Global Evils Today (Part 2): Misinformation, Disinformation and Media Propaganda Demystified

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 26 Feb 2024

Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

Please note that this publication contains graphic images which may be disturbing to some readers.  Reader discretion is advised. Parental guidance is recommended for minors, who may use this publication as a project, resource material.

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Dedicated to the memory of the Great Father of Peace Propagation, Professor Johan Vincent Galtung (24 Oct 1930 Oslo, Norway-17 Feb 2024 Bærum, Norway) [1]

 “The system controls and manipulates the media in whatever form it deems necessary. Ethics, morality and subversion are of no consequence, as long as the tenets of the system are propagated and totally subscribed to by the subjugated citizenry.” [2]

Professor Johan Vincent Galtung, The Father of Modern Peace Studies, at Festival dell’Economia di Trento, Italy. 
Photo credit: Niccolo Caranti

Late on Saturday 17th February 2024, the sad news, on the passing of Professor Johan Vincent Galtung was announced by the Editor of Transcend Media Service Professor Antonio, Carlos Silva Rosa[3]. This loss of the great, academic Peace Propagator, could never be replaced.  The author echoes the multitude of messages of condolences and may Professor Johan Galtung’s soul rests in eternal peace.

 

This paper, in a two-part series, Part 2, amplifies the role media bias plays in influencing public reactions and opinions, following any major global event, in recent history, while Part 1defined the basic concepts of misinformation, disinformation and media bias in reporting.  It also highlighted the anomalies and double standards of “The System” in its Totality, as well as how “His Master’s Voice” [4], [5]as exemplified by the imperial colonialists, in the past and in the 21st century represented principally, by United States and its pitiable surrogates, globally, subscribing and complying totally, “The System” [6]and its deep reaching tentacles fully, for fear of being literally cut off from the “Organ” itself.   The System specifically ensures ongoing and total compliance of these puppets by perverse incentives, to allow the very sustenance of The System, in its entirety. Inevitably, The System, therefore has the last word in the outcomes of international events. This was the case, even in recent history, during World War II, when intense media disinformation was generated on both sides.  In fact, Germany had a ministry specifically dedicated to that strategy of disinformation, which served dual purposes.  It encouraged the German people and Hiller’s war machinery[7], as well as demoralised Britain and the allies.  A case in point was the Great London Blitz[8]. During the Second World War, the German Propagandakompanie[9] (Propaganda Troops) was a branch of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS. Its function was to produce and disseminate propaganda material, both for the fighting troops and the civilian population. These companies were the only news-reporting units in areas of military operation, as civilian news correspondents were not permitted to enter combat zones. They functioned both as soldiers and as reporters, writing from the front for the radio and newspapers. In the Luftwaffe[10], (Air Weapon) the PK reporters often flew together with the crew on missions and air raids.  Many young men started a journalistic career in the Propagandakompanie and later in life, after the war, became publishing authors and newspaper editors. During the war, the reporters’ names were frequently published with their articles, which was a fairly new development in German journalism. Previously, credits had usually been anonymous. In December 1940, throughout the fierce Blitz over London[11], young reporters from the PK regularly flew out on raids over the Channel from Northern France, where they were based, and from where they typed reports of the missions in which they had participated. The goal was to convey the impression of success and victory over the enemy, and to reassure the German people that the Luftwaffe had conquered the fighting spirit of the English by destroying the foundations of their existence.

 

On 10th December 1940, a young war reporter Erwin Kirchhoff [12],[13]led with the headline “London will remember December 9 forever”. Kirchhoff became a chief editor after the war, but in 1940 he was a PK reporter flying in a bomber. “The skies are coloured blood red; our pilot expertly manoeuvres the Heinkel”, he wrote upon his return. “London should realise that it makes no sense to fight against this Great German Empire, unbroken in its strength. The German Luftwaffe, filled with unprecedented fighting spirit, attacked London this night!”[14] The same night, 27-year old Alois Bankhardt from Berlin[15] flew in a plane captained by a highly-experienced pilot with 280 missions. At -38° C, Alois was freezing. Kneeling down at the back of the plane, he wanted to see London, literally burning. “We could see whole rows of warehouses already in flames, blood-red tongues of fire reflected in the Thames”, Alois wrote. “The observer shouted ‘Bomb drop!’ and we saw our bomb falling against the light of the flames. The board mechanic leaned on my shoulder and we watched the impact. We were not bothered by the flak or searchlights”.  After the war, Alois enjoyed success as a photojournalist who became well-known for his artistic style and photos which captured moments in social history, such as the famous “Children Playing Airlift” in Berlin[16]. He died in 1964.[17] It was fortunately not difficult to trace that it turns out to be Herbert Mason’s visually stunning but contextually misleading photograph on the front page of the New York Herald Tribune[18], on 30yh December, 1940, falsely suggesting St Paul’s had been bombed.  The photo was captured by Herbert Mason[19] from Fleet Street [20]rooftop and undoubtedly presented a dramatic spectacle. But the iconic St Paul’s structure was not in fact bombed as erroneously claimed in US radio broadcaster Edward R. Murrow’s broadcast[21], that night referencing the image. His misreporting caused considerable alarm. The image and factual clarification is widely cited for underscoring the importance of journalist care even in emotional situations of warfare to verify claims rather than make assumptions or spread early unofficial reports without confirmation – a lesson profoundly relevant for covering conflicts today.

It certainly serves as an unforgettable case study circulating for decades now on importance of responsible verification even in fast moving warfare coverage where pressure of competition or availability of emotionally arresting images can lead to factual inaccuracy. A textbook case of unintended media misinformation with consequences. This is thought-provoking example to discuss the interplay of breaking Visuals, public perceptions and integrity. The author, advocates, to get to the definitive bottom of all media information, not only for historically notable “media moments”

A Jubilant or Demoralising photograph during World War II, used by both the warring parties, depending which perspective or viewpoint is followed, and respective emotions, evoked:  Hitler’s Third Reich and Aryan supremacy, in which nothing else matters, or Allied Pseudo Democracy .
This is most iconic photograph of World War II, showing smoke bellowing around the Great Dome of the historic St Paul’s Cathedral amidst air raid damage during the Second World War, 29 December 1940.   The raid, beginning at 6:15 pm on 29th December 1940 one of the most destructive air raids of the Blitz caused fires to ravage an area larger than that of the Great Fire of London. This sparked an American correspondent to comment that ‘the second Great Fire of London has begun’. On the night of 29 – 30 December, 100,000 bombs were dropped on London by 136 Luftwaffe bombers. The devastating fire was due to the small incendiary bombs the Germans used and the area they targeted. The area was mostly non-residential, containing businesses and warehouses, along with St Paul’s Cathedral.  However, St Paul’s Cathedral Survives, in London surrounded by smoke and destroyed buildings, 29th December 1940.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

 

War reporter in action from front lines.  Note the 1940s’ microphone.
Photo credit: Image from Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L15659 Germany.
Images such as this inspired young Germans to add to the nationalistic fervour of Aryan superiority, stirred up by the Third Reich, to gain support and loyalty.  Hitler had long realised the value of media control and manipulation to win the war.
 The History of Origins of the Print Media from Antiquity and examples of misinformation and media disinformation.

 The history of print media and associated mis/disinformation controversies spans centuries. Tracing a high-level overview from antiquity with the Titanic disaster media reporting example:

Print Media Origins in Antiquity:

  • Earliest records of written communication date back to ancient Mesopotamia/China including stone tablets, silk scrolls, papyrus conveying news/announcements
  • Handwritten newsletters and gazettes emerged in Roman Empire to update military, merchant classes on affairs
  • 15th century Johannes Gutenberg invention of movable type and the printing press enabled mass production of books and pamphlets across Europe

The Titanic Disaster and Early 20th century Media:

  • The 1912 wreck of British luxury ship RMS Titanic caused massive public fascination and media frenzy with competing outlets vying to scoop facts
  • But early Canadian/American newspaper articles frequently misreported speculative hearsay or unverified survivor testimonies as facts amidst the uncertainty
  • Many papers falsely claimed initial rescue of all passengers owing to optimistic official telegrams before final death tolls emerged. Others sensationalized tragedies with imaginary survivor quotes conjuring public hysteria over morality issues.

