Saturday, July 5, 2014

Strangling democracy: From information to infotainment

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We are focused on the US government's ways of promoting its policies across the global community. Why would the US State Department choose to offer something like free entertainment, sometimes, at press briefings? Or - could that be some smart strategy most of us are still unaware of? The Voice of Russia has invited Italian journalist Giullietto Chiesa and Ilya Fabrichnikov, Russian expert on political communications strategy, to talk about "infotainment" and how it is used to manipulate our minds.
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Mr. Chiesa, Mr. Fabrichnikov, I am happy to welcome you to our show, and before we proceed let me give you one of the latest.

The US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf doubted a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees which says the number of Ukrainian refugees seeking refuge in Russia has reached 110 000 people. That doesn’t seem to be true, she said. The so-called refugees, Marie Harf proceeded, were Ukrainians who travelled to Russia to visit their relatives.

So, that’s just one of the latest glimpses of what is going on at the US State Department press briefings. How should we read it? What is the use of paying people who actually do the entertainment job on behalf of the government? 

Giulietto Chiesa: I don’t live in the US and that means I don’t know exactly what they are watching. I mean, the spectators of the television shows. And that means I cannot judge. But I can judge from the point of view of an Italian viewer. And what you have quoted could be very easily done also in Italy. The reason is very simple – everybody knows nothing about what is going on in Ukraine now.

Very simply, there is a censorship, a very wide censorship that all the channels… we have seven state channels and a huge number of non-state local channels. But nobody of these channels give any information about what is going on. That means that Mrs. Harf can say – okay, the Ukrainians are going to visit their parents in Russia – because nobody knows that there is a war there, that airplanes are bombing the streets of the cities and so on.

It is very simple – people hear that the situation is normal and Mrs. Harf is doing exactly this job, telling that the war does not exist.

But she is talking to journalists.

Giulietto Chiesa: The question is – who hire these journalists sitting in front of her? The question is – what kind of journalists they are? Because they are also not informed. Very easy, these journalists are watching the same television that they are doing. They are producing the information they know, which is – nothing. And they don’t know the history, culture, diversity, the existence of millions of Russian people in Ukraine. They don’t know that. And when they say ‘Russian’, it means a Russian coming from Russia. They have no idea that these Russian people are living there since two or three centuries ago.

That means that there is an incredible level of absolute unawareness. And I repeat, it is a question of journalists, of people in the street and even of the members of the Italian Parliament. I spoke with many of them, no one of them knows the situation. And when I begin telling what I know, which is a limited information, but it is simply what I know, what I see, they are astonished. Indeed? Is it true what you are telling us, that EuroMaidan was not what we have seen all these months? Because, simply – censorship.

And it is not censorship dictated from some place, some body. It is a self-censorship. They understand very well…I mean, if you sit in a TV studio and you see that people are using arms, they were fighting at the EuroMaidan, but no one of the Italian channels showed the people using arms in the square.

You might think that in the age of Internet the information flows are really unbounded. And if you are watching TV which does not show a rifle in Maidan, you could see the rifle in a YouTube video.

Ilya Fabrichnikov:That’s not necessarily so. In 1960’es a very well-known philosopher Marshall McLuhan has introduced his concept of global village. With the introduction of the global television, the world started to become a much smaller place. Which means – the information available in, say, the US, was quickly accessible in, say, the Soviet Union. The possibilities of technology introduced that.

With the introduction of the Internet the information people receive became more and more fragmented, because people tend to read what they want to. They do not perceive the whole array of information from different sources, but they rather stick to a concrete source which they know, which they think they trust, which dictates the agenda. So, people are simply following the agenda they were introduced to.

Well, they are the uninquisitive minds...

Ilya Fabrichnikov:Absolutely! Because 70% of information we receive, we receive via audio-visual channels, through telly. So, people tend to watch telly as a background. They do something, they prepare meals, they play with their children with the telly on the background and the telly says something. And the telly says what the State Department says, because it is the State Department’s official position.

Okay, then I have another question to you. When we are talking about those State Department press briefings, we often see what seems to be a duel between the well-known Matthew Lee and Jen Psaki. And mind you, Matthew Lee is an AP reporter. Associated Press, if someone might not know is an American information agency. So, what is the purpose of this performance? Why would this man pose such uncomfortable questions to the official State Department representative?

