Is there any way to censor media outlets without a single censor at hand? Doesn’t the very idea of suppressing media freedom in open market economies sound absurd? Well, it does. In this program we’re seeking a better understanding how the famously free Western media got to be tightly controlled? Looking into the problem are Mark Mason, PhD, Cultural and political analyst based in California, Eric Draitser, an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City and the founder of StopImperialism.com, and Christoph R. Hörstel, government Consultant and publicist, based in Germany.
Mark Mason: “In the US the power structures inside and around the media, the so-called news and journalism system, the domain of news production, news gathering and generating, it’s a propaganda system. It always has been. And it’s due not to any particular individual, whom we might try to seek out and try to find them, but rather a systemic character of the US business model of media and news production.
It’s always been that way. We can see extreme concentrations of wealth and concentrations of power in the mass media during the past 40 years. We can see changes and that it is becoming increasingly concentrated with only five major massive giant corporations that own and control 90% of all TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and book publishing in the entire US.
But that propaganda function has always been a part of the US media. You can go back to the era of the late 19th century, the US invasion of the Philippines, the so-called Spanish-American war. The term “yellow journalism” was created in the late 19th century. So, we can see a long, sort of historical context that it tells us something about the very structure of power in the US and the functions of the mass media as a propaganda tool.
There’s been lots of American films about brave reporters who somehow struggle to bring their honest news through to the wider public. What happens to those people who try to do the honest reporting now?
We don’t have a democracy. We have an integrated system that is called culture and the media is embedded in that as a tyrannical, sort of autocratic institution. No one in the US has any clue what a democracy is.
The mass media, they are owned and controlled by the rich through the institution of a corporation. The corporation is a kingdom, it has a tsar. I mean, okay, we call them the CEOs, but the CEO issues orders and everyone down the line either follows the orders or they are going to be thrown out.
And the power in the US is just as plain as day. We have several cultural institutions or domains – the home, the school, the workplace, religious institutions and government, and none of them are democratic. They are all controlled by centers of autocratic rule, from the home to the President of the US and the CEO of NBC and MSNBC, and CNN.
Specifically, the business model is what drives the news. Journalists know that their job is to make money for the investors. They have no interest in morality, they have no interest in the truth, no interest in the facts. This is I think a general truth that needs to be shared between you and I, that we talk about right now, is that culture and centers of power are centers of life. ‘Centrical’ power is universally a center of what I call a reality distortion zone.
The US Government lies every day. I mean, they lie and they lie. And we have millions of educated people working for the corporate media, they think they are journalists. But they are really performing the function of a propaganda machinery. And you and I, sort of on the outside of the institution, can see they function as a propaganda tool, whereas they are embedded in the system and they really don’t know what they are doing. It is that simple”.
Eric Draitser, an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City and the founder of StopImperialism.com:
"It should be remembered that in the US almost every single major media outlet, almost without exception, is owned by six major corporations. And those major corporations are run by boards of directors with overlapping interests. Many of them have the same political agenda and maintain the same political posture as the establishment does in the US.
So, that’s why in many ways you see a confluence between what the media is saying and what the talking points are from the State Department, from Pentagon and from various other organs of US military and political power. And so, the media is in many ways an appendage of the ruling establishment in the US.
And so, when you have a conflict, like we have in Ukraine, that is significant geopolitically, in which the US comes into conflict diplomatically and politically with Russia, you see that the media is employed in full force and it becomes one of the most potent weapons at their disposal.
But how does that happen technically? I mean, the government is not officially subsidizing the media. And huge media outlets seem to be rather independent. But you are saying that those outlets are also controlled. And if you look at the content, it is absolutely uniform. How does that happen?
It happens because of corporate control. You have to remember that in the US we don’t have a direct Government controlled media the way you might have in some other parts of the world. In the US it is more complicated, because the media is what we call the corporate media. And the corporate media is tied to special interests and, as we all know, corporations and the corporate ruling establishment controls the political process in the US.
And so, when you see these very minor differentiations between the political parties, you see that the members of these parties end up going to dinner together, working together and working with their friends in the media.