Media Mis- and Disinformation in 1912.
The Syracuse Herald was one of many newspapers across the world to report all passengers had been saved when the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
Central New York — The headlines are strange indeed.
“Titanic’s Passengers All Rescued,” screams across The Syracuse Herald front page.
“All Passengers Safely Transferred to Other Vessels,” states the Oswego Daily Times.
“Not One is Lost,” is the headline from the Decatur, Ill. Daily Review.
“Titanic Passengers Safe Aboard Cunarder,” blasts the News Scimitar headline in Memphis, Tenn.
The early news reported April 15, 1912, about the Titanic disaster was far from correct.
Photo Credit: 2005 Heritage Microfilm

The infamous New York American newspaper headline that erroneously reported “ALL TITANIC PASSENGERS SAFE” on 15th April, 1912, the morning after the Titanic sank.[22] The headline was based on an early Associated Press dispatch relaying false optimism from the White Star Line’s vice president Phillip Franklin’s initial claims that original messages from the RMS Carpathia ship picking up Titanic survivors indicated “everyone on board was safe”. This turned out to be tragically incorrect. While the New York American headline was misinformation rather than intentional disinformation, it reflected the early chaos and unreliable information propagation around the rapidly developing tragedy. Sensationalist impulses of journalists likely amplified the misleading headline rather than urge caution amidst the uncertainty. This case remains an iconic example of how information disorders manifest even without digital media – where grief, uncertainty, competitive pressure for attention and lack of verification collide during crisis events with reason too often becoming the casualty. The Titanic fake news headline is widely cited for the necessity of sober, evidence-led reporting over market-driven factlessness. Integrity and transparency remain the beacons for journalism regardless of the era.

 

While technologies evolved, economic pressures around subscriber competition have driven sensationalism, inaccuracy and cuts in reporting budgets that enable misinformation through the ages. Honourable journalism persists against odds but institutional vigilance against media exploitation remains imperative still today in the digital age. Fact-based transparency shall prevail.  Beyond the Titanic headlines and St. Paul’s Cathedral bombing inaccuracy, some other major moments of media misinformation and disinformation over the past century include:

  • The 1930s radio adaptation War of the Worlds falsely depicting alien invasion causing public hysteria.
  • Doctored early photos circulated in Soviet media covering up Stalin’s political opponents who were purged.
  • 1990s tabloid media conspiracy theories alleging Elvis Presley was still alive years after death.
  • 2001 photos circulated of Palestinian children allegedly celebrating 9/11 attacks on America proven to be edited.
  • The Bush administration’s false assertions on Saddam’s WMDs reported uncritically by US media ahead of 2003 Iraq invasion.

And now deepfakes represent the latest frontier threatening information integrity without proper safeguards as the digital age intensifies pressures similarly felt by 20th century media subject to government propaganda interests, competitive haste, bias and technological manipulation of photographic evidence. Learning from past pitfalls around seeking verification, avoiding sensationalism, pressing for transparency, maintaining independence and earning public trust through commitment to the truth remains imperative for 21st century journalism confronting today’s viral disinformation scourge. One of the most topical and potentially impactful recent deepfake examples in the 21st century involved Ukraine. Specifically:

In March 2022, a viral deepfake video emerged depicting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy surrendering and telling his troops to lay down arms against the Russian invasion.

The AI-generated fake Zelenskyy speech seemed intended to demoralize Ukrainian resistance and readiness to defend against Russia’s military assault.

Fortunately, it was soon identified as a deepfake by Ukrainian government officials based on its digital artefacts and spread of the sourceless footage across largely private Telegram channels rather than official presidential addresses.

But the threat of perfected fakes in future conflict scenarios remains immense. This chilling Zelenskyy deepfake provided an early example of weaponized generative media technologies distorting realities on the battlefield through manipulation.

Many experts highlighted how even detected fakes can still marginally tilt information environments enough during wartime turmoil to produce hesitations around countermeasures. The friction deepfakes introduce alongside more crude disinformation underscores emerging risks to global stability if left unchecked by democracies.

Developing advanced forensic methods and maintaining public trust thus remains imperative with machine-learning increasingly enabling scalable realities indistinguishable from originals without safeguards elevating truth and facts.

 

Revisiting the Ethics of Media Control and Manipulation

 

The author has discussed this subject in Part 1 of this series[23], but is is relevant to revisit the spectre used by governments and organisations in global matters to strengthen their cause of supremacy. In any situation from Covid vaccine outcomes to war strategies. Misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda through media are complex topics that have significantly impacted societies. Here is a brief overview with some examples:

Misinformation refers to false or inaccurate information that is spread unintentionally. For example, a news outlet may report incorrect details about a developing story before all the facts are known. While not intended to deceive, misinformation can still be harmful.

Disinformation refers to false information that is deliberately spread to deceive or manipulate people. For example, state-sponsored disinformation campaigns on social media are intended to influence public opinion or sow confusion. The 2016 US presidential election saw widespread disinformation from Russian trolls.

Propaganda refers to information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view. Modern media has increased both the potential reach and sophistication of propaganda. For example, during times of warfare governments have used propaganda films, even having influence on Hollywood productions, to further their cause and posters to influence public support. However, propaganda can also be subtler in the modern information landscape, using multimedia.  These technologies are powerful tools of influence on te citizenry and this is the reason, most government block off social media and entire internet services in conflict situations such as in Palestine, India and Africa, where the common public has no say nor influence in the decision.  In Saudia, social media is intensely monitored and activists who upset the autocratic regime have no opportunity for transparent justice, in mitigation. This is also the norm in countries like Russia, Iran, Egypt, India Bangladesh and some countries in Africa. The System, who controls even the courts, can sentence the transgressor to be incarcerated for long periods of time, without recourse, or be executed, without any opportunity to appeal the capital punishment, like Socrates in antiquity who was sentenced to death by ingestion of hemlock.[24]

There is, however, an important point about the ethical issues surrounding state-sponsored propaganda and control of information. Nazi Germany provides one of history’s most chilling examples of how a totalitarian regime can exploit and distort information to promote its agenda. Some key ethical concerns in relation to current contexts include:

Propaganda undermines informed consent of the governed. Citizens cannot freely elect leaders or provide input unless public discourse is based on truthful, comprehensive access to information. State-sponsored propaganda seeks to manipulate rather than inform.

Restricting press freedoms and access to information contradicts democratic values. Independent journalism and transparency around how governments function are essential for holding leadership accountable. Authoritarian information control concentrates power risking abuse.

Targeted disinformation can dehumanize minorities and political opponents. Nazi propaganda infamously used dehumanising tropes and false accusations to turn public opinion against Jewish and other marginalized groups ultimately enabling horrific atrocities. All forms of hate and fear-inducing propaganda pose ethical risks.

Advanced technologies amplify potential scale and sophistication of government propaganda operations through surveillance, targeting, automation etc. The ethical stakes around state exploitation of such capabilities are immense given 20th century historical lessons about how information control intertwines with human rights abuses.

Any government efforts to manage or restrict public information access should thus consider transparency, oversight, and commitment to universal rights. Democracies must balance freedom of speech with protecting vulnerable groups and election integrity from malicious propaganda. Proactively educating citizens on media literacy is also vital. There are no perfect solutions, but remaining vigilant against the lessons of history is key. Reasoned discourse and ethical responsibility should inform public information policies, but this approach is a dream, even in so called established democracies, globally.

Furthermore, there are certainly differences in cultural and regional perspectives on media ethics and information policies:

Western Culture: Emphasizes Enlightenment and liberal values of objectivity, press freedom, and individual autonomy. The “marketplace of ideas” is trusted to surface truth and refute false claims over time. Potential concerns around lack of regulation and over-emphasis on absolute press freedoms enabling harmful speech.

Eastern Culture: Tends to focus more on community responsibility, societal harmony and balancing freedoms with individual duties. May prioritize collective well-being over purely self-driven speech, though this risks authoritarian abuse limiting dissent. South/East Asia also influenced by China’s tight information control and Singapore’s regulated “Asian values” approach.

Global North: Developed democracies largely coalesce around Western liberal norms of press freedom, transparency, access to information as a public right. Challenges around regulating social media and mitigating foreign interference have complicated these open societies.

Global South: Concerns often focus on imbalanced global information flows from/about the West vs developing nations. Media systems were frequently imposed under colonialism so resent Western dominance here. Censorship remains more common to control political narratives. However, press freedoms expanding in places like Africa, Latin America along with internet access.

In summary, there is a diversity of cultural perspectives that contend in the global information ecosystem. Shared ethical values like truth, non-violence and human dignity matter but manifest differently across regions and regimes. Constructive dialogue is needed to balance transparency, access, accountability with mitigating harms at global scale enabled by technology. Media ethics remain negotiated between competing worldviews – not universally standardised by any single culture.

 

Media Freedom[25] and Freedom of Speech[26]

Freedom of speech is the right to express one’s opinions and ideas without government censorship or fear of retaliation or punishment. It is closely linked to concepts of individual liberty and free expression that have long historical lineages. Here is a brief overview of freedom of speech through the eras:

Ancient Era: Debate and rhetorical speech valued in early democracies like Ancient Athens. However, speech challenging power not always tolerated e.g. the trial of Socrates. Ancient texts grappled with issues of censorship.[27]

Medieval Era: Religious doctrine and absolute monarchies limited dissenting voices through blasphemy laws [28]and sedition charges. Calls for religious reform and the printing press disrupted information control leading to ideological conflicts.

