By Yasmine Ouchrif
As a freshly enrolled journalism student, I, not unlike many of my colleagues, came to my first class with glittering eyes, an overflowing eagerness to learn and a firm dedication to sharing truthful, well researched, factual and objective information. This seems obvious, since the goal of journalism (at least, serious journalism, I thought) is, of course, the education of the masses, the sharing and analysis of global and local news, and other things of the sort, with curiosity and a good amount of critical thinking. Wrong. It did not take long before I was exposed to the disillusion experienced by so many in the field in the face of the defiled state of journalism; its corruption, its instrumentalization by external forces, the flagrant censorship, or should I say, “selection”, and enforced partisanship. Whether it be through investors, governments or publicists, I was reminded every day that no one was exempt of this overarching control. So, it is not unreasonable at this point to assume that I have since then become disillusioned as well, dispassionate and overall disappointed with the discipline. That would be far from the truth. IF anything, it has had the complete opposite effect. I am but the strongest for it. I see it as the first hurdle in what I’ve come to realize is a path paved with landmines, cognitive traps and huge gaps of information I must fill in meticulously.
This is where the topic of this article really comes in. In an age where information is abundant, but its veracity is dubious, the need for critical thinking and critical media analysis is incumbent. Skills I thought I had developed over years of watching different media outlets of different countries covering issues in the most contradictory ways. There were times where one couldn’t tell if they were discussing the same topic. I quickly realized the importance of relentless inquisition and independent thinking. What I had failed to recognize at the time, Professor Noam Chomsky explains so clearly in his book Manufacturing Consent: “The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.”
For quite a long time, I was overconfident and smug about this. I believed I was immune to such systematic propaganda simply because I was aware that it was happening. I was wrong. It is insidious and treacherous. “If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country (England) intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.” says George Orwell in his proposed preface for Animal Farm; as to say, the agreed upon agendas needn’t come from an official body. The restrictions on freedom of speech, when left out to roam about long enough, seep into the mind. And ever since I became truly conscious of that, it has been an uphill battle of unlearning false truths and rebuilding a clearer, more objective and factual picture of reality. One I can be proud and confident in defending.
Today, with not only state-owned TV and radio stations, film and music pushing ideals onto the general populace, social media, electronic journals and public personalities partake, to differing extents, to said systematic propaganda. This goes beyond defending state and corporate interest in times of crisis, reaching towards a manufacturing of a compliant, moldable and swayable society, easily manipulated and convinced of whatever the times require.
To properly understand and interact with our environment, we must first know it for what it really is. Otherwise, we are not masters of our own lives, no more than cattle or cogs in a machine, moving in unison towards oblivion.
This is why it is crucial to educate ourselves and our youth, not only to strive for knowledge and culture, but to develop intellectual integrity and bravery. This entails thorough research and a willingness to step outside of the proposed narrative, withstand a certain amount of discomfort. The rewards of which might not be comfortable either, but at least, they will be real. Only then can we work towards real systematic change and true freedom.