Critical Thinking: Media and Democracy

A proposition has been put forward by Noam Chomsky concerning the relationship between the media and democracy. While Chomsky states that people are either willing or unwitting instruments of Governments, there is no need for this to be the case.

By applying principles of critical thinking, one can see beyond the indoctrination of “brainwashing by freedom” that Chomsky refers to. In particular, Facione (2010) refers to metacognition and self-regulation as skills that can be honed to check understanding the real meaning of what is being said, or what is written. Guillot (2004) also puts forward that critical thinking can be used to guide the outer dimensions of thinking. In light of the proposition that we are “indoctrinated”, a quote by Francis Bacon on the Air University website might also be considered: “The entry of truth with chalk to mark those minds which are capable to lodge and harbour it.”

A video on YouTube, Outfoxed (2Critical4U, 2009) puts forward the notion that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is aligned with the US political right. It also puts forward that the reporting on Fox News is directly influenced by Murdoch and News Corp. Weir (2004) reported a lack of accurate reporting in the main US newspapers. Additionally, the video Reel Bad Arabs (Neversaidb4, 2008) looks at how Hollywood can portray an ethnic group consistently in a bad light, to influence public perception.

Weir (2004) went on to assume that this disparity is for the most part due to a public that chooses to close their eyes to the facts. Chomsky (1992) went even further on this issue of an innocent public freely accepting whatever the media tells them to. Barsamian (2002) advanced again that the media use subversion and control to manufacture consent to a seemingly willing public.

A discussion of recent news events illustrates how media can be used to either indoctrinate those that allow it to (Chomsky, 1992) or can be used to draw comparisons using metacognition (Facione, 2010).

A news story that seems to epitomise the points in question is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, described by some as a villain (Hitchens, 2010), and by others as a man hounded unmercifully for telling the truth (Cameron, 2011). The two writers use differing styles, with Cameron (2011) using a more reasoned argument than Hitchens (2010) whose article is emotive and biased.

While both use emotion, they use it in different ways. Hitchens (2010, para 12) uses words such as “cunning”, “strategy” and “made everyone complicit” in an accusatory manner, as well as accusing Assange of living in a fantasy world (Hitchens, 2010, para 25). He also writes some support statements about Assange, but these are written in a neutral tone, such as denouncing the Swedish sex charges (Hitchens, 2010, para 19), almost just in passing.

At other times, Hitchens denounces those who support Assange, such as the New York Times (NYT) (Hitchens, 2010, para 26). The NYT called Wikileaks an anti-secrecy and whistle blowing outfit (Hitchens, 2010, para 25, which Hitchens (2010, para 27) attacked as “mush-headed approval” and called Wikileaks “his [Assange’s] little cabal” (Hitchens, 2010, para 26).

On the other hand, Cameron (2011, para 14) defends Assange against the attacks of some world leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Gillard asserted that Wikileaks was illegal, but did not say what law was broken (Cameron, 2011, para 12). The USA, as well, pursues Assange on shaky legal grounds for alleged crimes that seem to have insufficient substance to warrant the resources being over-utilised, claiming he must be hunted down like a terrorist (Cameron, 2011, para 14).

Hitchens (2010) is similar in tactics to the concepts verbally revealed in Outfoxed (2Critical4U, 2009) and written by Chomsky (2002) of manufacturing consent, that the media is influenced by the Government. Cameron, however, may be seen to take the public’s side to put forward debate on the issue, which Chomsky (2002) expressed concern that the public were unable to do.

The Wikileaks controversy makes us consider the extent to which we need protection from the truth (Cameron, 2010, para 5). It also puts in the spotlight how Governments and their allies will abandon their citizens, as Australia and its allies have abandoned Assange (Cameron, 2010, para 9). It also makes us aware of the “fundamental shift in the balance of power towards the citizens and away from the institutions that govern them” (Cameron, 2010, para 1).

Ayton-Shenker (1995, para 1) also puts forward about attempts to define a new world order, and a time of global transition. Again, the shift in the balance of power is raised, specifically with reference to the cessation of super-power rivalry (Ayton-Shenker, 1995, para 2). Demographic shifts and new political alliances (Ayton-Shenker 1995, para 3) also indicate that the balance of power is changing. However, with the changing in the balance of power, challenges to the Universal Human Rights are also raised (Ayton-Shenker, 2010, para 6).

One of the most controversial of the human rights issues in Australia is the “banning of the burqa” issue (Haussegger, 2010, para 3). Others also make us aware that the banning of the burqa is a controversial issue in other countries such as in Belgium, Italy, Netherlands and Canada (Haussegger, 2010, para 2). France (Ranciere, 2010, para 11), Switzerland (Eltahawy, Dec 2009, para 1) and USA (Eltahawy, Jun 2009, para 4) also have issues with the burqa, as is also reported by Haussegger (2010, para 2).

Again, the prospect of indoctrination, or an attack on personal freedoms (Haussegger, 2005, para 5) is raised. Ayton-Shenker (2010, para 28) states that every person has the right to cultural freedom, as long as it does not infringe on another human right. However, the trend of “cultural relativism” to violate or deny human rights is itself an abuse of the right to culture (Ayton-Shenker, 2005, para 29).Similar abuses based on “cold racism” are also raised by Ranciere (2010, para 4). In particular, laws brought in by France since 1993 are viewed as racist policies under a veil of anti-racism (Ranciere, 2010, para 3). These freedoms are paramount to indoctrination as cited by Chomsky.