Colonial Era: Truth-seeking argumentation arose during the Age of Enlightenment. But speech freedoms did not extend equally e.g. censorship of anti-colonial critiques. Gradual recognition of citizen voting necessitating more inclusive conceptions of public discourse and conscience.

19th Century: Liberal rights frameworks boldly promoted freedom as essential to discovery of truth. But continued inequalities and nationalist controls on permissible speech based on class, race, gender. Emergence of the press as Fourth Estate further bolstered legal protections.

20th Century: Self-determination ideals following WW1’s autocratic empires encouraged diversity of thought globally. But state interests still dominated e.g. Cold War propaganda machines. International human rights consensus post-WW2 cemented free speech as fundamental value.

21st Century: Internet revolution enables unprecedented access to ideas and democratic participation. However global connectivity also aids surveillance states, media concentration, online harassment and disinformation. Debates persist around expanding rights while governing digital threats.

In summary, freedom of speech retains aspirational appeal but practical limitations persist. Formally articulating expansive freedoms remains the relatively easy part from ancient times to today. The true test in every era is realizing equitable freedom of expression amidst shifting power dynamics and speech-enabling technologies.

Media freedom and freedom of speech are interrelated but distinct concepts: Freedom of speech is the broader right that gives individuals and groups the liberty to articulate views and opinions without censorship or punitive retaliation. It is considered a fundamental human right that upholds democracy. This covers not just political commentary, but all forms of expression across mediums.

Media freedom is specifically the independence of press and media outlets from governmental or political interference in reporting news, disseminating information, and providing transparency around current affairs. It enables journalists to objectively monitor, investigate and critique institutions of power without restraint or risk of repercussion.

While freedom of speech protects an individual’s right to vocalize beliefs, a free press protects the infrastructure for collecting and distributing information itself, this indirectly expands knowledge enabling better-informed opinions and speech. Restricted media freedoms also threaten whistleblowing activities necessary to expose potential corruption, human rights violations etc. In summary, freedom of speech is the foundational right extended to all. Media freedom builds on this base protection by ensuring news gathering and publishing organizations have autonomy – this indirectly safeguards citizen access to transparent, accurate information that is essential for meaningful public discourse and informed democratic participation. The two freedoms heavily interlap and mutually reinforce each other. But media freedom focuses distinctly on protections for journalistic practice specifically.

It is also relevant to define Anti-Semitism[29], at this juncture, used widely in the media in various forms, by both the sides, again to justify the activities of the practitioner as well as those on whom it is practised. Anti-Semitism refers to hostility, prejudice, discrimination, or violence toward Jews as an ethnic, cultural, or religious group. It may also include opposition to modern political Zionism[30] or the state of Israel, but this depends heavily on context and debate persists around distinguishing anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism.

Origins of the Term:

The term originates from late 19th century Germany, where it was used to refer to hostility specifically toward Jews as a coherent racial group, in rejection of Jewish emancipation and equality movements at the time. It builds upon a long history in Europe of marginalizing Jewish communities through legal restrictions, persecution, expulsions, and violence based on religious pretexts and scapegoating economic resentment during periods like the Black Death.

Usage in 21st Century:

While public expressions of overt bigotry have become taboo in mainstream society, anti-Semitic incidents by individuals still occur albeit more discreetly. However, anxieties persist around left-wing anti-Zionist advocacy that critics worry sometimes becomes a vehicle for antisemitism on the far left. On the far right, events like the 2017 Charlottesville rally and conspiracy groups like QAnon illustrate anti-Semitism remains a troubling phenomenon that still translates into occasionally deadly violence. Globally, Islamic extremism has also fuelled explicit resurgence of threats against Jewish diaspora and Israeli targets. Overall intensity of anti-Semitism remains subject to intense debate.

In summary, anti-Semitism varies by regions but retains an undeniable lineage of hate often cycling between religious, economic, racial and geopolitical pretexts over centuries. Vigilance remains vital in the modern era. Education and inter-community bridge building offer promising remedies to curb periodic resurgences globally.

Hate speech refers to communication that demonises or dehumanizes certain groups based on attributes like race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Some key elements that characterize hate speech:

  • Attacks a person or group on the basis of protected characteristics rather than intellectually criticizes ideas or actions.
  • Uses inflammatory, dangerous rhetoric towards historically oppressed groups.
  • Seeks to express hatred, promote prejudice and incite harm by vilifying target groups.
  • Intends to degrade, intimidate or instill fear rather than make reasoned arguments.
  • Causes substantial distress and disruptions in the ability of targets to live with equal dignity/protection.

However, definitions remain complex as issues like political dissent, artistic speech and religious beliefs complicate setting boundaries on offensiveness versus human rights protections. Hate speech also differs culturally in where the line is legally drawn between free expression vs harm. Reasonable people can disagree on these limits. But a just society reconciles this tension by erring on the side of compassion over normalizing dehumanisation.

Another aspect is that of the consolidation of media ownership into a few large mega conglomerates, as is happening in countries like India under BJP’s influence, has severely detrimental impacts on democratic values and societal well-being:

  1. Narrowed Perspectives – With a few entities controlling the majority of media outlets, the diversity of voices and viewpoints accessible to the public drastically declines. In India’s case, this manifests as amplification of the Hindu nationalist ideology of BJP. Dissenting or minority perspectives struggle to garner similar visibility.
  2. Undermined Objectivity – Giant media conglomerates often have direct financial/political ties with governments in power. This erodes editorial independence and journalistic objectivity as reporters face pressures to provide favorable coverage. News becomes PR for those in authority rather than speaking truth to power.
  3. Increased Misinformation – Lack of balanced reporting opens doors to spin, exaggeration and blatantly misleading narratives by those dominating media channels. In India, this facilitates BJP propagating false claims around historic or scientific facts to bolster ideological agendas.
  4. Public Manipulation – Concentrated media power allows government/corporate interests to directly shape public opinion en masse to align with their priorities rather than representing incremental grassroots perspectives. Election manipulations become enabled at scale.
  5. Censorship and Conformity – Varied independent outlets foster vibrant democratic debate. But a centralized press risks creating a culture of both explicit censorship of inconvenient topics, and more implicit self-censorship as journalists conform stories to fit institutional biases.

Overall, extreme media consolidation as under BJP severely distorts information flows and compromises transparency. This manipulation of public discourse to serve the agenda of those already in power severely undermines the foundations of an open, democratic society. Restoring plurality and independence in Indian media is crucial.  The consolidation of media power in the hands of a few conglomerates has increasingly become a mechanism to influence election outcomes in countries like India, Turkey, US and Australia. Amplifying further:

  1. Messaging Control: Mega media groups allow ruling parties to directly control narratives and messaging timed for maximum electoral impact across a spectrum of outlets spanning TV, newspapers, online etc. This messaging can skew public perception on leadership performance, ideological issues, opposition criticism and more.
  2. Conflicts of Interest: Many media tycoons like Murdoch have direct business ties to particular parties and candidates. This erodes impartial analysis on campaign coverage and manifesto substance. Profiteering pressures can override public service responsibilities.
  3. Echo Chambers: Similar partisan voices get amplified across consolidated media properties drowning out dissent and creating a manufactured impression of unanimity. This particularly impacts places like rural India where media diversity is already low.
  4. Voter Suppression: Opposition strongholds can faces minimized or biased coverage to sway impressions or even depress voter turnout. Meanwhile, enduring media visibility in aligned demographics aims to energize favorable groups.
  5. Weakened Oversight: The sheer scale of reach allows some falsities, dog whistles and misrepresentations to inevitably slip through fact-checking mechanisms during campaign seasons. And opposition has no comparable platform to correct them.

While not the only factor, biased concentrated media clearly Subverts fair democratic choice and deliberation in these nations. Media reform tackling concentration, financial ties, political alignments and monopolistic digital disruption are all crucial to restoring integrous, accurate and pluralistic information flows to the voting public. The stakes for electoral democracy are incredibly high.  Regarding newspapers – The New York Times, Washington Post and The Guardian all have independent ownership and liberal-leaning editorial stances. The largest Western media conglomerate overall is Alphabet Inc. – the parent company of Google and YouTube which wields unparalleled influence over online information flows. The extensive amount of media consolidation poses risks including narrowed perspectives, conflicts of interest, manipulative power, and erosion of media independence – requiring thoughtful policy responses to balance business scale with preserving plurality and transparency across the sector.  It is also important to note that religious groups, especially radicalised entities both on the right and left influence media conglomerates, like Saudi Arabia, who spends billions on PR in the US and they have commissioned US consultants spreading their ideology, globally.  Religious extremist groups, both in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, as well as elsewhere, leverage media conglomerates and massive PR spending to propagate harmful ideologies globally. Some examples:

Saudi Arabia: The Saudi regime spends exorbitant sums on US lobbying and PR exports to whitewash grave human rights abuses. Through avenues like Saudi Aramco oil propaganda, funding Islamist madrassas worldwide, or deploying bots/trolls, they advance religious fundamentalism and authoritarian governance models abroad.

