øNew fundamentalism sweeping mediaø

BY manish chand| IN Media Practice | 25/03/2005
"Television network executives and editors are trying to follow the audience rather than lead the audience."



Manish Chand

Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, March 24 (IANS) Dissent is slowly dying in mainstream media, which has become increasingly hostage to market forces and narrow patriotic sentiments, especially in the US, says media guru and culture critic Stuart Allan.

This new culture of media fundamentalism, which came to the fore during reporting on the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US, continues to be the dominant trend, Allan told IANS in an interview here.

Allan, a Canadian academic, has co-edited "Journalism after September 11" -- a collection of essays by top academics and culture critics that takes a hard look at the issues raised by reporting of the defining event of Sep 11, 2001, and its impact on the news culture.

"America is becoming an insular, closed society. There is little tolerance for dissenting viewpoints," bemoans Allan, who is in India to initiate a dialogue on teaching journalism from a critical perspective. He teaches Cultural and Media Studies at the University of West of England, Bristol.

"Americans are becoming afraid of even writing letters to editors. They don`t want to be associated with dissent. Those who differ with (President George W.) Bush are ideologically suspect. Post-9/11, there is a heightened sense of fear and paranoia in American society," says he, while pointing to an increasing uniformity of views in mainstream press.

"Journalists have become complicit in the official interpretation of events," he adds, alluding to the practice of "embedded journalism" - reporters were sent along with American troops to cover the battle live - during the reporting of the Iraq war.

Allan blames market pressures for this homogenisation. "Television news is in a state of crisis sparked by competitive obsession to be first with the story. Television news is at the service of headlines. People are confusing quantity with quality," he says, stressing that this is the global trend."There is a desperate desire to come out with breaking news of some significance. That must necessarily distort reporting and in-depth analysis."

Analysing the deeper roots of manufactured consensus in the media, he says: "Television network executives and editors are trying to follow the audience rather than lead the audience." The increasing "tabloidisation" of the media, he asserts, is a consequence of treating viewers as consumers rather than as citizens in need of accurate information and quality analysis.

But don`t despair yet. There is still hope for a lively and germane journalism that resonates with the real needs of the people.

"There are signs of life in the press. The New York Times had its famous mea culpa last year. The Washington Post has also improved," he says, while alluding to the crisis that engulfed the New York Times when one of its star reporters was found guilty of plagiarism.

What`s the way out from this sustained blitz of distracting trivia and entertainment masquerading as news? "We have to disengage journalism from its commercial imperatives. The solution is public interest journalism," says Allan.

"It`s time television news networks and the mainstream media in general reaffirm their sense of connection to an audience and practise socially responsible journalism. They should focus on public interest as opposed to what the public wants," says Allan, the author of "News Culture". The idea is to include the have-nots of the news culture in their target audience.

"The mainstream press should stand up for those who don`t have a voice and whose perspectives don`t get play in mainstream press. The have to reinvent to reach to a younger audience who are feeling increasingly left out of the news culture."

Allan looks to Internet as the last hope for a radical and original journalism for the people and by the people, a place where they can freely express their viewpoints that are blocked in mainstream press.

"There is a growing public hunger for alternative viewpoints and off-centre definitions of reality. What people really need is a greater array of perspectives and not a rehash of official pronouncements," he says.

Indo-Asian News Service

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