A colleague of mine noted that when he was working MSNBC, he was told by one of his superiors that we are on the inside, we are insiders and we must act like insiders, meaning that there is an editorial line and that editorial line is shaped by political lines, and those political lines are shaped by very powerful people. So, the self-censorship that happens within the US media is a fundamental part of this sort of censorship and propaganda that you see in the US.
You don’t need your editor telling you exactly what to say, you simply know that your job depends on holding a particular perspective, a particular world view and on espousing that world view in the media. And whether it is the NY Times, which is traditionally more liberal leaning, or whether it is more conservative leaning media outlet like Fox News, you tend to find uniform talking points with only slight variations.
And nevertheless, people still believe what they are reading there, right?
That’s correct. And again, the issue comes from the fact that people in the US generally are getting their information, getting their news from these mainstream media outlets. Of course, the alternative media is growing significantly and has been in the recent years. But in terms of the general population and public opinion, it is still very much shaped by major media. And major media, of course, in the form of print media, in the form of television, Internet, radio and so on. And we have a saturation of that sort of media here in the US.
And so, when they need to demonize Russia, to demonize Putin, all of a sudden, the talking points come out in all of the news media outlets, all begin pushing an anti-Russian line and, of course, the slight variations have to do with the degrees to which they will act belligerent. And a good example of that would be the republicans like John McCain versus democrats like Barack Obama. The difference is not in whether they are warmongering, the difference is merely the extent to which they warmonger.
But you are saying that people start to crave for real facts, or are they still unaware of being manipulated in this way?
I think that many people are quite aware that they are being manipulated. The question has to do with the number of people who will actually seek out alternative sources. And I think that a good example of the growing trend to move away from the mainstream media comes from the attacks upon news outlets like RT or other non-Western news outlets which are gaining notoriety in the US, because they provide a perspective that is very different from what we get in the establishment.
And I would just remind to people that when you consider the way in which the people in the US view their media, you have to remember that we have been lied into multiple wars just in the last two decades. The people of the US remember very clearly the role of the media in selling a war in Iraq, which was built upon a foundation of lies. We remember very clearly the idea that Libya was supposed to be some kind of a humanitarian war. We remember very clearly the humanitarianism of bombing Kosovo and Serbia, and the role that the media played in shaping the public opinion towards that goal.
So, I don’t think that it is generally a secret among people, it is just that in the US most people, sadly, are not thinking about these issues. And economic difficulties that many people are facing oftentimes prevent them from doing anything other than turning on their television and tuning into whatever news reinforces their preconceived world view.
If you want to look at a historical perspective, there is a long and rich historical tradition in the US of what we call “yellow journalism” or blatant propaganda for the purposes of selling a war to the people. We can think back to the very important role of William Randolph Hearst – the newspaper magnate – in selling the Spanish-American war in 1898 building that upon a foundation of lies. We know the very important role the news media played in demonizing the Germans during WW I and in selling the propaganda about WW I as a war to save democracy.
So, this is certainly nothing new. And the sort of socialization process of making people accustomed to these ideas is a fundamental part of being able to sell perpetual war. And that is really what the US is engaged in.
The US is engaged in perpetual war. It is not simply a war in Libya, a war in Iraq, a war in Syria, it is a war upon a war upon a war. And it is endless war.
And to make Americans accustomed to that, to make it seem routine and to make it seem like an everyday occurrence, they need to be bombarded with everything from desensitization to violence, to an anti-imperialist propaganda system, to our news media, to our popular culture – all of this feeds in to this growing public sort of consciousness.
And it embeds itself within America’s public consciousness and it is very unfortunate. It is something that people like me have to struggle against very much to remind people that it is not simply America’s place to go around the world telling everybody how they should live their lives and fighting wars whenever we see fit; that America is merely one country among many in a world in which peace is really the ultimate goal.
Christoph R. Hörstel: "After the Project for the New American Century of 1998 and the war games planning of the Bush administration, we have a situation where the Joint Vision 2020 plan of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Army has given itself a media leg, so to say. And that means – all the Western big media are unified behind the aggressive aims of NATO led by Washington.
And unless people read and take good care of this Joint Vision 2020 paper, which anybody can download on the Internet, and see all these official logos of the US armed forces, and notice that the US armed forces nowadays are a permanent force permanently at war, permanently in action and only part of their activities go on the battlefield. Other parts go into influencing the civilians by many ways, and they include the media and, this is especially interesting for Russia, the NGOs.
