Here are the links to the reference articles: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/world/asia/china-revs-up-propaganda-machine-to-disgrace-bo-xilai.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
As eminent American philosopher Avram Noam Chomsky once declared, “He who controls the media controls the minds of the public.” The above articles describe the pervasive nature and far-reaching impact of the state-controlled media’s propaganda machine in China and North Korea, as well as how it possesses the unmitigated ability to turn the tide of public opinion. In this post, I will be examining the extent to which governments which control the media can indeed be said to control the minds of the public.
The pertinence of the media to our current society is undeniable. With the advent of globalisation and the rise of new media, the pervasiveness and permeability of the media in our lives has rapidly increased. Indeed, it has become very much the norm for the vast majority of individuals around the world, to the point that we are oblivious to the vast influence the media has over us. Thus, there is no doubt that by wielding the immense power of the media, organisations and individuals are able to influence society at large.
The media is a colossal entity and is certainly not monolithic. Made up of a plethora of aspects (such as political, economic and social), the media encompasses almost every facet of our human existence. In the political arena, the media’s main purpose is to keep the public up to speed with the latest political happenings, in both the domestic and international spheres. Although the main function of the press is to inform, the press and media can inevitably influence public opinion on certain issues, depending on how they portray the issues in question and which perspective they give more credence to. Coupled with the ability of the media to propagate information rapidly, as well as its easy accessibility, it is no wonder that history is littered with examples of authoritarian and repressive regimes seeking to control it and wield its formidable power. Consider North Korea. Its totalitarian government has made extensive use of the state media apparatus to spread propaganda to the masses, by distorting facts and at times even promulgating outright lies. We, from the outside looking in, know that these fallacious ideas, such as every American being a moribund capitalist and the likening of Lee Myung-bak to a “tailless rat”, are not only farcical, but also a travesty of justice. However, members of the general public in states like North Korea regard these outrageous notions as the gospel truth, primarily because they have no credible alternative source of information they can use as a yardstick to judge the state media’s objectivity, or lack thereof. As such, Orwellian governments, who extensively control their countries’ media and go to great lengths to stymy the public’s access to alternative sources of information, effectively control the minds of the public, by institutionalising misinformation and forcing their own perceptions of the world upon their people.
However, no government can be said to control the public in its entirety. While governments may try their best to suppress and obfuscate the truth, at the end of the day, they are indubitably neither omnipresent nor omnipotent. Cracks always exist in their prima facieunassailable control of information, cracks through which outside information and popular public opinion can enter and insidiously undermine their monopoly of the “truth”. A case in point would be the uprising of the Buddhist monks and students in Burma. Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, they protested against the military junta’s totalitarian regime and drew international attention to Burma’s fragile domestic situation. Despite the junta’s total control of the state media, general dissent amongst the Burmese public grew rapidly, eventually leaving the junta with no choice but to cave in to popular demand and hold democratic parliamentary elections. Thus, it can be seen that total control of a country’s domestic media does not equate to controlling the minds of its entire population.