Who Controls The Media And Why It Matters.
After education, which is universally offered as a public good, the most powerful feeder of the conscience through communication is media. Media was also once positioned as a public good offered exclusively by Government but after the advent of commercial communication (advertising), national broadcasting. pay per view cable networks, and digital media, there has been a significant increase in private interest in media, changing the nature of the battle for control over whose values media and communication, at large, should uphold. Whether it is business tycoons, or conglomerates with significant advertising interest, as it was with government owned media, the golden rule remains the same: ‘he who controls the media controls the people’s actions or reactions.
So, who controls the media and why does this matter now more than ever before?
Part 1 – The significance of media and communication at large
The secret to our sustained existence as a human species is encoded in God’s greatest creation – the human being. To understand and sustain our humanity as a collective good, we simply have to understand our humanity as individuals.
The human body is a collection of organs and complex systems united as one body that is kept in balance by the conscience – what you think and feel, consequently affecting what you do and how you do it. This connection between what you think, feel and do is effectively ‘who you are’ (your behaviour) and is dependent on messaging/communication within you in relation to what is going on in your environment.
It is for this very reason, for example, that Christian Scripture proclaims that “we are one body in Christ” Romans 12:5. Christians believe that this is actually the essence of our humanity and that we are not just one body – the connection and functioning of different parts as one body; but rather ‘one body in Christ’ – the connection and functioning of different parts as one body governed by a shared faith. Christ, as a result, can also be taken as a symbol for the governing values that underscore our sustained existence as a dominant species – our humanity.
This makes communication (messaging) and the values it seeds in a society to be the most critical factor in our survival as human beings. And thus, the greatest and most enduring battle fought throughout our existence, as a human species, has been the battle for control over communication dominance.
Advances in technology have played a central role in how this battle line has been drawn. For centuries we have been able to influence the actions of people by influencing what they think, feel then do; making it easy to draw a line between the source and the audience.
Digitalization of communication and information sharing, has had the effect of not only merging the source and audience, but also increasing the level of feeling (emotions) as opposed to thinking (rational) in our dialogue through the use of emoji’s, reactions (likes, shares, reposts) and short messages; which are better at projecting emotions than solid ideas. This technically means that people no longer think, feel then do but rather they feel, think then do!
Feelings or emotions are dependent heavily on a deep level of understanding that consequently becomes our faith governing what we think and feel and what happens after – our conscience or in a more spiritual context – our soul.
If there is any take-away from this article you should leave with it is the fact that, as in one’s individual pursuit, our societal pursuit cannot persist without adverse consequences to our collective self and environment, in the absence of fostering a set of shared set of values that truly influence our national conscience towards a greater good.
It is for this reason, that the founding fathers of this great nation like those of the United States of America (another great nation born out of an idea) made it of paramount importance to seed their Statehood (the idea of ‘who we are’ as a people) over and above doing the work of building governing systems (infrastructure, communication, education, economic etc) that enable us to seamlessly operate as one body.
Through the Arusha Declaration as it were with the Declaration of Independence, we proclaimed a set of values as a governing faith in order to keep us in balance.
As a result, Ujamaa was simply an idea that became our faith governing our actions towards fostering a greater societal good. Forgoing completely Ujamaa was liken to ripping out the soul of this nation and leaving the body to run out of its own fruition birthing the popular saying of the 1990s – “nchi hii ni kama kichwa cha mwandawazimu” (this country is like the head of a madman).
Let me say this for the sake of clarity: so long as governance is the reserve of states seeding statehood as a faith is not an option.
Whether you will call it: Ujamaa/ Utaifa (Statehood), Udini (Religious fundamentalism), Ukabila (Tribalism), Undugu (Brotherhood), or Umimi (individualism), a founding faith based on social norms will manifest itself regardless, so you are better of installing one that projects the values that will reinforce our national conscience.
That said, real faith is best ‘installed’ at a young age before our experiences have programed us or during a crisis when our programming crashes allowing for reprogramming to take place. Short of this, efforts to seed Statehood as a faith are reduced to simply being propaganda or perception management. Young minds must be cultured in their national faith while still young enough to inform their conscience so that the knowledge and skills they ultimately acquire serve to preserve our humanity and not otherwise.
The work of keeping values in state is the work of the State and not Government per se. Governments, through elected and appointed officials, at best, manage through social intrigues that often time have the potential of undermining values critical to our Statehood. It is for this reason that the United States of America, the gold standard for a democracy, has a Senate, where members serve for 7years and are required to be mature citizens when compared to the Congress, where members serve 2year terms and are simply required to be of voting age citizens. The Senate is the supreme “decision making” body and is mandated to act with State values in mind more than social intrigues.
