As Thomas Sowell puts it, “If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.” Apparently, Sowell’s words highlight the need to understand the difference between the business of reporting news from manufacturing propaganda and the public should see that distinction. It is therefore beneficial to take a look at how media issues come into play.
One of the common issues in the media is oversensationalizing fear to the public. In Control Room, for instance, Al Jazeera has effectively injected the idea of fear to its audience by transmitting the gruesome images of war: the Iraqi casualties lying on the ground, children crying out, the bombings, etc. This effort come from the “control room”, where news is controlled, highlighting the American propaganda in the Iraq War. This, in turn, has brainwashed the audience believing that what they have seen in the broadcast media is true. This is particularly unethical considering that Al Jazeera overemphasized those images, and that unconsciously prompted the audience to dwell on that mediated reality.
Poverty porn is also in in the list. This concept basically means the display of images of people living in poverty for generating donations, increasing newspaper circulation, and the like. This has been effectively portrayed in Ang Babae sa Septic Tank where stark images of the impoverished SmokeyMountain, malnourished children, and the poor housing condition in the area. With these images, one could clearly see how “poverty” is overly exploited in this film.
Media freedom is likewise a prevalent issue in the media. Several scenes in Control Room present the attacks against Al Jazeera headquarters and other news networks in Baghdad. These attacks also resulted to media people casualties. Violating media freedom is indeed destructive in that it leads to the death of several media practitioners as evidenced by the case presented early on, news blackout, repression of press freedom, and the like.
On the other hand, biased political communication stems from the idea of utilizing the media to publicize news stories of this kind. As illustrated in Frost/Nixon, Nixon’s staff saw the interview as a way for Nixon to restore his reputation with the public. Thus, Nixon successfully presented his self-serving monologues, highlighting his achievements during his presidency and giving out general details when asked about the infamous Watergate scandal during the early stage of the interviews. This motive is further shown during the scene where he asked his staff if he did the “right thing” (that is if his responses did not sound too arrogant or self serving). It is really unfortunate for Nixon and his party to use The Nixon Interviews to have that objective, without realizing that this same tactic will eventually prompt him to admit his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
In relation to what was written in the preceding paragraph, the media’s representation of argumentum ad hominem is undeniably an issue in this context. Again, coming from Frost/Nixon, it effectively depicts how David Frost’s character is belittled. Early on, the film presents Frost as a typical talk show host in Australia. Upon arriving in the US, he tried to sell the interviews to several US broadcast networks. Much to his dismay, these networks turned him down due to his lightweight reputation as a journalist. In addition, he is being referred to as a performer by John in one of the scenes. Nixon and his staff, on the other hand, belittle Frost’s abilities as an interviewer. Little did they know that Frost would eventually win in the game (aka The Nixon’s Interviews) where he successfully let Nixon admit about his involvement in the Watergate scandal. This really highlights how the media and the ones involved in it attack Frost’s character, without realizing his potential in winning the last leg of The Nixon Interviews.
The “sex sells” idea, on the other one, is one of the problem highlights in the media in that it exploits women and depicts them as a commodity in the patriarch-ruled society. As shown in Hayok sa Laman, the film in Tuhog, sexploitation is effectively portrayed by presenting graphic sexual content. From what I can see, Hayok sa Laman is basically the exaggerated and distorted version of Tuhog since it reveals how Hayok sa Laman producers would go for the sex and violence-themed Hayok sa Laman for marketability. Concrete indicators of this exploitation include recalling those tragic rape scenes over and over again and the changed perception of their neighbors toward them. These details, in a nutshell, list the potential harms of the “sex sells” idea to the public.
The portrayal of women in the media also draws a gloomy picture in the media. Before the rise of feminism, women, as a group, is viewed as marginalized second class citizens. In a society that was once dominated by the patriarch rule, this issue has been effectively explored in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. In this movie, Veronica is hired by Ed to promote “diversity” in the news team. The men in the news team did not have a favorable response to this. They even commented that “the women don’t belong to the newsroom and that this is Anchorman, not Anchorlady”. On a positive note, however, Veronica deals with these issues accordingly. While this movie shows the harsh realities encountered by women in the media, this simply reveals the “transition” that has to go through in the field. Transition, in this context, translates to the promotion of diversity (adding a female anchor in the news team), which leads to some adverse reactions and behaviors, and that is normal.
Media manipulation is likewise a prevalent issue. Still, in Anchorman, one is brought to the scene where Helen tells Veronica that Ron is teleprompter-dependent since he reads everything written in it. Seeing this as a great tactic, Veronica changes Ron’s concluding statement from “You stay classy, San Diego” to “Go fuck yourself, San Diego”. As expected, Ron reads what the teleprompter says, and the series of unfortunate events are in. He becomes unemployed, lost his friends, and is hated by the public.
The same manipulation is shown in The TV Set. That is when Mike ( is forced to adopt the changes (from the title, concept, etc) in his project to ensure its success in the ratings game and make it more appealing to the audience. While this translates to success in the sense that the gets picked up at the end of the film, several concerns are raised. Would the media continue to let their decisions get dictated by the ratings game? Shall they compromise the material for profitability? Indeed, the manipulation shown in Anchorman and The TV Set led to unfortunate events be it in one’s career and/or project.
On top of media manipulation, one should also look into media deception. Several media deception episodes are shown in the films. Shattered Glass, for instance, narrates how Steven Glass successfully published fabricated stories in The New Republic, prompting the staff to write a letter of apology to their readers due to this incident. This incident has put The New Republic down and Steven himself. Getting into media deception leads to losing the public trust and may mislead the public to believe that the stories presented are true.
Indeed, media practitioners will have to deal with these issues: oversensationalizing fear, media freedom, biased political communication, “sex sells”, portrayal of women, media manipulation, and media deception in the course of their career. Additionally, with the new media platforms brought about by the Internet and other technological innovations, new issues will emerge and that is another challenge for them. Going back to the media issues explored, what course of action can media practitioners take to better address them?
***drafted December 14, 2013