Six artists from the Czech Republic scaled a television tower last June in the northern part of their country, connected a computer to the camera and broadcast cable, and hacked a fake nuclear explosion into a national weather forecast.
The group, which refers to itself as “Ztohoven,” calls the project “Media Reality.” The message of the act was to showcase how easy it is for the media to manipulate the truth. The group is being prosecuted for its guerilla tactics, with a trial expected sometime this month. If its members are convicted, they could spend up to three years in jail.
Regardless of whether the group deserves such punishment, Ztohoven has a point. Media outlets don’t usually insert doctored images into regular broadcasts to mislead the public—still, the message we get from TV news, radio and even newspapers is far from an accurate portrayal of reality. What we’re told is important by our news sources oftentimes amounts to no more than infotainment. Two unfortunate examples of this were revealed in the U.S. last week.
And Your Position Is ... ?
The first comes from journalists’ treatment of the Iowa Caucus and the presidential race in general. More than 2,500 reporters converged in Iowa last week, yet the public still knows little about the actual positions of the most of the candidates.
It’s become the job of a politician running for office to avoid stating any of their actual—or potentially controversial—platforms. That’s why it’s even more important for journalists to hammer the issues out of them, exposing their intentions to the public. Instead, we’re saturated with lovely personality profiles, essays on the meaning of someone’s middle name, analyses on whether candidates’ charisma matches that of a campaigning Bill Clinton.
As Jon Friedman stated in his column for MarketWatch last week, “Thanks to the wonderful world of television news, I have learned so much vital stuff about Mike Huckabee’s homespun charms, the secret plans of Hillary Clinton’s better half to conquer the world and Barack Obama’s family ties. Now I know how candidates feel about everything—except the issues.” The celebrity of candidates (sometimes created by the media, as in the case of Huckabee) has become more important than the positions of the candidates.
Who can blame reporters when the culture of media has shifted so drastically? It was revealed on Monday, Jan. 2, that OK! Magazine paid the $1 million to get the first word out that 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears (sister to Britney) is pregnant.
Why would a magazine spend so much money on information no one really needs? Because people buy it. The rag sold nearly twice its usual number of copies for the issue—nearly 2 million.
Ztohoven may have a legitimate message, but there’s a twist. The media mostly do a poor job of representing the truth—not just in individual stories, but for the general outlook of what’s important to people. Still, it wouldn’t report tripe if we didn’t buy it. So which is it: the chicken or the egg?
The reality is that these things don’t matter—until the media tell us they do.