Giulietto Chiesa: It's very rare that there are real questions on these kinds of briefings. The journalists know that they should not put these questions on the table, because it will affect their career. You can do that once in a year, but after that you are considered not very well by the people giving the briefings. And people who run the briefing will note that this man or a woman is not good for this kind of discussion. You can do it once, twice and the third you will never do.

It is very clear, it is working everywhere – in Italy, in Germany, in France, in the US – the same. I told before that there is the censorship or the self-censorship. Look, again at the EuroMaidan. The story was: first - here there are the Ukrainian people. People in the street hear this from all the channels. Second, there is a dictator, they are fighting against the dictator, that is Yanukovych. Third, they are peaceful demonstrators.

When you establish all these points, it is very clear that when you see one of them using a rifle to shoot a policeman, they have the necessity to take out this kind of image. And so is every minute. Everybody knows that you can’t go outside of this circle. Those who go outside of this circle, will be ousted in ten minutes. It is a very strict system of self-control and social control.

Which implies that the man who is asking questions at every press briefing is ...?

Giulietto Chiesa: I have a very simple phrase to describe all that. It is the end of information and it is the end of democracy. Information and democracy are the same things in the modern society. Without information you cannot have any democracy. You can go to vote every five or four years, but if you don’t know what is happening, how can you chose. You cannot chose, because you don’t know.

That means – information is democracy, democracy is information. We have lost information and we have no democracy in the West, and everywhere, I should say, because the big channels are making the tone. The perception of reality is coming from there. McLuhan told that we are living in a global village, but we are stupid like the primitive people living in the old village.

Ilya Fabrichnikov: Talking about information and the segmentation of information, the key task for the State Department press people is to control the agenda. They have a preset number of topics and a preset number of theses they are driving through the media. It is very task to drive these particular theses in order to deliver the message to the audience. That’s the normal job of a press secretary, it is what any press secretary does.

My point is that we’re being given preset streams of information which differ little from one another. The selection will be obvious. If the State Department feeds in something they want to push through the media, they have a preselected number of theses they deliver.

Are you telling me that the real information in the media has been substituted by something like a soap opera?

Giulietto Chiesa: Well, in general, this is the so-called infotainment – information plus entertainment. This is a new wave… or not so new, for 20-30 years I hear this kind of infotainment. You cannot speak about serious things, because it is out of the agenda. We should try to avoid the serious problems for the intellectuals. Every one of us believes that we are intellectuals, we know something and we project on all the other people the same knowledge we have.

This is a huge mistake, because the majority of the people have no knowledge or ours. We are experts, to a certain extent. And the people in the street have no time, no preparation, no possibility to understand what is going on.

That means, they are going outside in the morning, they are buying a newspaper, they see the first page of the newspaper and they believe that the agenda which is written in that newspaper is the real agenda. They cannot even imagine that this agenda has been created by somebody two or three hours before.

The chief editor goes to work and he says – today, I have this agenda. Not only the press secretary is dictating. Every one of them has his own agenda. And look, 30-40 years ago you could have ten different newspapers watching the situation. Every of these newspapers had the first page different from the other. There were many, to a certain extent, agendas. Now, in the last 40 years, if you open a newspaper in Italy, everywhere, in Germany, in France, the titles are the same. There is a single agenda, not many agendas.

Even the photographs are the same.

Giulietto Chiesa: Even the photos, certainly. I remember very well, one example for me, it was decisive, when Powell before the beginning of the war in Iraq went to the Security Council of the UN and told in front of the people from all over the world – we have the proof that Saddam Hussein has the weapons of mass destruction. And he had in the hand a very little piece of glass with something

Ilya Fabrichnikov: With the white powder. It could easily be a washing powder.

Giulietto Chiesa: The next day and evening all the newspapers of the world had only that picture. The same on the first page. And all the TV, journals and news had the same image. That is a huge unification of all the information of the world.

In a decisive moment, this kind of unification is going on systematically. Look at the 9\11 episode. Three billion people watched live the same gigantic show altogether. It never happened before that three billion people were watching the same thing in the same moment. This is a radical change.

Was that a point of change in the information policies?

