The transition from ideals to self-interests
In 1979, Margret Thatcher was voted the first female Prime Minister of the UK, and she made her grand entry into 10 Downing Street. “Where there is error, may we bring truth,” she said in her speech, paraphrasing the prayer of Saint Francis. The Iron Lady’s motion in top gear to privatise sectors of Britain, including the press, would help in the construction of her truths. In 1981, Rupert Murdoch was allowed to bypass the Monopolies and Mergers commissions in his bid for The Times newspaper, giving him control of almost 40% of the British press. Murdoch’s unflinching support for Thatcher through her election campaigns even won him his knighthood as soon as she took control of office. For the next three decades, no British Prime Minister could make their way into 10 Downing Street without the backing of the Murdoch machinery; this helped them build a network with politicians and the police.
Meanwhile, as an offshoot, the connections gave wings to rogue journalists who hacked phones of anyone and everyone in order to get a scoop. However, when his empire crumbled under the phone hacking scandals, the public got a peek into the treasure trove of his tactics. Murdoch’s methods provide us with an insight into the structure of power. Exclusive parties on yachts ( where Tony Blair would spend a good amount of time), private jets, dinner parties where politicians were advised or bullied and more — all of this came to light during the Leveson Inquiry. When David Cameron was elected Prime Minister, he hired Andy Coulson, the editor of the News of the World, knowing full well that Coulson was at the heart of the phone hacking scandals that had rocked Britain. Andy Coulson was awarded the position of David Cameron’s communications advisor until he was proved guilty of hacking phones.
If Murdoch had 40% of the British press in his pockets, Silvio Berlusconi was making a bid to control almost 90 % of Italian television. The number of businessmen who buy out and into newspapers and media is something to explore. For instance, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013, Carlos Slim Helu (the Mexican magnate) owns 17 % of the New York Times, and even smaller countries like the Czech Republic have billionaires like Daniel Křetínský who make curious investments in media interests in France. He now owns Marianne, a French weekly magazine with a circulation of 300,000 every week, and also tried very hard to buy out Le Monde, France’s traditional left-leaning newspaper. And they are not the only billionaires involved in manipulating media, to say the very least. It is unsurprising that the storyline revolves around their business interests that are not necessarily to the benefit of populations. The structure of power is such that privatisation has benefitted the cosy circle of cronies who have their vested interested and controlling the media outlets has become vital to their existence. It is this uncomfortable truth that the mainstream media refuses to address when they speak of conspiracy theories. The fact that they are on the payroll of billionaires means they are unlikey to address the flagrant conflict of interest.
In the ’20s Edward Bernays ( Sigmund Freud’s nephew) penned his books, Propaganda and Crystallizing Public Opinion. It is said to have inspired even a certain Joseph Goebbels of Nazi fame. The books were intended to manipulate a vast number of people into ideas suitable to the ruling elite. Bernays felt that the Nazi gave propaganda a bad name, so he set about creating a new image around the words ‘public relations’, and it aggressively centred around American ideals of capitalism and democracy. Of course, we are all entitled to our own truths, but a natural consequence of this is that we are now a society where we can’t agree on what is true. The question of personal interests is fundamental to news reporting. In a nutshell, why should people believe your version of the truth if they know you stand to gain most from it? Apart from owning chunks of the media, which means the financial elite get to moderate the debate, this ‘cabal’ also gets to decide on alarming matters that concern all of us. Bill Gates is valued at $113 billion, and he is known for his philanthropy, but his poor compatriots benefit very little from his charity. In fact, he has the power to wipe out poverty from the United States. However, while he has chosen to invest in the greater good, it does not seem to cover housing, education and health for the 50 million who live below the threshold of poverty in the US. His generosity meanwhile extends into poorer parts of the world where he can buy influence.
