The Manipulative Media Techniques that Restrict Spiritual Freedom

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Framing can turn victims into oppressors and oppressors into victims Source

by David Gardner, Guest Waking Times

The use of propaganda and negative framing techniques is rampant in both print and broadcast media. These techniques are used to portray alternative spirituality in a negative light, manipulating mass media consumers to fear and despise new religious movements as a criminal evil to be avoided at all costs. This article examines the framing techniques used to harm spirituality.

When we turn on the news, open a paper or watch our favourite current affairs show, we might expect to be informed, not manipulated. What many may not consider or realise, however, is just how biased and sensationalist these forms of media can be, and how much they can influence our world view.

This is true in the media’s coverage of many aspects of society. Public figures are defamed on a regular basis, with the media knowing on probability that they will not be sued for every falsity or unsubstantiated allegation they publish. When people or groups are exonerated, the media is unlikely or reluctant to print a retraction, or to give it the same level coverage, as positive news is just not “newsworthy” enough to entertain its consumers. Sensationalism and negative coverage breeds curiosity, engages and unites consumers around social norms and orthodoxy and attracts advertisers.

In such a media environment, alternative spirituality is an easy target. It has been targeted and tarnished in the public mind through years of exposure to anti-cult rhetoric in the media following high profile tragedies at WACO and Jonestown. Alternative spirituality is almost always framed in a negative light, with the very idea of it deliberately conflated with controversy and associated with the very small minority of unconnected groups which have committed criminal acts. While the majority of the public have no experience with small spiritual groups, their curiosity is easily evoked by the lurid stories of “brainwashing”, “mind control”, broken families and alleged sexual transgression which the media often lead with when covering so-called “deviant” spiritual minorities.

What the viewing public is likely unaware of is just how complicit the media is, in league with the anti-cult movement, in creating these stereotypes in the first place. Once created they have been perpetuated by continuously highlighting the strange or criminal behaviour of a tiny percentage of new religious movements while ignoring those who integrate well with society.

How the Media uses Propaganda and Framing Techniques to Paint a Negative Picture of Alternative Spirituality

The angle or perspective that a journalist takes when covering a story is powerful. It shapes the viewers interpretation or understanding of news events and future choices they may make regarding the subject matter. This angle or perspective is known as “framing” and its study is known as “framing theory”.


An example of framing discussed by linguistics expert Dawn Archer is the possibility of a newspaper leading an article with the headline: “Drinking tea doubles risk of cancer”. This might put you off drinking tea – unless you dig deeper and realise the information this is based on only shows that the risk of developing cancer from drinking tea is 1 in 10,000 or 1 in 100,000.

Framing devices often rely on negative emotions and seek to intensify a readers emotional dispositiontowards a particular aspect of society. When reporting on alternative spiritual groups, journalistsprimarily use the emotionally-laden and pejorative word “cult” or “sect”(“sect” has the same connotations as “cult” in some European countries) to stimulate negative sentiment towards a group. As stated by Michael Otterson, head of public affairs forThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:…



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