4. The European, Canadian, Scandinavian (etc.) MAVM
This chapter is relatively brief, for many of the related elements of the global media crisis have been described in the previous chapter. After all, the media crisis is not American, it is global.
The second major responsibility for the media crisis falls squarely on the main state and commercial TV organizations outside the United States - particularly those in Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Austral-Asia, China, Japan, and the other 'major global players' (a ridiculous expression so favoured by the MAVM). I emphasize these regions - above Latin America, the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere in Asia - because of their (unfortunately) dominant cultural and political media influence.
These organizations include: the BBC in the UK, CBC in Canada, SVT in Sweden, NRK in Norway, DR in Denmark, ABC in Australia, TF1, France 2, France 3, M6 in France, the 13 stations of the ARD in Germany, NZTV in New Zealand; countless commercial stations (though the distinction between commercial and 'public service' TV barely exists any longer); thousands of History, Discovery, Sports, Movie, etc. satellite and cable channels. This list is only partial, and does not include the equally complicitous TV stations of the Benelux countries, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Eastern Europe, etc.
Early on in this statement I referred to the role of the MAVM in these areas outside the USA as "somewhat less obvious, but equally dangerous." Yet many, perhaps most, Europeans - for example - would not regard their MAVM as dangerous or manipulative, in the same way that they would now describe the American MAVM.
This resistance to a critical understanding of the role of the global MAVM - especially elsewhere in the Western world - can be explained by several phenomena. Among them is the long-held myth - widely subscribed to, and propagated of course by the media themselves - that the MAVM are 'objective' and 'educational'. This perception stems from the somewhat quieter and less aggressive tone of TV outside the U.S., and from a higher proportion of 'educational' programmes relative to commercials, game shows, etc. (the balance, however, is now rapidly changing).
To take this further, I am aware that many people in the UK and Canada would probably stoutly defend the role of the BBC and CBC in the recent coverage of the War on Iraq, as offering more of a critical position than one would ever see or hear on the United States media ...
For example, a recent e-mail article, written by a professor at the University of Granada in Spain, compared European TV news coverage of the Second Gulf War, with that on CNN. Entitled 'Which war are you watching?', the article commented that it was hard to believe that the European and American MAVM were covering the same conflict. It compared the boasting by American media about U.S. military might (and 'successes') with endless scenes of civilian suffering presented on European media (which American stations apparently did not show). Also noted by European media was the campaign of disinformation emanating from the American MAVM and the U.S. military, and the fact that one was not free in the U.S. to express criticism of the war, or of the Bush regime.
This article from Spain concluded with perhaps the biggest difference between the media coverage on the two continents (here I include Canada along with the Europeans) - i.e., that Americans were told that there was no alternative to attacking Iraq, whereas Europeans were told that there were numerous other options (diplomatic, economic, etc.).
In one sense, all of this is true, and I have also commented on differences between European and U.S. TV coverage of the War on Iraq. But it is important to understand that such comparisons only scrape the surface of the media crisis. We need to understand that the MAVM outside the USA are just as capable of masking the truth, propagating nationalistic agendas, shutting their eyes to the horrors of war (etc.), whenever it suits them to do so.
The role played by the British tabloid print media during the Falklands War was as offensive as the worst of the recent CNN coverage. The U.S. media practices which are (justifiably) criticized in the Spanish article, would have been applicable in the U.K. back in the 1950s and 1960s, when the MAVM were totally silent regarding developments in the nuclear arms race: there was zero concern then as well, about a potential loss of life far greater than that which occurred in Iraq, or about freedom of speech, or about providing information to the public. During the recent Coalition bombing campaign on Afghanistan, the BBC World Service Radio openly sneered at American dissidents who dared to criticize President Bush and his policies. Speaking of which: where were the other global MAVM during that bombing campaign, which killed at least 3,000 Afghan civilians? The fact is, that the opportunistic 'we'll reveal when it suits us, and won't when it doesn't' position has been adopted by much of the MAVM, everywhere in the world.
But now I want to return to the deeper problem connected with the MAVM outside the USA - with their carefully cultivated illusion of 'fairness' and 'objectivity.' The reality is, that the 'giving-the-other-point-of-view' style of broadcasting prevalent in Europe and Scandinavia, is also adroit at hiding its real role and agenda, for it allows only so much (tightly controlled) criticism to be expressed, and in no way challenges either the true nature of its hierarchical relationship to the audience, or the deep repression with which it withholds alternative audiovisual forms and processes - and criticism - from the public.
