If our public information systems weren’t working properly, we might expect to experience the sudden appearance of serious threats that had grown beyond our control because we hadn’t seen the warning signs.

As examples of these symptoms, I offer climate change – which has been developing over the last 50 years, terrorism – which appears to be an outraged reaction to Western actions and, the global financial crisis which was predicted years before we suffered any real consequences.

Overall, there exists considerable evidence to show that rather than being a window onto our world, Western media has become a prism for political and commercial propaganda that avoids politically contentious or commercially threatening material and, in doing so, exposes our societies to significant threat.
By way of illustration

In the body-guarding industry it is the ability to spot and avoid threats before they become dangerous that is most valued. Being forced to resort to punching and shooting opens the client to other threats while the body-guard is busy fighting.

To understand awareness, the security industry identifies different Conditions (Cooper codes):-

White – distracted, internally focussed

Yellow – all senses aware of external environment

Amber – heightened awareness caused by threat

Red – heightened awareness responding to danger.

In the West we spend most of our lives in Condition White, thinking about lunch, the job, what’s on the radio and so on. As a consequence when things go wrong we say ‘suddenly someone snatched my bag’ or ‘the car appeared with no warning’ and so on.

Security professionals soon learn that ‘suddenly’ usually means that we weren’t paying attention and it is inattention that places us at risk.

Fulfilling purposes is everything

In complex systems studies we learn that evaluation is best done against system performance in fulfilling its purpose(s). From a social perspective, I propose that the minimum purposes for a useful media are:

to deliver timely news of threats and opportunities to help individuals take appropriate action and,
to act as a social conscience and,
to provide wider picture social narratives that help individuals to orient to broader social needs and also to enable individuals to create social meaning in their lives.
Using these criteria it’s clear that our media systems have not been fulfilling important social purposes, because too many threats are developing that remain either ignored by our media, or are too distorted in their reported priority.

Condition White media

The various communications media are our main information sources and, if they fail to report on developing threats and opportunities then problems can easily develop beyond our awareness until they become serious threats. Through political and commercial filtering, the media essentially places our social systems into a permanent Condition White and expose us to danger even to the point of threatening our lives (e.g. bushfires).

Instead of a window onto the world, too often our media is a mirrored prism for political and commercial fantasies. The result is to allow serious problems to develop, usually accompanied by failures to identify a full range of options to deal with them (e.g. ETS).

In the news this week we read of the reality of our being mired in low/no value bureaucracy which is growing out of control…

State taxpayers will be forced to pay at least an additional $15.6 billion over the forward estimates period to fund public service costs, over and above that implied by existing state wages policies. The largest increase in state government staffing was in the area of administration, which grew by at least 57 per cent between 2000 and 2007.

Victoria led the way in expanding the bureaucracy in percentage terms, with an increase in the total number of public servants of 37 per cent. NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory each recorded growth of about 25 per cent or more. IPA

Then, a few days later, we begin to see the real costs to us…

SOME hospitals may have to lose staff, close beds or reduce services to meet new savings targets set by the Victorian Government. The Government has doubled the productivity savings it claws back from some hospitals, asking them to find millions more ”spare” dollars despite skyrocketing demand for health care. The Age

Vital services are literally being sacrificed to fund bureaucracy.

While these articles appear in the media, the link between how the money is being spent and the loss of valued taxpayer health services is neither being drawn, nor commented upon. If history is any judge, it is the failure to explore the real consequences of our own actions that is most likely to bring us undone.

Unchallenged political priorities

When we look at political priorities, they simply make no sense from a taxpayer perspective when valued services are being cut and infrastructures collapsing through lack of maintenance.

Day in, day out, Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues have been slamming the Government for ‘reckless spending…like drunken sailors’. Every day they have demanded spending cuts. The spending the Opposition objects to is going to schools, public housing, rail or roads. New spending that it wants to increase to provide free permits to pollute would go to – mining firms, coal-fired power stations, energy-intensive manufacturing and, food processors. The Age

Because we cannot reduce emissions without a practical means of doing so, one obvious option would be to offer a major reward (e.g. $1 billion) for the successful development of practical methods to reduce emissions. In other words, we pay to get what we want. Such options are neither canvassed nor discussed in the media which has represented some form of ETS as virtually the sole option.

If the media were focussing on the positive while avoiding reporting threats, then Australians would develop a falsely rosy picture of their situation. From this week’s news…

Foreigners rated Australia highly for its world-class lifestyle but marked it down as a place to do business, the quality of its products and services, its government and its contribution to the global economy, a survey by a think tank, the Reputation Institute, found. But when it comes to self-belief, Australia is without peer; Australians are more positive about themselves than any other of the 33 nations that took part in the institute’s wider survey. SMH

Therefore I submit that the information filtration and bias of our media is a large part of the reason that our societies are threatened by terrorism, climate change, financial crises and other slowly developing threats that we fail to recognise until too late.

If the media focussed on fulfilling useful social purposes before they settled on their ‘monetarised business models’, then we’d be able to plan and act much earlier.

The constant focus on politically acceptable approaches is leaving us all diminished and in need of media systems that do fulfill the purposes outlined above.

Hence the need for a media revolution – our lives could depend upon it.

Watch this space.

Mike Bolan


Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive/management coach

N.B. The author welcomes constructive criticism and new information that adds to our understanding of these matters.