news and information given to the public; it can divert public attention from important news to hollow ones. The second may be that the advertisers might exert such an impact on the news coverage; any criticism that may endanger the interests of a particular company would make the advertiser withdraw from advertising in a newspaper or TV channel. The third filter is sourcing; the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business corporations and experts like the Downing Street may make these information biased. Television channels and newspapers cannot afford to place reporters and correspondents everywhere, therefore they rely on official and state sources which have and give the facts while the reporters only report them. The fourth filter is flak, as Chomsky named it, as a mean of disciplining the media and Chomsky gave the example of the AIM. Accuracy in Media is an institution formed in 1969 with funding mainly from large corporations and the wealthy people and foundations of the corporate system (mainly oil companies and billionaires like Shelby Cullom Davis and Richard Mellon Scaife). At least eight separate oil companies were contributors to AIM in the early 1980. The function of AIM is to harass the media and put pressure on them to follow the corporate agenda and the hard line, right wing foreign policies. The fifth filter is anti-communism as a national religion. It is a controlling mechanism used to keep the public opinion distracted from the real problems (like poverty, unemployment, oil pollution etc). It ultimately creates a foreign threat facing the country that requires certain unity and excessive patriotism. Communism can be replaced by terrorism or fascism or any other threat because the most important aim is to distract the masses and make them submissive and obedient. Thus propaganda model provides the five factors that impede the modern media from being free in reporting news and unrestrained. (Chomsky and Herman, 1988, p. 1–10)
In their book Power without Responsibility, James Curran and Jean Seaton question the orthodox interpretation of the history of British press. The latter claims that the British press had become independent around the middle of the ninetieth century when it attained its freedom from the state after the abolition of the Court of Star Chamber in 1641, the ending of Press Licensing in 1694, the Fox’s Libel act 1792 and the repeal of press taxation (the tax on knowledge) in the period 1853/1861. This narrative contends also that capitalism and the market evolution of the press attributed to this freedom through advertising which supposedly rescued the press from economic dependence on the state and the political parties. Thus, according to this narrative the free market and legal emancipation are the bases for the supposed press freedom. However, the point is “it established instead a new system of press censorship more effective than anything that had gone before it” (2003, p5). The radical press was the kind of free press that was gradually diminished after the legal emancipation and the repeal of press taxation. The radical press emerged in the early nineteen century as an autonomous and independent from the political parties because they had financial support other than advertising. The prevailing economic structure at the time facilitated its success as most of the radical press were unstamped paying no taxes, were printed on hand presses which were very cheap and it relied heavily upon news reports filed by their readers on a voluntary basis.
Furthermore, those papers were owned by trade unions, organisations and individual proprietors who had humble origin and were highly committed to the working class movement:
Unlike the institutionalised journalists of the later period, journalists working for the radical press tended to see themselves as activists rather than professionals. They sought to describe and expose the dynamics of power and inequality rather than to report hard news as a series of disconnected events. They saw themselves as class representatives rather than disinterested intermediaries. (Curran, 2003, p.14)
Those journalists did not work for profits or to attract advertisers but they were committed to the working class movement. They were defending the rights of the working classes and made them aware as well of these rights. The fact of being free from advertising is itself a liberating force.
The radical press deepened and extended radical consciousness, helping to build support for the working class movement. It was effective as well in reinforcing a growing consciousness of class and in unifying disparate elements of the working community partly because its leading publications reached a national working class audience. Thus, it helped to extend the solidarity of early trade unionism to other sectors of the labour community by demonstrating the common predicament of union members throughout the country reducing geographical isolation like the general strike of 1842 which started in Staffordshire and quickly spread throughout England. Besides, the radical press helped to promote the working class organisations like the National Union of the Working Classes and the Chartist movement. It also stimulated people through press publicity to attend meetings and to become involved in politics rising political awareness and eroding political passivity as it made them resist and ask for their rights “the least value section of the community was able to obtain a new understanding of its role in society” (Curran, 2003, p16). Most importantly, the radical press had a collective resource for defining, expressing and maintaining a radical public opinion different from that proclaimed by the capitalist press as well as a defence against the ideological assault mounted on the working class through schools, churches and others. (Curran, 2003, p.16)
Because of these profound impact and influence that the radical press exerted on the working people, the interests of the ruling class were threatened and there was a need to curb the radical press through law courts and libel prosecutions. However, when all these efforts failed, there was need to repeal press taxation as a mean to propagate the principles of free trade and competitive capitalism. So it exposed the radical press to increased competition. Thus, the radical press was eclipsed after the repeal of press taxes because it could not cope with capitalist competition and right wing national newspapers came into being like the Daily Mail, The People, The Daily Express...
