The media discourse and falsifying reality

Mohamed Shuman
Saturday 7 May 2016

There isn't one media discourse in any society. But there is a dominant discourse that is not only competing with less influential opposing or marginalised discourses, but also cooperating, coexisting and borrowing from them

Generally, discourse in any society is the entire body of words and deeds, and it is social practice. Media discourse conveys this social practice to the audience through media, which has its declared and undeclared prejudices.

Hence, it is necessary to analyse communication and media processes regarding formation, ownership, work regulations, the nature of the political regime, the audience and the discourses they produce.

This is done in order to get to know the extent of capability and accuracy in conveying reality and what its strategies are, what it conceals or highlights and for whose interests does it work or be employed.

Of course, there is a reciprocal effect between media, producing the discourse and disseminating it, to the extent that it is rather difficult to discern the difference between them except for the necessities of study and attempts at understanding.

Media industry, laws and professional media traditions represent one form of social practices, i.e. discourse. Communication and media as a process have political, social and cultural facets which in its turn are included in the heart of the social practice and are affected by the dominant general atmosphere and societal circumstances.

Thus, Manuel Castells asserts that power in a society of networks is based on controlling communication and media, whether this power is exercised by the state, big corporations or other kinds of organisations.

As a beginning, we must agree that the media is not the perfect process which school books propagate as being the entire communicational activities which supply the audience with truths, correct news, information and sound opinions regarding issues, topics and problems.

It is the absolute opposite, for most of what is presented in the mass media is not committed to truths or convey reality as it is, it rather presents some of its facets. It may delete or add, exaggerate or trivialise, because it works under many extremely complicated kinds of compulsion.

Even media messages, whether they are news or opinions, are the outcome of balances and social negotiations between journalists themselves, governments and vested interests in society.

In this frame, it is agreed upon and axiomatic that he who owns the media influences directly and indirectly its work and news coverage. Moreover, the income earned from advertisements represents one of the mechanisms of influence in the work of media.

To sum up, it is impossible to accept the definition or the scholastic concept of media because it speaks about situations that do not exist in reality on the ground. Even many of history’s events and courses refute and deny its authenticity.

However, this concept can be acceptable as a virtual matter or idealistic description which humanity seeks to achieve. I think that it is difficult to achieve, and all that can be done is considering that this concept is an idealistic model or an ultimate objective which citizens and those working in the media struggle and strive to achieve through clear legislations, professional regulations and journalists’ syndicates everywhere.

It is worth mentionion here that journalists can sometimes have the capability to resist and circumvent many restrictions and kinds of compulsion to pass on media messages they think it serves public interest.

As for the realistic side, we should deal with the old and new means of communication and media and the entire forms of social media on the bases that they present daily and at every moment a changing and unbalanced blend of media in its idealistic concept and propaganda with its concept and negative dimensions and connotations.

Regarding form and content, this blend belongs to the world of media, advertisement, propaganda, promotion and public relations.

Therefore I always ask in my writings that members of the public deal critically with what the media presents to them, especially the communication technology, which provided every person with the capability to follow and compare between every news or opinion via different means of media.

They will discover the degrees of difference and diversity regarding the extent of accuracy, depth and comprehensiveness of covering this news or opinion.

However, this critical follow-up and comparison between different kinds of media coverage requires the existence of an active recipient. This is a difficult matter which is not available except among limited sections of Arab audiences characterised with knowledge, awareness and the availability of time and effort necessary to perform these untraditional roles in dealing with media.

An academic debate has begun – and has not been settled to this day – regarding whether social media users can be included among the active audience who is capable of choosing and critical comparison between kinds of media coverage or it is a submissive audience like the traditional media audience.

This kind of audience is those who sit in front of the television submissive in a voluntary way to what is presented to them in the form of one perspective media discourse despite the multiplicity of channels, images and forms which propagate this discourse and their differences.

If we moved to media discourse, it is certain that there is no single media discourse, but instead there exist competing media discourses. However, there is always a dominant and widespread media discourse regardless of its accuracy in conveying social practices. It is important to pay attention to analyse the dominant media discourse and how it is produced, who finances it, how it is disseminated, its relations with power, ideology and hegemony over society, whether it reflects the predominant cultural bias and discrimination within society or if it produces other forms of discrimination.

Undoubtedly, language and images play extremely important roles in the analytical criticism of the discourse of language, and images are ideological choices. Moreover, media discourse is a practice with an ideological nature from the perspectives of formation and influence. Hence, schools of discourse analysis used a concept regarding ideology and ideological control which is the closest thing to Neo-Gramscianism, where Van Dyck and others agree that practising power in modern democratic societies did not depend on compulsion in the first place but on persuasion or soft hegemony in the Gramscian sense.

I add that the undemocratic countries also depend on soft hegemony where it has become a basic rule in falsifying people’s awareness and shaping public opinion and manufacturing what’s known as national consensus.

In order to realise soft hegemony of media, an attractive media discourse in form and content is to be produced and be capable of falsifying reality and manipulating minds without the audience realising this.

Members of the audience follow this predominant media discourse out of their free will and become accustomed to consuming this discourse on daily basis and refuse or resist any different discourses.

The irony lies in that members of the “persuaded” audience, who are happy with what they see and follow on media, may refuse or resist marginalised or discarded discourses regardless of its importance or perhaps its truthfulness and correct expression of reality.

However, the general refusal of these discourses lessens its effectiveness and impact on society. Hence, it remains subsidiary and marginalised in spite of its presence and hustle in social media. What is confirmed is that preventing media discourses in traditional means of media drive them to be strongly present on social media platforms.

But, this presence does not always guarantee strong influence or the ability to change public opinion. For the social media is not exclusive to marginalised discourses, it is rather an open space for the presence of the predominant discourse, which may be its presence is reinforced via social media.

What is interesting is that there are many studies that observed what is known as inter-discourse between the predominant media discourse of power and the discourses opposing it and the marginalised discourses.

This means that the relationship is not restricted to competition and conflict; it takes other patterns such as coexistence, cooperation, borrowing and political and propagandist re-utilisation.

In this respect, it is possible that the predominant media discourse borrows some concepts, ideas and images from the competing discourses and re-utilises them for its own benefit, such as defending minorities, respecting human rights, social justice and immigrants’ rights and other concepts.

Similarly, marginalised and opposition discourses may borrow prevalent concepts and ideas in the predominant discourse, such as preserving the strength of the state, respecting the law, the priority of development.

This confirms the relativity of concepts used in media discourses and its ability to be borrowed and be mutually utilised among competing media discourses in society.

I think some forms of inter-discourse may be beneficial in realising a kind of national consensus, especially in the light of a democratic climate and mature political practices that elevate public interest over narrow partisan or sectarian interests.

But, on the other hand, the inter-discourse may lead to negative effects on the meaning of many concepts and ideas and their credibility among wide sections of media discourse consumers. Perhaps their confidence in media discourses might decline or suffer from befuddlement and confusion.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Communication and Mass Media at the British University in Egypt (BUE).

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