What is the Western media?

I have been wanting to define what the term “West” means, especially as in “Western media.” Often times in debates, people will toss out a statement like, “the West is not a monolithic entity.” Well, that statement is certainly true in many cases. For example, the Europeans are against genetically modified organisms and crops whereas the U.S. is in favor. The Germans and the French were against the Iraq invasion where the U.K. supported the U.S.. For those of us explaining the Chinese perspective, we too will say, “the Chinese perspectives are broad and varied.” That is equally true.

On the other hand, Western leaders (Obama or whomever) will say “we the West” stand for this and for that. The Western media do that all the time too. Again, that presumed unity may be true in some cases and false in the rest. Another example difference is universal health coverage, though the U.S. took a big step in that direction only recently.

So, who exactly is the “West?” Physically, the best generalization is the group of countries rooted in Western Europe. This group colonized the world. They enslaved the Africans. They won the Cold War and currently represent the most dominant bloc in our world institutions. They have largely industrialized and are consuming at a much higher per capita level of earth’s resources than the rest of the world. In doing so, they have cumulatively produced the most CO2 on this planet.

Note that there are major differences between the governments, people, and the media in the “West.” For example, Western governments are obligated to observe international law and are bound by bilateral treaties. Their citizens are only obligated to observe laws within each of their own national borders. They can openly support groups to subvert foreign governments. Western governments acquiesce to what their citizens or media do. Weaker countries simply must accept this reality.

So, what is the “Western media?” For one, they pride themselves on being a “free press.” We all know “free” criminals commit crimes, so most of us are immuned to their self-professed higher moral ground. But, the Western public largely buys into that. The Western media also share a peculiar trait of crusading for these ideologies: “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” They crusade these ideas to perpetuate and justify Western dominance. As I have said previously, they spare little effort in pushing for world equality.

Do all the different outlets conspire to form that “bloc?” I don’t think so. The rest of the world frankly don’t care and need not prove one way or another. The media’s traits and behaviors are publicly available for everyone to see.

So, now we turn to how the world sees the Western media.

Even for those who accept the aforementioned ideologies, they see “freedom of the press” wrought with problems. Here is a very comprehensive compilation on what those problems are, titled, “The Western Media.”

For example, on the issue of ownership, it said, a number of media outlets in the U.S. are owned by corporations involved in manufacturing weapons. The obvious problem with that is the media arm can be used to preach fear. The more scared the population is, the harder they push their politicians to strengthen military. U.S. arms manufacturers advertise to U.S. citizens. Why is that when it is illegal for U.S. citizens to own jet fighters or cruise missiles?

At the end of the compilation is a list of illuminating quotes from which I have selected a few:

“We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is.”
David Boylan, Station Manager WTVT, Tampa, Florida (A Fox Network station) .

“There are certain facts and stories from Korea that editors and publishers have printed which were pure fabrication… Many of us who sent the stories knew they were false, but we had to write them because they were official releases from responsible military headquarters and were released for publication even though the people responsible knew they were untrue.”
Robert C Miller, United Press correspondent during the Korean War.

“We have relationships with reporters that have helped us turn some intelligence failure stories into intelligence success stories. Some responses to the media can be handled in a … phone call.”
CIA Report

“[In the West] unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for an official ban.”
George Orwell, UK writer.

In July 2010, I wrote about a study done at Harvard University: “Harvard University study catches major U.S. media pants down – systematic reporting of U.S. waterboarding as not torture.” Of course, there is an unwritten contract within the Western media to justify Western government bad behavior on the global stage. (Don’t confuse that with the domestic stage though.)

Now we turn to the Middle East. Is there doubt the whole region detests the Western media? In “Islam and the Western Media,” the paper’s by-line is in fact, “Stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam in the media are rooted in prejudice, and ignorance, says Bassil Akel.” Here is a passage from it:

For the general public in America and Europe today, Islam is “news” of a particularly unpleasant sort. The media, the government, the geopolitical strategists, and although they are marginal to the culture at large – the academic experts on Islam are all in concert: Islam is a threat to Western civilization. Now this is by no means the same as saying that only derogatory or racist caricatures of Islam are to be found in the West…What I am saying is that negative images of Islam are very much more prevalent than any others, and that such images correspond, not to what Islam “is”…but to what prominent sectors of a particular society take it to be: Those sectors have the power and the will to propagate that particular image of Islam, and this image therefore becomes more prevalent, more present, than all others (Muzaffer 1).

In this April 2010 article, “How the Western Media Promotes a Mistaken View of the World,” Ramzy Baroud observed from Asia:

One hardly ever reads positive news from China, or any other ‘non-Western’ countries – unless an agenda exists for promoting selective positive news from those countries, for example, a supposedly successful election in Afghanistan conducted under the auspices of Western armies.

