Soundbites: One Reason Commercial Media Fails


On this site I frequently criticise the role of the media in society, and a major aspect of that is the commercial TV stations. Channels 7, 9, and 10 here in Australia, or mainstream channels like CNN, Fox, or MSNBC, while they may have different ‘political leanings’, in the most superficial meaning of the phrase, they are all guilty of one particular flaw: soundbites.

The reality is, commercial television serves almost no other purpose than to do what the name suggests – show commercials. Shows and news are cut into small chunks to allow for advertisement airtime. When it comes to entertainment media, this is not really an issue, as (in my opinion) there’s nothing important going on, and the mass exodus to streaming services tells us that more people do not want to sit through so many ads on free to air TV.

But when it comes to news shows, much of the content delivered is highly condensed, forcing interviews, news segments, and discussions to fit within a limited timeframe. As always, this intentional media tactic is much more pronounced in the US, but the rest of the world is by no means exempt. Topics that, in any reasonable scenario, would require a nuanced discussion and a display of facts and logic to understand or prove a point of view or event are cut down to fit within two ad breaks.

Because the US, again, as always, provides the greatest examples of these kinds of methods, we can turn to them. Out of all the news networks over there, Fox is the most infamous perpetrator of this. While one could criticise our news networks in Australia, or the other mainstream US ones listed above, they at least in some form have a minimal factual basis. Before any meaningful discussion can take place, however, there is no more time. Speakers, especially in interviews, are place in a restrictive bubble and can only answer questions in a manner that merely confirms the pre-existing narrative of the network they are on.

Take the various rebel groups in the Middle East, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Houthis (Palestine, Lebanon, and Yemen respectively), and their alleged ties to Iran’s government. Are they connected? Perhaps very loosely, and in the anti-imperialist fights against the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, Iran may have some influence over them. But it is not like the destruction of Iran, that Trump has tweeted about in a similar fashion to his threat of ‘fire and fury’ towards North Korea, will disintegrate those groups – they are independent. But the idea of Iranian terror and reign throughout the Middle East is ‘common knowledge’, and trying to question that and provide evidence of it would take too long – there is precious advertising to get to.

With Fox, it’s worse. The Murdoch owned dumpster fire that is Fox News is nothing more than a circle jerk of falsehoods and extreme opinions used to generate fear and hatred. As shown in the documentary Outfoxed (which I have written about previously), these opinion rants are frequent and usually backed by whichever ‘expert’ or commentator they can drag in. On the rare occasion a dissident voice is allowed onto a show, personalities such as Bill O’Reilly (he has been fired from Fox for a couple of years now) or Tucker Carlson, guests were often intimidated or drowned out in a cacophony of insults and baseless counter claims.

Back in Australia, some have even accused the ABC of being guilty of the soundbite tactic. While not for commercial purposes, being the public broadcaster, some commentators (including myself to a degree) see the ABC as a rather crippled service. The idea of all political views having equal coverage sounds, in theory, like the ideal method, obviously to play down claims of bias by propping up one viewpoint more than another. When one political view, however, is at odds with reality, science, or provable facts, the skew is inevitable. Rather than a debate on ideas in the real world, on tangible issues, half the conversation ends up being spent simply trying to reach that point, usually without success.

The climate change debate is a perfect example of that. When climate change is discussed here, the Coalition parties are mostly still in complete denial about its existence or severity, and Labor, the Greens, or any other legitimate guest has to fight just to have their truths acknowledged. Then, when we do move into planning how to combat climate change, the Coalition proceeds to make it an economic issue – how will Labor and the Greens pay for their policies, where will the money come from, spend spend spend. Now the topic of debate is no longer on the important issue of climate, but now reverted to a baseless attack on economic grounds. While not constrained by advertising, time on the ABC is not endless, and once a debate is derailed it often does not get much further.

This soundbite tactic is intentional (again, arguments can be made over to what degree the ABC could be included, but it is certain with the commercial media). The influence of the media on our democracy is both blatant and subtle, and viewers need to be keenly aware of the ways in which they are being manipulated. You could sit there and ignore the ads, thinking you’re too good to be tricked by corporate influence, only to soak up whatever talking points are permissible on the channel’s news shows.


Liked this? Read Outfoxed: A Reflection

Previous piece: Quick Quips: Now That’s Over…

One thought on “Soundbites: One Reason Commercial Media Fails

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