In previous public statements, I have described various repressive practices adopted by European and Scandinavian TV stations. (Interestingly, these aspects of my critique are rarely, if ever, commented on.) I think, that in many ways, we tend to be defensive and protective regarding our own national media. This is distinctly characteristic of the present feeble state of the debate on the role of the media, in spite of the fact that we should be fully prepared to challenge manipulative forces everywhere, no matter on whose national soil they operate.
See Appendix 4 for an analysis of the role of the British MAVM following the death of Princess Diana.
The following is another example of the MAVM outside the USA refusing to deal with their own manipulative role:
In March 1985, while editing THE JOURNEY (a 14-hour global peace film) at the National Film Board of Canada, my colleagues and I produced a written analysis of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news coverage of the 'Shamrock Summit', during which U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited Canada on St. Patrick's Day weekend, in order to discuss various matters with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. High up on Reagan's agenda was a pitch to the Canadian government for its support in developing his 'Star Wars' antiballistic missile programme.
This event was extraordinary by any terms, and consisted of servile speeches, lavish banquets, visits by the American President to historic ramparts (with the media corralled out of earshot and contact), a sparse group of demonstrators surrounded by police, and a final gala theater performance by various Canadian artists (with Mr. and Mrs. Reagan seated like royalty in a box), which ended with the U.S. President descending onto the stage to sing 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling'. The CBC coverage of the entire 48-hour event was as simpering as the event itself.
Our analysis looked at the way the Monoform was used, at events covered (and not covered) by the CBC, the amount of time given to which issue, the role played by weather forecasters to divert from any more serious developments on any issue, the blatant way in which an interview with U.S. Defense Minister Caspar Weinberger was re-edited, etc., etc.
We sent our analysis to TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY members of the CBC - which went into an immediate panic, and even commissioned a retired senior producer to head a panel and a rebuttal. We eventually received SIX replies from the CBC. Five were from individual staff members (two moderately supportive, the other three hostile - including two viciously, with one well-known CBC presenter screaming in anger over the phone); the sixth was the official rebuttal from the CBC 'panel.'
Evident throughout this dismal episode, was the fact that the CBC had absolutely no interest in a democratic debate or learning process. It sought only to fortify its own impregnable position. The CBC rebuttal thanked us for our interest, and basically told us we didn't know what we were talking about. Of course our report vanished, never to be referred to again.
The 1968 Canadian Broadcasting Act states: "The programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should be varied and comprehensive and should provide reasonable, balanced opportunity for the expression of differing views on matters of public concern." 'Balanced' is further defined in a set of CBC principles:
- The air belongs to the people who are entitled to hear the principal points of view on all questions of importance.
- The air must not fall under the control of any individual or group by reason of their wealth or special position [i.e., the CBC - PW].
- The right to answer is inherent in the doctrine of free speech.
- The full interchange of opinion is one of the principal safeguards of free institutions.
While on the subject of TV newsbroadcasting, the following is another typical example of MAVM distortion ('rearrangement of history') at work, outside the USA. During a media course I taught at the Red Cross Folk High School in Sweden in the early 1990s, co-organized with resident teacher Lasse Euler, we asked the students to analyze a series of Swedish TV news stories - to pull aside the smoke-screen of emotive language, rapid editing and pseudo-narrative structure, and to explore manipulation in the making.
In one story, a news team from Swedish SVT accompanied the Swedish royal couple on a whirlwind tour of Estonia, several years after that country had regained independence from the Soviet Union. While analyzing the subsequent TV news item, the students were struck by something odd in a scene showing Estonian school pupils - apparently - enthusiastically cheering, and waving Swedish flags at the royal guests.
When questioned, the Swedish news team admitted that they had faked the scene, by standing in front of the pupils and urging them to cheer for the camera - while the royal couple were busy elsewhere. The news team were completely baffled at having their integrity challenged (and betrayed the manner in which the media perceive 'reality'), and responded with - "Well, this is exactly what would have happened had the royal pair come by!"
(What is also revealing for students in these courses is to discover the rudeness and arrogance of senior TV executives whom they try to interview and question regarding paradoxes in the so-called 'objective' creation of the news. It turns out that most media professionals have no concept of accountability to the public, let alone to a group of young people.)
Let's now return to Canada, where similar aspects of the media crisis are becoming apparent. A senior executive of documentary programming at the CBC recently appeared in Ottawa before the Senate Transport and Communications Committee, which is studying the Canadian news media. In his presentation to the Committee, the executive stated that Canada has developed a 'dangerously weak media sector', and that the national system of television and radio is 'broken and dysfunctional'. According to him, this has happened 'because national broadcasting and cultural industries are not a significant priority of national policy'.
