Trump ban - Social media trumped legacy media

US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on January 12, 2021.

Photo credit: Mandel Ngan | AFP

What you need to know:

  • And is it true that, as claimed by Rodger Stone, the mainstream media is evil or lazy or both?
  • Why can’t the media speak the truth? Or is mainstream media all about balancing — yet truth is one-sided?

Novelist and essayist Chimamanda Adichie had the following words for the class of 2019 at Yale University: “If you find yourself with power in the world of journalism, banish forever the practice of false equivalence. Journalism should be about the truth, not about balance. If you are reporting on the fact that climate change exists, you don’t need to bring in a hack to show the other side, because there is no other side.”

I was reminded of this speech by the suspension of US President Donald Trump from social media platforms for using his accounts to deeply divide Americans and incite violence, as seen at the US Capitol last Wednesday. This was brave and commendable.

The social media organisations did what the mainstream media has failed to do time and again: They banished the practice of false equivalence. They chose to use their platforms to promote truth.

But as they made a loud statement, mainstream media was still giving Trump a platform to continue his divisive populistic politics. Now why is the mainstream media failing in this respect? And is it true that, as claimed by Rodger Stone, the mainstream media is evil or lazy or both? Why can’t the media speak the truth? Or is mainstream media all about balancing — yet truth is one-sided?

Methinks nobody captures the troubles bedeviling the mainstream media and why it can’t speak truth to power better than Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In the 1988 book, the duo claims the mainstream media is not in the business of telling the truth but manufacturing consent and maximising profits. And, as gatekeepers, it keeps truth away from the public and only shares what is ‘true’ according to the powers that be.

Political propaganda

Secondly, considering that the majority of mainstream media companies are not community-based organisations but businesses, their obsession with profit keeps truth away from the public. This is so because a huge amount of their revenue is from advertising and, hence, they shun away from running stories that could pit them against their customers. 

Maybe it is time to rethink the idea of private ownership of mainstream media companies. The media ought to be neutral. They should be truthful. And that doesn’t entail telling two sides of a story, as there can only be one truth. They should be factual.

But if the media choose to remain neutral even in times of political propaganda, as that’s what they do best, they will shoulder the blame when our society is destroyed. They will be haunted by the fact that they were used as purveyors of hate and division.

Ellen G. White, co-founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and author, said: “The greatest want of the world is the want of men — men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” 

May the day break for the mainstream media.

Mr Otiato is a political scientist. brunootiato1@gmail.com

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