Countering Media Hegemony: The Perspective of Propaganda by Michelle Sto. Tomas @ University of the Philippines, Diliman
The purpose of hegemony of Antonio Gramsci to originally create discourse on the domination of the ruling elites to preserve power and control has evolved to how mass media have been used to cater to this purpose.
The more complex lens however is how media hegemony works within. Altheide in 1984 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/31004229_Media_Hegemony_A_Failure_of_Perspective) created three general claims in media domination. First, he argued that “[J]ournalists’ socialization involves guidelines, work routines, and orientations replete with the dominant ideology”. He further explained that journalists have and use their cultural categories in their work consciously and unconsciously, to “promote dominant ideological interest.” Second, he claimed that “[J]ournalists tend to cover topics and present news reports which are conservative and supportive of the status quo.” He said that this limits social change and creates public opinion based on the status quo. Arguably, media in Germany acts as agents if change rather than supporters of status quo. Lastly, Altheide argued “[J]ournalists tend to present pro-American and negative coverage of foreign countries, especially Third World nations.” He believed that news coverage have been in favour of the western countries and thus shape how audiences view the world.
I elaborated on media hegemony to understand the current trends of media. From the previous paragraph, we understood that one, media hegemony in promoting dominant ideology can be a result of self-interest, or of political economy in mass media. It is also important to note the global influence in presenting news in favour of the West. Therefore, the prevalence of the use of media by the dominant society (and even itself as a dominant society) controls the rest of the society.
These claims can be seen as motives for some political leaders in Asia to manipulate and use media in their favour, in countering media hegemony.
Countering Media Hegemony in Asia
Philippine democracy have strong historical relations with mass media. The powerful effects of radio were proven when Filipinos gathered in EDSA to revolt against the dictatorship of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. Social media was used for information dissemination too during the EDSA dos which aimed to impeach president Joseph Estrada. Scholars up to this day are interested to seek relationships of media use of electoral candidates in winning (or losing) elections, and how leaders maximize the use of media in their leadership. The latter seems to be mastered by the current Duterte administration.
It is as if the Duterte administration has keenly studied how media hegemony works, it created a “force” that contests and counters the existing media hegemony in the Philippines. To start with, we have noticed that, when Duterte started his presidency, he already created indirect matches to media. He gives his press conferences in Davao City, at unusual hours of the night (or midnight), and would often speak in his native language. He was also vocal giving threats against major news organizations in the country.
Creating a subculture to fight media hegemony in the Philippines, it is also during his presidency that there is a rise in the dissemination of false news in the country especially in social media. In a recent study, the Philippines is still the number one social media user in the world. (https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/03/1784052/philippines-still-worlds-social-media-capital-study). While there are no clear notions that these false news comes from the president, this aspect can be regarded as noise and a counter-hegemony. Though there have been speculations and movements against this, it seems that the false news are continued on being ‘liked’ and ‘shared’, and false social media accounts are still being ‘followed’ by. Meanwhile, the Palace still refutes the name Mocha Uson as spreader of fake news. (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/979561/mocha-is-no-spreader-of-fake-news-ill-take-her-word-for-it-palace-official) Uson has been called to attend senate hearings earlier this year.
Media manipulation is no stranger to other Asian countries such as China and Thailand. The state controls the media in China. “It says government policies are aimed at achieving ‘complete hegemony over news coverage and the creation of an international media order heavily influenced by China’.” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-13017881) In addition, China’s counter hegemony included limiting of access among foreign news, restricting rebroadcasting. Let us remember Altheide’s third claim that news coverage are pro-Western. China continues to block websites and uses web filtering system named “Great Firewall of China.”
Thailand does the same blocking of websites to avoid online discourses destructive to the Thai monarchy. Internet users who criticizes Thai government are being terrified and academicians and writers alike have no escape from this. (Kurlantzick 2014)
Countering media hegemony can be a form of propaganda. Using media for propaganda weakens democracy. When government leaders monopolize the media, through disseminating alternative facts (Barrera 2017), or worse, controlling it to favour the government, may lead to backslide in democracy since the act serves only the government and not the majority. Nonetheless, the role of media as watchdog severely suffers.
How to counter the counter-hegemony and save democracy
Gramsci also stated that hegemony becomes powerful when society grants power to the ruling group. With this we may conclude that the counter hegemony can only be successful if the people allows it to prevail.
Filipino journalists and other concerned citizens try to counter the counter-hegemony of the Duterte administration by keeping on checking facts. Stuart Hall’s Encoding-Decoding Theory argues that media audiences are not passive and thus develop their own meaning from media texts. According to Hall, meanings are read in three ways: a dominant reading, oppositional reading, and negotiated reading of texts. The audiences therefore have the power to decode the messages they receive from media.
Could an increase in media literacy be the answer to this? Probably. But the process would be long and complex. One thing is clear, leaders who counter media hegemony may be beneficial to his or her term, but it suffers an aspect of democracy – that according to Dahl’s Polyarchy, democracy requires alternative sources of information and freedom of expression among others. The main assumption of media hegemony is that the ideology of the dominant class becomes the ideology of the rest of society. And government leaders seem to counter media hegemony by silent manipulation (through trolls and false facts), to extreme manipulation (through filtering and restriction), which severes democracies given that media is an information commodity.
Photo retrieved from Times of Oman site (http://timesofoman.com/article/128737).