When talking about problems in media, it would be logical to start with what is absolutely clear and obvious – media is business. And this is completely natural and perfectly understandable in countries with deep democratic roots, such as Scandinavia, Western European countries and the USA, where the media is understood as one form of business and is treated respectively. The operating model is very simple here – there is a media tool, which has its reader audience, thus this tool can easily be sold to advertisers, who expect to reach their customers in such a way. In such a way a marketable media tool allows its owners to profit from it. The main problem aspect comes to light when certain created content contributes to deceiving or misleading customers. We are often faced with a situation when honest operations of media representatives (for example, a reader reads an article on results of research conducted by a journalist presenting an objective view of a certain phenomenon, from which one can draw their own conclusions) is absolutely distorted. How wide-spread is this practice in Lithuanian media?
I can state that currently, the media of our country is going through a transition period. During the Soviet times we did not have any normal press – people were well aware of the fact that what they read in newspapers or saw on TV did not portray the reality. Once Lithuania regained its independence, the media gained the majority of trust from the readers, because it became free (meaning uncontrolled), thus it automatically was perceived as a reliable means of information. In fact, in the very beginning, this was the case; however, as time went by, the harder it was to maintain such a status. Media tools had the possibility to choose whether or not to continue to sell advertising or to trade the readers’ confidence. Having chosen the latter way, confidence is sold just like the majority of us sell our knowledge or intellect; I could easily compare such practice with prostitution. This was the way followed by the majority of the Lithuanian media, which traded the confidence that was granted to it. Meanwhile, the remaining part thereof decided to make a much more complex decision requiring more intelligence and, instead of making use of its readers, it chose to sell the size of its audience rather than trading trust. Due to such situations prevailing in the Lithuanian media, I am very excited to see that public confidence in media has been decreasing in our country each year. This means that the population is healing and has started to understand the various operating principles of the media. In this way, media consumers show their power, which allows for the pushing of despicably operating media tools aside.
Paradoxically enough, given the fact that public institutions purchase articles in our country, the existent practice could even be claimed to have been legitimized. Even though the law states that no institution or political party can have its media tools, they are allowed to purchase information, which is essentially the same thing. Various institutions purchase articles instead of trying to improve their PR skills and search for other more creative ways. Their publicized information is of little interest to people and almost nobody reads it. That way, the money of the country is wasted, people are being deceived by not providing them with objective information and finally the ability of these institutions to communicate is totally ruined. After all, why try to connect with journalists if it is much easier to simply buy it all. Thus, we could talk about the distinction of this harmful cooperation only once such institutional activities are restricted. However, up until now approaching this issue has been a scary thing – supposedly this means going against the ideas of the free word and press.
In the presence of the existing situation, social media plays an especially important role. Today, each of us can have our own media tool, as basically this is free of charge now – creating a Facebook profile, blog or enacting another media tool has become as easy as pie, which only proves the fact that nowadays it is much more important to build confidence. If you are able to gather an audience which has confidence in you and always provide that audience with high-quality information, having one’s own media tool is absolutely easy. I often ask my students who do they trust more – a blog or Respublika? I personally am much more inclined to trust blogs, because here a very clear criterion prevails – either I have confidence in a person writing it or not. A possibility of choice here is very simple – if he deceives me at least once, I will lose my confidence in him and will no longer read his blogs. Meanwhile, it is very difficult or absolutely impossible to find out what is behind bought articles appearing in various media tools. Thus it is essentially like a veil of smoke, which makes it difficult to see, which information serves whose interests.
Some 10–15 years ago it was hard to even think about any role of social media. Back then, you could easily hit the wall when disseminating certain information – if some media tool was terrorizing or extorting you, you practically had no chance to defend yourself. It is difficult to describe how disgusting this feeling is, when the public trusts some media tool, but in fact the latter is making dirty money. Today, in the presence of social media, we have a lot more possibilities to tell and show everybody who is who. Information in social media is much more wide-spread, thus the possibility to be heard is also much more likely.
Generally speaking, all this is not needed in those countries where media tools operating in such methods are not that well-established. Countries with deep democratic roots are well-aware of the fact that following such a short-sighted path, readers will soon lose their confidence, which will sooner or later negatively affect the activities thereof. We still have to try very hard to take over such an approach. People in Lithuania are quick to notice why some media tools are attacking the European Union, presidency or something else – certain interests manifest in all such cases. However, I am glad to be able to say that slowly but surely we have also been moving in the right direction. Let’s say, during the presidential election of 2009, where the usual practice of purchasing promotional articles was entrenched, the election headquarters of Dalia Grybauskaitė had strictly and clearly said that they had refrained from engaging in such activities. And, despite the fact that attacks were started against Dalia Grybauskaitė and certain opinions were formed with respect to her, this had no effect on her election results. The public was able to sort out the right information, search for it in properly operating media tools, and participate in meetings with the candidate for presidents and to perfectly decipher who is who.
I always thought that a separate body, which could properly monitor this process, was needed. However, I am continually becoming more convinced that the consciousness of people is coming naturally. Of course, there will always be people who will blindly trust even that information which was purchased or clearly labelled. Even when viewing clear advertisements, for example, of food supplements, they trust everything that is said, thus it is almost impossible to convince such people that the best food supplement is their way of life. Let alone hidden advertising… Thus we should not have any illusions that suddenly everyone will start distinguishing purchased information. However, I have faith that deceivers themselves will vanish first of all. Still, I see two sides to this problem – if readers lost confidence in a certain media tool, they would no longer purchase the product provided by it, however, if they buy it, this means that they trust it. Thus, here a great responsibility also lies on each somewhat more critical reader.
Overall then, it is necessary to emphasize that the practice of purchasing hidden advertising so prevalent in our national media is a huge evil, which, besides all other things, is also difficult to grasp. I am sure that if certain media tools disappeared, our life would become much brighter. But the efforts of each of us, the readers, to show concern and properly decipher are necessary for that.