And unless we do understand that this is the new strategy and that the media is just a foreign policy tool understanding itself to be at war, then we cannot understand what is happening here.
And since you’ve mentioned the Syrian case, I was one of the most active Europeans in that area, as the Syrian Government said, and I have very deeply come into stress situations with the Western media, because of their mispresenting the situation.
And the funny thing here is that even the CIA in a study was publishing the case and the fact that the so-called ruthless dictator Bashar al-Assad had the vast majority of his people behind him. And even this finding did not find its way into the pages of all the Western media.
And that was interesting to see. There is a gap between the findings of the CIA, which are correct, and the publications of these media, which are deeply incorrect and show a wide gap between the published information and factual information.
But how are they doing that? I mean, there is no official censorship and there is such a huge variety of all kinds of news outlets.
Yes, that is a very good question. That is correct, we don’t have official censorship, we don’t have a censorship office where there is an officer sitting and putting red lines through parts of script he doesn’t want to see published. That is not the case.
What we have is a two-generation training system. 60 years of training after the last war. And the last – let’s say – 20-25 years…I'm approaching 60 now. I’ve started my journalist career in the university when I was in the beginning of my 20’es. And since that time I have been watching and well noting the ever-hardening situation of the journalists.
Early on they are being signaled by their bosses that it is better not to contradict, not to have your own kind of information and viewpoints, and certainly not to try and push down your boss’s throat what you think is the truth, because you have the facts at hand. This doesn’t interest anybody in these daily meetings on TV.
I was 14 years with the First German TV. For one newscast we had three meetings during the daytime until the evening news show. And in these meetings it became very clear what the bosses wanted to see published on TV, there was a planning for the week ahead and things like that.
Anybody familiar with this kind of system knows that there are ample controls and signals from the bosses – this is what we like. If you try to start anything otherwise, you better be then well prepared. And even if you are and you do not get through with your idea, your name is marked as being somebody who is advancing outside the crowd.
And then, if that happens too often, you will have a nice little meeting with your boss and he will tell you – if this continues, you find yourself another job. And this is Germany. In other countries, like in Anglo-Saxon countries, in the US, you are fired straight away the same day.
So, these are the things that happen there. There is no censorship, but there is a clear directive from the top what we want to see. And to my best understanding, this reminds me of the situation in the Soviet Union. You are being given signals and if you don’t listen to these signals…and I was constantly, for these many years with the First German TV, I have been fighting.
All the time I have been fighting with my bosses and it was very tough. And the problem was – they put me on the screen, because I had some kind of CIA support at that time. And that was because I was active in Afghanistan within mujahidin when the Soviet Union was in. So, I was one of these heroes and as a hero I could go on the screen.
And the problem on the screen was that I tried to tell people the truth and they noticed. So, when I had trouble with my bosses, they supported me and they said – we want Mr. Horstel on screen. And I had the highest viewership rates even among the colleagues. That saved my neck for a few years. But I got tired over the time and, finally, I left the job, and took a wonderful job with Siemens with a triple salary and things like that, because I didn’t want to be part of that lying system.
And I can tell you from my side, I have watched the lying over the Lebanon wars, especially in Germany, over any Palestinian issue. And then, I have seen what happened to Libya and how they smashed it to its misery, this good country. And then, I already noticed that lying was terrible.
In the Syrian case I thought – okay, it cannot go any further. This is terrible, it is unbelievable. I cannot believe what I see every morning in this kind of misreporting. And then came Ukraine. And then, I thought this is going psychological. And then, we had Mr. Kiselyov from Rossia Segodnya (Russia Today) who said the same.
The day he said that, I published him and I did this morning again, because when my wife and I were looking at our own newspapers… Süddeutsche Zeitung is the biggest daily, it has nearly 700 000 fixed receivers and well over 2. something million of readers every day. That is a very serious, well-positioned newspaper. And the number one headline is – the West Tries to Show Mr. Putin His Limits.
It is so crazy at this moment, where the aggression against Russia throughout the ME and Europe has peaked and culminated in Ukraine. And NATO is pushing up troops in all these neighbouring countries to Russia, and pushing Putin to withdraw the Russian troops from the Russian border inside the Russian territory. This is crazy! I lack the words to describe the degree of craziness we have here.
