CHOOSE YOUR NEWS

© by Rob Ager (July 2008)

 

Watch the seven part video or scroll down for the text version.

PART ONE

PART TWO

PART THREE

PART FOUR

PART FIVE

PART SIX

PART SEVEN

 

 

INFORMATION FILTERS

To avoid psychological overload in today’s world of seemingly unlimited information, most people have developed attention barriers based upon strict unconscious criteria. This generally consists of information categories that the individual believes to be of priority relevance to their own existence. Any information that does not strike these unconscious chords is ignored. Some of these are universal criteria such as prioritising attention toward immediate physical danger, while others will be specific values of the individual.

Based upon these unconscious information filters, an individual can spend their entire life in total ignorance of golden opportunities for positive change.

Those of you who have watched my film analysis of Stanley Kubrick films will have a good understanding of how easy it is to repeatedly overlook information that was staring you right in the face. In fact Stanley’s incredible talents are a case example of how information barriers can be altered to allow new and valuable information into our minds.

In one Kubrick’s biographies he is described as using a simple method to expand his knowledge base. He would visit his library and select random books from random information categories, without even looking at the titles. He would then force himself to read those books. By doing this Stanley was forcing his mind to expand into new territory on a regular basis.

In this video / article I intend to expand your awareness of what can loosely be referred to as “news information”, and Kubrick’s method for bypassing his own unconscious information filters will be a key part of that process.

The role of “news media” is supposedly to keep the population informed of anything that is relevant to their collective well-being. On the other hand “news media” can, and often does, serve different purposes. For example, celebrity gossip can serve as shallow escapism … or a commercial corporation might invest in a news organisation in order to guarantee positive news reports about their products.

To keep ourselves highly informed, we must be able to recognise these various influences that have a distorting effect on the quality of news information. We must choose our news sources wisely.

So let’s now explore the various formats of news information that are available in our daily lives and their varying degrees of quality and reliability.

 

NEWSPAPERS & MAGAZINES

There are many generalized factors to consider when choosing / reading newspapers and magazines. One is to be aware of basic templates. Take half a dozen copies of a particular newspaper or magazine and compare them simultaneously. Template editing patterns, common to every issue, quickly reveal themselves. Since it would take a great deal of time and money to redesign the basic layout of a publication with each issue, these template formats are primarily a cost saving device. The downside of this is that news information is often distorted to fit into these templates, which often reduces information quality.

Here are some examples of template formatting practice in newspapers and magazines.

RATIO OF ARTICLES TO ADVERTISEMENTS

In some national newspapers that I’ve studied, such as the Daily Mirror or the Sun, as much as 40% of the content is advertising. And in fashion magazines the ratio is sometimes higher.

In newspapers, a key factor that reveals the importance of advertising is that colour printed ads will often be featured on the same pages as celebrity photos or soft porn models. By doing this the editors can save on printing costs by having other pages printed entirely in black and white. This also means that advertisers can foot the bill for the colour printed pages. The fact that broadsheet newspapers are much more expensive to the consumer than tabloids is partially because they make less money from advertising. The reader foots the bill instead, but on the upside they get more news for their money.

When it comes to the increased cost of magazines you’re mostly paying extra for the glossy colour printed paper, which in itself does not have any “news” value.

RATIO OF IMAGES TO COLUMN INCHES

Tabloids will bombard the reader with sexually and emotionally charged images for a base emotion appeal, while the broadsheet newspapers emphasize detailed news story content. Of course that doesn’t always mean that the story content is accurate or useful, but at least it’s there.

USE OF HEADLINES

There’s a fair bit of psychology that goes into this factor. Prominent headlines can be used to almost bully the reader into perceiving an issue in a particular way, being that many readers simply glance at headlines, while only reading a few articles in detail. When used on a front page, headlines will also serve the intention of grabbing potential reader’s attention from a distance on retail shelves. The choice of words in news story headlines is of crucial importance because it reveals the thought process that the editors are hoping to promote or appeal to. If you want to be well informed then steer clear of publications whose headlines emphasize intense emotion or one-sidedness. Remember that a newspaper is supposed to inform you of verifiable facts so that you can make your own judgement. If they are trying to judge for you then read something else.