I am stealing the thunder a little, but here is the conclusion of a paper written by Rod Chavis, presented in 1998 at the Sixth Annual African Studies Consortium Workshop, entitled, “Africa in the Western Media.”

In conclusion, I wonder why the Western Media has devoted a great deal of its resources and energy toward painting the continent of Africa in a negative light. The fact of the matter is the continent’s mineral resources, strategic metals, and natural resources are significant factors in the wealth of European Nations, America, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, top name a few. Continual denigration of Africa and, by implication, its people there or in the Diaspora, is a function of white supremacy, plain and simple. Those so affected by this practice must instigate its demise. Thank you for your attention.

So, what is the “Western media?” It is the malice, prejudice, hypocrisy, and unfairness towards the rest of the world (who happens to be weaker) that best define them. They have thus far been successful in misleading the Western public into thinking they stand for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights” for the rest of the world, while obviously they do not.

Certainly there is a sizable portion of the Western population who see them for what they are. For example, Noam Chomsky, who perhaps wrote the strongest critique in his book, “Manufacturing Consent.”

What then for those who yearns for a more equitable and peaceful world? Ramzy Baroud said it well; we must challenge their narratives.

The western media will continue to reduce non-Westerners, for they have a vested interest in doing so, and it has become habitual. A first step in overcoming this would be to empower our own local and regional media, and to create rapports amongst them. We can only challenge the abhorrent narratives about us when we start to present our own truth and experience, and support others to do the same.

And thus, we labor forward out of conscious to dispel a set of narratives we think are so wrong. The Western media have been so egregious and have polarized the world’s poor against it. If this phenomenon can be attributed as a trait, then that also defines what the Western media is.

[Update Feb. 14, 2011]
Kai made some important comments about this post over at Google Buzz which I feel worthwhile sharing and addressing:

The Western Media is a representation of interests, and there are both “well-intentioned” and “nefarious self-serving” interests. It isn’t accurate, nor fair, to paint the whole as being one or the other. The important thing isn’t to get people to agree that it is X or Y, but to get them to remember that it is and can be X or Y, so if they value being discriminating, informed, critical, and generally intelligent consumers of information, they ought to keep that in mind.

I genuinely believe there are many well intentioned Westerners. People the world over on the average tend to favor peace and other ideals that make society better. To paint the whole of the Western media, “malice, prejudice, hypocrisy, and unfairness towards the rest of the world” is certainly not fair towards those in it who sincerely want to present a fair view of the world. So, the key part comes down to the balance. How strongly are the voices of the “well-intentioned” heard as opposed to those from the “nefarious self-serving?” (Again, remember, we are talking about on global issues, not purely domestic.)

And that’s the crux of this post. From Africa, Middle East, Asia, and, yes, Latin America too, all of them see the same type of malice, prejudice, hypocrisy, and unfairness toward them.

We’ve had a long discussion here about media bias too (see, “Newsy.com, breaking the mold of Western media bias?“), and on Kai’s point about the Western Media a representation of interests (while very true), the problem there is that no one in the West really represents the rest of the world. It is thus a big mistake to take the Western media’s own words for it that they are “objective” and “free.”

And, finally, as Allen argued here, “Understanding Democracy,” the average citizen do not have the time nor the interest in understanding their society or the world at large. They take sound bites from the media and participate based on that. Chomsky also said too in the past the best way is to educate the public – so they have the proper information necessary to check their governments and to check their media.

So the truth is still – to challenge the Western media narratives when they are unfair and to discredit them wherever appropriate.

26 thoughts on “What is the Western media?

  1. “So, what is the “Western media?” It is the malice, prejudice, hypocrisy, and unfairness towards the rest of the world (who happens to be weaker) that best define them. They have thus far been successful in misleading the Western public into thinking they stand for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights” for the rest of the world, while obviously they do not.” — Very precise. Exactly what I see.

  2. Hey yinyang, this is the comment I added when I shared your post on Google Reader:

    Tone-wise, I think this post started off better than it ended. If it were me, I would’ve taken more pains at the end to emphasize that the Western media “arguably” represents BOTH “malice, prejudice, hypocrisy and unfairness towards the rest of the world” and “democracy, freedom, and human rights for the rest of the world”, not definitely one or the other, which I think yinyang indulges in at the end. This is because as yinyang notes in the beginning that the Western media is not a “monolithic entity”. The Western Media is a representation of interests, and there are both “well-intentioned” and “nefarious self-serving” interests. It isn’t accurate, nor fair, to paint the whole as being one or the other. The important thing isn’t to get people to agree that it is X or Y, but to get them to remember that it is and can be X or Y, so if they value being discriminating, informed, critical, and generally intelligent consumers of information, they ought to keep that in mind.

