Have TV screens become too intrusive?

By James Falconer

It could be tough to live in a world where one has little or no access to news. Imagine not knowing what’s happening in various parts of the world? However, have we reached the other extreme nowadays? How do you feel when you’re bombarded with Sky, BBC, or RTE News upon entering a public space?

Considering there are a few TV screens around campus, do you object to a public space being colonised by private interests? Take Sky News for example; excessive exposure to corporate “news” and its imagery penetrates our consciousness, and as a result, shapes our worldview by giving us a false sense of what is news. There are some recurring images, namely the flag of the USA, the Union Jack, war/fear, Arabic people portrayed as terrorists, and of course, advertisements. Is there any need for TV screens showing constant news in public spaces; do we collectively need exposure to the above themes?

The “news” is on a loop and it’s the same sensationalist doggerel replayed every few minutes. I have often raised this issue with management of various public spaces, who are quick to reassure me that “it’s just news”. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is enormous – it is the largest media company in the world by market capitalisation ($38 billion). For most people, the conservative news channel Fox comes foremost to mind when asked what they think of Murdoch’s media empire, but the company’s holding is far larger – it includes Sky News, Asia’s Star TV Network, the National Geographic Channel and even the iconic TV Guide network.

Widely respected academic Noam Chomsky calls these news stations “the myth maker” whose role is to make emotionally potent oversimplifications in an effort to keep the ordinary person on course. These myths, as Chomsky puts it, are “necessary illusions”. Or what might be called, in more honest days, propaganda.

If we want to understand how our society works, the first thing to consider is who is in a position to make the decisions that determine the way the society functions. The major decisions over investment, production and distribution are in the hands of a relatively small group of major corporations, conglomerates and multinationals. They are the ones who staff the key executive positions in government, own the media and have a huge role in controlling our lives. Their need to satisfy their interests inflicts very severe constraints on the political and ideological system. These forms of media (e.g. Sky News) aim to determine, select, shape, control, and restrict us in ways which serve the interests of the dominant elite groups.

The big question seems to be about public space being colonised by private interests. Take a gym in a public space for example – the gym is leased to a franchise that operates a business within that public space. Once they honour the contract they can show whatever they want on their numerous TV screens. Recently, shopping centres have been described as “mass private spaces” as opposed to public space. As a citizen, I am, and yes you are, entitled to certain rights and freedoms in public spaces. Once we enter these “mass private spaces”, we give over some of our rights and freedoms as citizens.

Another pertinent question is what type of space am I occupying on campus? Does this change when I go from the gym to the canteen or College bar, to the library, the lecture theatre? Should students have a say in the content of media used on campus irrespective of location? If so, then how is this to be decided, and according to what criteria? I wonder why people go to a gym. I can only say why I go, to keep my body fit and healthy. I do not go to a gym to catch up on “news”. I have no problem with people watching “news”, but I think it should be done independently. I cannot seem to escape TV screens in public spaces and I often feel like Winston Smith out of Orwell’s 1984. Orwell would say “in a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” How do you feel about this issue?

How do you feel about televisions in public spaces?

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