Western media selectivity

The Western media uses a number of strategies to shape public opinion in the West, to “manufacture consent” in Chomsky’s words. One of these strategies is about weighting.

This is a good example. It is reported today that Saudi Arabia has just executed 81 people in a single day. Some of these people were executed for, it seems, simply expressing allegiance to a political-military group opposed to the Saudi regime. CNN reports this event in a short article. The article is without any editorial gloss, expressions of horror, or denunciations of the regime. The New York Times version does give voice to rights groups which are critical of this event but does not itself add any editorial gloss or judgement. Both articles are careful to include the neat explanation from the Saudi authorities that the condemned “were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law”.

On the Guardian World News page today is a story about a dissident Saudi blogger being freed. Nothing about the 81 executions. I did a Google search for “site:theguardian.com 81 execution saudi arabia” and this turned up nothing. It appears they don’t consider this worthy of mention. The Independent covers the story. The piece does reference criticism from human rights groups but is quite “balanced”. For example; “The mass execution is likely to bring back attention to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record…”. The Independent also quotes the Saudi statement justifying the mass executions as being “according to Saudi law”.

A simple thought experiment; imagine that (before the current war) Russia had executed 81 people in one day, some for carrying out attacks related to e.g. calls for independence in Chechnya but others for simply professing allegiance to banned groups. The Guardian and Independent would probably devote their entire front pages to the story. The denunciations would flow thick and fast. In editorials sanctions would be called for. Certainly the media would not print statements from the Russian Ministry of Justice that the executions were carried out in line with Russian law.

This shows the way the Western media controls opinion by how it weights stories. They do report the 81 executions, (though in this case the Guardian simply omits it), but in relatively short articles placed half way down the page, with no condemnatory editorial gloss and being careful to give the official view from Saudi Arabia. Why the difference? Because Saudi Arabia is a key Western partner and Russia is a geo-political adversary. The media manufactures consent not by lying outright (usually) but by the weighting they give to various stories and the way they treat them. The idea of course is that no public opinion should be aroused which would disturb the lucrative trading relations and strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia but, on the other hand, public opinion has to be continually massaged to hate Russia – because the strategic aim is to overturn Russia.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer