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Column: Don't Blindly Trust The Media Gatekeeper

This story was written by Thomas Shattuck, Vanderbilt Hustler


These days, the news has been rife with reports and articles on the economic downturn. Of course there was that whole incident in Mumbai, but in the day-to-day slog of journalistic publications, it has been a minor detraction from everyone's favorite topic. In fact, if one was to read through the first few pages of most major (agenda setting) American newspapers, one would be under the impression that the average person cares for little outside of money and more specifically, other people's financial position. All in all, this might be an accurate image of modern society, but it seems limited, as if something was left out. This absence of other news, some of it actually relevant, is sometimes (frequently) referred to as the gatekeeper effect.

The gatekeeper effect and other similar processes play an integral role in what Noam Chomsky would define as the propaganda model. Chomsky believes propaganda, as well as censorship, in media is propagated intentionally by those who own the media conglomerates. This seems reasonably true to a certain extent, however, it could be argued that other occurrences have a stronger influence than the political ideology than those who control the means of production. That is to say that normally the media outlets are so far removed from the parent companies that there is only minimal direct coercion. This being said, there is still significant economic interference in the distribution of information.

This economic interference is primarily derived from the fact that most modern media outlets are large corporations. This is problematic since it requires a newspaper (or similar) to produce content that will generate the most attention, not what is most important. Furthermore, there is an increase on visual packaging and not content. For example, during the election, most of the major networks were broadcasting statistics all day, even though in some cases only 1 percent of the vote had even been tabulated. This information was essentially useless it provided no relevant data. By choosing to broadcast the election count in the early afternoon, the networks were not reporting other news. This prevented the average person from attaining useful information (domestic or international).

There is also the fact that companies who advertise in newsprint or on television have influence on the content produced. For example, when a Fox affiliate intended to run an episode of the Investigators (which is probably defunct at this point) that insinuated that Monsantos bovine growth hormone product Posilac, Monsanto threatened to remove any advertisement spots it currently had with any Fox affiliate. Unsurprisingly, the episode was never aired. Its hard to blame Fox in this situation since running the show would have caused a multimillion-dollar loss. However, this call into question Foxs journalistic ethics. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe this incident is singular or isolated. In fact, it seems likely that intentional withdrawal of relevant information occurs frequently and just does not get reported (falsifying the news in not illegal).

On the bright side, most small (or smaller) media companies are not as susceptible since individual companies do not regularly invest millions of dollars in the form of advertising. Unfortunately, these smaller businesses tend to have slimmer profit margins, which means that they can still be coerced.

While most of us trust the news, however, this may not be as reasonable as initially thought. It is not illegal to intentionally falsify the news and in most cases, the falsification is rarely uncovered. Furthermore, there seems to be an economic incentive to not report the news as it is, but as it should be. In the end, what you read in the paper is as informative as a PR bulletin.

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