If there is any good that has come out of Trump’s administration (at least from an outside observer’s perspective) it is the resumption of traditions like having flags and singing of the American national anthem in schools. These traditions may seem stale in an “ever liberated” world where individual liberties are slowly eroding on collective responsibility to a common good. It is wise to appreciate that even our appreciation of these individual liberties, in earnest, was cultured by these traditions.
Part 2: Now onto my favourite part of this article - the backstory.
So who controls the media?
This backstory is not only a culmination of a series of thoughts that I have been processing for three years now, but also features some of my favourite characters who coincidentally also represent critical phases in the evolution of media and shifting spheres of power in influencing the way we communicate as a people.
From Michael Jackson, to Oprah Winfrey and yes – even Donald Trump; let me break down the impact of the digital era as has been most recently evidenced by the corona virus outbreak:
Did mainstream media die with Michael Jackson?
Mainstream media, after decades of setting the tone for national and global dialogue and achieving the coveted title of trusted source (trusted more than Government in some instances) met its match for the first time in the wake of Michael Jackson’s death.
For many years leading into his untimely demise, mainstream media demonized Michael Jackson as a result of allegations posed against him of misconduct towards children; allegations that he never admitted to, maintaining his innocence throughout and ultimately being acquitted of such accusations in the court of law.
But since the media was now more trusted than government, it concluded that the court of law was not enough and pulled a “Pontius Pilot” on Michael Jackson, dragging his case into the court of public opinion and lynching him (at least his legacy) still.
Upon news of his death in 2009, the mainstream media attempted to hijack the narrative by putting focus on the scandalous allegations tainted his career instead of his profound legacy and impact on humanity. Basically, Michael Jackson was to music what Martin Luther king was to civil rights; the universal and ground breaking nature of his artistry singly shaped a whole generation of music, musicians and music lovers. Inspiring them to put aside their racial differences and come together in the name of great artistry enabling him to appeal to legions of followers in some of the most racially divided parts of the world at the time (ie Russia, Germany and Australia).
I remember following the news to find out more about his passing. Ironically, the first commentators given airtime to talk about Michael Jackson’s demise all had a history of speaking negatively about him for a wide range of reasons. Noting that a commentator’s background forms a critical part of his or her selection as it will inform the nature of their contributions and the direction of the discussion as a result. So their agenda was clear from the start: lynch him in public even after death so his legacy, which is central to the modern history of the entertainment industry, dies with him forever.
This type of character assassination typically would have worked flawlessly in the era of broadcasting, trusted source and pre digital engagement, as people use to think more and feel less and anything published in the news was considered true. So logic would tell you to believe the trusted source, right? That is unless the audience has a strong enough feeling (emotional connection) about the subject matter and can find a space to vent. This often, in the pre digital era, lead to marches, protests and even riots and uprisings. But in the case of Michael Jackson it led to one of the first events marking a clear shift in power from mainstream broadcast media to digital media in controlling the narrative.
The digital space at the time was still coming of age and wasn’t even considered “media” as is the case now: search engines were the “it” thing and blogs and posts were yet to garner the kind of journalistic authority that mainstream media had gained over the years.
And so on news of Michael Jackson’s death the unprecedented happened: all the major search engines crashed including Google, the most resilient search engine created; leading google to assume that they were attacked by a virus. But instead of a virus it was an overwhelming outpouring of emotions that could no longer be held back by mainstream media who had a very different agenda - publicly lynching Michael Jackson and ensuring that his larger than life legacy was buried with him.
Before digital media (point to point media or narrowcasting), mainstream media (point to multipoint or broadcasting) had established itself as a trusted source and dominated the airwaves with a single, and often biased narrative in support of the thread of the day. This afforded media such power that it was often referred to as the fourth pillar of a democracy after the judiciary, executive and legislature holding other pillars to count acting as a voice of the people. Sadly, this power wasn’t kept in check and used responsibly, instead of reporting news, media started to invest in manipulating narratives to serve an agenda that often ignore audiences’ sentiments.
Consequently, mainstream media fuelled its own undoing; doing more to stamp its authority as a new power able to topple governments and make and break celebrities like Michael Jackson rather than offer a voice for the people who they were serving.
Lesson: Digital media is the truest manifestation of a court of public opinion where emotions rule and not logic or facts so buyer beware.
Did the cancel culture cancel itself?
Then came the cancel culture. Just like mainstream media, social media, a product of digitalization, caught on quite quickly to its power and pulled a fast one on us. With digital online engagement anyone if not everyone can assume the ‘trusted’ source stature, albeit for a fleeting, if not, trending moment.
