We live in the age of media.
Be it television, print, or social media, we are directly connected to media outlets for most of the information we consume.
Human beings are a product of their experiences and as media consumers we are by and large the product of the information we consume, or more appropriately, the information that is fed to us.
This raises a few interesting questions.
Who is feeding us the information we consume?
What type of information is being fed to us?
How much, if any control we have over what we consume on a day to day basis?
In this article I will try to explain a couple of important concepts that every consumer should know. These concepts will help clarify the relationship that exists between the media and the consumer.
We are all aware of the names Geo TV, Dunya News, ARY, CNN, Aljazeera and the list goes on. On a daily basis we watch their programming, but while we are consuming their content, none of us are mindful that these media outlets are in fact for-profit corporations. These are not charitable organizations that provide news and entertainment merely out of the goodness of their heart, far from it, these are giant corporate behemoths that are strictly in the business of selling products and making money from it.
If these media outlets sell non-entertaining products that do not attract viewers, then just like any other business, soon they'll be out of operation. That's basic economics which isn't hard to understand. In an effort to attract more and more viewers, a lot of the content on these media outlets is sensationalized and overly juiced up which in itself is a whole another debate.
So, now that we've clarified this concept that all major media outlets are big "for-profit" corporations, the question is what do they sell and who buys it?
In presenting news and entertainment including some juicy nonsense, media outlets have one main objective, that is, to turn us viewers into a loyal audience base. This loyal audience is in fact their product which they then sell to other parties which are (yup, you guessed right) large corporations just like themselves.
With a slightly closer look, this entire cycle can be clearly seen at work.
Audiences watches various tv channels and those tv channels are run by major corporations. These tv channels then sell the audiences (you and I) to advertisers which are again large corporations. These corporations pay the tv channels large sums of money to buy time and attention of the audiences. This is the advertising time slots that the corporations buy. In these time slots, they can sell you products, information, or propaganda etc.
(((For media outlets like Geo TV, CNN etc, audiences is the product and other large corporations are the market where this product is sold.)))
In a country like Pakistan, large corporate advertisers mostly advertise products, but in western markets, time slots are sold and purchased to further private agenda and even personal propaganda; a phenomena that can be widely seen during election campaigns. (By the way, if this trend is not common in Pakistan now, shortly it will be). That is one of the reasons why an election cycle is one of the most profitable time for media outlets in the United States and that is one of the main reasons why an American presidential candidate who raises the most funds generally wins.
So this cycle can be explained like this.
Corporations (GEO, CNN etc) ---> Build Audiences To Sell --- > Corporations (Nestle, Coke etc) ----> Buy Audiences To Sell Them Products
So there is a for-profit corporation on the left side in the above cycle and a for-profit corporation on the right side in the cycle, with the average consumer, the audience (you and I) sandwiched in the middle.
In the midst of all of this is the powerful government with its plentiful resources which is driven by its own goals and motivations while being heavily influenced (lobbied and even possibly bribed) by large corporations.
So, the average consumer is stuck in the middle of large for-profit corporate forces and the government which raises an interesting question.
If large corporations are working for their profit and government which is heavily influenced by the same corporations is not interested in the well being of the masses, then who is looking out for the consumer?
It turns out that the average consumer is quite powerless in all of this. While being the main driver of the economy, the 500 lb guerilla in the big economic picture, unfortunately the average consumer is the least empowered component of the economy.
There would be no government without the productivity, spending, and taxation of the masses, and there would be no large corporations if they don't have any masses to sell their products to. The large corporations seem to get bigger and bigger with time and so do the pockets of many people in the government.
Why then is the consumer, the average person, the most vital component of the economic equation left high and dry when it comes to reaping the rewards of the big economic wheel?
Who is looking out for the consumer?
These are questions we must ask ourselves in addition to understanding our role in the overall scheme of things.
There is a strong need for organization on part of the average citizens in order to get their voices heard. With organization and a unified voice missing, it become way too easy for the corporate powers and even the government to exploit and manipulate the masses any way they desire.
So next time you watch TV and feel as if you are being programmed to do this or that and made to feel one way or the other, you may be on to something. It only helps to understand your role as a consumer because informed consumers and organized citizens are better able to look out for their interests when big corporations and even governments are busy looking after theirs.
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