THEMATIC CONSISTENCIES

Magazines will usually have an openly specified theme, but newspapers are also themed toward certain types of story content without openly acknowledging such preferences. For example certain tabloids are themed toward sex, violence, sport and anything else that is based upon primitive emotion. By comparing several issues of one publication you may find that a particular topic such as paedophilia or terrorism is always emphasized, while another topic like arms trading or stealth taxes are given very little attention. A variation on this is that in the tabloids, political and economic news is mostly printed in boring black and white, while celebrity and sports articles over power the reader with vibrant colours. This encourages hedonism and dampens intellectual thought.

As an experiment regarding tabloid content I took six issues of The Daily Star newspaper (dated 21st, 24th, 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th of November 2007) and calculated their daily content averages as follows:

Daily Star content

Adverts  
40%
Sports
25%
Celebrities / gossip / soft porn
20%
News
8%
Puzzles
5%
Reader input / feedback
2%

Considering the extremely low percentage of news content, should we even class the Daily Star as a newspaper?

 

HOW BIASED ARE NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES?

The owners and higher management of news publications often have financial and political interests outside of the publication … and sometimes these will conflict with their journalistic duties. It is for this reason that publications often hold allegiances to specific political parties or openly bias their coverage of specific issues. This is actually a form of propaganda because the owners are attempting to manipulate public opinion instead of providing unbiased info. Some publications even have economic and political bias built into their editorial templates – the editors must consistently stick to those themes if they wish to secure their jobs and especially if they wish to climb the management ladder. This may not be explicitly described in the editor’s job spec, but most of us are aware from personal experience that there are both written and unwritten expectations from employers.

It’s actually very easy for national newspapers to lie to the public without reproach. In the UK the Press Complaints Commission allows newspapers to self-regulate, which means that in many instances if the general public do not write letters of complaint directly then the publishing company will not be held accountable for printing misinformation.

Because of the template bias that newspapers and magazines often have regarding economic and political issues it is important to vary your news sources instead of reading just one publication. Try reading two or three publications that clearly hold opposing allegiances and which are funded by differing sources. This use of varied information has a counter-balancing affect, allowing you to judge key issues more wisely.

Despite the drawbacks I’ve described, the benefit of major national newspapers is that their journalists have abundant research resources, which smaller publications may not have.

 

REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS

Regional newspapers can be excellent sources for local information. They still cover national and international news, but I must emphasize that this is usually a regurgitation of articles already published by the large national papers. There are several reasons for this second hand information approach. One is that regional newspapers usually can’t afford to send reporters great geographical distances to cover an event. But the main reason is that local newspapers are almost always subsidiaries of larger media companies.

Take a couple of local newspapers in your area and visit their websites. Find the sections on management and ownership. These will tell you which of the larger media companies owns the publication. Now visit the website of the parent company and repeat the process, by identifying the parent company of the parent company. Eventually you will reach a top level corporation that is owned by one or more individuals, who are often billionaires. Potentially conflicting economic and political interests of these owners are then easier to identify.

Example 1

DMGT (Daily mail & General Trust PLC) – owned by Jonathon Harmsworth, 4th Viscount of Rothermere. As well as owning a vast media empire, DMGT also owns Euromoney Institutional Investor, which trains international bankers and securities specialists. A subsidiary is DMG Information, which in turn owns Genscape – a major energy market information group. So naturally, any reporting by DMGT owned newspapers on the topics of energy markets or Euromoney could be biased by the companies other subsidiary business interests.

Example 2

News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch was once a member of the think tank group CATO. He also holds fundraisers and conferences for political leaders. As an example of Murdoch’s ability to bias news content, the vast majority of his subsidiary papers (nearly 200 of them) openly supported the Invasion of Iraq.

Here is a chart identifying thirteen top level UK media companies along with their owners / management, a rough breakdown of their subsidiary companies and some of the external interests of their figure heads. Collectively, these thirteen mega companies own the majority of the British mass media.

Download media hierarchy chart

This kind of concentrated ownership is one reason that we often find near identical editing templates in seemingly unrelated publications. The templates have been distributed by a parent company to several of their subsidiaries.

As an example, look at a few copies of CHAT magazine and PICK ME UP! Magazine. Both are owned by IPC Media Ltd, which in turn is owned by Time Inc, which in turn is owned by Time Warner. The front covers of both these magazines virtually always feature a smiling model, surrounded by sleazy captions of an almost identical block colour graphical style, and both virtually always feature a large caption at the bottom of the cover depicting a story of gruesome murders, self harm or sexual abuse.

Within these hierarchical media ownership structures, significant news stories are covered first by the large national papers … then the stories are passed down to the subsidiary papers who basically reword the articles, but the message remains the same. Unfortunately, this also means that the economic and political bias of the top level company and its owners is also passed down to the regional publications. The editorial staff at the lower levels may not even be aware of this bias, but even if they are, many of them will be unwilling to risk their jobs by deviating from the wishes of their top level employers. If they are being paid to promote a particular viewpoint then that’s what they’ll do.

This is even true of free newspapers, such as the Metro, which is distributed on buses and trains in the UK. The owners even pay people to push this free newspaper into people’s arms on the streets. Look up the parent companies of these free newspapers and you’ll find that they fall under these same commercial ownership umbrellas. The strange thing is that often these newspapers are given away for free in competition with commercially marketed newspapers of the same parent company. Why would any commercial media company wish to harm its sales in this way? This is an important indicator that there may be economic or politically biased motives weaved into the free newspaper’s editorial templates.

Public awareness of newspapers bias may be one of the reasons why readerships in the US have been steadily declining in recent years.

http://www.stateofthenewsmedia.org/2004/narrative_newspapers_audience.asp?cat=3&media=2

 

TELEVISION

Like most newspapers and magazines, televised news tends to operate on the basis of template formatting, regurgitation of stories from parent companies and varying levels of economic or political bias.

A major benefit of television news is that it is more difficult for editors to misquote sources. Actually seeing and hearing somebody make a statement virtually gives us 100% certainty that the quoted source did in fact speak a specific quote. Of course this doesn’t guarantee that the speaker was being honest, but it’s a good start.

Video footage itself can also be presented out of context or, in some cases, tampered with in the editing room. You may see the Prime Minister walking into 10 Downing St as a journalist shouts questions at him from outside the camera’s field of vision, but the audio of the journalist’s voice may have been recorded at a different time and place, thus it would appear that a politician was ignoring a specific question.

You only need to look at the convincing technical quality of a Hollywood movie to realise how easy it is to stage events for the camera or to simply bias your editing of genuine footage in order to misrepresent an issue.

For a blatant example of propaganda driven editing, watch the documentary film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. This film shows how the mainstream media deliberately misrepresented a gunfight in the streets of Venzuela during the attempted overthrow of Hugo Chavez. By showing limited camera angles and editing together unrelated footage, the media made a false claim that Chavez supporters were firing upon Anti-Chavez demonstrators from a bridge. But other camera angles that were not broadcast reveal that the Chavez supporters were battling hidden snipers who had been firing upon the crowds.

Televised interviews and debates are also a very interesting and tricky source of information. An important aspect is that one to one interviews between journalists and  corporate / political heavyweights are usually semi-scripted. By this I mean that negotiations have taken place in advance, outlining what topics will and won’t be discussed. In some cases specific questions and answers have been rehearsed. A key giveaway of an interview that has been semi-scripted or which has been misrepresented through editing, is when the shots frequently cut back and forth between the journalist and the person being interviewed. A wide shot that continuously shows both people in the same camera frame without tends to reveal a less scripted and more representative debate.

There is a complex psychology involved in these kinds of televised debates. Here are a some behavioural cues to look out for that signify a dishonest discussion:

1) Trying to prematurely change the subject.

2) Giving overly complex and vague answers.

3) Repeating precise phrases, which implies a rehearsed response.

4) Frequently interrupting the opposition.

5) Character assassination and name-calling.

6) Attempting to emotionally polarize a debate into positions of extreme agreement and extreme disagreement with no middle ground for rational debate.

7) Unprovoked hostility.

8) Appearing indifferent when someone else is speaking.

9) Using clichéd catchphrases and buzzwords.

Televised documentary programmes are an excellent alternative to traditional news broadcasts. The main benefit is that key topics are explored in much more detail and usually draw upon a wider range of information sources. Some documentaries are even split into several episodes over a specified period and are hence even more in depth.

