A Media World

In our age of mass-communications, the control and effect of the media is a subject almost too huge to appreciate. The line between forms of communication and ʻthe mediaʼ is increasingly blurred, and we are immersed to an unprecedented level. According to Noam Chomsky, the ʻsocietal purposeʼ of the ʻnewsʼ is not to inform, but to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of governing groups, via a “selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis, and tone”. British Pathé started producing Newsreel in 1908, and therefore gives us a unique insight into the development of this phenomenon.

With their trademark combination of information and entertainment, British Pathé recorded every aspect of global culture and news for the cinema. For over 50 years, Newsreel was the only form of filmed news, and the cinema was the only place to see it. Hence today this programming not only presents an amazing insight into our thoughts and views at the beginning of the 20th Century, but also how, over many decades, itʼs producers learned to shape our thoughts and views. Early Newsreel illustrates how far acceptable views on race, sex, class and society in general have changed [naïve reportages on foreign races, housewives, the poor, etc, are at once amusing and disturbing], which in turn raises questions of how impartial ʻnewsʼ can be, in any age.

Commentators from McLuhan to Brooker have debated at length on how the moving image has both liberated and subdued our planet, from the first Newsreel to the televising of the last Elections. There is no doubt we have more choice and control than ever before when it comes to communications, but we should never forget what the expansion of this industry means in terms of the institutions supplying the platforms. Now, more than ever, it is important for us each to take a view on the choices made behind communications, and British Pathé documentaries, newsreels, serials and films offer a fascinating insight into the origins of our where weʼve reached.