“[A]fter analysing a five-day working week in the media, across 10 hard-copy papers, ACIJ and Crikey found that nearly 55% of stories analysed were driven by some form of public relations. The Daily Telegraph came out on top of the league ladder with 70% of stories analysed triggered by public relations. The Sydney Morning Herald gets the wooden spoon with (only) 42% PR-driven stories for that week.”
Summary: How sources of information get perturbed by sources of power and why it matters
NEWS filters are nowadays as necessary as spam filters. A lot of news is fake and a lot of it is just trying to sell something. My uncle who is also a Ph.D. told me this month that when he was recently brought to the radio to explain a subject in which he is an expert he was gently asked to promote a particular product he does not believe in; the radio station actually had a hidden agenda to push, but he declined. That’s how radio gets some of its revenue and people who do not cooperate with it are likely not to be invited to future shows. It’s sad, but it is also true and it’s merely anecdotal. When this is done in a high-quantity, retail-type fashion with entire companies mastering and developing an expertise in such manipulation, then they get called advertising agencies, PR firms, and other such euphemisms. They truly believe they do the right thing by “promoting small businesses”, “informing the public”, “driving the industry”, and other such excuses. Some would justify fake reviews in more or less the same way. At another level, news pushes political agenda and think-tanks are sometimes formed to put some names on a predetermined document. It is, in essence, a case of opinion for sale. Privileged audiences are sold for corporations to confuse, scare, or fill with artificial wants and desires; it is for consumers (passive) or for citizens to behave as someone else wishes for them to behave. The more successful strategists are able to create vast political movements like the Tea Party and then label it “grassroots” when in fact it is all funded and coordinated by those who merely gather a voluntary mob for themselves, usually to harm those very same people’s interests; they help enrich their exploiters.
For people who are aware of the vast amount of false signals surrounding them, it is easy to be demoralised at times. It is not a failure to block out noise that can prove rather depressing; sometimes it is the concern for others whose critical skills are too weak to carry out a signal selection process. That leads to peer-imposed pressure for compliance, which increases as the intervention of the so-called “PR industry” increases. This industry is vastly greater than journalism, estimated to be dealing with a turnover of over one trillion dollars per year in the US alone, depending on what qualifies as PR. In this vortex of dishonesty people are inclined to do irrational things and misinterpret just about everything, unless popular movements somehow manage to overcome mercenaries, controversial laws, and propaganda.
While this whole writeup may seem misplaced, it is actually very relevant to Techrights because educating the wider public — not just dyed-in-the-wool Free software supporters — is not easy when there are walls that act as boundaries of “allowed” thinking. For example, go ahead and explain to the ordinary person that cellular phones are nowadays used for surveillance, all E-mails are being scanned, and the world’s richest (and publicly “charming”) people are finding new ways to keep the public under control, sometimes misdirecting the perception of danger and threat to those who are poorest, and not by their own choosing, either. The role of Free software in this picture is akin to that of a leveler — where the software producer basically cannot elevate one above another. The user has as much control over the software (but not the network, at least not yet) as anybody else and therefore the user can enjoy access to the same knowledge others used to keep sheltered. The idea of software freedom is just one piece of a bigger puzzle and one whose solution can improve the lives of many, usually at the expense of very few who capitalise on disparity. In addition to software freedom (in the computer code sense), technology has other aspects of it which Techrights addresses; among them there are net neutrality, censorship, DRM, open access, transparency, collaboration, weakening of monopolies like copyrights and patents, even trademarks to a degree. A lot of these issues eventually affect access to virtual, non-physical resources, mostly information. These naturally exist in abundance, but those who want to increase their own power impose limitations; they create self-serving scarcities and it remains the task of everybody else to undo these artificial restrictions or unneeded limitations, otherwise class war (the main type of war in this world, which can be spun as something else to create phantom enemies, e.g. narcotics) will never really be grasped and truly end. A class war is not fought with equipment of conventional war; it is best fought with information, which can sway one side onto another. Egypt is a good example of this.
