Democracy is a beautiful idea. It is an ideology whose sole purpose is to allow as many ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, essentially all the members of a population to have a meaningful say in how things are done, or how they should be done regarding the nation they live in. What a wonderful world that would be; there would be next to no disenfranchised groups, people unsatisfied with the path their leader have forced them to take, and so on. However, none of us live in such a world. Even the mascot of democracy, the United States of America cannot truthfully proclaim that their nation is fully democratic. The reasons for this rather grating statement of mine are plentiful, but we will focus primarily on one thing: the influence of mass media on the democratic process.
First we must ask ourselves, do the people—the commoners, in archaic terms—truly know what it is they want? Or more specifically, do they truly know what is happening around them and have the slightest idea about how they should remedy or maintain certain situations? Ideally, they would. A transparent government, complete with a press that prints nothing but the absolute truth would mean that the public would be capable of making well-informed decisions. But can we confidently say that such a state exists today? If we are as dull as the upper-classes hope us to be, then yes we would see the world in such a picture. But if we keep a sharper eye, then we would realize that no, we do not live in a time where democracy allows us to make decisions without being directly and indirectly manipulated by other parties. Particularly by the media owned by either politicians or lobbyist groups.
Let’s gloss over a few examples. In Indonesia a member of the political party Golkar (one of many in Indonesia’s multiparty system), owns one of the most popular television networks in the state. Meanwhile, the opposition each at least possess one major member who are also media conglomerates. The result is an abomination of conflicting news stories, each aiming to deface the other’s version. In a journalistic climate such as this, the term ‘news’ becomes barely applicable. What should be accurate interpretations of the goings-on within and outside of the country are presently nothing more than public relations campaigns for established and hopeful public officials.
One of the most staggering showcase of the Indonesian PR phenomena happened during the Siduarjo mud flow disaster—a catastrophe brought about by one of Bakrie’s corporations—wherein Bakrie’s/Golkar’s news outlets focused overwhelmingly on the reparation efforts conducted whilst blurring the exact causes of the ecological tragedy. Predictably, the opposers of Golkar showcased all the faults Bakrie’s company had made, giving only the briefest of mentions to the crisis management attempts. What could such contrasting views be other than a verbal contest amongst the multiple parties, with the prize being public support regardless of accuracy. The implication of the media being degraded into nothing more than mouthpieces of a party or another, is the continuing debilitation of democracy’s principles and efficacy.
What democracy should be, is a political system which allows for all men and women to accurately express what they want and need, and attain those objects via the agreement of the majority. However, the media ceaselessly disrupts what those wants and needs are, and in the most extreme of cases completely replaces them with something new which does not benefit the voters. Take for instance the United States’ War on Drugs. Before the minuscule terror of narcotics (which contributed to less than ten thousand deaths on an annual basis, a tiny amount compared to the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives to, say, tobacco) was popularized by the media, the concern of the common people was the budget deficit of the US—a reasonable worry, considering that a deficit would negatively affect the economy as a whole. Yet when news programs repeatedly constructed exhibitions of death via narcotics, drug-trafficking, and much more, the deficit anxiety vanished almost completely. I will not go into detail as to why the US decided to shift the attention of the voters, as it would derail the conversation. The important thing to note is that the media’s action directly shows how much of a hold the it has over the common people’s perceptions.
When a democracy disallows people from fully understanding the world they live in, then it is not a democracy at all. Rather, it is a totalitarian state in disguise. Wherein people are told that their wishes are the commands of public officials, yet when said officials are capable of altering the wishes for their own agendas, then democracy is quite frankly a compelling lie.
Those who are placed at the highest levels of government, and the many who wish to one day latch onto such positions must not be allowed to have any control over the media, or indeed have any hold over private businesses. These two particular traits water down democracy, by manipulating voters into making decisions that are not beneficial to them, alongside promoting individualism—in the sense of inducing self-prioritization—amongst those who should forsake their personal desires for the good of the people.
True democracy does not yet exist. For the masses are barred from knowing what they truly need, and the so-called servants of the public prioritize themselves over those they swore they’d serve. We must diminish the utilization of mass media for controlling public interests, we need to coerce public officials from serving their own interests into endeavoring for those of the public’s. Otherwise, the concept of democracy is meaningless. It is a wonderful dream, but as of now it is nothing more than a word which serves as a mask for silently dictatorial regimes.