Communique on The Changing Paradigms of Media Landscape

Dr Kalinga Seneviratne

Communique on The Changing Paradigms of Media Landscape – Dr Kalinga Seneviratne

New Communication Theories and Models Need To Be Developed With An Eastern Flavour

By Dr Kalinga Seneviratne, Former Head of Research, AMIC.

The media landscape has been changing dramatically in the past 18 months as the Covid-19 pandemic engrossed the globe. Right across the world, and particularly in western democracies, bio-security laws have been invoked to censor the media and label anyone questioning the policies of governments and activities of big pharmaceutical companies as “conspiracy theorists” or “fake news peddlers”. This has had a devastating impact on freedom of expression. For over half a century, we have been teaching the Libertarian Media Function Theory as a yardstick of a “free” media. The theory that underpins the western free media model says that you need to be the “watchdog” of the government’s abuse of power and defend the people’s rights.

In order to serve the interests and needs of the people, media organizations must be ideologically unshackled, financially independent; able to scrutinize and criticize governments and corporations, highlight social injustice, reveal corruption, prejudice and dishonesty, examine the causes of crises and offer solutions. 

Unfortunately, rather than examine the causes of a crisis and offer a solution, this media function model has created an adversarial culture where the media promotes and creates conflicts rather than help to solve them.

It could be argued that this adversarial culture has created a fear psychosis about the Covid-19 virus and contributed to peoples’ fear, lockdowns, and anxieties that have led to many deaths. Initially, when the coronavirus broke out in China, the western media in particular focused on a fear factor in order to undermine China’s rise and project China as a threat to the world. They also focused on China’s “draconian” lockdowns to show how China controls its people who have no say.

But, when the virus spread to the West and western countries had to impose similar lockdowns these were not draconian anymore, but necessary “bio-security” measures to protect the people. The adversarial media culture also began a blame game cheered on by President Trump of blaming China for the pandemic when the need of the hour was to look for cooperation to help resolve the spread of the pandemic. This “Sinphobia” was not restricted to the West, even it became very evident in the Indian media.

In the last few months, after covid vaccines came on board the media, particularly in the West, have been involved in “vaccine consent journalism” to convince sceptical populations to take the jab. Anyone questioning it was labelled a “conspiracy theorist” and anyone exposing deaths and other side-effects of the vaccines were called a “fake news peddler”.  Governments even threatened to charge or lockdown such social media outlets.

The media’s behaviour was more in tune with the Authoritarian Media Function Theory or even the Communist Media Function Theory that prescribes the media role as assisting the ruling party to explain and promote its policies among the population without any room for dissent.

This “vaccine consent journalism” fits very well into Noam Chompsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent” theory, which he claims is what the US media is and has been talking about this for the past 2 decades. This theory also applies to most other countries where the news media is the PR arm of whoever owns it – be it government or corporations. Today media is owned by large conglomerates that use their media assets to defend or promote their business interests rather than defend the people against abuse of power.  India is no exception, it is a good example.

For the media to be free, it needs to have financial independence, which could make it ideologically neutral – one hopes. It also needs to expose social injustice and reveal corruption. Today most parliaments in so-called democracies are infested with thieves and criminals and the media is incompetent to expose it. And, not only parliaments but corporations are corrupt today, and when they own the media there is no one to expose them.

For far too long, we have been adopting a western “free media” gospel that does not work. We have put on a pedestal the so-called “BBC Model” as the model of public service broadcasting. BBC has ditched it a long time ago, when they allowed Tony Blair to go to war against Iraq by peddling lies, and since BBC World Service became a TV network, they have promoted British, American and NATO wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. They have mainly ignored war crimes committed by them while accusing other countries of doing so.

I hope the Global Communication Education Conclave will embark on a new era of communication research, theorizing and media modelling without blindly following the West. We need to bring Indian and Asian philosophical ideas into modelling modern communication systems that will promote cooperation and build community harmony for the new Asian century. We have been teaching our students for generations that democracy originated in the West – in ancient Greece – and the mass media began with the printing of the Gutenburh Bibles in the 15th century. The truth is that democracy was in fact started in the Indus Valley civilizations with the establishment of ‘Samiti’ and ‘sabha’ before the Greeks came up with the idea, and the Chinese and Koreans have printed Buddhist sutras long before the Gutenburg Bibles were printed. I hope GCEC will initiate the movement to rewrite democracy and communication history and provide proper textbooks for modern youth. In addition, we need to develop new communication theories and communication models as I have noted before.

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