Below the line

On Wednesday, RT news anchor Liz Wahl resigned live on air, as a protest against Russian interference in the Ukraine. RT = Russia Today, a 24 hour rolling news channel that’s funded by the state. It’s often called ‘PutinTube’, because of its pro-Russian government slant. This bias is very noticeable during stuff like the Ukraine crisis. Here’s Liz Wahl giving Putin the finger…

At the start of her spiel, Wahl refers to another RT presenter who also protested against Russian involvement in the Ukraine, but didn’t actually resign. This was Abby Martin, who spoke out earlier in the week, as she wrapped-up her Breaking the Set programme. Despite the prejudices, I actually find RT (and also Al Jazeera) to be a better source of news than the corporate controlled western media. Of course, when it comes to reporting what’s going on in this crazy fucked-up world there’s no such thing as an objective media. This has always been the case, despite the fact that the Fourth Estate supposedly exists to provide checks and balances against those in power; which is why the rich and powerful always try to hijack the media and muzzle it, and use it to attack ‘enemies of the state’. It’s all about control of the masses, everything thing from Operation Mockingbird to the most recent Snowden revelations which show the totally illegal shenanigans that the spooks get up to in order to ‘protect the state’.

When it comes to the media, things are never quite what they seem. Back in 1930s Germany, Goebbels’ propaganda ministry famously put out a news reel that compared Jews to rats. Nowadays, in some parts of the world, propaganda is still just as primitive (RE: the stuff Gaddafi & Co came out with during the Libyan uprising – here). However, in the wired-up world the propagandists have to be a lot more sophisticated/subtle than this. Media organisations that have an obvious political bias often introduce ‘token opposition’ to give their audience the impression that there is some kind of balance. This token opposition can be in the form of callers or guests or even the programme presenters themselves. Here’s Abby Martin on this week’s Piers Morgan Show, talking about her on-air protest and the media in general (as an aside, CNN are axing the Piers Morgan Show; the last one will air in a few weeks time)…

Notice how Abby Martin puts in a caveat at the start of her on-air protest: “I admittedly don’t know as much as I should about Ukraine’s history or the cultural dynamics of the region”. In response, RT put out an official statement about it all, which amongst other things said this about Martin: “For years, Ms. Martin has been speaking out against US military intervention, only to be ignored by the mainstream news outlets – but with that one comment, branded as an act of defiance, she became an overnight sensation” (here). Make of it what you will. In the meantime, Abby Martin and her Breaking the Set show took over the RT slot that was occupied by The Alyona Show, after Alyona Minkovski unexpectedly quit Russia Today to join HuffPost Live. Many people were surprised by Minkovski’s defection, because The Alyona Show was hugely popular and seemed to have editorial independence. Here’s an interview with Minkovski, done before she left Russia Today, in which she talks about all things media.

One new dynamic in the media’s battle for hearts and minds is the reader’s comments section. Most of the online media now allow comments on articles, and unlike the old ‘letters section’ in print newspapers, ‘comments’ happens in real time and involves an unlimited number of readers, from all around the world, such is the nature of the internet. Reader’s comments are, by their design, a total free-for-all of ideas and prejudices, and it often gets nasty as various personalities clash and arguements break out. For this reason the online media are still cautious about such comments, and moderation is heavily used (for instance, a huge organisation like the BBC allows only a very few articles to have reader’s comments, and when they do it’s all heavily moderated, which tells you something about the BBC, since many of the readers pay their wages, under threat of imprisonment, via the TV License). The other downside is that in recent years the comments section of the online media has been invaded by a paid army of trolls and shills, who are there to propagate government and corporate agendas. This is particularly apparent with comment threads about highly contentious issues, such as global warming, nuclear energy and fracking. In fact we’re getting to the stage where the trolls and shills will destroy all online debate (governments and corporations poison everything they touch), but we’re not there quite yet. For the moment, reader’s comments still remain a vital part of the Fourth Estate. Much of what the readers say is more informative and interesting than what the actual article writers say, which is why many of those who pen such articles don’t like having a comment thread attached to their scribblings.

The pioneer of reader’s comments was the Guardian newspaper, which started it on their Comment is Free (CiF) section in 2006. Reader’s comments are now a regular feature on the vast majority of Guardian pieces (it’s known as ‘below the line’). In 2010, Natalie Hanman took over as Editor of CiF. Last December she took part in a seminar at the LSE called ‘Feminism in the Media’ (the other speakers were Lola Okolosie and Tracey Reynolds). I’ll include the latter part of Hanman’s speech here, because I found it interesting, about both what she says about women in the media, and the role of reader’s comments…

The complete seminar, ‘Feminism in the Media’, can be found here.

Comment is Free (CiF) can be found here.

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