The Media Ruthless Criticism

The Fourth Estate:
The Power of the Media

[Translated from Contradictio]

There are reasons why the free press and the public media hold the status of the “fourth estate,” near the legislature, judiciary and executive. This is reflected, for example, in recent power struggles over TV transmitters or radio stations (Chechnya, Czech Republic, Russia). And usually after a military putsch in “Third World” countries the first act by the new state leadership is to change the staff of the editor's offices. In the civilized western world, access to the media by the state power and the parties runs off somewhat more well-mannered, but here public laws and broadcasting committees obligate appropriate proportional representation to the parties and electoral advertisements, and the media is scolded as soon as they are said to have exceeded the acceptable degree of “critical reporting,” with the indication that such a thing only leads to disillusion in the state, etc.

Evidently, the state and the party organs are very conscious that they have in the media an instrument with which to exercise rule over minds, and that the media are an extended arm of state power. On the other hand, the free press is considered to be terribly “critical” and therefore enjoys a good reputation; it constantly uncovers “scandals,” nothing remains unconcealed, no food contamination, no politician cavorting with lovers and no party funding scandal. It does all this so that there will be no irregularities in the way that rule is exercised and managed.

Two opposite positions are taken to the press: On the one hand, it is suitable as an instrument of the state; on the other, it should offer protection from the state by controlling it. How does this fit? What is the free press really, what do the readers and/or spectators get from it, and how is it used as an instrument of state power?

The free press

Every honorable journalist would go a million miles to disclaim that they want to be a manipulated arm of the state power. In their opinion, by conveying more or less highly detailed information, investigative journalism, or lawsuits, they want only to support a process known as the free forming of an opinion; even the tabloids do this. For this they keep to a strict moral code, which consists of separating news and commentary from each other.

1. News

What is printed or broadcast in this category has nothing to do with news. In most cases it is not about the pure reproduction of facts about a part of nature or society. Rather the facts underlying the news “are processed” in such a way that they should immediately provide a yardstick by which one should judge a “thing.” Because of “facts, facts, facts!” - everything that must be held back as a “commentary” is only treated like a fact. Everyone can say yes here, the reader could only think this – so, a few examples.

The news “yesterday: rain” is the reproduction of a fact. With messages of the kind “bottlenecks in pension schemes,” “ancillary wages dramatically rise,” “personal responsibility in health care should be strengthened,” “unemployment seasonally rises,” “peace mission in Afghanistan,” it acts differently.

The printing or broadcasting of the always free of charge standards, which one did not order at all, always include instructions for the judgment of a thing; on the one hand this functions by giving its own peculiar name to a thing and on the other by providing attributes that have nothing to do with objectivity. The joke does not consist in the fact that the news is invented or is a big lie; that may happen, in some papers more than others … but most news is based on facts, it only makes its contribution to the shaping of public opinion through the manner of representation, circumstances that are hardly recognized – what type that is, we can not yet speak.

It is not held of the bourgeois press as an offence against the criteria of objectivity if the first 5 minutes of a news program or the first 3 pages of a magazine are filled with large quotes from party chairmen, Secretary Generals or in some way important people! So every politician can be sure that his call to order is invariably shown on the same day or the next day and therefore able to have an effect. The journalistic profession keeps the mode of objectivity by taking the trouble to put quotes in quotation marks (a simple variant) or using indirect speech (for the more fastidious public). That is not only amusing.

And finally the ladies and gentlemen of the media, with their empty phrases like “our reporters learned at the scene …” or “from well informed circles it was said … ” want it to actually be thought an honor of conscientious journalism that nothing is as important to them as intellectual proximity to the relevant centers of power, and this is something completely different than intellectual quality, which apparently matters less.

What do the readers of the free press get from it?

1. Tips for getting along

Above all, this: they know what they have to adapt themselves to! This is stated openly and directly and whenever it is necessary from time to time, when laws change and new rules and other political measures come into effect, it is explained to everyone wages and salaries can rise no more than 3% this year because it would be against all economic reason, it is made clear that in the future one has to take care of his pension by himself, that one must save up in order to still be able to afford the next visit to the dentist; how should one actually position oneself to the anti-terror war, to the commitment of troops? What is one to think of security programs? Etc. and so on, the fitting answer to all these questions is found in the free press. The readership becomes completely morally and also practically prepared for what is required and/or expected of them.

