Corporate Propaganda and Media Manipulation
Advertising messages are everywhere and some of the most effective ads are ones you would not even recognize as advertising.
Many believe that advertising is easily recognizable as television and radio commercials, magazine and newspaper ads, billboards and other print advertising. But advertisers are finding ways to promote their products to you in insidious ways – within the movies and TV shows that you watch, in the content of television news shows, and in public schools.
Manipulation in the movies
Product placement is a growing marketing ploy that puts specific products into the hands of actors that will be shown using them in movies and TV shows. Companies can expect to pay anywhere from $10,000 to more than $50,000 to get their product placed in a film or on television, depending on the exposure. Product placement is an effective way to advertise because viewers are more likely to stay engaged in watching the show than they would be during commercial breaks.
You can’t trust the news.
The use of video news releases (VNR’s) by television news shows is on the increase. VNR’s are short videos produced to resemble TV news stories but their purpose is to sell you something. VNR’s are provided free to news programs and are used to a varying degree by all television news shows. They usually cost $6,000 to $10,000 to create and are typically distributed nationally via satellite feed. TV stations use them because they have limited budgets and VNR’s provide free content that they can easily plug into their news shows.
VNR’s are used by corporations to announce new products, do "damage-control" on negative publicity, and create positive attitudes toward their products or services. An example would be a "news clip" showing an interview with an expert who says that eating a particular food product has a health benefit. The viewers don’t know that the news clip is really a video news release paid for by the company that produces that food product.
The ethics of journalism are supposed to guide writers and editors to produce accurate and unbiased articles. But there are several ways that bias either creeps in or is institutionalized by design. The results are inaccurate and/or misleading presentations of issues.
Michael Parenti, author of Monopoly Media Manipulation says that the most common form of manipulation is suppression by omission. He says, "The corporate mainstream media seldom stray into territory that might cause discomfort to those who hold political and economic power, including those who own the media or advertise in it." Parenti then goes on to itemize four other common ways that news media tilt their stories: attacking, labeling, framing, and giving prominence to one side of an issue.
Because of all the energy corporations and governments spend on trying to convince you of a point of view or getting you to buy a product, it is important to be wary media consumers. This is difficult to do. Who has the time to research whether a particular issue has been represented accurately or not? As adults, we can understand that you can’t believe everything you are told, but what about the children?
Huge amounts of money are being spent to advertise to children. The worst situation is where advertising is institutionalized in the public school system. Students are supposed to learn how to think in school, but corporations only want them to learn how to buy their products. Here are some of the ways children are being manipulated in school:
Companies are paying school districts for exclusive rights to sell and advertise their products for the purpose of influencing the future buying habits of students. For example, Coca Cola pays millions of dollars to school districts to sell their products to students to the exclusion of other beverage choices.
This kind of exclusive contract limits student choice and even inhibits free speech. Reebok’s contract with the University of Wisconsin barred teachers and students from criticizing the company’s shoes until a lawsuit force the removal of the clause.
Corporate Lesson Plans
Corporations and industry organizations are creating complete sets of lesson plans that promote their point of view in the guise of educational materials. Schools are strapped for cash and teachers are underpaid and overworked. They are often happy to use these free lesson plans – it saves them the time of creating their own.
According to environmental educator, John Borowski, the 2002 National Science Teaches Conference contained booths offering curricula created by such organizations as The American Farm Bureau and Weyerhauser. The "Greening Earth Society" offered videos promoting the idea that global warming is a fallacy. The Greening Earth Society is sponsored by the coal industry.
Borowski says in his article, Do Corporations Rule the Schools?, "Education about the environment is being assaulted on two fronts. First, multinational corporations are designing and distributing environmental curricula that are professionally produced, easy to use, often free and extremely biased in favor of industry. Second, some of the most prominent conservative think-tanks in America are mounting a well-funded attack on genuine environmental education."
Some school districts have sold "naming rights" to corporate sponsors just like sports stadiums do. Corporations are invited to contribute money for the construction of school buildings and, as acknowledgment for their support, they get the building named after them. The result is a permanent advertisement for the company on a public building.
Companies donate school materials with their name and logo on them. Cadbury-Schweppes distributed 500,000 book covers for free to middle schools to promote their candy products. Corporations also sponsor educational materials that include advertising of their products.
Advertising finds its way into schools via incentive programs. Companies offer their commercial products as reward for academic achievement. School fund-raisers partner with corporations to raise money. General Mills has run a program for years that promises to send money to schools based on the number of cereal box top coupons students collect.
According to the Channel One web site, "Channel One News is a daily, televised, 12-minute newscast that is beamed via satellite during the school year to each of the 12,000 schools in the Channel One Network community. Channel One News features stories on breaking news and in-depth issues that affect the world, the nation and specifically, America's teenagers."
Eight million students in 12,000 schools are required to watch commercial-filled television every day. The contracts with Channel One require that their programs be shown during class time, when students are a captive audience. According to an analysis by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), only 20 percent of the 12-minute show is devoted to coverage of "recent political, economic, social and cultural stories." The rest consists of advertising, self-promotion of Channel One, sports, weather and natural disasters, and features and profiles. Channel One is shown disproportionately in schools located in lower-income areas where the least money is available for education.
Resistance to the increase in advertising and the commercialization of schools is growing. Some school boards are limiting commercial activities at schools and banning exclusive contracts with drink companies. Commercial Alert is dedicated to protecting children from manipulative advertising. The Media Awareness Network in Canada supports media literacy and education and provides educational resources for parents and children.
Knowledge of how we are being manipulated by corporations and the media is the first step toward doing something about it. At the very least, if you know the techniques corporations are using to influence you, you will be less likely to be duped by corporate propaganda and media manipulation.
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