Rajpal's Column

3rd June 2001

The real news about the news and views

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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Coca Cola
Whatever it may be, it is not a drink.

Coca Cola practices a colonization of the mind, and who doesn't know that? But, there is new information that Coca Cola is going even further.

The company wants to define which articles will be published next to it's advertisements.

In a strategic confidential document that was released in it's offices in the USA, Coca Cola went further to define the content of the stories that must not be published next to it's advertisements. No stories on health, environment, politics or "negative diet'' for instance.

The year that Nelson Mandela was released from jail, only 80 per cent of the South Africans knew that such a man existed.

That's a different cup of Coca Cola. But, it is a fair indication of the way in which the media can manipulate the message in what is seen as an "information age, in which no news can be suppressed.''

The converse is true, which is why this whole myth of the information age seems to be the biggest hoax perpetrated on mankind in recent times.

Watch CNN, or for that matter, Sirasa or Swarnavahini. The speed with which the news breaks can put Susanthika Jayasinghe to shame…..

But, breaking news means dramatic news coverage, and this seems obvious from the way most international channels break, say, the news of a hijack, with a thunderblast or a cacophony of serenading sound. In the good old days, this trumpeting was generally reserved for the final five awards of the Oscars.

The race for breaking news has the resultant outcome of suppressing the "in-depth.'' Reporters do not have time to check or analyze the facts. They work faster, and the news agencies work faster too.

A recent international working group survey on the media revealed that on the average newspapers worldwide, take just 5 to 10 per cent of the vast corpus of stories that are churned out by the press agencies. The same political fact of the day, the same stock market news and the same sports segments are aired every day, almost all over the world.

Though Sri Lanka has totally succumbed, the future doesn't seem to hold anything better than canned "politi-shows'' and sound-byte newspapering.

In-depthness of stories seemed to vanish years ago. What replaced it was a revolution of "factoid'' reporting, where a mass of facts are gathered, rolled together, to form a long mat of a story.

It is breaking news in magnum opus.

Though the situation would vary from country to country, the tendency towards uniformness is growing. The number of American and European media groups has been reduced, from 50 to 6 in recent years, and now AOL Time Warner, ABC-Disney and Murdoch enjoy the prerogative of determining what most people in the US or Europe watch or hear.

Some would argue that hoi polloi news is always hoi polloi news. But, what's new is that readers are never considered citizens anymore.

The new culture of the media is that readers are consumers of information and entertainment. One newspaper Editor put it well. "The news is there to deliver consumers to advertisers.''

Infotainment is making people brain-dead, and the "Murdochisation'' of the media is spreading, as news monopolies take over and determine how to "deliver consumers to advertisers.''

In Sri Lanka, this process of is still in it's dirty diaper infancy. Which means that there is little info and even less 'tainment in our "infotainment.'' All is not lost, it might be said, considering that there is a great deal of debate and discussion on the ethnic issue for instance.

That's one area that will suffer once the war is over.

Besides, in Sri Lanka, political sensation sells, unlike countries in which voter turnout usually hovers around the figure of 50 per cent. But that is part of the problem. What sells is political sensation, and not in-depth political analysis. This can be seen by the popularity of newspaper features that offer political fact married into political gossip.

But, it can be asked, what's wrong if readers determine the popularity of what they want to read? If the readers want political sensation, then who are we busybodies to judge?

The problem is that it's a weak assumption that readers actually want it. "Because of conformism, citizens do not decide what they actually want to see, read or listen to. The media themselves decide of what information should be, conforming with the dominant neo-liberal culture of the day" It's the verdict of an international working group on the media.

Coca Cola anyone?

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