Tuesday, 2 October 2018
The Fourth Estate
The other day I watched The Post, the 2017 biopic of the Washington Post’s revelations about backroom dealings behind the Vietnam War. Without intending to spoil – it is all in the public domain now anyway – the fundamental message is that press freedom is an essential pillar of democracy. The press is, or should be, unafraid to challenge government and in that respect it should act in the interests of the general population who rely on free and fair information. If government truly is for and of and by the people, then the people need to be reliably informed. They’re not.
That period was characterised as the age of propaganda, the cold war and the guarded use of knowledge as a weapon of war. But since glasnost and freedom of information the new age of mass communication has morphed into the age of disinformation. Today, governments are at war with their people as possibly never before and the press is often complicit. Even the language used to frame the ‘news’ shames even the best of the press at times. Listen to any mainstream news broadcast and you will hear, liberally enunciated, the terms far-right, hard right, extreme right, neo-fascist, etc.
Leftist listeners, however, only hear their darlings referred to as hard left, Marxist, Corbynite and so on. With so-called ‘citizen journalists’ indulging their own biases, putting out highly selective video clips, using old photographs to supposedly illustrate current events and constructing elaborate but untrue memes, either in malice or ignorance, the picture gets ever more indistinct. Fake news? The hard part is discerning the non-fake news.
As soon as you subscribe to one view or another it is difficult to critically view anything that crosses your sight lines. If you disagree with it, it must be confection, if it rings your bell it must be gospel. Out-of-context soundbites, ‘adjusted’ statistics, opinion posted as fact, fact posted as supposition and provenance going out of the window are commonplace. Newsreaders are now commentators and none of them are truly impartial. Even the magnificently even-handed Andrew Neil is seen as a far-right propagandist by the left, while the entirety of the Sky News team are branded communist stooges by the right.
The Fourth estate is now cynically viewed as the Fifth Column by many people. And when you don’t trust your news sources, don’t trust your politicians and have no clear means of obtaining an objective view of the battle is it any wonder that we all retreat to the safety of our own little band of brothers. From the middle of the mob you can only see what that mob wants you to see... and you can’t even see that that is all you can see. Watch the movie and ask yourself, would the Pentagon Papers ever see the light of day in 2018, or would they simply be dismissed as fake news?