  3. Hi Kai,

    It’s been a while. Hope you are doing well.

    Fair take.

    But, on the balance, the “well-intentioned” are being trounced by the “nefarious self-serving” interests in the West. The latter sells much better, and in this age of media consolidation, I am very pessimistic any sort of balance is achievable.

  4. The best word that I can summarize Western Media is ‘infotainment.’ Sorry, journalism died a long time ago in the Western Media.

  5. Without objective journalism, the people are not aware. When people are not aware, democracies are but a shame – which is I believe where we are… We worship democracy – but only hollowly, superficially. People go through the process of democracy without living democracy.

  6. Western media have to please their audience to sell, like politicians have to please their constituents to be elected. Both will lie, whenever it’s beneficial to themselves. It is that simple.

    They are called “free” press. Yes, ‘free’ to some extent, sometimes. That exactly is the problem. If they lie all the time, people won’t believe them. They do report facts, on most domestic issues. And, that makes them credible when they smear China and others, especially China and others are not there to defend themselves. It is obvious what will happen if lies are kept being repeated. Also, the majority of the western media’s audience are religious. They believe outrageous claims without evidence. They call it “faith”. That is another problem.

    How to fix that? You can’t.

  7. So how free is our media exactely? Here’s another example: pre-Iraq invasion news reports were overwhelmingly pro-war. If our media was state-sponsored, would it reported the story any differently?

    In a way, the censorship we accuse the Chinese of also exists here. Instead of tangible oversight, we have a system of control imposed by the market. Not just consumer of the reports, but also sources for the reports and access to the source dictated by priviate, government interests.

    That is what we have in the West – a military-industrial-MEDIA-complex. In a way, this subtle, easily rationalized self-censorship is more dangerous than the overt kind.

  8. Hope you guys will be linking here when people challenge the definition of the “Western media.”

    Also, feel free to let me know what else in this definition needs to address.

  9. it’s not merely intentions, good or bad.

    Rather, it’s the unfortunate reality of human condition that most of humanity have limitations to their willingness to accept concepts that they consider to be “alien”.

    I call it the proverbial “brickwall” of understanding.

    I gave a simple example, I know many good intentioned Christians in US, decent people to know and befriend, but SOME of them are staunch pro-life people who view all pro-abortionists as supporters of murderers.

    If you are an abortion doctor, or you had an abortion, or you let your wife have an abortion, then you are a murderer in their eyes, and you can’t change their minds about it.

    *To some other Westerners, “Democracy” is their “brickwall”. Everything outside of that mental wall is chaos and evil.

    Good intentions can’t change their minds or open them up a bit more.

    If you give credence to anything outside of that Wall, you are a supporter of Evil.

    The Wall of “democracy” is as rigid as any doctrinal wall.

    Now, I never had any doubt that MOST people in the world are well intentioned. (I’m very optimistic about individual intentions.)

    However, I am very pessimistic about MOST people’s ability to challenge their own assumptions, and explore things outside of their “brickwalls”.

    Thus, the human individual is a wonderful spark of individuality when they are viewed for their wonderful humanity of good intentions. But their innocence are greatly reduced into their beastly natures, when they cage themselves in their own walls of ignorance.

  10. The only thing that can break down these “brick walls” are changes in one’s life. Great changes that force one to challenge and question one’s own hold onto assumptions.

    And I believe, we Chinese have had greater share of our changes in the modern world. We went through Civil War, Political systems, Revolution of philosophies, reforms, while witnessing rise and fall of history itself. We strided across continents seeking new ways and new knowledge and new lives under new laws and new customs.

    I find poetry in our changes.

    The Chinese people changed in modernity and questioned our assumptions.

    This alone is greater than any development we could ever hope for.

  11. Indeed. The most critical is ones own mindset.

    I once asked our very own JXie on this blog, is there some discussion in the Chinese history about how civilizations hold unto their heights (you know, civilizations rise and fall), he said the truth is that they rise and fall. It’s like laws of physics.

    Civilizations inevitably fall because they get cocky and unable to accept that others have good ideas. They also become unfair to others because they can simply use their might.

    Here is a quote I recently added to our blog:

    “African economist Dambisa Moyo, when asked about what is wrong with Western investments in the developing world, gave her answer as one word. Mindset.” (Jeremy Wong Fischer)

    How China is able to continue to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and to ensure progress in the coming decades completely depends on how successful she is able to preserve the current mindset.