Giulietto Chiesa: I could suggest our listeners to do a search for a "memorandum Powell". It is a very interesting document. At the beginning of the 1970’es this was a document describing exactly what the future will be. This has been written at the beginning of the 1907’es. This is the strategy for gaining the souls of people. And this strategy won.

Ilya Fabrichnikov: Talking about the shifting in the information paradigm. I just want to emphasize that we went very far away from information dissemination, we are now living in an age where information is driven by professional people, by the media. The thesis is driven to its listeners. The information cloud is so wide and the so-called 'white noise' is so loud, that it becomes easier to pursue a specific aim when you drive the information. Information has acquired a strategic function everywhere – in foreign policy, in domestic policy.

Okay! But this actually works with this broad category of – whom we have already described as uninquisitive minds. Dr. Chiesa, I know that you had questioned the official story of the 9/11 and you wrote four books. As far as I remember, you provide sufficient evidence to support each of the questions you posed. What was the reaction of the audience?

Giulietto Chiesa: None, which means that this kind of information is unacceptable for simple people.

How come?

Giulietto Chiesa: Because they cannot suffer a situation where all what they know is contrary to the reality. They are living in a matrix. My idea is that billions of people, especially in the West, are living inside the virtual society. The virtual society is the agenda of the power. They believe that they are living there, but the reality is completely different. And when you try to explain something, which is contrary to their experience, they refuse it.

When you say – look, you have seen two airplanes hitting the two towers, the two towers go down in fact at a very high speed. It is impossible to explain this speed. But when you ask how many towers went down on September 11, everybody answer –two. I made this experiment ten thousand times in the last ten years. How many towers went down? They look at me with a surprise and say – two, naturally. And when I say – three, not two – everybody is astonished. It is impossible! We don’t know that!

This question is very amusing. You’ve got to read the 9/11 commission report which is the official account of what happened on 11.09.2001. And you read 537, if I'm not wrong, pages and you don’t find any hint to the third tower. Not one word! That means that even those senators making up the commission and all the press of the world repeated what they heard and no one understood that there were three towers and only two planes hitting the two towers.

This is evident. This is simply that. How it is possible that the full army of millions and millions of journalists did not understand that there is something wrong in this description, and this way all the rest of the world or not the rest of the world, but three billion people. And there 7 billion people, which means that the rest don’t know anything. They even don’t know that 9/11 existed. 1.5 billion has no electricity. That means they don’t have television, they don’t have radio, they don’t have phones.

This means that we are living in a world where we believe that all the world is like us, but it is not this way. Absolutely not this way. We are living in a big illusion. We are living in matrix.

Is there any way to break out of it?

Giulietto Chiesa: We have a very difficult situation, because they are controlling already everything. Look, we are speaking about information. I would like to be precise. How much information do we receive every day? Take one TV channel, it doesn’t matter where, and you will try to get the sum of the information. It is more or less 5%. 95% of the airing time of a TV channel is not information. 95%! It is entertainment and advertising. And I should say that advertising is much more important than entertainment.

That means – the ideas of our life are not produced not by the 5%, but ideas of our life are produced by the 95% of entertainment plus advertising. Our children are growing up in the 95%, not in the 5%. They watch 95% and in fact we know why. 95% is much more expensive than the rest 5%. The money is going there first.

That means that we believe we are informed, but we are absolutely noninformed, in fact. The global village is the absence of real information. It is a continuous noise of advertising and entertainment.

I would like to add only one thing. For instance, there is the myth of the Internet like the place where you can get all the information you need. Is it true?


Giulietto Chiesa: No! My idea is that the YouTube, which is a TV, is 95% also of what we are watching on the Internet. That means, again, television. A moving picture. This is a completely false idea that the Internet is a place of knowledge. A very-very subtle layer of people are going there to watch information, very insignificant, not significant. The huge amount of people going into the Internet are not looking for information. They are looking for everything other.

Ilya Fabrichnikov: They are looking for social talk, they are looking for entertaining movies, they are looking for videos on demand, something which they think makes their life easier, more playful.

Playful! That’s the key word. So, do I get it right that, when we are talking either about Psaki, or Harf, or someone like McCain, those are just actors in that huge soap opera which is being fed to us?

