Editor’s Corner article

Control is no laughing matter!
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Jul 15, 2014

Journalists are becoming an endangered species. For years, many of them have been calling attention to the insidious and increasing efforts to control the so-called “message”. However, sadly for you, these complaints fell mostly on deaf ears – and so control of the written word has progressed from bad to worse.

Chatting with a government program director about recent developments, I dared suggest an interview. “Not possible”, I was told, but FrontLine could submit questions to the department PR team which would then craft and finesse the ‘perfect’ answers. (How about we bypass the charade and just hand me a brochure, I thought to myself.)

At issue is the culture of secrecy and lack of openness, transparency, engagement and consultation that is driven from above, mainly by political staff but also by fearful public servants. Exceptions to the CYA culture are few and far between because your job may very well be on the line. You probably passively accept it as the new ‘normal, but you should be outraged at how interviews of government decision-makers and elected officials are systematically refused – offering instead written answers crafted by the ever-zealous “communications” team (they seem truly bewildered when I decline this empty offer).

In fact, we should all “decline” to be manipulated in this way. The best way to truly hold our leaders’ “feet to the fire” is through the mass illumination that can be provided by diligent journalists and undaunted publishers – and the ones who make a sincere effort to be non-partisan and factual deserve your support.

But governments have learned to control the media – it’s quite simple, really – don’t let journalists ask questions. Only “allow” good news stories to get out. Pretend transparency is created by saying the word. Funnel all information through “communications advisors”. Promote and exploit social media, where facts only get in the way of a good tweet and emotions can easily be manipulated for global propaganda. And make sure there are negative consequences for criticizing the government so that everyone is afraid to speak up. (Note to students: controlling information is a very secure career choice, journalism is not).

Concurring with John Stuart Mill’s observation that “since the general or ­prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied”, I fear that FrontLine’s mandate to foster defence sector debate could be in jeopardy – it’s up to you, really.

We expect media manipulation in communist countries, but the degree of information ­control engaged by democratic governments should now spur you to push back – it is the most subtle, invasive and ­successful attack on freedom ever launched. In one extreme example of attempted control, the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey has suggested that women should not be seen in public laughing out loud. You chuckle and shake your head, but control of the written word is becoming entrenched here, and it is no laughing matter.

Chris MacLean is the managing editor at FrontLine Magazines.
© FrontLine Magazines 2014