Voltaire Network
“Manufacturing Consent”

Freedom of Information vs. Freedom of Speech

Ideally, the media is prescribed as a counterpower, accused for not doing its critical job and manufacturing consent around the powers. The media traditional criticisms say that the hands of some major economic groups are always present. But it may be considered that the blockade point is deeper: it is the very notion of “information”. This term, frequently used, has a philosophical point of view and a way of being in the world. The ideology of information has become an instrument of consent and subjugation of populations.

| Paris (France)
+
JPEG - 35.4 kb
Drawing by Nikahang Kowsar, Iranian journalist and artist

Contrary to what it seems, freedom of information is not freedom of speech. The first one is disseminating something known and safe. The second one is about presenting publicly a personal view. Freedom of information assumes an objective truth; freedom of speech implies that such truth leads to the relation that we have with something and not to that thing specifically.

The system of objectivity / subjectivity

What we call “information” is a technical term: it is a piece of information about something. This piece of information has a scientific nature for us: it must be exact. The information may be true or false. When there are two contradictory pieces of information, one should give the way to the other: “It is impossible to tell everything and the contrary.” However, the information that we have about something may be incomplete, but a piece of information as such cannot be incomplete. It is a known and safe piece of information that can be completed with other data.

To describe something, a development, a fact, we should provide objective information. Certainly, it is not difficult to escape from our subjectivity, but despite everything, objectivity has to be found, with the maximum of effort and honesty: intertwining subjective points of view and abstracting ourselves, as much as we can, from our own opinions. Therefore, objectivity is an ideal, inaccessible, but we have to tend to it with tenacity.
Thus, objectivity is the fundamental notion that accompanies information. If we can provide objective information about a fact, it is because the fact is objective. An objective fact does not depend on us to exist, it exists out of any relation that we might have with it. This fact was given to us to be observed.

The apparent logic of all these should not suppress the philosophical debate about objectivity. Usually, such debate is related to the question of subjectivity. We agree that it is not possible to know a fact objectively and we should also admit and report the subjectivity with which we know such fact. But then, subjectivity appears as the criticism that objectivity accepts to make to itself. It is within the system of thought. Objectivity affirms that things are within themselves.

The subjective criticism is convenient. It is enough to present an observation method: everything depends on the point of view that is looked at; therefore, we should say from where we are reporting and also, to get closer to the objective truth, to intertwine different points of view. The ideal of an objective truth lasts forever. Its strength, the objective criticism makes such truth to appear to be impossible to know. Its weakness, it is limited to give an opinion, an opinion in this regard, without questioning it: “This is what I think about what every body knows.” The philosophical debate about information is not limited, therefore, to ascertain subjectivities.

The Relationship and the Question of our Place in the World

This discussion of apparently good sense between objectivity and subjectivity creates an impasse about a fundamental element: the relationship. It is true that maybe there is something that does not need from me to exist, but if I speak about the subject I establish a relationship with it. At a given moment, in my perception it is in the minimum.

Just because it has a relationship with me, I speak about the subject; otherwise, I would not even know it. In my opinion, I consider that it is useful to talk about the subject because I think that what I have in my perception scope affects my life, directly or indirectly, physically or intellectually, etc. The relationship that I have with that thing that I am talking about is now the fundamental point. What I will say about the subject, will be about us, about the relationship that exists between the subject and myself.

The debate about objectivity of things and objective or subjective point of view is not relevant if we found ourselves in the field of relationship. On the contrary, the issue of relationship provides a new clarity about the use of the notion of information and objectivity. When I think in terms of relationship, I ask myself about the influence that that thing has on my, or all the way around, the influence I may have on that thing.

When I am within the information system and objectivity, I learn about something and that knowledge, a priori, does not have any effect on me, neither my action capacity arises. Therefore, the judgment about the relationship implies the interaction between the world and myself: it tests the influence; the world’s determination regarding myself and my action capacity is questioned.
Thinking in terms of relationship makes it to look as the problem of our place in the world. Then, it is perceived that the word “information” is not a technical term, but a philosophical notion that bears with it a conception of the world. The objective thought needs to be addressed. Objectivity means objectification of the world. We live no longer in relation with the world, we live among things. Our activity is not conceived in terms of relations, but managing things with regard to the ones we know.

Thus, the insensitive shift that is produced from the freedom of speech to the freedom of information is parallel to the decrease of the action capacity of the citizen and appearance of the agent. We see the world as a group of objects; our life in the world is now to manage those objects. And if everything is perceived as such, we also accept to be transformed in objects. The sad triggering of the world arises then as the product of the ideology of objectivity. Journalists, psychologists and other experts are working on this.

