The behemoth known as mainstream media is still standing, but is finding itself on increasingly shaky ground. It is one thing for alternative media sites (such as Collective Evolution) to reveal how mainstream media is founded on limiting perception through controlled narratives; it is another for mainstream journalists to attack the beast from within.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones set off a firestorm with his April 20 tweet commenting on the state of mainstream British media:
So much of a firestorm, in fact, that it prompted Jones to pen a follow-up article in which he discusses how the blowback has felt:
This tweet has triggered such an inferno amongst British media types, the response would probably have been more measured if I’d told every single one of their mothers to F off in person. OK, the British media, you aren’t intolerant of critics and you don’t hound internal dissenters, you can call the dogs off now. I’ve argued for many years that the media is a closed shop for the privileged and full of groupthink: I’ve written two books making that case. This particular tweet provoked what can only described as mass hysteria.
Immediacy of Social Media
Ah, the joys of social media. A journalist could spend years writing books and articles speaking out about a particular issue without getting widely noticed; but put out a tweet that is worded in a way that people might take offense and suddenly, said journalist is cast in the glaring spotlight of infamy.
As Jones wryly notes, what better proof that British media is intolerant of critics and hounds internal dissenters than the blowback he has received? This mostly from individual journalists and reporters who were offended by the suggestion that they personally did not become journalists through merit. Jones responded in his article by pointing out what should have been obvious to people calling themselves journalists:
Firstly, talking about systemic problems is not an attack on the individual… Secondly, I was talking about the media elite of the national titles and broadcasters: not the army of poorly paid and insecure freelancers or local reporters who are deeply undervalued.
In essence, if these journalists really got what Jones was saying, and indeed they were the part of British media that had gained their position through merit, they would surely be on his side rather than being adversaries. But this lack of discernment is understandable—after all, mainstream media as an industry does not encourage discernment, or independent thought, from its reporters.
Owen notes that of the indictments he has received on social media, “none of them—not one—tried to counter the actual facts with facts of their own.” His claim that British media indulges in ‘groupthink’ certainly garnered some resistance. A few people flat-out denied, from their own experience, that groupthink existed. But again, Jones points to a limited perception on the part of those individuals:
The response to ‘groupthink’ by some senior journalists was ‘no-one tells me what to think’. I really do have to put it to them that they don’t know what ‘groupthink’ means: they don’t have to be told what to think, that’s almost the point?
Owen has plenty of support for his contention. He cites this Jasper Jackson comment in New Statesman as one example:
Lobby journalists also spend a lot of time with each other, and while they still compete viciously, the set-up is prone to groupthink. The practice of discussing what the “best line” is from any announcement or speech often leads to homogenised news coverage. It’s less conspiracy and more seeking safety in numbers. After all, if everyone else has the same story, then yours can’t be wrong.
And adds this comment by right-wing blogger Paul Staines:
It takes a brave Lobby hack to reach different conclusions to other hacks after a huddle. You could argue the huddle reaches a consensus about the truth or that it constricts the reporting to a common take. Not a conspiracy, just peer pressure.
You will note that both commentators took pains to mention that the endemic homogeneity of mainstream reporting is not part of a broader conspiracy of British media reporters to forward a particular perception. Jones would likely agree with this characterization.
But if British media is in the messy state of nepotism, privilege, groupthink and violent self-protection that it is, we have to ask the question: why has this state of affairs been maintained? Why don’t the heads of the mainstream British press agencies discourage the formation of scrums, for example, and insist that their reporters come up with unique, thoughtful takes on political discourse?
Simple. Because this is exactly the way these media powers want it. And this is where the conspiracy is. There doesn’t have to be a conscious complicity on the part of most journalists in the system to be able to call the role of mainstream media in our society a ‘conspiracy’ (though likely a few well-placed journalists are involved). The seeds of this bland homogeneity were planted long ago, and carefully guided by ever-present, powerful hands who have been able to become more invisible over time as the media culture they have moulded has hardened. Such a culture endures, though, not because it evolved organically and is predicated on human ego, but because human ego makes people such as mainstream reporters and journalists unwitting participants in the grander use of media as a control mechanism, in a way that shuts down critical and original thinking not only on the part of journalists, but the citizenry as a whole.
Perhaps Jones himself would take offence at this comment, he who clearly does espouse a form of critical and independent thinking. But it’s not personal. It’s about how deep this ruse goes, and how those close to the action can’t see the full picture.
Mind you, Jones does hint at conspiratorial forces at play in his article:
There are other factors at play, too. Most of the British press is a) owned by rich oligarchs and b) supports the Conservative Party as an editorial position. This basic fact has an impact on who can rise to the top. It doesn’t mean you have to be a rampant Tory: but if you have firmly left-wing politics, you are practically disqualified from most positions.
In other words, he sees a systemic conspiracy to only put right-leaning people into powerful positions in British media. What Jones doesn’t see, however, is how the entire left/right dichotomy in Western politics is the ultimate control mechanism.
Journalists who freely identify themselves based on where they lean within this dichotomy are unwittingly complicit in maintaining this system. Here, people can fight forever about the virtues of left over right, right over left, middle over the extremities, but in the process never question the fundamental issue that any government, once in power in the current system, does not execute the will of the people, and is controlled by the very same forces that control media.
So while we have left- and right-wing branches of media, this does not prevent the undercurrent of media communication to continue to broadcast a single voice—that of the powerful elite who control the message and want to maintain control at all costs. When an important message is to be delivered, its homogeneity is striking.
Mainstream media’s campaign against fake news is a good example. This CE article features a video showing dozens of supposedly independent mainstream media outlets reading from exactly the same script, word for word, warning us of the perils of fake news—as they define it. It is the height of irony that one of the phrases parroted in exactitude by more than a dozen anchors is, “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
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