Media has become a crucial part of our lives in the Western world; almost everyone has radios, televisions (TV), cell phones, computers, and internet access.
In many Western countries, such as Canada, the United States, and France, we are made to believe that because we have freedom of speech and a free press, our countries are democratic.
There has also been the privatization of our press and media; only six media conglomerates in the United States account for most of the content compared to the 1980s when 29 media companies accounted for over half. Years before that, there were over 50 media companies. Media companies are getting bigger, and there is more power solicitation in the hands of fewer. News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch, sold 21st Century Fox to Walt Disney for $71 billion, which resulted in Disney becoming an even bigger empire and the number of companies that produce content even smaller.
To better understand the effect media has on our society, it is essential to look at the theories of Theodor Adorno and Noam Chomsky.
Adorno coined the term ‘culture industry’ instead of mass culture because of his belief that culture is not a collective creation but rather a production in an industrial process for the masses. Popular culture is created in mass production and then sold to a mass public of consumers; an example of this is Hollywood studios. Adorno talks about how we, as consumers of mass media, are often passive, uncritical, and easily manipulated. Also, our social realities are created for us. He argues that the audience seeks fantasy and escapism instead of intellectual challenge and stimulation. The mass media does not offer real-world solutions but instead artificial solutions. We receive the same messages and therefore think alike. Adorno even goes so far as to state that the culture industry tries to control the minds and actions of people to bring us in line with capitalist ideology.
A significant part of capitalism is happiness through material possessions. The system of capitalism helps us satisfy our desires through consumption but ignores that it is capitalism that creates these desires for us. We cannot think differently, but we must instead submit ourselves to conformity and obey authority. Many of the movies and TV shows that we watch are produced by the culture industry, follow the same formulas, and are repetitive. Yet, we want more of the same instead of watching something new, different, and thought-provoking.
Chomsky’s focus is on propaganda and how wealth and power have a great deal of influence and control over our media. According to Chomsky, the function of media is “to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society.” Chomsky’s theory has filters including ownership and profit orientation, advertising as the primary source of income, and reliance on “experts” as sources of news (governments, corporations, and businesses).
It is primarily the wealthy and large companies that have the means to produce mass culture. As most media companies are privately-owned, their main goal is profit, so they are run by the executives and shareholders, with the editors and journalists having little influence. Due to the increasing costs of in-depth news stories and investigative work, we are now getting less of these stories, and some of the smaller companies are now using stories from larger media companies. Small media companies are closing, and there is a declining number of local news stories, which results in less information for the people. Less news and fewer longer stories hurt democracy.
Advertising is the primary source of income for private media companies. Most newspapers and magazines would close if not for advertisements because revenue from sales is not enough. Thus, the advertisers have a great deal of influence on what gets reported. If a news company is not toeing the line and instead criticizes capitalism, then advertisers may see it as damaging to be associated with this company.
Many news channels broadcast 24 hours a day. Therefore, they need a constant flow of information. The news companies cannot afford to have reporters everywhere, and it is easier to have them in places where news is made available by official sources, such as The White House or the House of Commons. Those deemed to be experts, such as government officials, corporations, and leaders in the business world, are seen as credible and have name recognition. Therefore, the powerful voices dominate, and the voices of the many are silenced.
Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.