Evangelicals: America’s religious far-right channels billions into global evangelical activities – often fostering homophobia or undermining reproductive rights from Africa to Latin America. They leverage sophisticated media outfits like Pat Robertson’s CBN to cloak hegemony in faith-based messaging.

Hindutva Groups: Hindu nationalist organizations like India’s RSS or BJP party machinery use the facade of defending religion to advance a supremacist Hindu agenda via social media or compromised news channels. This enables persecution of minorities and dissent.

Manipulating media narratives allows these groups to falsely portray extremism as part of reasonable pluralism. And they exploit the openness of democratic media spheres against them through misinformation campaigns obscuring the radical underpinnings of their ideology.

Countering this demands awareness, transparency around media funding sources, increased public media literacy, debunking false narratives, and doubling down on journalistic ethics and credible reporting. The stakes around preventing religious radicalisation globally are incredibly high in the modern information landscape.

The major types of media formats that can influence public outcomes and opinions in the 21st century:

  1. News Media (Print, Television, Online) – Traditional news sources still wield enormous influence in shaping narratives and public discourse on current events, politics, policy issues, elections, etc. Despite some public trust decline.
  2. Social Media Platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. have massive user bases with algorithmic feeds vulnerable to spread of mis/disinformation among polarised subgroups. Allow direct politician engagement.
  3. Viral Online Content – Catchy or emotive videos, memes, clickbait etc can rapidly spread counterfactual claims or manipulative messaging without oversight or fact checking of traditional media.
  4. Talk Radio & Podcasts – Immensely popular long-form opinion-based formats with ideological leanings that drive politically-engaged demographics. Mixed record on factuality.
  5. Film & Television – While entertainment focused, movies/shows with political themes or sociocultural commentaries can shift public attitudes on issues like civil rights, environmentalism etc.
  6. Advertising Networks – Microtargeted digital ads calibrated to individual biases allow political campaigns and special interests to tailor political messaging with limited public transparency.
  7. Search & Recommendation Algorithms – The code underlying Google, YouTube and social platforms that surface particular content shapes opinions by elevating specific voices over others with lack of neutrality.
  8. Conspiracy Theory Forums – Online hubs for radical content or extreme views can foment harassment campaigns, erode electoral integrity, and enable violent radicalization of fringe elements.

In summary, a vast array of modern media machinery interacts to determine the information diet and exposure of varied citizens and communities – with high vulnerability to ill-intentioned manipulation or system flaws enabling misinformation spread. The 21st century has brought enormous complexity to mapping and governing media influence over public views.

During World War II, the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda[31] under Joseph Goebbels during Nazi Germany notoriously implemented state-controlled propaganda campaigns utilising multiple media formats, including aggressively manipulating visual media at the time, the German film manufacturer, Agfa, in opposition to the American Kodak Corporation. Some key details on Agfa:

  • Agfa[32] was a German film, camera and commercial image production corporation leveraged by Goebbels’ propaganda machine to fulfill visual propaganda needs of the Nazi regime from around 1936 onward.
  • Agfa assisted Ministry campaigns by supplying copious amounts of film, photographic equipment and imaging chemicals. They also mass printed countless pro-Nazi posters, flyers and visual aids in service of fascist ideological promotion.
  • Most infamously, Agfa was critical for the production of pervasive visual anti-Semitic propaganda – from films vilifying Jewish people to posters dehumanizing racial scapegoats and justifying their subjugation in society.
  • During the war, Agfa supplied military aerial photography equipment/chemicals and produced dramatic newsreels dramatizing German battlefield victories for domestic cinematic consumption as part of bolstering popular support and mythos around the war.

By willingly weaponising their image technologies as conduits for Goebbels’[33] imagery machine, Agfa played an undeniable role in enabling massive societal and emotional manipulation of Germans and helping institutionalize radical Nazism through sophisticated public image management. It serves as a dark historical case reminding modern tech firms to consider the ethical implications and indirect enabling effects of aiding and abetting authoritarian governments.

In the 21st century, Satellite Imagery[34] has become a hugely important tool in monitoring environmental and humanitarian issues, as well as militaristic ones. Some key ways satellite tech is utilized for propaganda and intelligence gathering:

Environmental Propaganda: Governments and activist groups leverage satellite tracking of phenomena like deforestation, glacial retreat, pollution etc. to promote policy changes, often with underlying ideological motives wrapped in science messaging. Images can deceive depending on sourcing or framing.

Military Propaganda: Spy satellites provide imagery intelligence on adversary military assets and operations. This visual reconnaissance data then enables propaganda by selectively publishing images to embarrass rivals regarding controversial weapons programs or inflated capability claims which shape public narratives.

Online Manipulation: Satellite images foster mis/disinformation by decontextualizing complex on-the-ground realities into simplistic eye-catching visuals. For example, alleged atrocities without proper contextualization or attribution can enflame tensions. Alternately false visual evidence can also cover up human rights violations.

Independent Monitoring: Responsible satellite analysis by neutral groups provides vital accountability around deforestation trends, concentration camps, weapons stockpiling etc. This transparency can counter governmental propaganda but orbiting technology remains largely concentrated in the hands of powerful state actors at present.

In summary, the veneer of impartiality from space-based imaging can mask underlying propaganda motives. But emerging capabilities also offer real potential for truth-telling if deployed ethically by journalists and civil society watchdogs. With more satellites in orbit, debates around balancing open access, national security and non-governmental autonomy will intensify this century.  Satellite imagery and aerial photography data sets are just as vulnerable to digital manipulation and deepfake techniques as other media:

  1. Cropping/Selective Editing – Images showing military hardware can be trimmed to remove surrounding context, falsely suggesting provocative movements to inflame tensions. Environmental shots could downplay or upplay visible impacts.
  2. Altering Metadata – Details on timing or camera specifics around images can be deceptively modified to mask the real sourcing chain of satellite visuals leaked publicly to boost credibility.
  3. Cloning/Copying – Repeat imagery could imply multiple corroborating images rather than duplicates fraudulently used to boost volume. Shadows or landscape may not precisely match either revealing digital alterations.
  4. Inserting/Removing Details – Strategically inserting fabricated military assets into genuine satellite photos can exaggerate adversary capabilities and stir public fears. Erasing human rights abuses hides regime brutality.
  5. Filtering/Enhancing – Exaggerating colors, contrasts etc. by altering light spectra can overstate environmental impacts or damage. It may also reveal tampering clues not conforming to camera limitations.
  6. Generating Synthetic Imagery – Using AI generative models, wholly fictional and potentially photorealistic satellite imagery could be produced to substantiate false claims without any authentic source data.

The sophisticated digital production pipelines for satellite analytics makes them just as permeable for information warfare exploitation using techniques like deepfakes. Responsible national security and journalism practices around imagery provenance are vital in the era of AI-enabled synthetic media.  AI-generated imagery could influence public sentiment in political contexts:

  1. Deepfakes of leaders going viral – Realistic fake videos depicting leaders making inflammatory comments, inappropriate behaviour etc. could trigger controversies reducing public trust, efficacy. Recent Zelensky deepfakes show the threat.
  2. AI propaganda art – Using neural nets to auto-generate rally posters, campaign memes, nationalist symbols fused with party imagery etc. allows rapidly customizing persuasive materials for grassroots dissemination to shape preferences.
  3. Simulated atrocity evidence – Generative models that produce synthetic satellite/aerial views of military attacks, police brutality or other human rights violations could powerfully, but falsely, depict regimes as malicious actors if released publicly by adversaries.
  4. Biometric voter suppression[35] – Deep learning face/body recognition makes cheap AI-fuelled identity theft using voters’ social media images easier. Impersonating others shapes elections. Lookalike model outputs further boost scale.
  5. Microtargeted manipulation – Highly realistic and personalized deepfake videos or individually customized imagery tapped into psychological profiles using AI could spread peer-to-peer via messaging apps influencing key demographics.

