The press likes to be seen as the benevolent, impartial fourth power, that brings real balance to the powers of the world. It turns out that more often than not, the press is just as partial as the other powers, often flexing its resources to defend itself or its friends, or attack its enemies.
In Brazil, for instance, Folha de Sao Paulo, the country’s largest newspaper, often attacks the Universal Church. The articles are portrayed as a defense of a helpless public, who supposedly is deceived by the church’s high handed and imaginative funding tactics.
It seems, however, that the newspaper’s real axe to grind is the fact that the church’s newspaper (which, by the way, has a larger circulation than Folha de Sao Paulo) is also called Folha! I wonder whether the paper would feel so strong about Universal, if the church’s newspaper had another name.
As for Globo TV, Universal is a threat because the head of the Church owns a TV Network, Record, currently ranked second in Brazil. Thus Universal is often featured in negative articles and pieces in Globo’s extensive TV and newspaper holdings. If Universal’s boss owned supermarkets I reckoned the church’s doings, misdoings and no-doings would not be reported so much by the media giant. Especially if the company were an advertiser.
By the way, the rest of the Brazilian media barely ever talks about the church.
It turns out that such use of the media is not exclusively inherent to South America.
About a week ago, the New Miami Times published an interesting article about the alleged expansion of child prostitution/slavery in the USA. The article pointed out that the national media had been persistently reporting that between 100,000 to 300,000 children are INVOLVED in child prostitution or used as sex slaves in the USA. As evidence against the exaggeration, the article showed that the number of child prostitution arrests in the entire country, last year, numbered less than a 1000. Still a lot, but a far cry from the hundreds of thousands claimed by media outlets such as CNN.
To make matters worse, actors Ashton Kuchter and Demi Moore are involved in a NGO which aim is to fight this “problem”, raising awareness to it, often claiming the exaggerated figure.
The article seems well researched, written, and a good case as to how the media could protect THE PUBLIC’s interests, in other words, prevent the public from being manipulated by myriad groundless or exaggerated “causes”.
Not so fast, cowboy!
The very next week, another reason for the original article appears. Among the outlets that were bombarded with criticism for promoting child prostitution was Craigslist, which was targeted by the national media in broadcasts and articles about the issue. It turns out that the company that owns the paper above has created a Craigslist look-alike, Backpage.com, having invested millions in the new venture.
One of the journalists making a name for herself with this story is a former local TV journalist, who is now at CNN. The newspaper and she do not seem to be the best of friends, and backpage.com has also been under scrutiny.
Which leads me to the conclusion that the paper is not really as interested in protecting the public against manipulation, as it is to protect its business interest in backpage.com.
That is a shame, a real shame. One way or the other we are being manipulated.