Media Manipulation

Is there a difference between these two statements?

BRITISH PILOT DENIES KILLING WOMAN

BRITISH PILOT ACCUSED OF KILLING WOMAN

I came across this headline in the BBC website a couple of months back and thought I’d dare to share my thoughts with the outside world.

It would be wrong to suggest that either of these statements are a lie, as they are both in fact true (given that there was a British pilot accused of or denies killing). But the first implies that he is possibly innocent and the latter implies that he’s possibly guilty. Although neither of these interpretations is untrue , they imply different things.As a Muslim, I have begun to notice the different language used in the media, especially on issues involving Muslims or those revolving around Islam. This has made me ponder over the concept of ‘objective media’.

A colleague of mine recently suggested that the presence of free media is an indictor of free and democratic societies. Now I don’t necessarily disagree with this statement, but do question how ‘free’ the media really is and more importantly, how ‘free’ is it possible for the media to be?

Many dictatorships have used censorship in the past to prevent political opposition and dissent and have often manipulated the media to paint a rosy picture. I’m not denying that. However, many countries have also used media as a tool to spread propaganda and meddle in the affairs of other countries, which has at times justified state controlled media. Either way, the reality is that you may have multiple media outlets in a country, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee objectivity. The people behind these outlets often pull the strings and have the power to sway public opinion. For instance, the BBC World Service is partly funded by the Foreign Office whose role is to promote British interests abroad; Rupert Murdoch owns the Sun (the most popular newspaper in the UK), the Times, Fox News, Sky News and possibly more. His papers also supported Labour before Tony Blair was elected.

Whilst a consequence of this realisation is that we’re now losing confidence in the mainstream media outlets, we nevertheless, have a long way to go. From my experience, the media has had a huge role to play in fuelling Islamophobia. Concerns about the rise in Islamophobia in Europe, has in turn further angered those who wish to attack it. Muslims, being at the receiving end of attacks on Islam and the choice of words have generally been quicker at noticing this bias. If a stabbing occurs and the suspect is a Muslim, it’s most likely to be mentioned in the headline. If it’s a non-Muslim, his or her religion isn’t important.

The important question to ask in this debate is: What is the function of the media? If it is just another business, then the dangers are all too obvious. If it’s owned by different people or just one person, whatever sells, goes. There may be laws in place to ensure reporting of facts, but as shown in the example above, the wording often has implications.

Whatever the driving forces, the media is ultimately influenced by money or politics. Consequently, it is able to influence public opinion. The media is currently being used (through its islamophobic tone) as just another tool for convincing the citizens in the west that their governments need to interfere in the Muslim world, because they’re barbaric and believe in an out-dated system of hate. The sad reality is, many in the west still fall into this trap and believe this without having had an honest debate on the subject.

Honest Debate

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  1. More revelations about the media « Honest Debate’s Weblog - July 21, 2008

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