noun: information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view
Let’s play word association: “North Korea” – what are you thinking? If you are like me, you are replaying the images Western media feeds us. “Those poor North Koreans being feed all those lies about the world and their place in it!”
I used to think propaganda was what the bad guys did during war. But these days propaganda is ubiquitous. I don’t get angry easily, but I find anger swelling more frequently when I realise how (i) I have been feed falsehoods as absolute truth and (ii) when I see opinion pieces being presented as news and current affairs on the front pages of news papers and websites. The reason I get angry is that I grew up trusting the media, and it takes a lot of unlearning to be skeptical.
There are some easy targets. The concentration of media ownership scares me a lot. I physically shudder when I think people’s view of the world is shaped by commercial news and current affairs and what they read on their Facebook feed. But there are less obvious ones too. I also get angry when I realise how my own education has been full of propaganda. I think particularly of what we were taught about First Nations people and culture; that they were unsophisticated savages. I feel physically sick at the lie yet know how hard it is to unlearn prejudices.
Make no mistake, complete objectivity is impossible. But if it was up to me, teaching media intelligence must become central to education. We could do worse than watch Utopia, Mediawatch and re-runs of Frontline.
The business of professional journalism is being dismantled at an alarming rate. How will we keep abreast of current affairs of no interest to commercially driven media? How will we know we are hearing a balanced account? Who will we trust to shape our worldview?
I have only recently become aware of The Conversation. A pairing of academia and journalism is a promising idea, getting behind the headline and a single angle on a story. For example, you would think from our mainstream news that the Rohingyas evacuation from Myanmar was all about religious intolerance (apparently not), or you might wonder what we can and can’t say about the extent to which hurricanes Harvey and Irma were related to climate change.
Before I first went to PNG I visited my GP to get some advice about health risks. He said, “Just assume everything is covered in faeces and you’ll be OK.” To stay intelligent these days, let’s just assume every piece of media we consume is propaganda and we’ll be OK.