An important variation with documentaries is that some conform to a weekly template such as BBC’s Horizon or Channel 4’s Dispatches. The topics will differ from one week to the next, but will virtually always be compressed into a specified time frame. Other documentaries that have been produced as individual projects such as Channel 4’s the Power of Nightmares or The Great Global Warming Swindle are structured according to the topic itself and are less hampered by timeframes.

 

Now an important aspect of television is that, “news” sometimes comes in the guise of entertainment. Just like with many Hollywood cinema releases, tv entertainment is often funded and produced with economic or political agendas in mind. For example, the UK Film Council admits in its own website that it intends to promote “diversity”, yet makes no claim of an intention to support film as an art form. The site’s diversity toolkit section even encourages managers in British film and television to emphasize multi-cultural values in their fictional scripts.

These kinds of political motives within entertainment media are usually difficult to pinpoint because the promoters hardly ever state their intentions openly. The key approach I recommend is to keep an overall awareness of what kinds of entertainment themes are consistently emphasized (or ignored) in entertainment programming.

An interesting experiment you can do is to take a weekly tv guide and, for each tv channel, calculate the percentage of airtime that is given to categories such as news, soaps, sports or documentaries. Keep a look out for thematic emphasis associated with different channels as well.

I did this with a copy of the 12th – 18th July 2008 edition of What’s On TV magazine, which lists terrestrial television programming in Britain. Here are the approximate daily percentages of broadcast time given to news & politics.

BBC 1                         30%
BBC 2                         15%
ITV                               20%
Channel 4                     5%
Channel 5                     3%

Assuming that the sample week I used is representative of a typical week, news and politics far outweighs any other type of programming on BBC 1 - almost a third of its airtime. (The BBC is the largest broadcasting corporation in the world and is outstandingly the dominant force in news broadcasting for the UK) On Channel 4, “reality” tv programmes are given far more airtime – 25% of its daily output, which is fives times greater than the its news and politics output. Having said that, Channel four offered more documentary programmes than any of the other four channels for that particular week – roughly 10% of its airtime. In my experience Channel 4 has also shown a greater tendency over the years for broadcasting controversial and challenging documentary content.

 

RADIO BROADCASTING

Most of the ownership and content biasing issues that I’ve already described also apply in the world of radio, but to a lesser degree. This is because the basic cost of radio broadcasting equipment is much lower than that of printing newspapers or producing television programs. It is easier for small, independent broadcasters to operate, though this is usually within a very limited geographical range. Of course these kinds of small radio stations generally lack the means to market themselves, so it is up to you to seek out their stations for yourself.

According to Wikipedia, there are about 250 radio stations in the UK. The office of Communications (or Ofcom) is the regulator of these stations, and according to their website, there are also an estimated 150 illegal or “pirate” radio stations in the UK. Of course most of these stations are not nationally syndicated and so if you wish to pursue radio as a viable news source, your choice will very much be based upon your location.

However, if you want a really wide range of choice in radio then the best place to turn is the internet. Also known as webcasting, internet radio stations can be accessed from virtually any location in the world that has internet access. Being that the technology for this is even cheaper than traditional radio, the number and variety of internet radio stations is much greater.

 

NON-FICTION BOOKS

Unfortunately, many young people today are extremely poor readers. They’re hooked on fast access forms of bite-sized information that challenges neither their intellect nor their attention spans. This is unfortunate because the ability to absorb and process complex information is becoming a greater necessity for the average citizen. The mental discipline involved in reading non-fiction books is a key way of addressing this dumbed down conditioning.

To take full advantage of books in a way that minimizes time consumption, I highly recommend you learn some basic speed reading skills. Speed reading primarily involves an enhanced understanding of how written language is structured. For example, the first sentence of a paragraph generally offers a broad outline of the entire paragraph content, while the remainder merely offers an expansion of detail. So by reading only the first lines of paragraphs you can quickly skim through a chapter. Whenever a paragraph of key interest is stumbled upon you can take a moment to read that paragraph in full.

Another approach is to skim your eyes up and down pages, taking notice only of keywords that specify context such as names, dates or locations, while process words such as “and, the, for, to” etc can be ignored.