Ilya Fabrichnikov: Exactly! If we are getting to the point of Jen Psaki, Jen Psaki is a simple interface between the Government machine and the audience. The Government needs to deliver certain messages. They write down a theses matrix for Jen to deliver. Jen is very professional as a press secretary, I can say that. She does what she is being paid for. She does her job – delivering the statement of the State Department regarding a certain policy, the view of the State Department on how the American national interests are secured in Ukraine, for example, or in Iraq or in Syria.

So, that’s what we should have in mind when we are listening to another statement of the State Department’s press office.

Then my question to both of you, as professionals, what do you think is essential not to get indoctrinated, not to fall into this universal pseudo-information trap?

Giulietto Chiesa: We have to understand, first of all, that television, a moving picture, moving cadres is a language. It has its own grammar, its own syntaxes. If you are not able to read this language, you will be manipulated. No way out!

That means, it is exactly the contrary to what happened when Gutenberg created the mobile caractères. Before him only a little number of people was able to write and to read. The monks in the monasteries, they were copying. All the other were illiterate. This has been a huge change in technology producing a huge amount of culture. Millions of people became able to read. It is a complete change of culture and of science, and the Renaissance was created after that. Without Gutenberg is was impossible to have the Renaissance.

Now, we are living exactly on the contrary. We have invented a new language, which is absolutely indispensible. Billions of people work with this language, which is information, through the screen, moving images and billions of people became illiterate, because no one of them or a very-very little number of people, even not all the intellectuals…there is a Latin word ‘homo legens’ - people who read. Homo legens is a particular kind of man. Homo legens dominated for centuries.

Now, we entered another epoch, that is the ‘homo videns’. We are at the beginning of homo videns, which means people who watch. Homo videns in the large majority is unalphabeted, because he is not able to read images and to understand the syntaxes.

How to defend ourselves? I propose to open this page, we have to learn this language to be free, to a certain extent. And to be able to criticize what we are doing, to be able to read what we are seeing we need to know this language. This can be done, but we have to change our culture completely. To change completely the culture in which we live. In other words, without that the matrix will dominate our life and the life of our children.

Ilya Fabrichnikov: We have to stop consuming, because we are consuming tons of information without really analyzing it. And to analyze it, you have to read, not to watch, not to consume, but to read. You have to be a literate person in order to understand all the languages you are being spoken to.

So, if somebody is speaking to you from a telly, then you have to understand what they say. Not what they pronounce, but what they mean. And in order to understand that, you have to understand the whole array…

Does it require special training?

Ilya Fabrichnikov: It requires time and it does require the understanding that we are being manipulated on every step of our lives in order for us to become consumers.

Dr. Chiesa, you said that we need to change our culture. Does that start within a single family? Would that work if we throw out a TV from our household, if we get our kids to read more books and not show them cartoons?

Giulietto Chiesa: No, I believe it is not possible to do that. I can do, you can do, but millions of people will never do that. Television not only will resist in the future, but all our future will be images. We already have our pocket images. A telephone, a computer is going with us every moment of our life. All the architecture of our life is build upon moving images. In the train stations we have moving images, on the train, on the bus, on the car. It will be the future. The future will be of non-reading people.

And non- thinking people.

Giulietto Chiesa: Exactly! Non-thinking people, because the image has no logic. If you watch even a picture, you will see that on the right side low and on the left side high, there is no logic. They can tow completely different things. Watching images is not a rational process. If you are not able to read, you absolutely unable to understand what is going on. And I'm speaking of one image.

Now imagine, one image, another image and the third image going very fast in front of your eyes. You cannot control not the first, not the second, not the third. You are not in a position to control anything. You are absorbing a river of images without having a possibility to distinguish what is important, what is not important. And it is only one little part of the manipulation. There are many other manipulations going on systematically.

What I mean, is that we cannot avoid the future. The future will be images and much more of them than today. Which means that insisting that our children are to read the books, it is impossible. They will not read a book, they will not even know a book. And for that reason I repeat, the question is to change education. We should have governments able to understand the future of democracy is in their possibility of understanding what people are communicating.

That means to introduce everywhere the discussion about the language of images. The only way to democratize the society is not to renounce television, but to understand that the technology we have created cannot go back. Or there will be only one possibility – when the electricity will run out. This is the only way to change the situation. And maybe, we will arrive to that point, but not today and not tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, maybe.

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