In essence, AI exponentially scales capacity to fabricate and target misleading visual content undermining electoral integrity, dividing alliances, eroding governance legitimacy – with minimal resources. It greatly empowers propaganda interests over truth-telling, demanding urgent policy counter-measures protecting civic discourse. The use of manipulated or fabricated imagery for propaganda purposes is increasingly becoming an unfortunate reality in global conflicts. Some examples:

Ukraine-Russia War:

  • Deepfakes of Zelenskyy [36]surrendering aimed at demoralizing Ukrainian resistance
  • Old images or footage from other conflicts resurrected to exaggerate losses/blame on either side
  • Selectively edited clips after attacks to shape culpability narratives

Israel-Palestine:

  • Manipulated photos exaggerating injuries or damage from airstrikes to sway international sympathy
  • Staged images of child casualties proven fraudulent but still enflame tensions

Uyghur Genocide Disputes:

  • China promoting images depicting happy minorities to counter claims of human rights abuses
  • Some victim testimony accounts also called into question diluting overall credibility

These represent only a few case examples. In essence, conflicts now involve a parallel information war where imagery promoting ideologically useful narratives is weaponised by the state and non-state actors with diminished regard for factual accuracy or ethics. The emotionally potent and easily spreadable nature of visuals makes them prime conduits for propaganda by all sides. Their power to manipulate global public opinion carries real harms which responsible journalists and platforms must counteract.  It is possible some of the graphic decapitation imagery that circulated during the Syrian war could have been manipulated or faked using primitive “shallowfake” methods, but unlikely most high-profile videos were complete AI-powered deepfakes. A breakdown is relevant:

  • Real violence was rampant during Syrian civil war atrocities, so visual documentation unsurprising.
  • Groups like ISIS had major propaganda incentives to distribute shocking images of executions to terrorize and recruit. Some videos may have multi-purpose staging.
  • Crude editing like swapping faces, hacking bodies together was possible even pre-deepfakes. Exaggerating injuries or actions to incite outrage on all sides remains likely.
  • But most prominent human rights visual evidence around chemical attacks, civilian casualties, torture facilities has shown to be verifiable to investigators and journalists leveraging other multimedia verification tactics.
  • Complete AI-generated synthetic media like deepfakes requires advanced tech not as prolific earlier in the 2010s. But risks grow of seeing them spoofed into future conflicts if governance lags tech.

While exploitation of real tragic images for psychological warfare seems almost certain, comprehensive fakery around major events had technical limitations a decade ago. As AI capabilities spread, future conflicts will likely see disinformation threats skyrocket. Hence the urgent need for proactive detection, validation and visually literate reporting.  The sophisticated manipulation of media and spread of disinformation is clearly having profound impacts on election processes and outcomes in democratic countries worldwide, aided by modern technology. Some examples:

United States: Polarisation accelerated in 2016 election after Russian troll farms spread fake news to millions via social media, influencing swing voters and depressing turnout. Advanced AI-generated profile targeting expected in future races.

India: Alleged WhatsApp disinformation campaigns plagued 2019 elections with hate speech, manipulated visuals going viral in political “war rooms”. Facebook POSITIVE partisanship narratives shape opinion, particularly in less digitally literate segments.

South Africa: Use of social bots and misleading election hashtags surged in recent votes to sow doubts around results, steer conversations and deter minorities from voting. Impacts magnified in Africa’s most connected state.

Pakistan: Coming polls likely to see rival state-backed hacking groups deploy fake audio/video clips on closed chat platforms like WhatsApp to damage opponents without public record or fact checking oversight.

In essence, without effective interventions to uphold platform integrity, tackle systemic vulnerabilities around human psychology and ramifications of behavioural microtargeting – the future integrity of election processes worldwide looks deeply concerning. Though the tactics manifest differently across geographies, the playbooks undermine choices, truth and accountability. Vigilance is vital.

The Islamic State (Isis) has released a new, gruesome video showing the brutal execution of two men accused of being sorcerers in Tripoli, Libya. Note the massive sword used for decapitation.
Photo Credit:  International Business Times  By Nicole RojasNicole Rojas 12/08/15 AT 2:22 AM GMT screenshot

The author raises a point, as how can the general public be vigilant about these technologies, used by governments to influence their decisions, in for example, during elections, issues of public concern, such as indigenous rights, secret government surveillance of citizens and mass facial recognition software deployment of masses as in China and Palestine. Are the major software companies guilty of complicity in these human rights transgressions, globally?[37] These are important issues that the general public should be more vigilant about. The author includes several suggestions:

  1. Acknowledge the prevalence of media manipulation – While no one is immune to propaganda, being aware of how pervasive and sophisticated techniques for information control are deployed against citizenry is the first step. Recognising tech’s vulnerabilities helps cultivate scepticism.
  2. Actively seek diverse trusted sources – To push past media manipulation, citizens should proactively collect insights from reputed, evidence-based outlets representing overlooked perspectives – challenging notions of false consensus or unanimity on issues like indigenous rights. Varied credinble experts add balance.
  3. Push for transparency reforms and accountability – The public has every right to demand government and tech firms uphold higher standards against privacy violations, surveillance overreach, filtering/manipulation of civic discourse, and complicity in rights violations. Legal pressure strengthens countermeasures.
  4. Own civic duty to verify facts and reflect – Global misinformation campaigns aim to overwhelm attention and cognitive defences. Each of us has a responsibility to pause, counter falsehoods in our networks, apply critical thinking rather than defaulting to convenient or partisan truth claims. Being individually conscientious resists manipulation.
  5. Support digital literacy programs – Education around media manipulation, databroker surveillance revenues, platform harms, AI vulnerabilities fosters wider societal resilience to propaganda. We need large-scale citizen upskilling efforts globally.

The challenges are immense, but civic vigilance paired with demands that institutions worthy of public trust demonstrate such in practice remains our strongest counter to tech-abetted information asymmetries. Change takes persistence from below. Public interest can yet uplift public discourse.

Another aspect is Facial Recognition and profiling[38].  Some key insights on the global deployment of facial recognition technologies:

China stands shoulder and shoulders above the rest of the world in the adoption and proliferation of facial recognition software – with over 200 million CCTV cameras powering one of the most sophisticated mass surveillance systems globally. Use spans everything from catching criminals to tracking minority groups and enforcing social policies.

Other top adopters include more democratic countries like the United States, UK, France and Germany – but mostly use is limited to law enforcement, airport security or unlocking smartphones. Still there are growing concerns around violation of privacy, profiling of minorities and accuracy problems around facial analysis algorithms.

Singapore, South Korea and Japan have integrated facial biometrics into national ID systems and other private sector services – though generally with more legal restrictions and oversight around mandatory consent. Israel’s advanced use focuses on counter-terrorism particularly around Palestinian territories.

Facial recognition is also spreading fast across other regions like India, Russia, Brazil – often marketed as tools for defence or efficiency, but vulnerable to governmental abuse absent strong data protection regimes. Global lack of regulations stirred further fears during COVID[39] with adoption of symptom detecting tools.

In summary – China remains the indisputable leader in sheer scale and systematic imposition of uncontrolled facial recognition systems over citizen lives. But risks exist nearly everywhere as tech outpaces law given advantages around public safety and commercial appeal. Public perceptions too have seen worrying shifts from outrage to resignation to embrace even among Western democracies. Politicians and regulators have crucial choices to make on policy safeguards preserving civil liberties for generations to come.

The ruling BJP party in India[40], led by Prime Minister Modi, has been repeatedly accused of enabling violence against the country’s Muslim minority population through inflammatory propaganda spread through party-aligned media channels and networks. Some examples of how this propaganda machine operates:

  1. Media takeovers. BJP leaders and allies have aggressively acquired ownership stakes in TV channels, newspapers and social media firms over the last decade. This facilitates direct control over editorial lines blurring “news vs propaganda”.
  2. Vilification campaigns. Right-wing outlets regularly promote unsubstantiated claims about Muslims committing atrocities, desecrating temples or indulging in terrorism – creating a dangerous “enemy within” perception.
  3. Stoking historical tensions. Propaganda inserts false versions of Mughal history, portraying medieval Muslim rulers as barbaric invaders and existential threats to the Hindu way of life needing ‘‘protection”.
  4. Enabling fake news. Whether COVID-blaming of Muslim events or other made up cultural affronts, partisan media enables misinformation that rapidly turns viral on social media leaving minorities fearful.
  5. Incitement with impunity. Demagogic anchors and politicians have often called openly for violence on air without consequences. Others celebrate deaths and injuries inflicted on minority civilians by police despite dubious intent proven in several prominent cases of violence.

Through this unrelenting media bombardment that erodes secular ideals in favor of Hindu supremacy, the conditions are systematically created to justify periodic outbreaks of riot violence targeting Muslims seen as “the other”. The human toll is immense and India’s social fabric lies in tatters due to calculating partisan propaganda exploiting latent social prejudices

Similarly, in Turkey, President Erdogan has cultivated an increasingly strident propaganda apparatus centered on Turkish nationalist and religious themes in order to consolidate his ruling position over decades. Similar to the BJP playbook, some media manipulation strategies evidently deployed in recent Turkish elections include:

  1. Intimidating critical media – Using legislation, financial pressures and arrests, Erdogan’s regime has stifled objectivity in news media, banning independent outlets or forcing ownership transfers to loyalists. This expands partisan reach.
  2. Funneling state funding – Government advertising funds and bank credit lines allegedly directed to subsidize pro-Erdogan media in the run-up to elections pays for biased, intensive campaign coverage demonizing opposition.
  3. Controlling the internet – Expanded censorship and investigations of social media dissent, as well as possible bots and trolls gaming Twitter further restrict information diversity and crushes anti-Erdogan dissent while propagating favorable narratives.
  4. Stoking identity divides – Right before elections, propaganda questioning opposition “Turkishness”, PKK terrorism rhetoric and anti-West propaganda surges – leading more voters towards Erdogan’s pitch as a strongman guardian against internal and external “enemies of the state”.
  5. Foreign scapegoating – Alleged foreign misinformation conspiracies are also timed around elections as a tool to manipulate public anger against refugees and rally nationalism behind the regime as the voice defending Turkish sovereignty.