Secondly, the free press is something like a general catch basin for every form of discontent on the part of the readership. It knows a wrong way out for every criticism and every protest -- namely because a wrong explanation of the cause of the displeasure is supplied -- and this consists of replacing the offenders (by electoral mark or demand for resignation) instead of judging the acts themselves.

In summary it can be said: the theoretical inadequacies regarding the correct evaluation of a thing on the part of the readers, and their practical incompetence for evaluating something, is reproduced daily by the press!

But the readership and also the TV public are compensated: in as much as they are excluded in practice from all decisions and also are to remain excluded, so the citizens may participate idealistically in the debates, may mentally busy themselves with the problems of the ruling powers (that sometimes also have problems with them) - one participates virtually in the President’s office and may believe oneself, certainly as a private person, as if one is actually much better than the President …

The government and opposition parties love these platforms that they receive free of charge, and they use them extensively as a substitute parliament. These various opportunities to agitate the people cannot escape them.

2. The nation as mental homeland

The citizen may let himself intellectually inhabit many other sections within the newspapers, magazines or TV shows magazines. Two categories above all should be mentioned here: A) fellow citizens and their crimes, and b) the fate of the beautiful, rich and famous.

Category A) prescribes a desired moral development and/or strengthening or renewal of a morality already found in the readership; the press actually only supplies loud colorful material for it because it does not create it. It meets the readership from the beginning at their point of view: According to the rules of how this beautiful community is organized, I also want to behave myself, the local state order is the yardstick of my success too. Precisely, therefore, the exception interests the readers: breaches of law, crimes. They supply the (smug) reasons for why one always comes up short -- “nice guys always finish last”! Thus the wrong thought is manifested that the “disgrace,” the reasons for the annoyances that are given to one, never ever lies in the state order, but in each case the difficulties which one must deal with in shitty everyday life are always caused only by those who violate the rules or take more liberties than others, making life difficult by their asocial behavior.

Such uncovered deviations of course call on the state to restore the law with the imposition of punishments sufficient for the people’s need for revenge. The degree of punishment can hardly fall hard enough for the readership -- morality becomes productive again because one may see oneself confirmed as a decent contemporary at last, because: “nice guys last the longest!”

Such a subject’s mind is already active even if no crime is present. And generally with the sector of morality, they are gladly measured by the behavior of the stars, which is category b). Denouncing the “failures” and “mishaps” of the rich and beautiful strengthens one’s own morality; the morality of the “small man” and the “small woman” is idealistically praised. Such stories exclusively serve the moral-nationalistic conviction that the leaders and the led, the rulers and the controlled, are somehow cut from the same clothe nevertheless …

C. The media as an access instrument of the ruling powers for rule over minds

The best situation to describe this heading is the White House press conferences, in which nothing else happens than a gathered crowd of journalists have dictated to them in their shorthand pads or tape recorders what they are to write and print. Stupid as they are (one could also add unprincipled), they do this effortlessly. Thus the statements of the governing land in the heads of the governed. But why is that actually necessary? Because otherwise they would have no criteria by which they could judge the subjects! Should China be allowed into the World Trade Organization? Because most readers are neither economists nor sociologists it “just must be explained” to them! The yardstick for the suitable answer to such types of questions clearly arises from the beginning: It is the yardstick of the success of one’s own nation. If it is useful for America, China must be accepted into the World Trade Organization … Thus the relevant politicians of the country exercise a steering system on the readers through the press. However, it functions not because of any manipulation mechanisms, as the left states over and over again, but is based on the readers already bringing along the nationalistic point of view, which already inheres in them.

No conciliatory conclusion

That the free press does not play its own role any more in the controversies over the sinecures of power is however also false. It can interfere forcefully, strengthen tendencies, stir up antipathies, etc.; it is only a question of how it does this: it dedicates itself with all its energy to questions of taste in the exercise of power and thereby takes care of the party competition. It creates it evenly, for example, giving not insignificant attention to the hair-style and hair color of the two candidates for president, inventing the “applausometer” for party convention speeches and taking a long time to argue about the quality of a speaker, etc. The media reproduce thereby the mode of democracy by encouraging the desire to be ruled, in that they promote the desire of the voters’ for character masks of power.

With the design of its pretentious faddish standards in these questions of style for the democratic process of exercising power and the insufferable self-representations of potential and real ruling figures, it makes itself quite decisive… as far as one lets it.

“Censorship does not take place” -- why not!?!