Most non-fiction books will only contain a small amount of information that is useful to you and which could be encapsulated in perhaps a dozen pages. Speed reading enables you to get to that useful information quickly without reading the entire book word for word.

Another benefit of non-fiction books is that they are usually heavily referenced, that is the author provides a list of other information sources from which you can double check their claims. Unfortunately this often doesn’t happen with newspaper and television reports, although it would be a great improvement to the quality of mainstream news if the law required them to state their sources. When a newspaper claims that “the government” or “a scientific research group” has released “a report” that states X, Y and Z, they often don’t specify the exact name of the report or its publishing source. This makes it difficult for you to chase up the report and read it for yourself. And it is important to chase up these sources because professionally compiled reports often vary greatly from the way they are described by the mass media. Again, the reference sections of non-fiction books are an excellent way of verifying or disproving an author’s claims.

Like with other forms of commercial media, book publishing companies tend to fall within specific ownership hierarchies, which are often interlinked with newspaper and television ownership. So, on this basis it is perfectly feasible for a newspaper to bias a book review based upon whether the book’s publisher falls under the same parent company ownership. In this case a so-called “book review” could be more realistically thought of as a covert advertisement.

One thing that is noteworthy about book publishing is that there are a considerable number of companies that do not fall under the direct ownership and control of mega media corporations. There are also many authors out there who self-publish.

Small publishing companies tend to bypass public awareness, firstly because of their limited marketing resources, but also because many readers associate grand marketing campaigns with quality reading. The fact is that high financial investment in a book’s marketing can just as easily be attributed to an investor’s economic or political motives. As a prime example I would like to turn your attention to World famous documentary filmmaker and author Michael Moore. In his book Stupid White Men he actually encourages companies to reject white male candidates for jobs on the basis of their sex and their race. He really should be sued for inciting racism, but because the book supports pro-globalization agendas it actually has been promoted by large media establishments. The same goes for his DVD Farenheit 911. Try watching an alternative documentary called 911 Press for Truth, which is a great deal more informative than Moore’s film, yet has been avoided by distributors and mainstream film reviewers like the plague.

I’m not suggesting you completely avoid reading books that are published by large media companies – merely that you vary your reading to include authors and publishers whose purse strings are not pulled by political and economic heavyweights. The difference here is that you generally have to seek out these kinds of small publishers.

 

TRADE PUBLICATIONS

As with any other form of media, it is important with trade publications to have a sound awareness of who edits and distributes the publication, who its funding sources are, and what financial / economic motives those sources may have. One of the benefits of reading a trade publication is that the readership are more likely to be knowledgeable of the industry topic. Therefore a greater quality and accuracy of information is expected of the publication. This doesn’t mean that the information is always accurate and honest. Workforces can still be misled or manipulated through trade journals by corrupt management teams, but it’s just a little more difficult for them to get away with.

Availability is a key consideration. Some major trade publications are available in high street newsagents, but some are only available by paid subscription. Others are given away for free, but only to employees of a particular organisation.

If you can get hold of them, a very important benefit of reading trade publications is that you are more likely to get specific information about who provides funding and how that money is distributed. Finance is the key aspect to study in virtually any industry.

 

ACADEMIC PAPERS

Now we’re getting into much more specific territory as regards to information. Academic papers are almost universally required to source every detail of the author’s claims so as to be 100% verifiable. Misquotes are frowned upon by peer academic reviewers. A great emphasis is also given to research methods in that they must be concise, measurable, unbiased and repeatable – in other words, a reader who follows the same series of research experiments will encounter the exact same data.

Of course these information purifying principles are strived for in academic research, but it does not mean that they are always achieved. Academics frequently challenge each other’s published claims and disagree over their research methods. In fact most of the perceptual flaws that generate disagreement in every day conversation can affect the quality of an academic paper. The key difference is that with academia the semantics are more complex and the presentation of “evidence” is more specific.

This having been said, academic papers generally provide much more accurate information than other media sources, and so it is well worth your effort to read them. If you are not in the habit of doing so then I suggest you start.