Erdogan has successfully developed a similar blueprint leveraging media manipulation targeting national identity issues and demonizing opposing voices – achieving undeniable domestic electoral success, but severely undermining human rights, press freedom and inclusive democracy in Turkiye.

SLAPP[41], Slaps Opposition Voices

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It refers to legal cases, often involving defamation or libel claims, that are initiated primarily to intimidate or silence critics raising public interest concerns about powerful entities or calls for reform rather than to win the case on legal merits.

Some key aspects around the governmental weaponisation of SLAPPs include:

  • Targeting journalists, activists, academics and NGOs covering sensitive topics like corruption or human rights issues. The threat of protracted litigation itself creates chilling effects on dissent.
  • Using the asymmetry of resources by having state legal teams or corporate law firms overwhelm defendants with extensive demands aiming to obstruct advocacy and deplete resources of watchdogs.
  • Employing wide-ranging requests targeting sources, investigation details beyond claim merits as well as vastly inflated damage amounts to threaten uppity voices revealing inconvenient facts about the regime.
  • Taking advantage of inconsistencies around protections like anti-SLAPP laws across jurisdictions to shop for plaintiff friendly courts known to rule narrowly on free speech defences.

While SLAPPs can come from corporations and celebrities, government actors in countries from the US to South Korea to SL and Tanzania have gained notoriety deploying this bullying tactic to tame civil society oversight on political overreach or corruption – severely undermining transparency and accountability. Anti-SLAPP legislation with sharper procedural teeth has been called for widely by transparency advocates.  India is witnessing an alarming rise in the weaponization of SLAPP lawsuits to intimidate and bankrupt independent journalists and dissenters exposing political corruption or criticizing the government.

Notable examples include criminal defamation suits filed by Tamil Nadu governor Rosaiah against well-regarded outlets like The Wire for stories on mismanagement of pandemic funds. Similarly UP authorities moved against journalists for reporting misappropriation of food aid meant for the poor.

India’s junior foreign minister V Muralidharan even sued a private citizen living overseas simply for seeking transparency around his educational credentials via RTI query appeals. Other cases take aim at whistleblowers like IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi who faced over 200 lawsuits for highlighting graft.

Critics note India’s debtor-friendly laws do not require any deposit of advanced legal costs while filing cases. Combined with notoriously slow case disposal – the process itself becomes punishment before any judgment. Defendant legal fees often multiply into crores ruining families before cases conclude.

Analysts directly trace this culture of litigation unto political critics threatening India’s hard won press freedoms to Prime Minister Modi who infamously used these tactics in Gujarat against journalists for even minor criticism. Civil society groups are now pushing anti-SLAPP legislation offering preliminary relief from malicious lawsuits. But its passage remains highly uncertain till date given the chilling precedents set.

SLAPP lawsuits are indeed insidiously connected to enabling media disinformation, erosion of impartial press coverage, and a broader ethos of coercion that obstructs appropriate watchdog journalism. A few specific ways in which this happens:

  1. The mere threat of legal action is enough to pressure many media owners from authorizing coverage of sensitive allegations against authorities. Editors self-censor in anticipation. This covers up potential malpractice from ever seeing daylight.
  2. Prolonged cases drain limited nonprofit media resources hampering ability to conduct deeper investigations that uncover official misconduct or provide needed transparency. Slanted coverage results.
  3. When high profile SLAPP cases are viciously fought until financial ruin, it deters an entire generation of journalists from independent inquiry into the nexus of money and political influence. Media grows reluctant to challenge powerful interests.
  4. As the overhead of practicing truth-telling journalism via enterprise reporting rises due to legal reprisals, media organizations themselves grow more vulnerable to governmental or partisan capture and funding arrangements compromising editorial integrity.
  5. Reporting increasingly sanitizes language around authorities for fear of being in legal crosshairs. More PR-friendly stances proliferate affecting public trust.

In essence, the ripple effects of suppressing dissent via legal harassment degrades information quality available to citizens and erodes electoral accountability. The connection deserves far more scrutiny from media freedoms groups and democracies at large.  A brief overview of the status of anti-SLAPP laws and government usage of these lawsuits to target critics in various Western jurisdictions:

United States:

  • Varies widely by state – about 30 US states have adopted anti-SLAPP statutes but huge inconsistencies in standards and effectiveness. Government actors still deploy intimidation suits.

Canada:

  • Fairly robust anti-SLAPP legislation recently adopted federally and in provinces like Ontario, British Columbia etc. Provides procedural dismissals and cost recovery. Reduced threats now.

United Kingdom:

  • No specific anti-SLAPP law equivalents yet but some common law principles offer defences around public interest. However UK courts becoming notorious for libel tourism and suppressed speech.

European Union:

  • The European Commission proposed an EU-wide anti-SLAPP directive in 2022 recognizing rising intimidation risks continentally. But adoption and implementation remains ongoing amid government lobbying.

In summary, North American countries have been quicker to enact laws countering abusive lawsuits targeting public criticism, though the US faces fragmentation. EU policy action is picking up pace after delays. More politicians are also employing aggressive legal tactics to stifle dissent in Germany, Malta, France etc necessitating bloc-wide protections be swiftly formalized and enforced by the European Parliament. Globalization of reprisal litigation strategies using courts as weapons means democracies worldwide must counteract through institutional changes that uphold freedom of expression and transparency.

SLAPP lawsuits and other legal threats against public critics and journalists remain pervasive risks in China as well as other Asian authoritarian governments to chill dissent, while some pockets of progress exist in the Pacific:

China:

  • No meaningful protections against lawsuits targeting free speech exist given lack of judicial independence and President Xi’s expanded vision of total societal control and enforced harmony with the CCP’s views. Intimidation is state doctrine.

Southeast Asia:

  • Singapore’s leaders are prolific in suing foreign media and political opponents forbesmirching the country’s reputation or governance. Similarly, Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws shielding royalty follow no rule of law. Both violate expression freedoms.

Oceania:

  • Australia and New Zealand have implemented better anti-SLAPP legislation in recent years. Samoa adopted protections in 2020. Such measures recognize growing litigation harassment. But regional threats persist requiring continued civic vigilance.

In essence, absence of democratic rights, weaponization of law by illegitimate rulers and authoritarian control of state machinery against transparency defenders remains the norm across much of Asia – unlike the uphill reforms in North America. Cultures of fear and self-censorship flourish. But pockets of progress driven by civil society offer some inspiration that rights can expand.

Weaponisation of law [42]refers to the strategic misuse of a country’s laws and legal apparatus to systematically attack, intimidate and suppress political opponents, journalists, activists and minority groups instead of serving impartial justice. It is a hallmark tactic of authoritarian regimes and illiberal democracies.

Some key mechanisms of weaponising law include:

  • Passing vague national security, sedition, defamation and public order laws that criminalize dissent and enable arbitrary arrests of critics on trumped up charges.
  • Selective enforcement of routine laws like tax codes, administrative rules etc primarily against media outlets and civil society groups disfavored by the ruling regime to harass them.
  • Politicizing and capturing oversight bodies like police and judiciary by ousting independent voices within and installing loyalists so formal investigations and court cases target opposition voices rather than address abuse of power.
  • Delaying and dragging out legal cases brought by human rights defenders and minorities to drain their resources and freeze key parts of bureaucracy handling their routine citizenship needs and rights.

Essentially, wherever branches of government lose independence and impartiality to instead systematically enable persecution of political pluralism and critical accountability efforts, the rule of law corrodes from within through intentional co-option. Its distorted frameworks then magnify the unchecked power of illiberal states against their own people.

Pakistan unfortunately presents an acute case study in the political weaponization of law to consolidate power and silence dissent. Some examples:

  • Ex-PM Imran Khan awarded over Rs5 billion in defamation damages from critics in SLAPP-style suits, setting a precedent for reprisal tactics.
  • Security laws like PECA expanded to enable criminal prosecution for online criticism against Pakistan’s military leadership and certain judges.
  • Opposition leaders like ex-PM Nawaz Sharif given long prison terms over administrative irregularities linked to anti-corruption activism. Human rights defenders face sedition charges.
  • Reports of military intelligence coercion against judiciary to influence decisions on political cases. The doctrine of necessity cited to justify military coups and trial of civilian leaders.
  • Disbarment threats from politicized provincial bar councils used consistently against lawyers representing dissenters or raising rights concerns.