With the repeal of press taxation, a new financial structure prevailed as nearly all newspapers depended on advertising to make profits and many of the dailies were bought by leading capitalists. The development of new press technology led to sharp rise in fixed capital costs. The costs of launching and establishing became very high. Factually, what happened to the radical press was calamitous. It either closed down because of advertising pressure, stayed in small audience ghetto or they accepted an alternative source of institutional patronage so that they exerted pressure on the radical press to move upmarket in order to survive. Consequently, the survived radical pressed chose to redefine their target audience and moderated their radicalism. The Reynolds news, for instance, was found in 1850 by George Reynolds, a member of the left wing faction of the chartist movement. The paper was a class conscious radical one but under new economic imperatives, it moderated its radicalism in order to attract advertisers. (Curran, 2003, p. 105–111)
In the hands of men such as Beaverhook and Rothermere, newspapers became mere engines of propaganda and manipulation in order to further their political ambitions. In 1937, Lord Beaverhook owned one in every two national and local daily papers sold in Britain. Those baron proprietors exercised sovereign power of decision on their papers and they were remarkably interventionist. Beaverbook and Northcliffe played a crucial role in the political revolt that unseated Asquith as a Prime Minister in 1916 and they established Llyod George in his place. (Curran, 2003, p. 120–125) The new popular press fostered the wave of imperialism that swept through all level of society. Those barons aimed at gaining power without responsibility, they were ready to support and put down anyone when it came to serving their interests. The general strike of 1926 was represented in the dominant right wing papers in a negative way. It detached and stigmatised the workers from their class background and obscured the causes of the conflict. It portrayed trade unionists as being opposed to the democratically elected government. They portrayed them as unrepresentative minority and it identified them with Communism. The Great Depression was portrayed, as well, as a natural catastrophe comparable to flood. In this way, the appropriate response was a national unity in the face of common calamity (but if the radical press had existed, it would have exposed the real reasons for the great depression. The unemployed worker movement received hostile coverage when it organised marches in 1929. Jean Seaton contended that the press built support for the social system in less direct and obvious ways. Its focus on political and state office as the seat of power tended to mask the central influence of economic elite and global market in shaping public policy (2003, p. 103). The press encouraged consumerism and the decline of radical press meant the decline of committed journalism because the commercial press concentrated on entertainment and it encouraged conformism and passive identification with the unfair social system.
From 1974 to 1992 newspapers became markedly more partisan which was a response to the growing polarisation of British politics and the conglomerate proprietors became more and more interventionist. Men like Murdock, Conrad Black and others owned large groups of media firms. Cross ownership and concentration of press ownership was and is remarkable in the modern age. The growing integration of the press into business like oil and banking made the press more bias than ever. It contributed to the maintenance of public opinion favourable to the private enterprise. Moreover, the structure of news gathering continued to be based on routines organised around powerful groups and institution, most notably various branches of the state which were under the political authority conservative administration throughout 1980–1990. Strikes were also portrayed as being in conflict primarily with the public rather than the employers. (Curran, 2003, p. 85–97)
To conclude, the current study tried to prove that the modern mass media can never be independent mainly because of the new world order that is based on capitalism, commercialisation and the concentration of wealth in the hands of few giant corporations. As a consequence, propagandists employ a number of techniques to manufacture consent relying on the power of the unconsciousness that makes people so cunningly hostages of the mass media. The second part of this study shed light on the history of the press in England by tracing the evolution of the radical press. The latter was eclipsed after the repeal of press taxes because it could not cope with capitalist competition; the costs of launching and establishing a free press became very high. The interesting point is the rule that radical press played in the development of democracy in Britain; it stimulated people through press publicity to attend meetings and to become involved in politics rising political awareness and eroding political passivity as it made them resist and ask for their rights and it had a collective resource for defining, expressing and maintaining a radical public opinion different from that proclaimed by the capitalist press. Therefore, one can conclude that western democracy is not pure and true as manufactured; people are alienated from politics and they are not democratically engaged in decision making. The independence of the media has a direct bearing on the development of democracy and political activism. In his latest interview Noam Chomsky warned about the post pandemic world that is being forged during the crisis of Covid 19; the Trump administration is disastrously dismantling American democracy and escalating the threats to survival (nuclear war, environmental destruction and the deterioration of democracy) rather than finding solutions. It is important to mention here the Trump’s FY (Fiscal Year) 2020 budget proposal in which he issued (during the epidemic) a further defunding of the centres for disease control and prevention while providing more funding for the military and fossil fuel industries. What Chomsky proposed as the only outlet for survival is what he called “Vibrant Democracy” in which a well-informed population is directly engaged in determining the fate of the world. Under the current (the so called) democratic systems “there is an official doctrine that politics reduced to voting in an election and then going home to leave matters to others. That is a wonderful way to suppress the population and maintain authoritarian control” (Polychroniou, 2020). Therefore, the only solution is political activism which cannot be reached without unshackling oneself from media propaganda and disinformation.