“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
These past months, how people express themselves has become a topic of debate, often dubbed as a debate on “freedom of speech and expression.” For some, to be able to speak and express oneself freely is a given and no one should be punished for it, no matter how offensive. Others feel that certain speech and images are hateful. This is highly a matter of opinion. However, who has the power and influence over that opinion is what I try to pay close attention to, and the media plays a huge role in this.
The most privileged individuals in the world control the corporate media: old, wealthy, White, heterosexual and Protestant/Christian men. In controlling the corporate media, they control the narratives. In controlling the narratives, they control what we read, listen to and watch. They control the debate. They influence our thoughts and opinions, whether we realize it or not. A perfect example of this is how all the corporate media outlets jumped on Charlie Hebdo under the guise of “freedom of speech.” They grossly manipulated a horrible incident to continue discriminating against the “other.”
The muckiness of corporate media reared its ugly head (again) with the recent shootings of Deah Barakat, 23, his newlywed wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, three Muslim Americans, in Chapel Hill, N.C. The narrative in the corporate media was that this was just a “parking dispute” gone wrong. They failed to acknowledge that this was a hate crime. This media bias is real and well documented.
The watchdog media group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) found that in 40 months of Nightline programming, they “over-rely on ‘official’ (government, corporate and establishment think tank) sources…the most frequent guests were Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Elliott Abrams and Jerry Falwell. Progressive and public interest voices were grossly underrepresented.” Furthermore, a 40-month survey of Nightline found its U.S. guests to be “92 percent white and 89 percent male. A similar survey of PBS’s News Hour found its guest list was 90 percent white and 87 percent male.” There is an obvious lack of diversity in perspectives and it was clear when both Charlie Hebdo and the Chapel Hill shooting were covered.
For example, regarding the Chapel Hill shootings, I asked Athena, a member of the Palestinian Freedom Project in Fresno, what she and her friend’s reactions were. She highlighted the bias of the corporate media.
Many Muslims feel they are being targeted based on their faith, and Western mainstream media have cultivated this culture of fear, which dates back to the cold war era. The media portray Muslims as an existential threat, and as a convenient “tool” for the war industry. The recent emergence of the so-called Muslim and terrorist experts in the mainstream media are masquerading as informed commentators who actually have never even traveled to the Middle East. Islamophobia and Anti- Arab sentiment are truly racist and bigoted toward one-fifth of the world’s population.
Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Charlie Hebdo has this right like anyone else does and the cartoonists should not be killed for it. Similarly, everyone has the right to criticize and have an opinion on something, even if it is the opinion that Charlie Hebdo cartoons are offensive. It is a kind of “dance” we all engage in but sometimes escalates to unnecessary extremes.
Wherever you stand regarding Charlie Hebdo and Chapel Hill and how the media covered them, one thing is clear; “freedom of speech and expression” is conditional and to say otherwise is not accurate. As long as it is not against the status quo, you can speak and express yourself freely. You can just look at what the corporate media pushes and it is for this reason that alternative progressive media outlets like the Community Alliance exist; may all of us, one day, truly have the “freedom of speech and expression.”