January 8, 2010
Remember that moment in Nineteen Eighty-Four where Winston’s entire day is shattered by the sudden announcement, ‘Oceania is at war with Eastasia, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.’ The sudden change in antagonists is nothing but a flash of a whim to Oceania itself, but to Winston it means a fortnight of hard work, rewriting history to make Oceania’s past more compatible with the present.
Nowadays, in the face of Holocaust revisionism we still find ourselves having to counter attempts to rewrite the past. However, this is a rarity. More often, we are faced with organizations and institutions which are engaged in a cutthroat battle to rewrite the present itself.
Undeniably, news organizations fall into this role. Indeed, it is there very purpose of being to seek out and re-frame the events of the day in a context pleasing to their readership or viewers. For the purpose of this article one small element of these strategies will be looked at.
I refer of course to the news website toolbar, that interlinked collection of icons that together serve as the first means by which any web user will encounter their news. The toolbar is the manner by which news is catagorised, and whilst being in itself a useful tool. The toolbar is a fascinating indicator to the agenda of the news organization itself.
So lets start with an easy one, the BBC (although it has some outspoken opponents on this website,) is viewed internationally as one of the more trustworthy sources of news. Visitors to the BBC News website are presented with a vertical toolbar that dominates the left hand margin. The first category, ‘news front page,’ is followed by ‘World,’ from which a single click provides further geographical subcatagories. Each location is provided with its own relevant and local news service and readers are asked for their input towards the news service. This approach to news differs radically from the catagorisation on the right-wing American Fox News network. On Fox’s website, ‘home’ is followed by ‘US,’ which is followed by a single icon, ‘world,’ (with no further subdivisions,) it becomes apparent why Americans are known for their appalling geography and insular worldview. ‘Business,’ then leads over ‘Politics,’ a telling indication perhaps? The ‘scitech’ and ‘opinion’ sections languish towards the rear after the apparently more important subjects of ‘health,’ ‘entertainment’ and ‘leisure.’
The oft-branded leftwing rag that is The Guardian, perhaps knowingly, perhaps not, seems to have responded to Fox’s isolationist portrayal of America’s position in the world within its own News toolbar. As usual, ‘News’ is the leading category, Like the BBC, ‘UK,’ is then followed by ‘World,’ however the US is apparently not included as part of this world, having been granted its own, fourth space, upon the toolbar. Upon its broader toolbar, The Guardian has some interesting additions, ‘Environment,’ is nestled several spaces after ‘Money,’ somewhere between ‘Travel’ and ‘TV,’ perhaps in this writers opinion, playing down the importance of the subject. Still it’s reassuring when placed up against the aforementioned Fox News, whose agenda seemingly displays no desire to grant any legitimization to the global warming lobby.
Given the hot words currently being thrown around by climate change skeptics and believers, tiny elements such as the catagorisation of News subjects can eventually result in greater consequences and ultimately changes in public opinion. Perhaps if Fox were to add a new icon to their toolbar, maybe following along the lines of the guardian’s ‘Environment.’ Even with a less decisive ‘Climate Change Debate,’ we might see opinions in America start to become more positive regarding attitudes towards waste and pollution. Propoganda is a useful tool in any war. In a war of opinion it is even better if you can make your audience believe they are seeing all the facts and choosing the truth for themselves. Orwell’s Newspeak aimed to prevent the subjects of Ingsoc from thinking subversive thoughts, simply by denying them the ability to articulate such feelings in language. Similarly if a news organization chooses not to recognize a certain subject as worthy of being reported or catagorised, it ultimately suggests that the greater part of that publication’s readership does not recognize the subject in question.
Until recently, the JC had it’s ‘Judaism,’ heading located way off down to the right hand end. Recently, following a revamp, it has shifted, now lying snug in between ‘community,’ and ‘travel,’ whilst us lonely bloggers still lurk precariously near the edge. At first I found it ironic that the paper used to have it’s religious section in such an unpromoted position, but considering the regularity of updates within it, it’s probably a better option.
Occasionally, however, an organization has the ability to highlight a society or communities worldview simply through how it places a few key words and phrases. Ha’aretz contains the interesting duality of ‘defense’ and ‘diplomacy,’ warmly cosying up to each other on the top row of the news toolbar. Ha’aretz allows us to believe that the two items are separate yet a cursory glance at the headlines accommodated by the two categories highlights a degree of confusion. At the time of writing, ‘diplomacy’ contained several articles about the adventures of the Left’s answer to Glenn Beck (George Galloway,) another about economic agreements between Iran and Turkey and an account of an issue regarding a Brazilian purchase of Israeli drones. The term ‘diplomacy,’ was I think a loose umbrella to unite such stories. On the other hand, ‘Defence’ is somewhat more honest, dealing with Mortar attacks on southern Israel, and the issue of IDF insignia being made in China. Bizarrely, the Galloway story then reappears…. Apparently, George is not just a diplomatic threat but a military one too.?,?,?
Another of Israel’s most popular newspapers, The Jerusalem Post includes upon its own toolbar the more apocalyptic sounding catagorisation, ‘Iranian Threat,’ given prominence even over ‘Jewish world.’
This may not seem much to some and to others it might be a very big deal, and it might also seem like an abrupt end to an article (I’m supposed to be cooking dinner.) However, the manner in which news organizations shape not only our knowledge of current events but also our initial emotional reaction to them cannot be overstated. Website toolbars are just a tiny part of the process, a careful and clever manipulation of image and information. This is a subject which requires much more analysis.
To finish on another Orwellian phrase (echoed by Rock antiheroes RATM )
‘He who controls the present, controls the past, he who controls the past, controls the future.’