Monday, January 28, 2013

Democracy and Mass Media

“Radio is no respecter of boundaries. Inherently it is a foe of Fascism and of cultural nationalism.”

“The Influence of Radio upon Mental and Social Life” is an argument for mass media as an element in the spread of democracy. The argument is that the instant dissemination of information increases awareness of the standards of other cultures and the expectation of those same standards at home.  This argument was put into exercise by the US government seven years after Cantril and Allport laid out the thesis. Voice of America began in 1942 and was used "to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas."  VOA sent American radio into is hostile lands throughout the Cold War successfully spreading US soft power.
But what you had was essentially two diametrically opposed propaganda machines using radio to shape public opinion.  That is a more easily controlled situation that we find ourselves in today. The internet breaks this down.  Yes there are still agencies trying to controlling access to the information - Google, Baidu.  But the originator of the information is more fractured and because of this the strength of a broadcast like Radio Moscow is lessened.  Additionally, the authors’ contention that the radio voice creates the impression of natural equality among men is missing in the new media.
President Truman said, “propaganda can be overcome by truth—plain, simple, unvarnished—presented by newspapers, radio, newsreels, and other sources that people trust…” I don’t think the internet ever duplicates the level of trust the radio achieves. The interpersonal connection is lost and with it, power of influence. There is room for the argument of personal connection through social media sites but I don’t think it reaches the level of radio. That’s why we’re still waiting for the 20 year promise of the internet’s democratization of China to come true.  The Chinese government is better prepared to combat the internet as a form of democratic reform that the conventional mass media like radio in the bygone era.

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