The only challenge in social media is that it’s literally short of words enough to build and sustain an argument in the way that mainstream media could but is instant and high on impact. Digital media allows few characters and time slots and instant engagement through reactions like comments and likes, which in many cases are emotional cues signalling how we feel about the subject matter. Making it harder to build or even defend a logical argument so many just bank on reactions like likes and sharing – nguvu ya hoja na sio hoja ya nguvu, so trend it until you defend it...
And so the hashtag culture was born and with it the appetite to gather multitudes around a singular narrative found its way back into the fore but now in the instant and higher impact environment of the virtual universe. Now news literally breaks instantly as it happens.
So now the race was on, not to manipulate thoughts (mainstream media had the airspace to actually educate us) but rather to leverage the unprecedented emotional connectivity of the human species in a world for which there literally is no government.
So now we are compelled not to argue our thoughts but rather to choose sides based on our feelings - you are either with us or against us. So even when a well intending campaigns like #Me2 came about, intent on giving a voice to the voiceless, more has been done to silence opposing voices than culture them. In one fell swoop YOU ARE CANCELLED! With no intermediaries, like media houses to blame, we now are left with this guilty taste of satisfaction from playing our part in what by all measures is a public lynching or kangaroo court. So, just as much as it is not right to judge people until they are proven guilty without doubt in a court of law in the real world, it is now ironically ok to judge people if you feel strongly about the nature of crime they are accused of committing and who they may have committed it against in the court of public opinion - welcome to the digital era!
Lesson: we are trending issues using emotions and not defending them using logic and this in itself is an issue as emotions are inherently biased fostering a digital emotional divide that goes as far as blocking logic.
Is Novel Corona Virus the Real Problem?
The Corona Virus comes at a time when the defunct mainstream (now genuinely struggling to survive in an era where emotions outweigh logic in a wink) is struggling with a phenomenon that they, in part, created during the last lap of their hey days - Trump.
Trump made his name as a real estate tycoon and galvanized his fame as a reality TV mega star and self-help guru. Reality TV followed on the heels of confessional talk shows, as was perfected by the legendary Oprah Winfrey and was instrumental in breaking the other media mould that dominated our airways for nearly a century - scripted TV.
Reality TV has had the strange effect of making people so comfortable with their reality that they can (even if they don’t dare to say it in public) connect more with Trump’s rough edges than Obama’s polished and almost perfect demeanour. Trump won the election in 2016 by simply being himself; strange as that may sound.
But with his victory came another unexpected - his Presidency and reign over the free world, a test of America’s much celebrated democracy. The pain that the mainstream media, has had to endure, is watching Trump
ripping apart every notion upheld about Presidential etiquette and not only that but surviving long enough to still stand a chance at re-election.
It can be argued that part of the way the corona pandemic has played out is attributed to the Trump factor.
Unable to hide behind diplomatic and institutional conformity that in many ways have undermined most of our global governing bodies, that seem more keen on pageantry and self-preservation; the mainstream media fraternity has had to leverage the emotions of the social media universe to ensure that Trump is publicly lynched at any cost - even if it means ignoring and side sweeping some critical facts that could go a long way in addressing the real issue.
The novel corona scare started in China in December almost immediately spreading to neighbouring countries and beyond. Yet no one really blamed China or put pressure on China to take responsibility at the earlier stages of the outbreak. Then the outbreak spread to Europe and the Middle East where it spiralled out of control to a large part but no one blamed the EU or other regional bodies or even Heads of State for not intervening aptly in time. The EU even offered an apology to Italy for not doing enough that no one has really paid attention to. Up to this point the soon to be pandemic only drew sympathy and concern as any crisis rightfully should.
Then the outbreak went to the United States of America and before it even hit the ground running, so to say, mainstream media found cause to literarily put all the blame on Trump. Trump’s flippant temperament goes a long in nursing these sentiments but it doesn’t take away the truth and this is where Trump trumps (couldn’t help the temptation) his adversaries. In many ways his flippant temperament also serves its purpose enabling him to quickly turn to his twitter handle to consistently do what very few media houses can stomach - defend Trump. The media chaos that has ensued has not derailed Trump, who, as a reality TV personality and digital media influencer, was literally built for this moment, from focusing on his agenda - winning the deal. His decision to call out China (initially criticized as a typical xenophobic outburst from Trump) and consequently calling out the WHO Chief (for not investigating China quickly enough), defying diplomatic etiquette and established institutional norms, has had the effect of putting China right where he wanted them to be from his first day on the campaign trail. Without much assistance from a media poised on ensuring that he does not get re-elected, Trump, by leveraging the social media universe, managed to turn the world’s attention back to the source of all this – China (which he pointedly refers to as Communist China). This is key because there was a time, before American tycoons were making a killing out of China that China was known and loathed for its human rights violations; when a country being communist meant something in the land of the free. But now the mainstream media even ignore these critical facts all because of their hate for Trump and want the rest of the world to follow suit.
