Communication and Human Development

Mass Media Analysis: Formulating an Islamic Perspective

An ingenious combination of the latest video, computer, and satellite technologies has brought about an unprecedented telecommunication revolution. This phenomenal progress, and the resultant power it gives one person over millions of others (and one nation over many others), has apparently generated myriad opportunities for humanity. Williams (1982, 195-9) states: “Just as the international political order up to the 19th century was highly influenced by control of sea lanes, and in the 20th century by airplane and missile capabilities, so too may we expect international politics to be tied to control of the powerful new worldwide communication networks (already in place). Those who control the networks could control the world.”

Whether or not humanity utilizes these tools for its betterment depends upon the beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors of those who control the media. Humanity’s record so far in this respect is decidedly mixed.

The content of communication is the communicator’s ideas, which influence the cognitive (conceptual/perceptual), affective (attitudinal), and conative (behavioral) aspects of an audience’s life. It is therefore necessary to formulate valid methods and techniques of looking into various uses and the impact of mass communication media on society.

Ideological Background of the Modern Use of Mass Media

Media analysis has existed since the first nonverbal communication between humans, as has mass communication (i.e., public speaking and public announcements). Interpersonal contact has always called for interpretation and analysis, but it was only due to Muslim scholars’ study of the Prophet’s sayings that the tradition of a careful analysis of oral and written sources was established. This Islamic tradition of social inquiry passed from such scholars as Ibn Hazm and Ibn Khaldun to Europe and the larger non-Muslim world and helped the latter establish the modern scholarly tradition in various physical, biological, and social sciences (Burke 1986; Aasi 1988; Schleifer 1985).

In the West, however, mass media has undergone a change. Using the most advanced telecommunication technology to instantaneously link millions of people at remote multiple locations into one-way or interactive contacts, it continues its tradition of serving as a tool for business, industry, and war propaganda. Such a marriage is based on the psychological principles of power and control over adversarial targets: the market and the enemy ready to be manipulated and misled. The media also served as a persuasive tool of “democracy” in classical Greece’s tradition of political rhetoric (Smith 1987) in the hands of whoever controlled the access to it.

Those who dared to vent their suspicions about the user’s integrity were exhorted:
. . . each citizen must understand persuasion as an integral part of our way of life. . . . To conclude that all propaganda is fraud and lies to be censured and curtailed is only to begin losing democracy itself. . . . Cynicism and distrust must be replaced by acceptance and understanding. The hope of democracy lies not only in the continual rise of persuaders who will champion a cause, but also in the constant, courageous, and careful auditing of all systems of persuasion” (Brembeck and Howell 1952, 17-8).

But Williams (1982, 199) has his own reservations: “Democracy is not dead, but some of our ways of practicing it are obsolete.”

Brembeck and Howell (1952,465) also advise people to perceive ethics, though part of persuasion, as ephemeral, elusive, and merely circumstantial. Weaver (1988, 18) considers such free persuasive tendencies of the modern corporate culture as suicidal and calls America a probusiness welfare state
in which public relations communication helps business enterprises infuse themselves with a “public interest” and thus conceal the private interests involved in promoting consumerism. He also says that business at the public for a use sophisticated propaganda tactics of positioning and displacement:

When we wanted to oppose a policy, we would do so by supporting an idea completely unrelated (p. 67). . . . Such games also helped them win all kinds of government benefits in the name of public interests (p. 18), including military action against any foolhardy nations daring to come in the way of their commercial interests. These steps were justified as the idea of energetically advancing business interests through the policy process integral to the concept of the corporation (p. 19).

In the powerful capitalist democracies, the elected government acts as an older brother to the rest of the world, despite the fact that it is subservient to the internal and external interests of the major corporations. Such subservience extends even to government functionaries. If either is blamed or criticized, the secularist philosophers come to their rescue: “Evils which are uncritically and indiscriminately laid at the door of industrialism and democracy might, with greater intelligence, be referred to the dislocation and unsettlement of local communities” (Dewey 1939, 160). There is the other issue that the business-dependent media themselves might be to blame for this chaos and confusion (Bailey 1976, 13; Lowery and DeFleur 1987,2; Darcy et al. 19V, Puttnam 1988; Brown et al. 1989; Rahim 1989, 432).

Generous media support for the corporate elite’s concerns has its roots in Lasswell’s (1927) theories on propaganda formulated through his analysis of the role German rumors played during World War I. The Allied Forces effectively utilized these rumor tactics against the Germans during World War 11. Once the war was over, communication experts applied these tools to their “consumerist concern” for their customers. This has been illustrated by Herman and Chomsky (1988) in their propaganda model consisting of five interactive and symbiotic filters through which media messages have to pass: a) all-pervasive complex patterns of media ownership by profit-oriented forces; b) the inevitable advertising license; c) media survival dependent on specific news sources that in case of dissent can starve the media of news; d) “flak” from these powers and their client groups; and e) anticommunism used as a control mechanism (Siddiqui 1990). This news and social constructionism of media has also been explored in depth by Best (1989) and Altheide and Snow (1991)

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