COMM 10 — Orality and Literacy, the Evolution of Communication, and the Five Filters of Mass Media

Karen Mae Cabeguin
5 min readMay 7, 2021

Walter Ong (2002) has introduced two communication cultures in his The Changing Landscape of Communication. At present times, these two are used hand in hand by most people without conscious thought.

The two types are mainly distinguished based on the mode of communication. The first is about orality which refers to the traditional verbal medium of relaying and receiving information — oral speaking. This mode is often used by cultures that have little or no exposure at all with the new tools introduced to aid in communication. One major disadvantage of this form of media is its incapability to be stored in any device such as a recorder. In effect, stories passed down may alter based on how each receiver understood the information that has been relayed by the sender. Even more, the probability of deviating from the original story heightens as more people pass it on through the same medium. Clearing the confusion, though, is easier in this form such that one can simply ask for clarifications the very moment they’re speaking. With that, one can see that this form allows an exchange of information between sender/s and receiver/s. Thus, the term ‘intersubjectivity’.
Although oral speech is still prominent at this time, there is an evolved mode of communication called literacy. Unlike orality, this mode recognizes communication in diversity — printed, digital, and mainly relies on the visual capabilities of a person or culture, that is. This offered a lot of convenience to people as communicating in this mode does not require physical meetings. One may now have the option to send a written text to people who may be living far from them. Even more, the latest technologies have allowed people to communicate through online platforms such as the internet. This has far been a notable breakthrough in the history of communication. However, most information transmitted with the aid of media does not support feedback from receiver/s. Thus, the word ‘chirographic conditioning’. Newspapers and magazines are just some of the examples of this one-way communication. Before, there is a challenge in storing the contents without it being altered but this new mode easily found a way to cure it. One may pass on information as much as he/she wishes. However, there is a problem that is important not to be overlooked. One must be literate enough to handle such a vast range of accessible information.

Although they were different when narrowed down, these two types of communication are actually closely related to each other such that these two allow us to relay and receive information with the option to save and store it for the next generations.

In light of the new mode, too much information on varying platforms may or may not pose threats to corporate interests. To prevent that from happening, institutions such as media companies or conglomerates, advertisers, and of course, the government have all put a reasonable amount of effort into mobilizing data. In theory, their role is to provide objective and factual information for media consumers but these large businesses and/or non-business entities are affected by market forces such as competition among varied providers. In this respect, it is understandable to think that media outlets want to make a profit but do not want any unnecessary conflicts especially with those who are in power or those who are branded as “elites”. In effect, these institutions only release information that they want the consumers to have. To put it simply, it’s like that of a coin that has two sides to show but only chooses the side that they want the public to see. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky constructed a model that information needs to go through to filter out unfavorable information so only the favorable is being publicized. There are five (5) filters:

1. Ownership
Large companies are usually the mass media outlets and in order to protect themselves, they exercise what they call self-censorship in relaying information to the public. Any information that they think will hurt the reputation of their company will immediately be filtered out.

2. Advertising
This second filter is quite straightforward such that this activity’s main goal is for the media outlets to gain profit and thrive. The influence of advertisers is so great that it is important for media outlets to be on good terms with them and have a clean reputation as advertisers rarely support media outlets that may have serious criticisms among readers and/or viewers.

3. Official sources
Big institutions such as governments and media companies know how to navigate media today. With the complexity of covering everything, media outlets tend to implement a system where they help each other by feeding information or that lone media outlet place personnel in varied areas to be on the lookout for breaking news. An example of this is the ABS-CBN media company. Any citizen is allowed to send them any newsworthy content.

4. Flak
Flak is strong criticism in simple terms. As stated in the first filter, media outlets will protect themselves to maintain a good reputation as this almost always translate to good profitability. When watching television programs such as SHOWTIME or EAT BULAGA, the viewers are always reminded that the actions or opinions of the ones representing the show do not represent the actions and opinions of the company.

5. Marginalizing dissent
Oftentimes, media presents its audiences a picture that satisfies most of its clients’ and viewers’ interests, perceptions, and needs. However, people who don’t share the same way of thinking are excluded somewhere along the way.

What I have stated above is mostly mainstream media which went through several edits. There are other two (2) important types of media that are produced or distributed: 1) independent and 2) alternative media. Independent media are basically those that are published without any government restrictions. Hence, they are free in expressing their thoughts and opinions. On the other hand, alternative media is mostly comprised of content whose interests lie in the marginalized portion of the population. Examples of these are the ethnic tribes and LGBTQI communities.

This portion will consist of my opinion on which of the two types of distributed media is better. Although alternative media may provide many useful purposes in representing the marginalized sectors of our society, I still believe that consumers of this information must still look at it with the same value of skepticism that they have when it comes to mainstream and alternative forms of media. As information consumers, we need to be mindful. However, if I were to choose only one — I would choose the independent media. My main reason for this is my safety. I think I will be safer trusting a reasonable and well-established media than the other whose potential is 50/50 as it may come out excellent or the exact opposite of it. I would suggest having it checked by reading information from both types of media, if available, that is. Comparing the two may aid in connecting stories or making a judgment call on who to believe.