In essence, Pakistan’s fragile democracy remains compromised by national security state’s overriding dominance that manifests in systematic legal harassment of dissent enabled by pliant prosecutors and judges under duress. Re-establishing judicial independence and rule of law fundamentals remains crucial to reversing the deterrent effects and smear campaigns such reprisals unleash against Pakistani pluralism.

The looming threat of SLAPP lawsuits against media organizations and journalists indirectly creates a potent misinformation and disinformation problem in several ways:

  1. Chilled Investigations – The most credible weapon against misinformation is fact-based investigative journalism that digs deeper to uncover truth. SLAPPs deter inquiries into official narratives and standing power structures. False claims therefore go unchallenged and ossify as “truth”.
  2. Distorted Incentives – As independent reporting carries increasing legal risks and costs while PR-derived content and government handouts require no deeper vetting, cash-strapped media find it safer for their bottom lines to merely recirculate propaganda rather than funding public interest newsgathering. Disinformation piggybacks off this.
  3. The Overton Window Shifts – As authorities expand definitions of “anti-national” interests or “offensive” reporting targeting social cohesion, wider areas of dissent get criminalized. Media self-censorship leaves unvetted extremist disinformation uncontested as the remaining “acceptable” discourse.
  4. Loss of Informational Diversity – When financially exhausted niche platforms providing issue-based investigative reporting to underrepresented audiences face existential threats from SLAPPs, their watchdog curation, analysis and exclusives vanish from the information ecosystem benefiting disinformers.
  5. Weaponisation Goes Mainstream – Media organizations threatened for factuality themselves then gain incentives to flood channels with intentional counter-disinformation further eroding information quality. Their credibility collateral gets appropriated as ammunition rather than remedy.

Hence inadequate safeguards against legal weaponization severely damage the media’s structural capabilities in multiple reinforcing ways to address polluted factuality environments and their harms. Protecting dissent protects democracy’s lifeblood.

Political Influences Driving Media Bias[43]

It is relevant to provide context around political influences driving media bias and constraints against objective reporting globally, with a lens on India under BJP rule:

India under Modi’s BJP:

  • Concentrated media ownership amongst billionaire politicians or crony capitalists incentivizes stenographer journalism to appease the regime rather than speaking truth to power.
  • Coordination of investor proxies and state advertisers to starve independent outlets of funding while pro-government media gets subsidized leading to loss of neutral platforms.
  • Selective denial of access to official information channels, interviews or press conferences against journalists producing critical reportage leading to lopsided control of narratives.
  • Open threats and harassment of editors or reporters including inciting troll attacks online over coverage disliked by fiery nationalist supporters and party officials.
  • Politicized regulatory actions and investigations into policy violations used disproportionately against networks discussing persecuted minority issues or dissenting analysis rather than favourable pro-government voices.

Globally Common Trends:

  • Broad decline of public service values in media ecosystems driven overwhelmingly by profit maximization ethos without safeguarding constituents’ data privacy, democratic needs etc.
  • Journalists losing solidarity and job stability amidst tech disruption leaving them vulnerable to populist attacks by authoritarian parties against accountability processes.
  • Geopolitical tensions, conflicts and crisis scenarios used opportunistically to expand censorship or rally party agendas for short term goals compromising accuracy.

In essence politically motivated intimidation tactics against free reporting span the globe but manifest distinctly within democracies like India based on pressure points like media consolidation and social polarization. Addressing political economy vulnerabilities and societal divides remains key to restoring integrity.

Religious Bias influencing Media Reporting[44]

The author presents a comparative analysis of how religious biases often get embedded into media reporting globally, with an emphasis on the Indian case:

India:

  • Leading media organizations with growing alignment to RSS-BJP ideology glorify Hinduism while portrayal of minorities like Muslims or Christians invites suspicion.
  • Vilification drives against aspects of religious minorities like conspiracy theories on religious congregation becoming viral news events help government mask failures.
  • Majoritarian tokenism offers platform to pliant minority voices allowing only government approved narratives denying diversity of non-Hindu experiences and political opinions.
  • Prejudicial overreporting on crimes where criminals happen to be Muslim while suppressing routine oppressions against other minorities attract periodic manufactured outrage diverted towards identity issues.

United States:

  • Long tradition of editorial conservatism in radio, cable channels and newspapers unsympathetic to rights of Black minorities, Muslims, immigrants. Shapes political discourse.

Middle East Nations:

  • State-controlled pan-Arab media promotes antisemitic content and cheerleading of Palestine viewpoints while drowning out dissenting Jewish and moderate Arab perspectives. Media chained to ruling Establishment, secularists marginalized.

China:

  • State strictures promote Sinocentric worldview intolerant of even subtle minority Taoist/African/Western cultural infusions. All messaging subservient to CCP doctrine with full integration of ‘media’ as a propaganda tool, not an accountability check.

The common thread globally is that media diversity suffers when narrow political interests appropriate public communications infrastructure for majoritarian empowerment projects while insulating both message and means of dissemination from bottom-up social realities. This sustained othering erodes inclusive citizenship.

Religion and politics remain deeply intertwined forces shaping media bias and disinformation landscapes across multiple dimensions:

  1. Political ideologies often incorporate moral frameworks and origin stories with religious underpinnings making faith-based messaging highly resonant for mobilization even in secular democracies. This instinct gets exploited.
  2. Demonization of the ‘religious other’ serves as convenient scapegoat for rallying in-group loyalties in diverse societies making identity faultlines ripe for coordinated disinformation campaigns by opportunist politicians.
  3. State patronage and regulatory capture of media channels advancing majority faith agendas allows propaganda supporting policies of religious nationalism to flourish, suffocating impartial analysis on issues like minority rights.
  4. Transnational ties between co-religious political actors and media proprietors importing polarizing agendas into diaspora communities expand dissemination routes for disinformation justifying extralegal persecution elsewhere.
  5. Appointment of pliant but underqualified bureaucrats on basis of religious affiliation rather than competence into public broadcaster administration allows once trusted platforms to devolve into partisan mouthpieces.

While no major faith is immune from such misappropriation by political interests vying for power, the combination of demographic majority status, economic influence and communications dominance makes perversions of dominant religious ideologies profoundly more impactful at societal scale when unchecked. Reclaiming universal ethics is vital.

How does Conformity Consensus influence religio-political media bias?[45]

The interplay of conformity pressures and consensus narratives can profoundly shape media vulnerabilities to religious-political biases in a few ways:

  1. The reluctance to question views perceived as widely held due to fear of social alienation allows biased media claims appealing to religious solidarity or dominant group victimhood to be accepted implicitly even by moderates over time.
  2. Market concentration and regulatory capture in media markets means even the illusion of pluralistic validation gets fabricated through orchestrated echo chambers that repeatedly confirm and amplify partisan agendas as representation of “most voices”. This pressures sceptical journalists and editors to also conform coverage.
  3. Cynical manufacturing of consensus by falsely claiming vast silent majority support on policy issues while actively suppressing evidence of public dissent sways news judgments over time on framing human rights impacts seen as politically sensitive.
  4. Platform algorithms favouring content that gets maximum shares allows inflammatory propaganda to rapidly attain digital visibility exactly by strategically weaponizing religious, cultural and nativist prejudices that tempt people to click and confirm their latent views anonymously through online mobs.
  5. Astroturfed campaigns coordinate inauthentic comments and reporting trends to suggest grassroots outrage justify extremist actions preventing pushback by media fearful of losing touch with audiences. This shifts entire national debates.

Essentially the path of least resistance for modern media organizations desperately competing for public attention in fractured markets is to pander perspectives already resonant with biases. Breaking the cycle requires intentional curation of inclusive spaces for responsible, evidence-based and solutions-focused discourse elevating compassion over conformity or rage. But it demands difficult choices.  Conformity pressures and manufactured consensus narratives can enable religious-political biases in media to be insightful. It is a complex topic with many nuances to unpack at the intersection of social psychology, technology and political economy.