According to the executive, the solution to the problem (he spent some time describing the way in which contemporary broadcasting sees the audience only as commercial units), is to increase the public sector in television, which has shrunk to a minuscule proportion of the channel spectrum, and to create a second channel at the CBC: CBC2.
Interestingly, in his presentation, the executive never referred to the public as participants. This is a very significant omission, and stems from the fact that so-called public television is not really public at all - at least not in the participatory sense outlined in this statement.
Public television, according to the above usage, is a service wherein the content is not overtly commercial, and is of supposedly 'public' interest and concern. It is important to understand the limitations of this concept of 'public' - in it, the public plays absolutely no role in decisions as to what 'public' means (!), or in choices regarding the language-forms and structures selected for transmitting centrally-controlled material. In other words, the relationship between medium and public remains as hierarchical as that found in the worst examples of commercial TV.
This contradiction is illustrated throughout the grandiose, hugely expensive TV history series recently produced by the CBC - CANADA: A PEOPLE'S HISTORY. Despite the involvement of a number of other producers and directors, and despite the inclusion of the entire span of Canadian history, this 30-hour series is rigidly controlled by its use of the Monoform, and results in the creation of a single, mega-audiovisual style from beginning to end. Every episode - every chapter - in Canadian history is presented in an astonishingly uniform and standardized manner, no matter what the event being shown.
Even more worrying (given that the series is apparently about Canadian PEOPLE), is the fact that the people do not appear other than as extras shuffling past the camera in one refugee column after another. Statements to the camera are delivered by 'actors' in carefully posed and modulated terms, and the entire film is encased in the voice of a single professional narrator.
Without commenting any further on the major problems in this epic series, I think it would be a highly useful exercise for Canadians, and for media democracy in general, if this CBC production was to tour Canada as the basis of a series of critical PUBLIC debates on how these films could have been made in order for the voices and faces of the Canadian people to be truly heard and seen.
The executives at CBC - and throughout global MAVM - appear, however, to have little genuine interest in 'the people'. Their prime motivation seems to be personal power and control, the marginalization of any alternative forms of TV process, and the notion that the public are simply a series of viewing figures. And - let's never forget - the standardization of the very medium they claim to be evolving.
The CBC executive made some of this painfully clear in his 'global-talk' presentation to the Senate Committee: "It's essential that we position ourselves to become major producers, on a global scale ... [We] need to compete globally in television and cinematic industries ... Canada can become one of the biggest winners in the new information order."
He did also state that, "...the freedom of choice - in radio, television or cinema - should be defined as the freedom to produce television, not just to consume." Does this mean that the definition of production as a 'freedom' differs in the public vs. the commercial view of television? If so, why did the CBC marginalize our report on its 1985 coverage of the Shamrock Summit, and why did it produce the Canadian History series in such a restrictive manner?
I would like to conclude this chapter by emphasizing again the central link between the American MAVM and their European, Scandinavian and Canadian counterparts: they all consistently employ the Monoform, the Universal Clock, and the standard Aristotelian narrative (described elsewhere in this statement) to structure virtually every aspect of their programming - including the all-powerful and highly selective TV newsbroadcasts. A key universal problem here as well, is a blanket refusal to discuss these programming practices in public - with the result that the majority of the world's viewers continue to judge TV on its content, and never on its FORM or its PROCESS with the audience.
The content of most MAVM output is itself highly questionable. Through their heavily filtered selection of 'safe', or pseudo-controversial themes, MAVM programmers steadily avoid most key issues facing mankind today - including the role of the mass media. Should a key issue appear, it is invariably neutralized by the combined use of the Monoform, the Universal Clock, and the standard narrative structure. [See also elsewhere The Gatekeeper Theory]
Universally, the audience is relegated by the MAVM to mega-units of millions of viewers, constantly denied individuality, gender distinction, differences in age, ethnicity, culture and religion. Viewers are mulched together in the great MAVM blender ('popular culture' to media academics). In this travesty called 'communication', the audience is constantly denied any process of genuine interrogation, dialogue, or knowledge of the manipulative processes being used.
The impression, therefore, of a seemingly more civilized and critical MAVM outside the USA is both deceptive and dangerous, and represents an equally formidable threat to the future - not only because it cloaks the work of a highly undemocratic hierarchical and paternalistic social process, but because it denies - retards - the possibility of a genuinely critical global counter-voice to what is happening within and via the American MAVM.