Media has been especially rapidly developing over the past several decades when so many events have been taking place worldwide. It was not always that people fully trusted the media, but most of the citizens relied on the information presented in newspapers and TV reports. This is why the powers of the media over the population have always been immense. Even when people discovered that the media misinformed or concealed the information from them, they still continued believing it. Media, in its turn, continued imposing its ideology on the society with the latter shaping their opinions regarding the world events in accordance with this ideology. This report is going to analyze the video documentary about media coverage during the war in Iraq, namely, “Weapons of Mass Deception” with regards to three main approaches, such as Cultural Studies, Toronto School, and Critical Theory approaches.
Fiske & Taylor (1991) use an ideological approach to media regarding each person as a subject in and subject to the ideology constructed by the ideological state apparatuses (ISAs), such as the media, the family, the political system, etc. The main role of these apparatuses is to make people think and behave in socially acceptable ways. Construction of people’s ideology takes place by means of language which helps to reproduce social relations. This is often done through polysemy and metonymy, when the journalists use synonymous words or metonymic expressions to turn public attention to one issue and distract it from another. For instance, reporting about railroad strike threatening the economy of the country, the news reporter may use the word “strike” metonymically, thus hiding the fact that the railroad management’s role in this strike is also significant and turning the attention to the damage which the strike may bring to the country (Fiske & Taylor 1991).
Such a constructing of subjects in ideology is beneficial for dominant classes and is often referred to as hegemony. When applied to cultural studies, the concept of hegemony changes its meaning with cultural theorists using it “to describe the process by which a dominant class wins the willing consent of the subordinate classes to the system that ensures their subordination” (Fiske & Taylor 1991, p. 291). Hegemony leads to ideological struggle between social experience and ideology. The texts (of news, for example) always contain dominant ideology, which results in preferred reading on the part of public. This reading may be dominant, negotiated, and oppositional with the first one being the most widespread. This may be proved by “Weapons of Mass Destruction” video where people’s ignorance of the Vietnam War events is addressed. The reporter recollects how the public was misinformed by the media: “Most Americans were not aware of how one-sided and biased the coverage has been… They believed the news media had served the country well” (Weapons of Mass Deception 2004). The population resented the misinformation and media coverage was blamed for America’s losing the Vietnam War (Weapons of Mass Deception 2004). This means that people were using dominant reading and were easily subjected to dominant ideology. This explains how social powers which media has allow it spreading dominant ideology throughout the population.
The Toronto School
The Toronto School views media as another technological advancement of the society. Technological determinism of this approach consists in its claiming that technological developments, media in particular, have a significant impact on the individual behavior serving as dominant medium of communication between the individuals (Sparks 2009). In this way, not only people have powers to change and modernize technologies, but technologies can change people and, correspondingly, the society. Technological advancements are inevitable because they, as McLuhan (1969) points out are “extensions of man that cause deep and fasting changes in him and transform his environment” (p. 5). Due to globalization, coping with the changes which the technologies introduce into human lives became difficult:
In the past, the effects of media were experienced more gradually, allowing the individual and society to absorb and cushion their impact to some degree. Today, in the electronic age of instantaneous communication, […] electric media constitute a total and near-instantaneous transformation of culture, values and attitudes (McLuhan, 1969, p. 7).
This instantaneous movement of information contracted the world to the ‘global village’. One of the greatest changes was the television which has completely and irreversibly changed the lives of American people resulting in negative changes for education. Sparks (2009) notes that since television has become available to everyone, students’ test scores results have dropped with this decline remaining stable throughout the years, as well as drug abuse and political instability increased. One of the main ideas which McLuhan advanced was that the content of message transferred by the media is insignificant with its playing purely subordinate role. This idea can be argued with, especially taking into account how often media is used by politicians and others for propaganda (Jowett & O’Donnel, 2006). The keynote speech does not fall under the Toronto School paradigm, though it features certain moments when the media was used to change people’s attitude towards some events and towards other nations. One of the video episodes, for instance, concerned the September 11 attack when the public expressed their hatred towards the Iraqi people with one woman blaming the country for inactivity and demanding revenge (Weapons of Mass Deception, 2004). Other people in the crowd were supportive of this idea; to some extent, this falls under McLuhan’s concept of ‘global village’, though what united those people and called for their national identity sense was not the media, but the tragedy which back then shoked the entire world.
Critical theory approach to media also discusses the media as one of the modern advancements which influence the society. This theory assumes that the media and its economic and industrious forms have powers to colonize consciousness and that the text of the media is able to reflect cultural practices of the society (Grossberg 1991). Though modern media technologies “increase efficiency and facilitate and democratize communication among members of civil society” (Kewamoto 2003, p. 112), critical theorists still wrangle over how beneficial new technologies may be. In any way, the media has an effect on the society due to dominant ideology which is embedded in the media coverage. With respect to Iraqi War, this ideology consists in the government limiting access of media to the war-related information: “Behind our backs, behind the back of the field reporters, field producers and crews on the ground our bosses made a deal with the establishment to create ‘pools’ […] hand-cuffed, managed news reporting” (Weapons of Mass Deception, 2004). This has greatly affected audiences and the society because important information has been concealed from them (such as ineffectiveness of some of the U.S. weapons, death casualties, etc). One of the explanations proposed to this by the video documentary is that the audiences do not have to know all the terror of wars; another explanation is that it is impossible to capture all the events which take place at war and, even if a reporter manages to do this, it still will not be shown (Weapons of Mass Deception, 2004). Though media cheering of US involvement into the war helped the country greatly, it still has been blamed for inaccuracy: “The press, as a whole, did not do a very good job in challenging administration claims” (Weapons of Mass Deception, 2004). Moreover, only 3% of sources were anti-war, while 70% were pro-war. The keynote speaker also blames the media in underreporting and exaggerating events (the threat of nuclear weapon, for instance). Some of other speakers, however, state that “the media has done fabulous job since September 11” (Michael Elliot, Weapons of Mass Deception, 2004). Lastly, new media technologies allowed accessing the information which was restricted by the government, which led to abuse of this information and numerous rights violations.
Therefore, the report has addressed main issues regarding the media coverage during the war in Iraq and the media’s role in informing the public about the events which took place during this war. With regards to Cultural Studies approach, it has been discovered that the media can use different means to misinform the population and impose its dominant ideology on it even without the population’s knowledge. The video documentary in question almost did not fall under the Toronto School Paradigm with the events of September 11 serving as fomentation of hatred of American people towards the Iraqi population. Lastly, the Critical Theory approach helped to reveal that the dominant ideology embedded by media coverage during the war was restriction of the media’s access to war-related information, which resulted in underreporting to the public and its further being blamed for inaccuracy of presenting the facts.
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Weapons of Mass Deception 2004, video documentary.