With the decline of classified ads and other vital sources of revenue newspapers used to enjoy, journalism is truly dying, but its hollow shell is quickly being filled by PR personnel, to whom the void establishments — with some reputation and distribution left — provide opportunities to exploit. Deception pays a lot more than truth; changing people’s perception is something powerful people are willing to pay for and nowadays a lot of the “news” is just like that. There is a new example of it which involves a fear-mongering firm. Watch this firm injecting self-promotion into IDG, which is commonly done there. The Apple hype machine is another useful example where a company is changing perceptions and turning a gadget into a status symbol, even when it’s a piece of deficient, overpriced hardware. Gone are the days of genuine and investigative journalism, which is why so many people turn to sources like Wikileaks. Raw material can truly embarrass those whose coverage is entirely contradictory to truth.
“Beyond the ‘Public Relations’” is a post we wrote a while back in order to shed some light on the role of Bernays et al. A century ago it was quite acceptable to openly engage in engineering of people’s minds in order for them to accept unjust wars and defend aggression. Before the term “PR” was coined it was called “propaganda”. Only later it became a very negative word, which suffered from a connotation not with colonialism but even with Nazi methodologies of turning indifferent populations into consenting followers.
One organisation which gained notoriety for supporting Western power games is the BBC. There are many examples of articles on the subject and they can easily be found on the Web, too. Microsoft UK took control of many positions of power at the BBC, including BBC World Service as we covered at the time it happened. Objectiveness is compromised this way. In addition to that, there is major news right now about “BBC World Service to sign funding deal with US state department”. This suggests that if the BBC continues to be used as tool of foreign policy-setting/US agenda-pushing, then payments will help validate long-held suspicions (it is a shame that British taxpayers too must pay for this). To quote this report from today:
The BBC World Service is to receive a “significant” sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China.
In what the BBC said is the first deal of its kind, an agreement is expected to be signed later this month that will see US state department money – understood to be a low six-figure sum – given to the World Service to invest in developing anti-jamming technology and software.
The reporter happens to work for The Guardian, which is funded by Bill Gates to worship and spin what he does as part of his investments. Then again, there is almost no big channel/publication which the Gates Foundation has not already bribed to ensure agreement. In fact, the latest bit of spin (from several days ago) again stresses that this tax evader, Gates, who forces people to pay him a tax on every new PC, is in fact a giver, whose ‘example’ everyone must follow. Satire is dead when it is said so seriously. It’s PR. Similarly, Microsoft can now point the finger at some bogus claims that it is the “most ethical” in the world; yes, a think-tank like Alexis de Tocqueville claims so. This one particular think-tank, Ethisphere Institute, is studied and its nature explained by one of the few investigative journalists who still exist. Sam Varghese writes:
Surprise! Microsoft, big Oz banks among most ethical
If that wasn’t enough to tickle one’s nerve of risibility, the good folk at Ethisphere have selected three of the four big Australian banks – Westpac, ANZ and NAB – as being among the most ethical as well.
“About Microsoft,” he adds, “one does not need to say much apart from observing that if it is among the most ethical, then the word ethics has certainly been redefined.”
“The people who run the institute haven’t responded to a query as to how many companies among the 110 selected this year have donated money to its noble cause,” it concludes.
Who paid for this information to be generated? It’s not as though it is some known ladder and the people attending/participating in this think-tank are not just doing it “for fun”. It’s just not what think-tanks do. To Microsoft, ridiculous output such as the above would be very handy and probably worth many millions of dollars. Imagine being able to tell customers that rather than being the industry’s longtime bully you are the “most ethical” out there. Other companies that use such think-tank tactics range from oil companies to tobacco companies. They use think-tanks to distort information and control perceptions. It’s all about information (and contrariwise, disinformation), which is now delivered predominantly using electronic means.
Some time ago Yahoo! Mail started to reject my outgoing E-mails, which is probably just an unfortunate coincidence, but how about this new rant from LWN? It says:
The wise folks at Hotmail have decided to start blocking email from LWN’s server; they also have not really bothered to inform people of how to get themselves unblocked. As a result, anybody who has subscribed to an LWN mailing list from a Hotmail account has been unsubscribed. It must be said that we were surprised by just how many of those there were. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience.
How pleasant. Those who control routes of information can misuse this power. If technology gets centralised (in private hands), it is a recipe for trouble. LWN is still one of the best sources for Linux news; the rest is dominated by large corporations such as Comcast, GE, and Universal. Who would ever sponsor news about software freedom? █