Nonpossession the World

To the logic of information, acquiring knowledge is a goal as such. It is the focus in all universities and focus of any educated person.
Thus, the training of a journalist means learning some techniques of the profession and absorption of a “general culture”. The figure of the wise man, which does not exist in the society of information, is replaced by that of the educated man whose encyclopedic knowledge produces admiration, but as “the accumulation of knowledge” fills vertiginously, the human being loses the bonds with the world. From The Foreigner of Camus to the characters of Kafka, literature is covered by someone who has nothing to do with his life.

Lost in an incoherent and absurd world, he observes it, preserves it, destroys it and finds actually nothing that ties him to it. The encyclopedic man does not know the experience; he is interested in everything but does not get involved in anything.
So, the concept of information leads to our spoiled dispossession of the world. From there, it seems no longer intolerable that others see the reality for us and tell us how it is: they are just simple technicians who receive and disseminate information. An objective journalist is a technical intermediary. His opinions should not be revealed in order to avoid interferences between ourselves and information. The media is not perceived as the mediator between us and the reality, but as the support of neutral information. And yet, as we saw that “information” is not a technical term, the “media” is not a technical support either.

The media did not know the revolution experienced by the Christianity with the Reform. Before the protest of Martin Luther, the priests were seen as natural intermediaries between the believers and the divine reality. After the Reform, everyone was able to read and understand the Bible without needing a church authority.
The media has taken the populations of democracies to a situation before the Reform. It is no longer possible to get to know the reality without the assistance of a third party. In people’s minds, a journalist is not the one who links us to the reality, but someone that without him it is impossible to know it.

This situation is justified by the contradiction between our lack of time or means and the thirst for knowledge that we have. We would like to know what is happening around the world, but we do not have the means to go to those places, and at the same time we are interested in other issues. But, what does that “interest” mean?
The interest is shown towards other things with which we are unable to relate to: we can not go to play, and we do not have time for that matter..., but we hope it influences on our lives, even that we can influence on it.

How could that be possible? How could we act on something that we can even see with our own eyes and with which we cannot relate? By delegating, of course. We trust once more in others to act for ourselves. It is no longer the journalists, whose role is limited to report, but for example, humanitarian politicians or militaries. In this way, we act delegating the things to what we know as intermediaries.

We could describe our margin of maneuvers as: we allow acting on our behalf according to what others have assured to us. The information does not produce the action but consent.
The U.S. intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman mainly analyze the manufacturing of consent by the media as a result of the economic system (Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 1988. Éd. francesa: La Fabrique de l’opinion publique, Le Serpent à plumes, 2003). Besides, the formation of consent does not derive from journalism of information, but from its own role.
Never mind that the papers be subordinated to multinational firms and advertisers. They were conceived to inform and cannot do anything else than manufacturing consent. They have established an intellectual procedure of submission to third parties. The encyclopedic man is not involved with the action.

He is a passive receptacle of abstract information. As an educated observer, sometimes fails to consent and criticizes. He criticizes without scope, and the effect is given certainty to the observer himself. The status of the scene in which we are may be analyzed then as the result of the information ideology.

We should become aware of the fundamental implications of the banal notion of “information.” The ideology of information implies a mood, the way of being in the world: abstract knowledge, away from any personal or collective relation; turning the world into a simple object of study; management of things, management of the beings reduced to the state of things; passivity in acquiring knowledge; submission with regard to third parties and delegating, as well, the capacity to act upon the world; state of scene; consent; observers’ criticisms; passivity…

Safeguarding the information ideology is the method used to maintain the citizens in the status of observers who consent or criticize. No democratic struggle could be carried out accepting such ideology which is fundamentally contrary to it. For democracy, information –and therefore “the freedom of information”- must be fought with the servile ideology. Instead, we should defend freedom of speech that implies the relationship, action and commitment.
Speaking of the world is not a descriptive act, but an action with results: we do not contain ourselves to say something as it is, we make it being in a particular way. The information, through a pseudo-scientific description, reduces the world to an apparent objectivity. The expression makes the world to exist for us in a thousand ways.

The freedom of speech has a richer, dense and complex reality than that of the information ideology. Especially, it gives us again a place in the world and makes our action capacity to be effective.

Article licensed under Creative Commons

The articles on Voltaire Network may be freely reproduced provided the source is cited, their integrity is respected and they are not used for commercial purposes (license CC BY-NC-ND).

Support Voltaire Network

You visit this website to seek quality analysis that enables you to forge your own understanding of today’s world. In order to continue our work, we need you to support our efforts.
Help us by making a contribution.

How to participate in Voltaire Network?

The members of our team are all volunteers.
- Professional-level mother-tongue translators: you can help us by translating our articles.