Of course there is one influence in academic publishing, which I have repeatedly linked to every form of media information so far – and that is funding. This is of crucial importance because far too many people, including academics themselves, are of the opinion that academic researchers universally have sincere and genuine motives. Unfortunately this is not the case. Academics, like industry specific employees, are career climbers. They have status desires and salary aspirations that often take priority over their professional integrity. On this basis they can and often do sway their research in favour of a projected research conclusion because to do so secures funding for future projects. Or sometimes they will bias their research simply because it protects their hard earned reputations among their peers.

The carrot and stick conditions attached to research funding have as much influence over academics as a monthly salary does over any other professional. Within academic institutions are key executives who decide which researchers get funding and for what projects. Once again economic / political motives can be at work. Academic institutions, like the media, are funded by governments and by privately owned corporations.

A case example of a fine academic writer whose research challenged the agendas of his funding sources is Professor of Economics, Anthony C. Sutton. Despite meticulously researched books that expose US corporations for selling weapons technology directly to the Soviet Union during the cold war, Sutton found himself ostracized by his peers and thrown out of UCLA and Stanford Univerity. To this date I haven’t found a single academic article that disproves any of Sutton’s research.

Withdrawal of funds and institutional rejection are not the only ways in which academics can be manipulated into biasing their research. Funds and publishing opportunities can also be redirected towards rival academics who strongly oppose the “boat rocking” researcher. Those opposition researchers may not represent the majority opinion in their field, but if they are the ones being funded then the illusion of peer consensus can be achieved.

A great thing about academic papers is that they are often freely available to download via the internet. Others have to be purchased and they can be expensive. Some are only available to students and academic professionals through university libraries and intranets, but a good way to get around that obstacle is to have friends within the academic system who can obtain those papers for you.

 

THINK TANK GROUPS

Think tank group publications are a goldmine for serious news content. These strange organisations usually stay out of the media limelight, but a great deal of prominent political rhetoric can be traced back to specific think tank group origins. For example, check out the Fabian Society for a peak into the origins of New Labour’s policies. The Fabian’s are as old as the Labour party itself and have been central to Labour’s socialist policies for decades. In fact most think tank groups that are dedicated to policy design and analysis usually operate with party allegiances. Some are also based within universities and specialize in specific areas of research. There are currently about 70 known think tank groups in the UK.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_think_tanks_in_the_United_Kingdom

Most of these groups have websites where “key” publications can be downloaded by the general public – sometimes for free and sometimes at varying prices (the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) annual publication “The Military Balance”, which compares military strengths of different countries,  currently sells at a whopping $187 per copy). Other publications are available only to members of think tank groups.

The size of individual think tank group memberships also varies greatly. The aforementioned Fabian society has thousands of members including a sub-division of under 30’s called The Young Fabians, while some thinking tank groups may contain only a dozen members.

There are even think tank group hierarchies like the Centre for European Policy studies - an umbrella organisation, which oversees the activities of many other EU think tank groups.

The allegiances of specific politicians and corporate bosses can often be clarified by their membership of specific think tanks. When their decision making track records and compared with those think tank allegiances it becomes more obvious which agendas they serve. Many US presidents have been members of a very famous think tank group called The Council on Foreign Relations.

Something else that is interesting about think tank group literature is that, while government policies are written in the standard ultra-complexity of legal paperwork, the thinking that goes behind those policies is often revealed in think tank group publications using a much more simple and readable form of presentation.

As always, you should retain an awareness of funding source motives when reading a freely available think tank document. Sometimes these funding sources come directly from governments, but they also are frequently funded in part or in whole by privately owned corporations. The idea of privately owned business interests funding political research may seem odd, but it does happen. The Washington based Center for International Policy is wholly funded through private individuals and corporations. How much influence these kinds of business funded think tank groups have over governments is an important area of debate.

Some think tank groups are highly active on a global level and hence do not necessarily fall under any specific regulations of accountability. Some examples of these include The World Economic Forum, The Club of Rome and The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.  

Considering the global impact of their meetings and publications, and the lack of legal oversight of their activities, it is essential that large numbers of citizens and independent media companies keep a close eye on these organisations.

 

GOVERNMENT SOURCES

I have one simple piece of advice regarding information that is available from government sources – ignore the rhetoric and read the policies, which are usually available on government websites as free downloads.

Politicians, regardless of whether they are corrupt, will always shroud their activities in a veil of sincerity. They will smile, shake hands and nod their heads. They will look journalists, members of the public and television cameras straight in the eye as they speak slogans that have often been written for them in advance.

