Concentrated media power has been a major (in some ways dominant) force behind the subversion of democratic politics in the United States, a force driven by commercialized images and narratives, celebrity and sports spectacles, profit-making, and mostly conservative opinion—all resulting in a narrowing of the public sphere.
Media capacity to shape popular consciousness—or forge ideological hegemony—turns on both structure and content of communications transmitted across the terrain. In advanced state-capitalist society, and especially the United States, media culture appears as the dominant and in many ways all-consuming mode of communication.
Here we refer to more than just information since the media reproduces images, stories, myths, and spectacles that, in diverse ways, help sustain existing institutions, practices, and values. In this complex modality, corporate media forms a uniquely thriving propaganda system, reaching into every corner of society with high levels of technological sophistication, material resources, and ideological legitimation.
Understanding media oligarchy
To understand contemporary Indonesia one must understand how media oligarchy works here. Media oligarchy shapes the news the public consume every day. News have become increasingly biased and partisans. The most obvious examples are news coverage on the presidential election in 2014. Media were between the two rival camps.
Recent trends have involved oligopolistic ownership, deregulation, expansion of advertising, and rightward shift in political content. Expanded corporate control—over film, TV, cable, radio, print journalism, the Internet—has meant a steady decline of citizenship coinciding with the spread of political alienation discussed elsewhere in this book.
As media culture becomes more integral to all realms of American public life, its effects have been profoundly depoliticizing and thus undemocratic.
A vibrant, democratized communications system would of course impose relatively few limits to political discourse, especially on issues (finance, jobs, the environmental threats, warfare) of urgent importance to public welfare. Media culture largely defines how crucial issues are framed, valorized, and contextualized, what is emphasized, what is trivialized, and what is ignored or dismissed altogether. It establishes the range of views permitted and who is allowed to express those views. While media and popular culture appear open and diversified, in fact those who manage this trillion-dollar empire devote abundant time and resources to governing the flow of information.
However, the decline in trust in mainstream media has not been followed by growth of credible alternative media. Consequently, most people fall victim to hoaxes. Hoaxes and fake news become easily viral because people tend to seek information that would affirm their own beliefs. Some groups see this as an opportunity to gain money from producing fake news.
To make it worse, the internet and social media have also empowered media oligarchs. Media owners are more aggressive in buying competitors to expand their media business, integrating with other businesses, and investing in digital media and communication infrastructure.
Some media owners also enter the political arena by forming parties and placing their cadres in governmental positions. Similar to the political realm, media companies increasingly look like a dynasty: slowly inherited to family members.
Indira Priyadarshini Nawagamuwa