And one thing is very clear – we need more and intensified, and foreign language (that means German, French and so on) Russian news coverage, so that the people, who are hungry for accurate facts and not this kind of psychological craziness, can take care of that. And they would flock to the Russian media in large numbers. And all my friends are regularly, daily consuming the Russian media.
Then, I get another question. Those people no longer care to provide at least a credible arguments to support their position. Why? Do you they think that they are no longer challenged by anyone?
The funny thing is – we have a situation which is totally going out of hand. We have a lot of daily Internet pressure. My Facebook site has tripled and quadrupled over the last two months. This is really going crazy. When I published the decision of the German Federal Government to put on fracking in Germany, it had within two hours 30 000 reader contacts. So, this is just crazy. So, what we have is that the journalists cannot move. Nowadays journalists complain privately…like a very well weekly paper in Germany, their correspondent in Sochi to the Olympic Games complained to the friend of mine that he wanted to write positive stories about wonderful Sochi home to his paper. And his top editor said – no positive line on Sochi, please. Okay? Finished.
This is really crazy. We had an acting member of Parliament of Germany sitting with the same friend of mine telling him – if I tell my constituency at home that I was in Sochi and that I found it wonderful, well-organized, very beautiful, going to my heart and I loved to see it, and I loved to be there, they will not reelect me. He is afraid of that.
So, what do we have – we have so much pressure on each and every journalist being able to form a single sentence, to take a single picture, to make a single piece of news for TV, he just forgets about any kind of truth or whatsoever. They all read Spiegel online. If you are a German journalist, you read Spiegel online. Spiegel online is giving the line.
So, I call this the German Pravda now, because in the Soviet times you had the party paper that was giving the basic line for everybody who is in the publishing business. So, if you are deviating from the line, then you are in trouble.
And we have exactly the same business in Germany, but without pressure. There is no knock on the door at 5 o’clock. You will not be sent to the Alps, let alone to Siberia if you don’t comply with the rules. But what will happen to you is this – first of all, your stories will thin out, they will just put you to stupid stories. And after a while, they will put you to a bad position and after a while you are lost – you will be kicked out or lose your job any other way.
So, that is going to happen and people are under so much strain and stress to keep the jobs to be able to finance their house, their apartment, their family, that they do anything to just maintain the position they have. And if you play well, you will be tampered with money, with pay rises, with better jobs and higher positions, and you will be invited by the banks or any other powerful company to hold a speech, and that will net you 1000, 2000 or so many euros for one stupid speech.
Just remember, this system goes up. The top candidate of the Social Democratic Party for the Chancellor’s election in Germany last year, Mr. Steinberg of the Social Democrats who netted 15 000 euros for one speech from a bank. If you are the anchorman of the First German TV leading the night show, you also get 15 000 euros for one speech. So, this is the way you earn your money. And a few people know that.
I had the same system. When I was in that system, for example, I made thousands of euros talking on…because I was interested in cars all my life, so I went to automobile shows. And Volkswagen hired me off the screen. This guy is known in this area, so we buy him and he will present our Volkswagen cars in a car show.
So, this is the way it happens. If you are dear journalist playing with the system, you get all these sweets. If you don’t play well, if you stop playing, if you are proving you are a difficult person, the sweets will stop and finally you get kicked out.
This system is so strong. It is obviously 100% convincing, nobody drops out back and now comes the second thing. We had a whole world of information in the Internet, which is informal. Some people are known, like me, some people are less known. And all these people try to collect facts which are accurate, they very often turn to videos from RT or from other sources. That means, if bad comes to worse, then a CNN reporter has a piece of news put online with YouTube, but the news show of CNN will not reflect this.
We had a very important lady from the CNN who dropped out of CNN over a very interesting report from Bahrain. A blond lady, I’ve forgot her name right now. And that lady was finally kicked out. Her report was not let into the CNN, her findings under much risk and stress taken in Bahrain, a very good footage that was put into a film by her, the CNN had spent a lot of money to put her there and in the end she couldn’t publish. So, this is one of these open examples.
And nowadays, in the case with Russia, you have a lot of examples which are not in the open, because the pressure is too high".