  12. It would be interesting to see a list of names of media writers who make up the ‘anti-China lobby’, just like how columnists like William Safire, David Brooks, George Will, R. Kagan and Krauthammer are called out as neo-cons in books such as The Assassins Gate and The Israel Lobby. Perhaps this blog could start a list and let users contribute to that. lol.

  13. I agree we should start a list. With categories.

    I’ll start a thread, and compile a list as soon as possible.

  14. Western Media is not Free Media. As I said, it is some kind of infotainment where people hear what they want to hear. Western Media uses “information dominance” where stuff that they want you to listen to gets broadcasted repeatedly while mentions little on the stuff that they don’t want you to listen to. This kind of mis-information stupidify Americans. Why else a large number of Americans thinks that China has the largest economy?

  15. yinyang, since I’m here, I remembered leaving a comment about this that I felt I should check for responses. 🙂

    To follow-up, I think my personal principle is that while we can argue that “nefarious self-serving interest” are–as you say–trouncing the “well-intentioned”, I don’t agree with failing to be fair in qualifying our own statements by acknowledging the diversity of actors and intentions in the Western media whenever we criticize it.

    As I already said, I felt you failed to do that in your original post. The reason it is an issue with me is because failing to be fair in our criticisms makes us just like those “nefarious self-serving interests” and I don’t want to be like them. That just makes us two sides of the same coin.

    If they unfairly misrepresent and generalize or malign, us doing the same thing back at them is nothing more than fighting fire with fire. It might feel good, but that’s just masturbation. We all make this mistake from time to time of course but its still good to remind ourselves anyway.

  16. @Kai

    It really comes down to whether you think the overall Western Media have been malicious toward China or not. I know it is a resounding yes. If every time I criticize NYT, WSJ, CNN, Telegraph, etc, and I have to qualify there are some fair-minded individuals, it’d be ridiculous.

    From my perspective, I don’t want to betray my own sense of fairness in order to successfully argue against those unfair in the West. That’s not ‘masturbation.’ That’d be self stabbing.

    The truth is as Martin Jacques said, the West will have to increasingly acknowledge the perspectives from the rest of the world.

  17. I think we all agree that internet blogsites are not big on diversity of opinion and lend themselves to polarised views. So it comes down to a question of what attracts or repels us – a sort of positive or negative soft power. To illustrate:

    A Nigerian site. What have you got? Totally corrupt and at times brutal govt. Online fraudsters. Charming and very social people. Totally brilliant musical heritage. Well, if I was posting on one, most of my comments would focus on the positives simply because I’ m seriously addicted to their musical culture.

    A Polish site. Pretty sure most of my comments would be negative, since I detest their excessive Catholicism and they are anti-semitic to the core. A culture which repells me.

    The US. A mix of positives and negatives. Brilliant musical history. Moronic foreign policy.

    An Australian site. Brilliant beaches and environment. Democratic govt, rule of law and all that positive stuff, but think that most of my posts would be negative because the place is sort of socially soul less.
    The people lack passion.

    A China site. Positives. Freedom from religion. Dont persecute gays, unlike parts of Christian Africa and most of Islam. (Beautiful women.) Negatives. CCP power monopoly, controlled media, a sneaky business culture, addiction to face and name brands.

    So the negatives outweigh the positives.

    It all comes down to the individual and what they value and also detest.

  18. KT,

    You wrote plenty but this are one of the very few that I understand and appreciate. Overall I think Western media is much more balance and less bias besides their usual ‘dogmatic’ worldview. Pertaining to blog spheres (politic) on China and Chinese, I would say Kai China Divide tends to be in the middle, another one is perhaps FM with Steve, both stop. The rest is, in my view, a bit ‘partisan’, HH as well. Most of the time, we already know what and where are their stance and contention just after glance through the title of the articles.

    The winning point of the Western media is their capability to induce readers from the opposite camp and this is actually the most effective weapon of propaganda.

  19. It all comes down to the individual and what they value and also detest.

    I am not sure if you realize it, KT, but you have hit the nail right on the head. Since you value music, that’s your lens, and fine. We value other things from the USA:

    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2010/10/top-5-things-i-thank-wish-for-in-the-u-s-of-a/

    With respect to the Western media, the same should be kept in mind. Western media may value revolutions in others territories or subverting others governments. They should keep that to themselves. Let others be.

  20. Again, what is Western Media? ESWN documents whole bunch of made-up junk about the Jasmine Revolution in China, including Reuters using fake photos. (Btw, ESWN grabbed them from the anti CNN BBS web site in China).

    Okay, people will debate me to no end about the use of the word “fake.” Reuters typical excuse will be they made a mistake or they pick a stock photo to give their readers a feeling or some other BS. Or they simply won’t say anything to draw attention to it.

    This is all Western media.

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