Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mass Media: A Social rather than Commercial Enterprise

Jinnah reading Dawn News.
We expect from the individuals and the business enterprises to act in their self-interest. But then why do we expect from the government to work in the larger public interest; from the legislature to make laws and devise policy for the benefit of an entire nation; and from the judiciary, bureaucracy and the law enforcement to implement law and justice throughout the country? Will it be morally right if they too take advantage of their position and promote their own self-interest at the cost of larger public interest? No, because the government, legislature, judiciary and bureaucracy are governmental or public institutions which are more akin to social enterprise rather than a commercial enterprise; their job is to work in the larger public interest rather than the narrow self-interest.

But where does the corporate media stands in this equation? Is it alright for the journalists and the opinion-makers to work in their individual and commercial interests rather than the public interest? The mass media is an informal fourth pillar of the state; and in a public relations and advertising-based democratic system, it wields far more influence than all the other pillars combined together. But it is organized as a commercial enterprise rather than a social enterprise.

The journalists write the stories which they send to the editors for publishing; the editors make the editorial policy and they are answerable to the board of directors of the media corporation; and the directors are in turn answerable to the owners or the share-holders of the media corporation. These owners and the share-holders are the same business interests that control the Western governments through their lobbyists and advocacy groups. They have vested interest in all kinds of trades all over the world. How can we expect from such shady groups to do objective reporting and show us the real picture if it goes against their commercial interests?

In a globalized world, where all the economies are interlinked, the media plays the role of our organs of sense perception. We can only have direct knowledge of the proximate objects around us; however, we do not have any knowledge of the far flung regions of the world, except what the media tells us about such regions and their people and politics through its reporting.

In the developed parts of the world there is a competition between the local, regional, and international media outlets; any false reporting can be compared and verified to some extent; that’s why it is more credible. But in the backward and remote regions of the world, we are totally dependent on the reporting of the large multinational news organizations; and they can twist the facts whichever way it suits their interests. But to maintain their credibility, they generally report the facts correctly. They take a more shrewd and subtle approach of committing crimes of omission rather than crimes of commission. An incident which happened somewhere and which was not reported by the media, for all practical purposes it never took place; because we have no other way of knowing except through media.

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