Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Media Extempore

Feedback and Extempore comments on the media

By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 09, 16 Qawl 165 BE

Please note that this morning I revised "How to improve the media?; Outfoxing Broadcast News." The latest version is to be found on the Badi Blog, at:


This essay discusses the documentary film "Outfoxed," which is about the Fox television network. Reader Ed commented:

"Hi John, I've been watching CNN a lot in the last while starting with the US elections. I've noted that they repeat the slogan something about being the most trusted news source; being the most trusted, though, isn't necessarily the best thing.  At the same time, I have found plenty of things worthwhile listening to on CNN. Like anything you have to watch with one eye on the balance."

According to responses to the following questions on Yahoo Answers, CNN is owned by Time Warner:



As you can see by the listing given here as to who owns what, the news outlets in every media, radio, newspaper, television and internet in the United States are owned by a small number of corporations. At least as far as radio goes, local broadcasting has gone out the window. World broadcasting? A United Nations based media outlet? Forget about it.


This might be a tolerable Status Quo under normal circumstances but these are not normal times. Climate change is forcing us to shatter old injustices for our own survival.

When she arrived home yesterday I mentioned that in this essay I had quoted a character from her favourite program, Futurama, and my 14 year old daughter Silvie put the following comment directly on the blog:

"You're right about everything, except that Fox had no say in what Zapp Brannigan was going to say. You can read that right before the episode starts. `The content in this episode does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Fox and its partners; or something like that.'"

It is true, the apparatchiks of the old USSR made things boring for viewers, and nobody can accuse our apparatchiks, the mugwumps of market fundamentalism, that is, Fox or any other broadcaster, of letting opinion get in the way of entertainment. Superficial maybe, but never boring.

There were advantages to the old Soviet way. I remember my Polish Baha'i friend Jan Jasion showing me some Soviet and Polish newspapers back in the 1970's. I was surprised and delighted to find that these dull looking rags actually published the entire text of speeches. They actually printed every source document that came to hand. Sure, the Soviet media did not print speeches or documents by opponents of the regime, but in many cases they had the guts to let people see the raw material and judge for themselves. You have to admire that.

That is almost never done here. In a democracy where full scale industrial and financial slavery lives on, the most frightening thing for the elite would be for large numbers of people to learn to see for themselves, or, heaven forbid, to get into the habit of judging complex issues with their own minds.

As a result, everything in the media is fed to us on a platter. Everything we get through the electronic media has to be filtered by a fog of second hand commentators. You cannot even watch a sports event on television without a panel of experts telling you every detail of what you should be seeing and thinking. The Internet, by and large, is the first exception to that, but because of its diversity it is contributing as much to fractionalization and hardening of opinion as to the spread of source documents.

Clearly, an invisible elite wields its power through information. It invests billions of dollars a year in controlling the thinking of the population in democratic lands. This kind of power -- power mediated by influence -- is technically called "hegemony." Why, I ask, is The Hegemon not an attribute of God mentioned by Baha'u'llah? The answer is clear. God's power operates by ruling souls who know how to investigate the truth for themselves. God has no need to spend money to manipulate people into doing things His Way. God is All-Powerful, He is no hegemon. The truth is truth. I think it was Tolstoy who said that when you are lying you have to invest huge effort in maintaining your artificial construction, keeping contradictions from toppling the whole deal; meanwhile universal truths like the Gospel just stand on their own without props or scaffolding. Of course, Tolstoy put it more eloquently than that. And before him, Comenius expressed something similar:

"Moreover, these fountains of God are so high above us that we have only to remove the barriers and they will pour their waters down upon us freely and in unison and strength. For human nature tends to desire the beautiful and the good by itself rather than merely to hear other people speaking about them. Also men prefer to rely on their own experience or reasoning and to hear God for themselves, if possible, rather than to hear of His voice from others. Let us therefore enable man to see and grasp many things with their senses, let us ensure that the vein of understanding flows forth upon him and that God speaks to him and imparts knowledge which influences him for the better, as we have seen in my `Universal Education'." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 3, para 37, p. 79)

Every day lately I've been going carefully and slowly through a version of the first Ruhi Book with a couple of non-Baha'i friends whose English skills are shaky. The Ruhi course takes you to the source, then through curves and turns, then leads you back again. I am reminded at times of a Jehovah's Witness service I once attended, where everything was spoon-fed to the congregation. They had integrated their publication, the Watchtower, into their ceremony so that news events were related to scriptural positions, along with their interpretation of scripture. Because of my own biases, I got the creepy feeling that they were going through the same hoops that the media goes through to pretend that you are being informed while at the same time telling you what you should be thinking.

At times doing Ruhi I get a chill and worry: "Is that what I am doing here?"

Thank God, my friends were very encouraging yesterday. Once we had worked through the meaning of several difficult words in a certain long and convoluted quote about the soul, they lavishly praised the eloquence of Baha'u'llah and the Master. They wrote it down in its entirely so that they could read it later at home. They were very enthusiastic. I needed that. The Word of God does stand on its own, without props. The great effort that we have to put into this is not in maintaining a particular interpretation, outlook or ideology. It is just breaking down the Great Invisible Barrier: the language barrier. Ruhi has to get us past that then get us to read a text carefully for ourselves, usually for the first time. For most humans on this planet, even very literate ones, we have never read any original text carefully using all our attention. This takes labour, like anything done for the first time. But once you get beyond these blocks, the truth does stand on its own; it requires no further helps. Such is one of the many joys of teaching the Cause of God directly to others.



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