The content of mainstream television these days is by and large determined by the conservative political agenda. This phenomenon is at its most visible in the United States and somewhat mellowed down in other advanced societies of Western Europe. Needless to say, developing and under-developed nations have poor freedom of expression in mediums such as television and print journalism. In the three weeks of attentive television watching, I focused on the news station CNN. The continuous watching and analysis of the programs, some overarching themes and operational frameworks for news content are discernible to me. The following passages will outlay the same.
One of the dominant issues dealt with by CNN are American politics, with the date of elections to the Senate getting nearer. Although the panel discussions centered on politics do not treat overtly religious themes, there are many instances of religious connotations and symbolisms. It appeared to me that, without any explicit allegiance toward the Protestant ethics, CNN serves as a medium of propaganda for the same. This claim especially makes sense, when we consider how ethnic and religious minorities are under-represented in CNN’s pool of journalists. Even those that do find a place are seldom given marquee roles like talk-show hosts or week-end program anchors. In my view, these facts confirm CNN’s implicit religious orientation that accords with a social hierarchy espoused by Christianity.
In terms of my viewing habits, I spent close to an hour each day watching CNN. But this hour is usually broken into two half hours – one in the morning and one in the evening. When I watch, I eschew any theoretical analysis of the content being shown, for that would have prevented me from giving full attention. Instead, I would mentally re-run the program I had just watched when I am travelling to college or going for a jog. This regimen worked quite well, for toward the end of the third week, I was able to extract some overarching frameworks within which CNN operates. I suspect these frameworks are common to other major American networks as well.
The most striking feature of CNN is the narrowness of the news agenda. In other words, even a heated political debate between the representatives of Democratic and the Republican parties, is fairly constrained in the range of its discourse. While the often beaten subjects of fiscal deficit, job creation, gay rights and abortion are discussed passionately, conspicuous by absence are subjects of great import. For example, the shoddy state of the American public healthcare system is seldom discussed. Likewise, the continued corruption and collusion between politicians and big business is another taboo subject. This is especially shocking considering how the economy was pulverized following the 2008 financial crisis, which was precipitated by reckless and unaccountable risk taking by major investment firms.
As for how much of the news content of CNN aligned with my world view, there is no categorical answer. What I had observed is that CNN outwardly projects itself as a liberal, progressive journalism brand. But a deeper scrutiny reveals an ethos muddled in Protestantism. This tendency is most visible in the coverage of Islam, especially in the context of global terrorism. The manner in which the rise of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is treated on a daily basis fully falls within the discourse of Orientalism. Edward Said’s seminal sociological construct Orientalism traces its roots to European imperialism since the 17th century. It portrays the Orient, the Eastern hemisphere, as the perpetual and irreconcilable ‘other’.
Hoover alludes to an important and often overlooked aspect of mainstream media. It is that beneath the veneer of secular programming, there is an undercurrent of religious messages. In his essay Reception of Religion and Media, Hoover offers an insight into the psychology of the lay viewer. To the lay viewer, who is not equipped with the powers and resources of analysis, is sold the vapid dream of secularism. It is fair to claim that there is no separation of Church and media – a reasonable assessment of the editorial policies and coverage perspectives of CNN.
Some of my observations during the three weeks of TV watching coincide with Hoover’s assessment of media. Hoover notes how television programming is far more pervasive than we would like to believe. Even those who watch little or no television are affected by its content. Hoover reckons that media content is a reflection of the larger culture of a society. But I differ on this point. In my view, it is the major media houses of a particular society that sets the agenda for its culture. It is discomforting to think that the sense of communitarian pride and common identity that culture allows us to share may merely be results engineered by a few influential decision makers. These decision makers come from the group forming the unholy nexus between the political and business classes.
Hoover, Stewart M. Reception of Religion and Media, Chapter 3, Religion in the Media Age, Published by Routledge, 2006.
Inside Politics with John King, CNN Weekend Show, programming accessible via < http://edition.cnn.com/SPECIALS/politics/inside-politics/index.html>