Don’t get me wrong Novel Corona virus is a grave concern but more concerning is that there are people who are willing to invest in this type of bio warfare research, which in my views is worse than nuclear warfare, and even worse are those who are willing to leverage the emotional vulnerability of the virtual populous for political gain even during a crisis of this magnitude where composure is key in averting fear and panic.
Lesson: surviving the digital era requires that we focus on the prize, what matters most, and not the competition, the distractions that naturally have plagued media but are now harder to discern because of the plethora of parties with interest in media and its impact on society.
So, who controls media in the digital era and what does it mean to Africa?
Everyone and “no one” control the media at the same time and this is the major concern and the premise for this article. So long as governance is the reserve of national states and the digital realm is unmanned – effectively one body that has no conscience; our survival in the digital era will depend on the national conscience as is defined by our Statehood.
To survive the digital era, Africa needs to get over its hangover with ideologies, once the premise for the world’s many divisions. The first thing we have to do is bury the hatchet with the now stale ideological debate pitting the capitalist west against the communist east. This distinction no longer holds.
Globalization, culminating with digitalization, has had the effect of creating a framework that has turned the world into one big market by uniting our economies (our physical and mental being), but lacking in a governance framework that preserves our humanity (spiritual being) through shared values.
Gone are the days of “capitalist” economies and “communist” economies, now all we have are market economies controlled by people with contending sets of values and interests. The new frontier of contention will centre on who’s values the economy of the world reinforces as opposed to how economies are run and controlled.
Sides can no longer be drawn referencing ideologies and historical sentiments, sides have to be drawn taking into consideration the greater good of our societies.
As stated earlier in the article, the corona virus comes at the advent of what I characterized in part one of this series, as the era of the dominance of the spiritual realm and teaches us a critical lesson on what’s to come if it’s not already here. Quoting part one of that article: “The spiritual realm, is currently taking prominence, as we become more aware of the limits of our creations and is informed by a period when we feel independent of nature altogether and are compelled to embrace what I like to call our virtual nature. The spiritual realm is characterized by the use of the spiritual being, the conscience, as the primary means of survival and culminates with the introduction of artificial intelligence. Consequently, conflicts are resolved through spiritual conviction (emotions) and cyber warfare.”
Advances in biological and computing science have had the effect of, not only making us masters of our environment, but also removing us almost completely from perceived dependency on the physical environment as we increasingly become virtual citizens in a predominantly digitalized world.
The spiritual being, manifested by our conscience, provides limits for our physical actions and mental thoughts as we pursue the critical task of distributing amongst ourselves limited resources to ensure not only our survival in the moment, but rather, and probably more importantly, in long run through the moment, to safeguard the future of humanity and the planet that hosts us.
As a result, the only force that can contain our now seemingly boundary less pursuit for mastery of the universe is the conscience. The conscience fosters restraint, particularly, in a world where anything and everything seems to be possible.
Just like our physical capabilities were contained by our mental capabilities in the aftermath of World War II, our mental capabilities, which have birthed cyber and bio warfare, will only be contained by our spiritual capabilities.
Unlike World War I and II, which were “physical” wars determined by military might and the Cold War that followed shortly, which was, at best, a “mental” war that was determined by economic might, this war, will be a “spiritual” war ultimately determined by virtual might. This world war, at best, is an emotional war fought out in the virtual domain. The difference between this pandemic and anything before it, is that this pandemic will play out more through our virtually projected emotions than our physically experienced tangible reality.
Novel Corona, as a result, can easily go down as the first virtual attack on the shared values that have brought humanity thus far, including the unconditional fear of an Almighty God. A war that has no sides and will ultimately have no victors just casualties and destruction; a war where emotions will be leveraged to push political agendas to the extent of ignoring critical truths.
The pandemic that it has produced, which I also refer to as the “panic-ndemic”, is also a reflection of these changing times.
The response to the pandemic is more a function of our emotional connectivity than the actual impact of the virus has on our physical reality. In some parts of the world Novel Corona is trending more than it is spreading. The truth is that digital interaction through social media has not made us more connected but more reactionary as we feel more think less. As the characters in messaging reduce so does our tolerance for constructive thought argumentation.
There is no time in our history where entrenching our Statehood as a faith has been more important. With the level of emotional exposure as we become further embedded into a virtual world that has no shared values, the more critical it is for us to articulate our shared values as a faith as first line of defence in this war and the many more that will come after. When the corona pandemic is over there will be no flag hoisted as a sign of victory just lessons learned and a new norm achieved that reflects the values we supported using our social media influence.
If you truly value humanity and our continued existence deal with the source and not the sideshows or distractions that playing out in a digital world for which there is no governance.