Politicians are usually accomplished negotiators and academic achievers, but mostly their roles in government are that of trained actors. They basically announce decisions that have already been agreed upon in think tank groups or sometimes even in private boardroom meetings with people more powerful than themselves such as bankers, business tycoons and top ranking military personnel.

So the key thing to do on any political issue is to read the actual policies that are at the centre of a debate. I won’t patronise you by saying that these documents are fun to read. They are sometimes written in a complex semantic language that can take time and patience to unravel. For example, you will encounter very long sentences that are broken up with multiple commas. Unless you break these long sentences down into sub-sentences, you may well find yourself mentally exhausted trying to decipher them. Certain clauses will contain references in relation to other clauses in the same document or even to clauses that lie in completely different documents such as earlier drafts that were passed decades before. These legal semantics have slowly evolved, just as governments have and basically amount to an almost separate language. When a policy contains particularly controversial laws that the public would disapprove of, the incriminating clauses are sometimes embedded within page upon page of repetitive jargon that challenge the reader’s attention span.

As laborious as it sounds, analysing policy documents is essential for the general public to keep informed about who and what they are voting for. As an intermediary step in developing this kind of reading skill, I recommend that you begin by studying smaller corporate policy documents, which are usually simpler by comparison.

 

INDEPENDENT MEDIA WEBSITES

Of all the different sources of news information available, independent media websites are probably the most variable in terms of quality and content. The advantage is that you are more likely to find information that has been researched by everyday people like yourself, who do not hold allegiances to particular funding bodies.

Most of these sites are themed toward specific issues such as feminism, foreign policy, financial advice, climate change, terrorism, Euro-skepticism, animal rights and so on. Just like with funded media, these topics range from the informative to the ridiculous. The good thing is that topics that are almost completely ignored by the mainstream media (such as positive discrimination, controversial whistleblowers or fractional reserve lending) are reported upon in great detail. In fact controversial whistleblowers are sometimes forced to rely on websites and independent radio because the mainstream media have their hands tied by their funding sources and hence can’t give them the coverage. Here is a list of academic, corporate and political whistleblowers you may wish to search for online.

Scott Ritter (WMDs)
John Patrick O’Neill (terrorism)
Michael Coffman (global warming)
Robert Baer (covert ops)
Sibel Edmonds (security agencies)
George Hunt (UNCED)

The limited, and sometimes total lack of, mass media coverage of these whistleblower’s claims demonstrates the limited freedom of thousands of journalists whose salaries are controlled by a small number of bureaucrats.

Some websites, however, are malicious and there are some basic filters you can use to avoid them. The obvious one is to look into is who created the site. If the web author does not provide open and honest info about who they are, their background and their aims then there is a good chance that they have dishonest agendas. Sometimes the web author turns out to be affiliated with other organisations, and if their site appears to have a lot of money pumped into it from undeclared sources, then once again their funding loyalties must come into question.

The character and integrity of a web author can be further assessed if they have other websites. An online search of their name and organisation will sometimes bring up other info that their own site did not disclose. It’s also useful to have a quick glance through their Myspace or Facebook pages, if they happen to have one.

Of course, the news reports posted on any such independent media websites should ultimately be judged by whether the details can be verified from external sources. If they have provided the necessary links to these sources then great. If they haven’t, then do some online research yourself. You’ll sometimes find that the verification of a web author’s claims is available even though it wasn’t sourced on their web page.

 

VIDEO SHARING SITES

Although video sharing sites cover just about any topic, they are sometimes incredibly informative as news sources. This comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes members of the public use their own camera equipment to film newsworthy events and then post the footage on video sites for all to see. Another form of video sharing is when members of the public use home dvd recorders to capture and redistribute significant mainstream media broadcasts that otherwise would have been aired only once and then forgotten about. The interesting aspect of this is that in many instances funded mass media footage of an event is starkly different to the footage shot by independent video activists, so by visiting the websites you get more of the story.

A great advantage with these video sharing sites is that you can hunt down video clips on a category by category basis. So if I go to Youtube (currently the most popular video sharing site) and do a search for “time to go demonstration Manchester 2006”, I then find approximately 70 video clips from one of the contributing events that led to Tony Blair’s resignation as Prime Minister. This event received very poor coverage from the mass media.

If there is publicly available video footage of a newsworthy event, you’ll very often find it on either Youtube, Google video or one of the many other video sharing sites.

 

FILE SHARING (online)

File sharing is done over the internet and usually through dedicated software programs. The basic deal is that as you’re downloading a document, music or video file from a community of online users, you also allow others to upload the same file from your computer. Some of these programs allow users to make a whole library of files available from a specific folder on their hard drive for other users to browse and upload from.

The popularity of specific file sharing programs seems to shift and change rapidly. The music sharing Napster program was what kicked it all off. Despite the fact that Napster was forced to shut down its operations, it was superseded by other file sharing programs like Kazaa and Limewire. These have since begun to give way to torrent engines such as Bittorrent and Utorrent.

The scale of illegal downloading of copyrighted films and music through these file sharing programs has become so monumental that it is near impossible to police or keep track of. As a result the film and music industries are radically rethinking their entire marketing strategies.

Note: the author of this article does not recommend or condone the downloading of copyrighted files.

The plus side of all this is that information on news and politics is now being distributed via these file sharing networks and anybody can take part. There are now hundreds of underground documentary films available from all kinds of activists and whistleblowers who, for various reasons, are not given coverage in the mass media. Some of these documentaries are copyright free, which means not only can you download and watch them legally, but you can also distribute them as you wish.

Here is a short list of underground documentaries that contain powerful info that you generally won’t find through mass media sources:

Freedom to fascism
The money masters
Manufacturing consent
Press for truth
The war on democracy
Outfoxed

Some of these films can also be purchased from online dvd sellers or from auction sites such as ebay.

If you’re interested in making use of file sharing programs like Bittorrent or Limewire then there are plenty of websites and online forums offering basic user guides.

 

CAMPAIGN GROUPS

Campaign groups are a much more involved way of accessing news information. The vast majority of these groups will be based around a key issue such as the environment or foreign policy. At such groups you will typically find people who are very familiar with their subjects and who can point you toward the right books, news publications or websites. Just spending an hour or two with a group of people who are familiar with an issue can be much more educational than a typical televised debate on the same subject. You get to ask questions directly and clashes of opinion cannot be edited out as they can on the printed page or on the television screen.

Campaign groups can also be very biased. If a group have been in long-standing agreement on an issue, but you show up and express disagreement then you can find yourself greatly pressurized to conform.

It’s also important to be careful of campaign groups that are dominated by the opinions of a particular individual. Such a group dynamic is sometimes simply because certain individuals are more well read or experienced on certain subjects, but no matter how idolised they are you should always request evidence of their claims. When the group take to simply believing a leader’s word alone, the leader effectively becomes a guru. The lack of intellectual challenges from the group can then give the leader a false sense of confidence that encourages him / her to become lackadaisical in their research.

Once again it is essential to look at the funding sources. An unfortunate reality of modern propaganda is that campaign groups are sometimes covertly set up in order to sabotage public opposition from within. In many ways this even occurs with large scale political organisations – a sort of staged democracy.

Campaign groups can also draw in people who have psychological obsessions with particular issues. The obvious factor to look for is emotional intensity – Are the group members calm and rational and open to new information? Do they aggressively attempt to slander people who offer differing opinions?

 

SOCIAL NETWORKS

Finally, I’d like to mention the most uninhibited and unlimited form of news education – social networks. No matter how much propaganda or misinformation is spewed out through mainstream media sources, the informed opinions of a trusted friend, colleague or family member can always override it. For this reason I advise that you make an ongoing effort to share and discuss news content with other people in your life. This can lead to emotionally heated clashes, but even if agreement is not found during these conversation, people will often go away and rethink their opinions afterwards.

On the larger scale, social conversation about news content has an extremely slow educational effect on society. However, it is incredibly powerful and has historically caused many social upheavals, both productive and destructive. Quality info communicated in a single conversation can be passed on by the listener to a handful of other people, who then each pass it on to a larger handful of people again and again so that the effect multiplies. This word of mouth domino effect is extremely difficult to track and trace, even through detailed academic study. That is also what makes it so difficult to control and monopolise.

 

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