The Bottom Line in Media reporting and bias, is the range of dilemmas and tradeoffs modern media organisations face in trying to navigate an intensely polarised, technologically disrupted information landscape with integrity:[46]

A few key tough choices include:

  1. Resisting wider political or advertiser pressures to temper coverage of issues like human rights violations even at risk of authorities pulling licenses/access or companies boycotting network.
  2. Overhauling editorial standards, diversity goals and platform algorithms in a genuine commitment to inclusive journalism – rather than superficial moves.
  3. Moderating toxic opportunists who incite hatred even at cost of some audience loss in current climate instead of chasing engagement metrics blindly.
  4. Fact-checking narratives seen as articles of faith for core audiences instead of avoiding backlash or simply appeasing populist worldviews.
  5. Funding high-quality, meaningful investigative work probing systemic injustices instead of cheaper partisan opinion formats fanning fractures even when advertising models are challenged.
  • In essence, responsible journalism committed to exposing disinformation and upholding civic discourse requires sacrificing some narrow business incentives that have been distorted in the digital economy. It demands lengthy consistent investments rebuilding public trust. But this re-centering of newsrooms around ethics over profits or partisanship remains critical and yet deeply difficult for fragile media institutions today in the absence of policy reforms that empower such choices.  The digital transition has severely eroded legacy advertising and subscription revenue streams that previously sustained public interest journalism at most mainstream outlets.
  • Competing with free platforms for shrinking attention spans demands unsustainable levels of sensationalised clickbait content at very low production costs while also retaining audiences.
  • Surviving on digital pennies demands mammoth user data collection and excessive behavioural targeting, compromising reader privacy.
  • Short-term metrics govern all format decisions sidelining non-viral subjects however socially urgent. Platform optimization trumps public responsibility.
  • Consolidation mergers to stay solvent cede editorial control to owners with conflicting business agenda further skewing coverage.
  • Financial squeezed outlets have no firewalls against takeovers by extremist interests or surveillance capitalists who can operate at loss to inject biases.

Basically, market forces savaging conventional media have created existential vulnerability to cheap opinion formats, revenue arrangements trading independence for money and misinformation trojan horses entering struggling news brands. Protecting truth-telling journalism hence requires non-market policy interventions like financial support mechanisms, antitrust reforms, content moderation assistance etc. enabling distressed outlets to uphold ethics and resist capture by malicious interests thriving in the surveillance economy. The stakes could not be higher.

The question, often raised is an important ethical question.  Why do governments often knowingly deny the truth and peddle disinformation even when aware it violates democratic principles? A few common motives behind such deliberate duplicity include:

  1. Covering up incompetence or malfeasance: Admitting policy failures, corruption charges or rights violations threatens public confidence as well as legal culpability. Propaganda helps regimes scapegoat minorities and distract.
  2. National security pretext: Governments hide unpopular military interventions, surveillance overreach or tense geopolitics from citizenry citing classified privilege – but often motives involve shielding leaders or parties from accountability.
  3. Clinging to power: Increasing pluralism frightens insecure regimes who then manipulate public opinion through repressive laws, partisan media and silencing critics to artificially shore up political dominance in absence of genuine results.
  4. Cynical pragmatism: Some leaders privately admit duplicity but justify disinformation tactics as necessary evils to efficiently further ideological goals by manufacturing enemy threats and orchestrating nationalistic loyalty. The ends justify unethical means.

In essence, disinformation helps unchecked state power evade oversight and transparency imperatives crucial for lawful, ethical governance that respects citizen agency and upholds human rights. Its motives broadly serve to substitute manufactured consent for actual performance legitimacy – severely undermining democracy worldwide. Truth and rights must be vigilantly reclaimed and defended by just democratic movements globally to counter such cynical state agenda setting. All citizens have a stake. Disinformation and pressured consensus, when left unchecked, can have profoundly harmful multi-level impacts including:

Community Level Impacts:

  • Normalization of prejudice towards marginalized groups and erosion of social cohesion
  • Hate crimes proliferate due to false accusations and dehumanization running unchecked
  • Radicalization of aggrieved individuals into violence fed by tribal extremist propaganda
  • Public health suffering due to medical or scientific disinformation spreading unchecked

National Level Impacts:

  • Toxic polarization and erosion of trust in democratic institutions like media and elections
  • Government policy hostage to populists peddling fiction instead of addressing actual crises with facts
  • Lost generations due to developmental stagnation and brain drain when extremists consolidated power
  • Human rights violations and autocratic tactics excused through nationalism and emergency pretexts

Global Level Impacts:

  • Multilateral cooperation on pressing issues like climate crisis derailed by infighting and scepticism
  • Conflict outbreak risks surge due to flare ups instigated by ethnic, religious and ideological disinformation proxies
  • Setbacks to global press freedoms, internet liberty and transparency norms as authoritarians gain footholds
  • Geopolitical realignments like rise of surveillance capitalist bloc undermining rules-based international order

Essentially, tolerance for truth decay and weaponization of discourse can deeply compromise foundations of pluralism and human security at every plane globally. Defending integrity of information flows mirrors defending wider social contracts enabling peace, rights and prosperity. The cascading risks make addressing roots of polarisation an urgent priority.

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johan_Galtung

[2] Personal quote by author, February 2024

[3] Personal e-mail on Saturday, 17 February 2024 18:43 correspondence from Professor Antonio Carlos Silva Rosa, Editor of Transcend Media Service Journal.,

[4] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28763.His_Master_s_Voice

[5] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2021/09/his-masters-voice-his-masters-eyes-and-his-masters-ears/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_China#:~:text=The%20Chinese%20political%20system%20is,and%20civil%20rights%20are%20curtailed.

[7] https://militaryhistorynow.com/2017/06/30/hitlers-secret-war-machines-10-nazi-weapons-that-violated-the-versailles-treaty/

[8] http://www.massobs.org.uk/images/booklets/Blitz.pdf

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wehrmacht_Propaganda_Troops

[10] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Luftwaffe#:~:text=Luftwaffe%2C%20(German%3A%20%E2%80%9Cair,Category%3A%20History%20%26%20Society

[11] https://www.iwm.org.uk/blog/partnerships/2020/12/german-war-reporters-and-london-blitz-guest-blog-katherine-quinlan-flatter#:~:text=In%20December%201940%2C%20throughout%20the,in%20which%20they%20had%20participated.

[12] https://www.ghi-dc.org/fileadmin/publications/Bulletin/bu64.pdf

[13] https://www.iwm.org.uk/blog/partnerships/2020/12/german-war-reporters-and-london-blitz-guest-blog-katherine-quinlan-flatter

[14] https://www.iwm.org.uk/blog/partnerships/2020/12/german-war-reporters-and-london-blitz-guest-blog-katherine-quinlan-flatter#:~:text=In%20December%201940%2C%20throughout%20the,in%20which%20they%20had%20participated.

[15] https://www.ebay.fr/itm/191806104492

[16] https://www.boeser-wolf.schule.de/engagement/en/berlin-airlift/daily-life-of-children-during-the-berlin-airlift

[17] https://www.iwm.org.uk/blog/partnerships/2020/12/german-war-reporters-and-london-blitz-guest-blog-katherine-quinlan-flatter

[18] https://www.nypl.org/research/collections/articles-databases/new-york-tribune-herald-tribune-1841-1962

[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Paul%27s_Survives

[20] https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g186338-d215444-Reviews-Fleet_Street-London_England.html#:~:text=The%20street%20became%20known%20for,the%20term%20British%20National%20Press.

[21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_R._Murrow

[22] https://www.syracuse.com/news/2012/04/early_news_reports_tell_differ.html

[23] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2024/02/global-evils-today-part-1-media-mis-reporting-bias-generates-peace-disruption/

[24] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19240286/#:~:text=The%20death%20of%20Socrates%20in,is%20characteristic%20of%20that%20poison.

[25] https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-negotiators-reach-agreement-on-media-law-to-curb-spying-on-reporters/

[26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech

[27] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship

[28] https://www.jstor.org/stable/4514873

[29] https://www.britannica.com/topic/anti-Semitism

[30] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zionism

[31] https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/ministry-of-propaganda-and-public-enlightenment

[32] https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/17557501311293361/full/pdf

[33] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Goebbels

[34] https://scholar.google.co.za/scholar?q=21st+century,+Satellite+Imagery&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

[35] https://upjournals.up.ac.za/index.php/strategic_review/article/download/80/626/2806

[36] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X17yrEV5sl4

[37] https://media.business-humanrights.org/media/documents/files/reports-and-materials/Clapham-Jerbi-paper.htm

[38] https://aws.amazon.com/what-is/facial-recognition/

[39] https://africacdc.org/covid-19/

[40] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bharatiya_Janata_Party

[41] https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/business-management/slapps-and-reputational-risks

[42] http://judiciary.house.gov/media/press-releases/new-report-details-extent-fbis-weaponization-law-enforcement-against

[43] https://scholar.google.co.za/scholar?q=Political+Influences+Driving+Media+Bias&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

[44] https://scholar.google.co.za/scholar?q=Religious+Bias+influencing+Media+Reporting&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

[45] https://parbsanonymous.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/conformity-and-bias/

[46] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ethical-considerations-media-production-journalism-content-jha

______________________________________________

READ PART 1

Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All
Email: vawda@ukzn.ac.za


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Feb 2024.

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