Positive feed back loops in the media.
Oct 28, 2010

Positive feed back loops in the media.

There is a an interesting relationship between public opinion, government policy and media presentation. That the media influences public opinion dramatically is obvious, as is the fact that the public influences government policy through elections. Slightly less obvious but no less powerful  is the governments influence on the content of the media. Assuming this, we get a positive feedback loop where governments influence the media which influences the people which influences the government as illustrated in the red arrows. The result is many innately pro government bias's get reinforced through the loop. When this loop is distorted by outside forces (such as various lobbies, indicated by blue arrows) these messages also get reinforced via the feedback loop.

An ideal world might be one in where by the message of the media deduced entirely from the opinions of people and the reality of the world. In this sense, the media may magnify or homogenize public opinion but it would not significantly skew it in a particular way. However, when the media is heavily influenced by the government or outside forces there is the possibility for a positive feedback where a particular idea gets continually reinforced.

It should be noted that in theory if the government had no external forces and was only influenced by the people democratically then there would not be as many problems; a pro government bias would still be reinforced but hopefully less of the other distortions. Since government  would be solely the aggregate reflection of the people, the government influencing the media would simply result in a very similar phenomenon to the media itself in that it would homogenize public opinion but not necessarily skew it. The problem of course is that the government is not singularly enforced by the media. It is heavily influenced by corporations, the military industrial complex, lobbyists and the like. So when you have this skewing of government, it gets reinforced by the positive feedback loop and becomes part of our society.

Take for example, US policy with regards to Israel. US policy towards Israel for decades has been one of essentially unconditioned support and influence. As a side note, some may argue that this is the result of the influence of the Israeli lobby while I prefer the view of Chomsky and others who argue this factor is of little meaningful relevance; it matters not for the purposes of this discussion the source of the bias in government merely that it exists. Likewise, there is an enormous pro Israeli bias in the media as recent firings of several prominent journalists over saying anything critical of Israel attest to. Again, one can debate to the extent by which this bias is from Jewish influence directly in the media, as a result of government influence on the media or merely a reflection of public opinion; however, it is more than safe to say there is a nontrivial component which is government influence. For example, every time Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the president (compare this to the frequency of Palestinian leaders) the media gets to do a nice round of photo ops and releasing generic pro Israeli statements from Obama and Netanyahu. The result is that this influence on the media from the government in turn influence the people who via electing the government only reinforce this position.

The qualifications in the above paragraph illustrate that this feedback loop (the red arrows) is not the only thing going on. Many of the arrows actually go both ways, for instance.  Even without the government influence in the media, it has many other influences and is in no means merely a reflection of public opinion. For example, the level of mass consolidation in ownership to large corporations (like GE, one of the largest recipients of defense contracting) and it's advertising dependence on corporations has given it a soundly pro corporate bias. Likewise, outside influences like corporations influence people directly outside of the primary tools of media and government. It should be noted that there are two basic forms of distortions going on. Firstly we have outside forces distorting at all the three levels in the loop as discussed. However, if we only consider the red arrows loop itself, there remains a strong pro government bias. The role of government on a lot of issues is largely unquestioned. Part of the reason is that government is very dependent on the whims of a small number of people and so a small distortion as a result of this can get very easily magnified to something that significantly distorts the public in general.

There is a large partisan divide in government, the media and the people. The fact that this divide actually exists at all levels is an example of the strength of the reinforcing loops, incidentally. What is additionally interesting though is that where there isn't a partisan divide - where the parties agree - the reinforcement results in very wide spread acceptance. The Israeli support example is one where the government, for whatever reasons, has taken this position and it has been strongly reinforced. Both parties are  supportive of this position, and so it just doesn't get called into question in a significant way in the media. This is true also of military spending, which since the collapse of the soviet union (at which time there was talk of all the money we could now save given the lack of need for as much defense spending) has risen significantly with every president of either party. The result is that when there is agreement in government between the parties, those issues are heavily reinforced and what we talk about is merely the issues where the parties differ. It is presented in the media as a very large divide indeed, but this is because there is no context of the larger issues where they agree and if one takes this larger view the parties are far more similar than they may first appear.

The solution, such as it is, is two fold. Firstly, we can try and limit outside forces such as corporate lobbying and extensive campaign financing. This will limit the effectiveness of the the positive feedback and make it reinforce positions more closely representative of existing public opinion. Likewise, attempting to eliminate the outsides influences in media is important and in many ways is easier because we can choose to simply follow independent media. Secondly, we can attempt to reduce the government influence in the media. The way we do this is essentially the same as for other influences, via choosing to consume media without these biases. They certainly exist, nobody could accuse Democracy Now! to have a pro government bias for instance, they are merely less prevalent.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

Share this post:

Tweet It! Facebook Add Feed Reddit! Digg It! Stumble Delicious Follow

Post a Comment

Frequent Topics: