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TV news ought to be labeled ‘dangerous’ ... because it is

By John Whitehead -   May 24, 2007

Anyone who relies exclusively on television news reporting for insight into what’s happening in the world is making a serious mistake.

However, since Americans have by and large become non-readers and primarily viewers of television, it has become an inescapable necessity for most that if they desire information on current events, they get it from watching TV news shows.

Yet TV news networks, having fallen prey to the demands of a celebrity-obsessed and entertainment-driven culture, provide viewers with what they want to see, rather than what is newsworthy.

As a result, there tends to be little deviation between the networks as to what stories are covered. Hence, more time is spent titillating and entertaining viewers than educating them about pressing issues of concern.

This was sadly illustrated by the wall-to-wall coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre. TV anchors and personalities were falling over one another on the school’s campus in competing for viewers by presenting any type of information surrounding the incident, whether it was relevant or not.

Even the excessively violent footage left behind by the killer was aired, despite the fact that psychologists have urged networks not to broadcast these types of events. They fear that unbalanced people watching these shows will attempt to repeat such events in order to gain their 15 minutes of fame.

While the networks must bear the brunt of the blame for this, the lack of discernment on the part of television news watchers also plays a part. For example, in an average household, the television set is in use over seven hours a day. Most people, believing themselves to be in control of the process, are scarcely bothered by this statistic.

But it is a false sense of control. The fact is that television not only delivers programs to your home, it also delivers you to a sponsor. Thus, the main point of television, including news programs, is to keep you watching so that sponsors and others can make a lot of money by selling a product to you.

That is why so-called news events are commingled with a bevy of inane entertainment items.

This does not mean that television news is not important. There are things the public needs to know, whether they “like” it or not.

This is a necessity in a democratic society. Thus, TV news should give people what they need, not necessarily what they want. However, that rarely happens.

Realistically, there are some things that can be done to help you understand TV news and, in the process, minimize its impact on you. Here are a few:
TV news is not what actually occurs. Rather, it is what someone labeled a “journalist” or “correspondent” thinks is worth reporting. That’s why it is important to analyze what is reported. Although there are good TV journalists, the old art of investigative reporting has largely been lost.

For example, how often have you heard a reporter preface a “news” report with the statement, “This comes from official sources”?

What this often means is that the government is speaking directly to you through a reporter. This cannot be trusted because the government hires thousands of spin doctors to spread government propaganda.

TV news is entertainment. TV news is not communication. Communication is between equals. When you are being spoon-fed by advertisers, you are in no way equal.

And although the news may have value, it is primarily a commodity to gather an audience, which will be sold to advertisers. That is why the program you are watching is called a news “show.” This means that the so-called news is delivered as a form of entertainment.

Never underestimate the power of commercials, especially to news audiences. People who watch news tend to be more attentive, educated and have more money to spend. They are, thus, a prime market for advertisers, and, as such, sponsors are willing to spend millions on well-produced commercials.
Learn more about the economic and political interests of those who own the “corporate” media.

There are few independent news sources. Indeed, the major news outlets are owned by corporate empires. For example, General Electric owns the entire stable of NBC shows, including MSNBC, which it co-owns with Microsoft (the “MS” in MSNBC stands for Microsoft).

Both GE and Microsoft have poured millions of dollars into political campaigns. The obvious question: How can a news network present objective news on a candidate that it financially supports?

Pay special attention to the language of newscasts. Because film footage and other visual imagery are so engaging on TV news shows, viewers are apt to allow language - what the reporter is saying about the images - to go unexamined.

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