Last Thursday at the University of Windsor, where I attended the 20 Years of Propaganda? conference, I drank in all the youth and idealism juice of the media activists around me.
Here were communications students, bloggers, pirate radio operators, alternative media journalists and independent filmmakers doing revolutionary things to report the truth.
They were there to revisit the Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky Propaganda Model, which posits that the mass media filter the news through their ownership interests, advertiser concerns, the nature of their sources, the flak they get and the acceptable political ideology.
Twenty years later, the model is more applicable than ever.
We still don't get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the mass media.
Or, as Al Gore puts it in his new book, The Assault on Reason, "In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The `well-informed citizenry' is in danger of becoming the `well-amused audience.' Moreover, the high capital investment required for the ownership and operation of a television station and the centralized nature of broadcast, cable and satellite networks have led to the increasing concentration of ownership by an ever smaller number of larger corporations ..."
You can say the same of Canada where we have CTVGlobemedia, which just swallowed CHUM, and CanWest Global, that just ate Alliance Atlantis, and their reliance on U.S. simulcasts. Meanwhile CBC weakens by the year.
What to do about it?
The mass media are massive. They have the power and, most important, the capital to call the shots and the stories.
What's more, despite all the ooh-ing and ah-ing about the new media, TV remains our primary source of news and information. Canadians watch, on average, 25 hours a week.
That's why what the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) matters.
It matters a lot.
But, according to my informal but relentless survey, none of the conference delegates in Windsor gets it — even though, on the day I polled them, the federal broadcast regulator dropped a great big gift into the lap of the private broadcasters: the elimination of all time restrictions on ads by 2009.
This will not only place, by my rough guess, an additional $2 million a week in their coffers, it will do nothing for the promotion or production of Canadian TV, either drama or news.
Now before you eyeballs get all uppity about your viewing pleasure, remember you have already made your deal with these devils.
You get the shows for free. In return, you watch their ads. That's how it works — and if you pay Ted Rogers to be in the middle, that's your choice.
Both the CTV-owned Globe and Mail and the CanWest-owned National Post reported all this in their business pages because, after all, this is their business, even though it is conducted on public airwaves.
And while they were celebrating their windfall, they didn't do much to tell you that the CRTC has also ordered the end of over-the-air analog TV by 2011. That means those without a digital set will have to fork out for a new TV — or pay Ted Rogers, your "choice" — to watch any TV at all. Nothing like the CRTC standing on guard for Canadians.
Which brings us back to Windsor. Media activists like to do their thing and run their websites and make their films. Mostly though, they are preaching to the converted.
They have to fight fire with fire and turn the propaganda model against the mass media in order to reach the masses: by organizing grassroots campaigns against the CRTC, for starters.
If you don't control the medium, you can't dictate the message. And wouldn't all you eyeballs join in, if only to see those U.S. Super Bowl ads instead of the simulcast commercials?
© 2007 The Toronto Star