An interesting paradox arises when this issue is raised: freedom of religion and women’s rights (Haussegger, 2005, para 5).Some claim the burqa is repressive and discriminatory against women, because they are forced to wear it by men, who view women as inferior (Haussegger, 2005, para 5). It is also put forward the the burqa is not part of culture or religion, but is designed by men to keep women subordinate (Haussegger, 2005, para 12).

The burqa is also seen as a stereotypical view of the situation regarding Muslim women (Eltahawy, Jun 2009, para 4). The burqa issue is also cited by Eltahawy as evading the real crusade by women against male dominated interpretations of religion (Eltahawy, Jun 2009, para 4). Chomsky (2002) addressed this phenomenon when he wrote of the media manufacturing content to influence how people perceive issues.

The Green Left (2010, para 2) state that banning the burqa is wrong, which again attempts to give the public a voice in the argument, which Chomsky (2002) said the public were generally unable to do. However, this statement seems in contrast the Universal Human Rights principle that cultural rights cannot be used as an excuse to deny or violate other human rights or infringe on freedoms (Ayton-Shenka, 2005, para 29).

In seeming contradiction to their own statement that banning the burqa is wrong (Green Left, 2010, para 2), the Green Left also write that forcing women to wear the burqa is wrong (Green Left, 2010, para 1). This seems to be a debate style of writing to allow both points of an argument to be set forward, so people can make their own choice, a principle of critical thinking put forward by Facione (2010, pp 19-20).

Such critical thinking is addressed by Guillot (2004) when he refers to concepts as being the most powerful element of critical thinking. By using the principle of concepts, it may be possible to minimise the effects of indoctrination by media (Chomsky, 2002), by being able to change concepts. Guillot (2004) puts forward the non-critical thinkers are unable to change their concepts.

As an extension of the burqa issue, Ranciere (2010, para 1) has an overall view of “state racism.” He particularly expounds on this with his criticism of states imposing laws based on contradictions of ideological and practical functions (Ranciere, 2010, para 7-8). On the specific issue of the banning of the burqa, Ranciere (2010, para 11) stated that a general law was passed supposedly to address everyone, but the reality was that it was aimed at a minority of Muslim women.

If this was in fact the case, there is support for the argument that it is a violation of human rights as cultural relativism (Ayton-Shenker, 2005, para 29). However, Ayton-Shenker (2005, para 28) also writes that the purpose of the burqa violates other human rights, so from that it could be concluded that banning the burqa is not a violation of Universal Human Rights. This is perhaps an excellent example of what Guillot (2002) was expounding when he spoke of concepts. The public must be able to draw its own inferences from these concepts, rather than conceding to the creation of necessary illusion cited by Chomsky (2002, p. 5).

The media are able to utilise their communication skills to change how the public thinks by imposing a new way of thinking by the “creation of necessary illusion” (Chomsky, 2002, p.5).

Reference List

2Critical4You, (2009, March 5). Outfoxed Part 1 . Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok01hJHvobM

2Critical4You, (2009, March 5). Outfoxed Part 2 . Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAGTvyn-rOo&feature=related

Air University (2011). Critical Thinking. Retreived from: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/awc-thkg.htm

Ayton-Shenker, D. (1995). The challenge of human rights and cultural diversity. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/rights/dpi1627e.htm

Barsamian, D. (2002). U.S. intervention from Afghanistan to Iraq: Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian. International Socialist Review. Retrieved from http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/200209–.htm

Cameron, Ross. (2011, January 13). Can’t hide love for WikiLeaks. National Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nationaltimes.com.au/opinion/politics/cant-hide-love-for-wikileaks-20110112-19o1w.html

Chomsky, N. (1992). Israel, the Holocaust, and Anti-Semitism. Excerpted from Chronicles of Dissent. Retrieved from: http://www.chomsky.info/books/dissent01.htm

Eltahawy, M. (2009, June 16). Headscarves and hymens. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-eltahawy/headscarves-and-hymens_b_216236.html

Eltahawy, M. (2009, December 1). Europe’s call to intolerance. Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/30/AR2009113003729.html

Facione, P. A. 2010. Critical thinking: what it is and why it counts. Measured Reasons. California Academic Press

Guilot, W. M. 2004. Critical thinking for the military professional. Air and Space Power Journal. Retrieved at http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/guillot.html

Green Left. (2010, September 25). Should the burqa be banned? Green Left Weekly. Retrieved from: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/45501

Haussegger, V. (2010, May 21). The burqa is a war on women. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/the-burqa-is-a-war-on-women-20100520-vnp3.html

Hitchens, C. (2010, December 11). Middleman peddles his ill-gotten goods. The Australian. Retrieved from: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/wikileaks/christopher-hitchens-on-julian-assange/story-fn775xjq-1225969087171

Neversaidb4 (2008, June 24). Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (part 1) . Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1-Bbz_TBMc

Ranciere, J. (2010). Racism: A Passion from Above, MRzine, 23 September. Retrieved from: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/ranciere230910.html

Weir, A. (2004). Israel and Palestine: Choosing Sides. In P. Phillips, Censored 2005: The top 25 Censored Stories (pp. 1-13). U.S.A: Seven Stories Press.


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