Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Don't Believe what You Read

“News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising” – Lord Northcliff.
There are several ways of manipulating the news, if one has either the money or the power to do so. The government, evidently, has both. This is why one should cast about to see different news sources and to keep a healthy dose of suspicion when reading something that appears improbable. For North American news, there’s Snopes (here) to help winnow out the silliness.
Unfortunately, as more people begin to distrust the mainstream news, they become attracted to news-sites that can guarantee to serve them the news that attracts their particular prejudice (see Fox News, Breitbart or OKDiario for far-right examples, The Express for pro-Brexit, Rapture Ready for Christian end-of-times news and Mother Jones for the far-left).
Newspapers have the biggest problems today. The falling sales and the rising costs of production mean they must take any income they can find. These days, it costs at least one euro per copy just in print bills. Free newspapers (we have a few in Spain) are even more sorely placed – the English or German language ones can’t even distribute by mail-box, so are obliged to add editorial in the hope of making them attractive to the reader. But – who pays the printing bill?
The Spanish government, which apparently spends 60 million euros a year in ‘institutional advertising’ (‘Eat Andalusian food’, ‘Visit Galicia’ etc), plus all the autonomous and local governments with a similarly vast sum (we wonder how much Catalonia spends?) expecting one thing in return. Keep the editorial more or less treacly.
El País in English has an astonishing article flatly refuting this here. They deny calls ‘ say that this newspaper is acting under the orders of the central government during this Catalan crisis. And that is a serious affront, because the independence of this newspaper and its professionals are completely protected from any interference from the powers-that-be by a charter that is an example among the European press...’. You should see the ‘comments’ to the article...
Only a week before, El País had fired John Carlin for writing a pro-Catalonian viewpoint in the Times of London.
A kind of media manipulation is called astroturfing in the USA. ‘Grass roots opinion’, if you like, but contrived yet sold as genuine. An article in Vozpópuli considers how the Government in Spain employs this technique: fake news items are placed in smaller outlets and are picked up on the social media (perhaps with a little help) to then become huge.  Venezuela anyone? Esperanza Aguirre, the regional boss of the PP in 2009, had 45,000 Twitter accounts, apparently.
How much is a full page advert in El País? 50,000€. The Government with its regular campaigns, will of course be getting it much cheaper (who, we wonder, gets the rápel – the cash kickback on all major campaigns?).
Here’s a recent example. You can find these and similar adverts in any newspaper from La Voz de Almería to El Mundo. Does this all make El País a bad newspaper? Of course not. Some of Spain's best columnists write for it and it is considered as the leading opinion maker. 
Which makes it all the more important that its opinions and information are accurate.
As for Government-owned media, like the national RTVE, things are even easier. Here’s ‘23 examples of Manipulation on the TVE news over Catalonia’ from VerTele (or, should we believe it anyway?)
Here’s another problem with today’s news: ‘...Real investigative journalism – the kind that blows the lid off criminal or unethical activity and goes deep in the trenches was done at a loss – as a public service, to establish credibility and fulfil its duty as the Fourth Estate. The monetary gains from this kind of journalism aren’t immediately apparent – the profits are intangible, and can’t easily be put on a spreadsheet. So, when the news outlets were bought by larger corporations, the value of this intangible was lost. The overseers are interested in the bottom line, and if it can’t be directly linked to dollars, they trim the fat. Bye-bye in-depth investigative reporting, hello gotcha journalism...’. From Flashback here.
And lastly:
'Censorship is not always committed by an individual in some secret totalitarian government room, editing uncomfortable truths out of reporting and books. In a democracy where the vast majority of the news is financed by advertising or corporate sponsorships, the subtle censor sits in the back of a journalist's, producer's, editor's or owner's mind.
Censorship in a corporatized democracy is a tacit understanding not to offend advertisers, which means that that the nation sees reality through the distorted lens of business or political interests' (no attribution).

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