Dissent in the Audience
- Chris McCormick (Editor)
Constructing Danger: : the Mis/representation of Crime in the News. Fernwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Valerie Alia (Editor), Brian Brennan (Editor), and Barry Hoffmaster (Editor)
Deadlines and Diversity: Journalism Ethics in a Changing World. Fernwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- James Winter (Author)
Democracy's Oxygen: How Corporations Control the News. Black Rose Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Sharon Fuller
The same confidence Noam Chomsky displays in his remark in Manufacturing Consent, "The general approach I’m taking seems to me to be rather simple-minded and unsophisticated, but nevertheless correct," is evident in James Winter’s Democracy’s Oxygen: How Corporations Control the News. Seemingly ignoring the work done over the past two decades in the field of communication and reader reception theory which indicates that readers and viewers actively engage with the texts they encounter, often contesting, challenging and aberrantly decoding
them, Winter asserts that with regard to the news media we are "Simply put,. .. brainwashed."
Those who find unconvincing the argument that most citizens are passive dupes gullibly taking in messages constructed on behalf of corporate masters by a compliant media will have trouble with this book. As might be expected from its title, it is Winter’s view that "the news media today legitimize a fundamentally undemocratic system and manufacture public consent for policies which favour their owners: the corporate elite." Embracing the argument that news audiences are docile and credulous, Winter argues that the "vast majority of the public is effectively on drugs, addicted to Media Think as surely as if we were taking the soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World" and goes on, in Orwellian fashion, to lay out a sampling of 54 "Media Think Truisms." In his view, it is these "truisms" that shape the news—news being a management product produced by news organisations which manufacture consent for policies favouring the corporate elite.
In Winter’s account, detailed scrutiny of the newsroom practices of journalists is absent, as is any rigorous consideration of the struggles that can take place among and within the various media, or between journalists and editors on newsroom floors. Interpreting his model, a reader could imagine the news meeting at a newspaper, for example, as a daily process resulting in a consensus around what should be done in the interests of the corporate elite.
A text used as a standard, dictionary-style reference work in the field of communication theory, Key Concepts in Communication and Cultural Studies, portrays perspectives in the mould of Winter’s as follows: ". . . the mass media are conceived as powerful automatic relay mechanisms, directly controlled by certain powerful members of a conspiratorial group, who are able to condition and persuade unsuspecting audiences into passive conformity to their schemes." Such a theory, it concludes, has "little or no credibility." Many would argue that "democracy’s oxygen" is critical thinking, no matter in which forum, which makes it ironic that, because of the style he employs, Winters does little to foster such thought in this particular work. He puts his position in a sensationalist, soundbite style, a much-disparaged mode associated with the media and conducive more to entertainment than analysis. The chapter titles are obscuringly catchy—for example, "Mediasaurus and Media Think." His introductions of people he favours are flashy, presented with a show-business flourish. Dallas Smythe is referred to as "the late, great communications scholar" and Maude Barlow is presented as "a charming and delightful person," the latter remark interesting, too, for its perhaps gendered inclination. Those of whom Winter does not approve receive the converse treatment: having just criticised a Globe and Mail staffer for being "personal," he then refers to him as a "neocon darling." His comments on Black also refuse an analytical edge. He says Black "has managed to blend the right wing with the Neanderthal."
Winter also tends to comments which tell us little. For example, he says of the media: "Like the rest of us, they have spouses and kids and mortgages, and they want to keep their jobs. Some are well-intentioned and daring, some are excellent journalists, but most are not." Surely these are comments that could be made of most working and professional communities. In his conclusion, Winter worries "about the unidimensional, doctrinaire perspectives on these issues emanating from the allegedly free, open and diverse corporate media." Indeed. This book is especially disappointing coming at a time when a considered critique of the increasing concentration of ownership within the Canadian media is needed.
Constructing Danger: the Mis/representation of Crime in the News is an edited collection of talks where, again, the perspective of a powerful group having its own way in regard to the media is evident. While this publication is more complex than Winter’s by virtue of the fact that it has eleven contributors, the editor, Chris McCormick, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, takes a similar position in his introduction when he says news (apparently all media news) "supports the status quo and represents the point of view of the powerful." Aligning himself with a social constructionist position, he proceeds as if taking such a position enables one to see some things as socially constructed and others not. "Crime waves are social constructions," says McCormick. As was argued 30 years ago in Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s book, it is the social construction of reality, all of it, to which this approach makes us sensitive. The book has three sections— Gender and the Media, Distortion in the Media and the Law and the Media—and includes talks on violence against women, the Mount Cashel Orphanage Inquiry and the Westray Mine Explosion.
The authors of Deadlines & Diversity: Journalism Ethics in a Changing World, a 1996 Fernwood Publishing text, say that to their knowledge theirs is the first anthology of ethics in journalism that brings the writings of working journalists, philosophers and educators together. The compilation, edited by Valerie Alia, Brian Brennan and Barry Hoffmaster contains 19 articles ranging widely in scope; some examples are "Lies, Damned Lies and Journalism" by Nicholas Russell, a professor in the School of Journalism and Communications at the University of Regina, and "Reviewing the Arts: Better Than Suicide?" by Valerie Alia, a professor at the University of Western Ontario Graduate School of Journalism. This attempt at diversity makes it a welcome addition to the fields of Canadian communication and cultural studies.
- Collecting Bodies by Judith Leggatt
Books reviewed: Operation Rimbaud by Patricia Claxton and Jacques Godbout, Luck: A Bill Shmata Mystery by Dave Carpenter, Looking for Cardenio by Jean Rae Baxter, and Still Waters by John Moss
- Image and Text by Stephen Guy-Bray
Books reviewed: The Future of the Book by Geoffrey Nunberg and In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture by Victor Burgin
- Critical Ecology and Critical Theory by Lisa Szabo-Jones
Books reviewed: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises by Andrew Biro
- Words and Value by Nicole Mirante
Books reviewed: Figures de pensée, figures de discours by Danielle Forget and Que vaut la littérature? by Denis Saint-Jacques
- The Myths of Immigration by Norman Ravvin
Books reviewed: The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy by Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock
MLA: Fuller, Sharon. Dissent in the Audience. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #156 (Spring 1998). (pg. 179 - 180)
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