By Gerry Chidiac
Advocate news services
If we want to create change in the world, we need to be truly informed.
A number of years ago, American philosopher and human rights advocate Noam Chomsky put forth the idea that, in western society, the powers that be manipulate the media to “manufacture consent.” That is, they get people to focus on meaningless information or information that furthers their cause in order to keep the masses under control.
Some of Chomsky’s perspective rings true.
The most poignant example occurred during the Cold War. In the late 1970s, a horrendous genocide in Cambodia was very well reported. We all knew about the crimes committed by the communist Khmer Rouge. What we didn’t know, however, was that not far away in East Timor, a very similar genocide was taking place. The difference was that it was being carried out by Indonesia, an American ally.
Chomsky points out that mainstream media coverage of this atrocity was almost non-existent for nearly 25 years. It was not until Indonesian President Suharto began to fall from the good graces of western leaders in the late 1990s that there was any significant coverage. And little of that drew attention to the fact that Suharto’s efforts were supported for many years by his allies.
After the Cold War, the trend to ignore significant global issues continued. In 1994 and 1995, we were glued to our televisions watching the O.J. Simpson trial, yet we largely ignored the genocide in Rwanda.
Even with the growth of the Internet and the freedom it allows us to find alternate news sources, we continue to focus on issues that are of little consequence, issues that simply fill our minds with insignificant information and make us complacent. It would appear that Chomsky is correct.
Yet many people in the media vehemently deny that there is any overt pressure put on them to “manufacture consent.” This has certainly been my experience as a freelance columnist. I have found editors quite happy to publish my material if what I provide is thought-provoking and well written. At times, my topics are controversial and become a source of debate. But open and respectful discussion is one of the primary goals of freedom of the press.
So why is so much more written about the lifestyle of the Kardashians than about their efforts to draw attention to the dangers of denying the genocide in their ancestral homeland of Armenia?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that there is more of a market for trivial information that disguises itself as news than there is for information that can change the world. Perhaps the media is simply responding to the fact that, in order to survive — in today’s digital age — they have to give people what they want.
The argument that the media is simply responding to market demand doesn’t necessarily disprove Chomsky’s theory, but it does draw attention to the fact that we need to focus on education.
And the most important thing to teach our children is that we become what we think about. To be better people, we must focus not only on our goodness but also on our responsibility to become our very best. To make the world better, we need to focus on the real challenges before us and join with others in a spirit of harmony in bringing this about.
Do we want a world of mediocrity and complacency, or do we want a world of positive change? Ultimately, that’s the decision that each of us has to make every day — and it depends a great deal on what we know.
Troy Media’s Gerry Chidiac is an award winning genocide educator and high school teacher.