Bill’s lesser published investments into solar geoengineering have raised some serious questions. In 1991, a massive volcano erupted in the North-West of the Philippines, causing terrible destruction. The furious volcano produced a giant cloud that pierced the stratosphere, but an unexpected consequence of it was that it lowered the earth’s temperature for four years. Scientists believe that the cloud threw in tonnes of sulphur dioxide particles that spread around the earth, and these particles reflected the sun’s rays into space, thereby cooling the earth’s temperature. In the race for resources, we have crossed the 2-degree threshold that scientists define as the ‘threshold of catastrophe’, and people who are rallying behind Greta Thunberg have sued the countries for knowingly walking us into hellfire, literally. In fact, more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades.Although the wealth of scientific data seems impossible to sift through, it is now becoming increasingly clear that the human race is willingly doing more damage to the climate. To put it simply, we are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than at any point in human history. It is now widely reported that by the turn of the century, we may cross the 4.5 degrees of warming and enter inferno with our ignorance. If we were to hit the break and replace unclean or dirty sources of energy with clean or cleaner sources, we might still end up in a 3-degree zone, which is still beyond the ‘threshold of catastrophe’. Since the polluting nations do not want to take a moral stance and reduce carbon emissions, expert scientists backed by Bill Gates and other billionaires like Richard Branson are now in the process of replicating the effect of the giant volcanic cloud.
The controversial project claims that by injecting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere over the next 15 years, they will cool the earth by 0.3 degree centigrade. The ambitious project needs 65,000 planes to dump sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere every year. If we are to put faith in them, then why weren’t we consulted on a grave matter that concerns all of us? When a group of self-important people get together and decide that offloading tonnes of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere does not need debate or approval of the wider society, one can only expect people to rally behind conspiracy theories. It also raises questions of who is benefitting from these projects. More importantly, will they be held accountable for the side-effects? It is widely accepted that solar geoengineering will affect rain patterns, especially in water-stressed continents like Africa and Asia, which could provoke the migration of an unprecedented number. One of the strongest arguments against solar geoengineering is the fact that they will use it as a pretext to argue against emission-cuts.
It so appears that the more technology we are exposed to, the further we are tossed away from the truth. Our modern social lives are mediated through data, and people can easily be engrossed in their own filter bubble of news feeds. By some figures, almost two-thirds of American adults get news from social media. Some refer to these as ‘echo chambers’ where people get exposed to views that reinforce their existing views. An article published in The Guardian suggested that according to the Oxford Internet Institute ‘Just 8% of the UK public are at the risk of being trapped in such a clique’. Considering that the Brexit vote was won by the ‘leavers’ with a super-slim majority and The Guardian officially backed the ‘Remainers’, one would have thought they would have registered the power of slim minorities rather than dismiss 8% as a mere ‘just’.
In fact, news channels discuss twitter tweets and fuel the culture of followers as opposed to the culture of information. The truth is further torqued by the CCTV surveillance; the picture may have no words, and yet it speaks for itself. In 2017, Théo, a French black man, got into a scuffle with the police who arrested him. The scene was caught on CCTV and bits of it were played out to highlight the violence on the young man who ended up in hospital, and Théo claimed he was anally penetrated with a truncheon by one of the policemen. To his advantage, the CCTV footage collaborated his facts and so even the then French President, François Hollande, paid him a visit in hospital. It fuelled debates on police brutality and the perversion of the French police until another video appeared that contradicted Théo’s version of the facts. Quickly people were divided into camps, and the matter remains unresolved, but sociologists and journalists refuse to do their bit of due diligence and explore the reality of dangerous multiple truths in a world of reporting that pretends to seek the ultimate truth, but follows a selective narrative. News is no longer about ideals, but about interests driven by a financial elite. Reporting is now heavily manipulated by parties with vested interests and as things stand some people have no problem buying stories backed by cabals and lobbies covering the left, right and centre of the wide political spectrum.
The Leveson Inquiry 2012
The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells
Affair Théo (Available on Wiki, Le Figaro, BBC)
Could solar geoengineering counter global warming? The Economist, Available on YouTube.
Why can’t we agree on what’s true anymore? , William Davies, The Guardian.