Knowledge and power are closely linked, a truism that just about everyone from Francis Bacon to Edward Said has recognised. In this book I examine knowledge as news and the news media. News is not synonymous with information, but is rather ‘new information about a subject of some public interest that is shared with some portion of the public’. News obviously fills a basic human need, and is essential for the functioning of global business and democratic government. At the same time the control, suppression, dissemination and manipulation of news can be important for gaining and maintaining hegemony, both domestic and international.
Historically news has had multiple functions in the exercise of power, both within Britain and as an extension of British power overseas. Since the midnineteenth century Britain had a strong tradition of press liberty. The growth of journalistic professionalism and its claim to objectivity gave the press greater credibility, the emergence of an advertising-supported mass circulation press made the media profitable and their presumed influence over the newly enfranchised masses made them powerful. Monopoly public service radio later added to the mix. By the mid-twentieth century Britain was saturated with news media – commercial, political and public service.
Early theorists of this mass society spoke of a mechanical ‘engineering of consent’ on major social and political issues through the press and other institutions. It was not that simple, however. Later theorists building off the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci have instead spoken of a hegemonic process by which the dominant blocs in a society such as schools, churches, businesses and news media ‘negotiate’ with each other and the broader population to establish a ‘common sense’ view of the world and specific problems in it. For Gramsci and many of his interpreters the hegemonic process was essentially about continued capitalist domination that made the working class accept the status quo as the natural ‘common sense’. But the ideas have value far beyond that context. In this work we see that journalists in the early Cold War generally did not avoid certain stories and sources for fear of the government or losing their jobs; they accepted the hegemonic common sense about Communism and the Soviet Union and probably never even considered challenging it.
A similar process happened with American journalists in the Vietnam War. Early on the journalists all shared unquestioned core assumptions and avoided ‘deviant’ interpretations of America, Communism and the war. The boundaries, however, shifted as the war ground on and the American establishment split. Journalists’ reporting took more excursions into the ‘sphere of deviancy’ through . . .