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Frontline: Background and Context 

Santo Cilaro claims that the immediate impetus for creating Frontline was spawned by a 60 Minutes program entitled Has the Media Gone too Far?   The major issue was that in a ratings war between Channel 7’s Stan Grant and Channel 9’s Ray Martin were resorting to robust, unscrupulous, cynical and invasive means to exploit human tragedy for an increasing voyeuristic audience.

The first show was aired on the ABC in 1994.

 

Television and its Audience

Television began its influence on news sometime in the 1960’s and took over from Newspapers as the most relied source shortly after.  It took many years to appreciate its affect on the masses.

Marshall McLuhan, once referred to as the "Oracle of the Electronic Age", is perhaps best known for his phrase turned into a book title, The Medium is the Massage [FYI: 'Massage' is not misspelled.]. As director of the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto , McLuhan rose to fame as a "guru" of media culture.

Read more at:  http://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/rojc/mdic/mcluhan.html

 

McLuhan believed that television unified the world into a global village but that as a “cool” medium could have the effect of disengaging or numbing its audience.

Analysts today recognise the “dumbing down” effect of television as it is a visceral  medium rather than a cognitive one.

 Al Gore, in his book The Assault on Reason delves into the forces shaping the American polity today, focusing on the corruption of the marketplace of ideas by the power of television. It is this kind of one-way mass communication, whose ownership is always concentrated by the State in a few favoured hands, that has the strongest ability to overwhelm citizens' ability both to obtain the fullest range of information and to reason its meaning.

For Gore, this has upended the revolutionary medium associated with the founding of American democracy: the print press and its pamphleteers, who vigorously and openly engaged in debate over the fate of their republic.

The wilful, exploitative linking of the attacks of September 11 to Saddam in this context becomes a springboard into the deepest recesses of fear, with these fears overwhelming our ability to reason collectively together. "If the consent of the governed is extorted through the manipulation of mass fears," Gore writes, "or embezzled with claims of divine guidance, democracy is impoverished."

Gore's political theorems are not merely intellectual, but bionic. He bores deeply into how the brain absorbs televised images, in an extended discussion of the amygdala in the cerebrum, and in how the "bombardment" by television of fear can disrupt the "immune system" that should enable American citizens to deal responsibly with the threats the country really is facing.

 In Australia similar patterns of the exploitation of fear for political persuasion have also been manifest and used by both major parties.

 Television's wasteland is vast. Decrying "a new pattern of serial obsessions", Gore cites O.J.Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and, of course, Paris . It's true: every day we focus on the atrocity that is Paris Hilton is a good day for al-Qaeda.

 Tabloid journalism (popular, mindless, and glossy) tends to sensationalise daily, pedestrian local issues.  Often an alarmist, provocative or inflammatory approach is taken.  The issues tend to be trivial ones that ordinary people can relate to.  Human interest is paramount.  Seldom are programs aimed at uplifting or edifying as only 10% of the population is politically engaged, rather program designers pander to the masses, dumbing down the stories to the lowest common denominator to appeal to as wide an audience as possible to maximise ratings.   If possible these media beat-ups will try to whip up hysteria and can create an artificial state of frenzy with plenty of heat but little light.

 Santo Cilaro claims that the immediate impetus for creating Frontline was spawned by a 60 Minutes program entitled Has the Media Gone too Far?   The major issue was that in a ratings war between Channel 7’s Stan Grant and Channel 9’s Ray Martin were resorting to robust, unscrupulous, cynical and invasive means to exploit human tragedy for an increasing voyeuristic audience. 

 

Rather than blatant lies, there is a subtle distortion through the manipulation, selectivity and omission of truth.  This culture of dishonesty in current affairs is driven by the pressure to sustain high drama and sensationalism to retain ratings.  The seamier sleazy low morality is justified by “we are merely keeping up with our competitors".

 

Frontline attempts to raise the bar by ridiculing the excesses of tabloid current affairs television.

 

 


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