‘The Long Game’ reveals that the human race was held back by the mighty Jagrafess manipulating the media. This satire targets the practices of large media companies as well as tapping into modern day concerns that our news and entertainment is brainwashing the population.
While this episode is set in the future similar stories could be told in any era, particularly from the 20th century onwards. The James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ even had an human villain manipulating world events (as well as engineering stories).
The Big Finish 7th Doctor audio ‘Live 34’ is another example of a 24 hours news station used to control the residents of human colony in the future. Its format, told as a series of news updates, can be used as a model for such scenarios.
Using propaganda, false stories and censorship are all tools of a secret invasion. ‘The Long Game’ reveals that the human race has been enslaved without their knowledge. The editor even tries to argue that they aren’t really slaves because they aren’t aware of their situation.
An alien run media company would be a good cover for a full invasion. They can squash news stories of alien activity, discredit witnesses or create new stories to make people look in the wrong direction. Criminals could do the same thing to hide their own illegal operations.
The media can be used to control the population. A media company can tell people who to hate, what to buy, what to think. Over a long enough period they can warp history, changing how people behave and altering what should have happened.
The media company can gain allies if their control of the public can be used to benefit a third party, such as a big company or government. The more support they have the harder it will be to take the media company down.
In an adventure the activities of the media company can affect the PCs directly or indirectly. They could engineer a situation that the PCs disagree with but will the heroes realise the source. They might deal with the outcome but not the source, not realising it is the media company that created the situation.
The PCs could become the target of the media company. They could the public turning against them with distorted facts or outright lies. This is particularly effective if the PCs can’t just leave in a TARDIS.
If they are part of an organisation like UNIT or Torchwood bad PR could be as devastating as an alien attack. At the same time both organisations might want to create their own media company to not only promote their cause but cover up their secrets.
The PCs could become a victim of the company itself, manipulated along with the rest of the population. They could fall for the media lies and believe in a non-existent enemy. When they find out the truth will they be able to trace the misinformation back to the media company?
When using such a company consider how big it is. Is it restricted to a single city, country, continent or planet? The bigger and more widespread it is the more difficult it will be to take down.
A successful company will have many people working for it (and not all of them might be aware of the true purpose of the business) and resources available to them. If they are doing a good job of concealing illegal activity then local law enforcement will also be protecting them in addition to any additional security they have.
Simply destroying a few offices or exposing some personnel might not be enough to take down a big media company. They can simply operate from another office, rebuild and rehire.
The PCs might have to fight fire with fire, using the media to turn the public against the evil company or at least undoing the damage caused by their lies and propaganda. This can give the PCs another arena to battle in.
Recent real-world events have shown that no media company is invulnerable. A big enough public scandal about working practices can turn the public against a big company. Allies will cut their ties or turn against them least they be seen to be supporting the now hated company.
The PCs could use the media as a positive means of striking back against other enemies as well, especially occupying forces. They could rouse the public to fight back or reveal secrets that shock them out of complacency.
A media company could find themselves in possession of information that is vital to the PCs. Phone tapping could reveal not an affair but a network of alien shape shifters, an over eager paparazzi could take a photo of an alien or spaceship and a journalist could steal papers that reveal the presence of monsters.
They could use this information to gain power, black mail others or become wealthy. This would require the PCs to negotiate for the vital information or maybe persuade them to do the right thing for humanity and hand over the details.
A media company works great as a villain that can sit in the background of your campaign. You could simply have all the news and exposition the PCs need provided via one particular media company.
Such a company could run for decades, allowing the PCs to turn to a reliable news source whether they be in 1982 or 2067. The anchor person and logo might change but the company name remains the same throughout the years.
Eventually they might discover a secret, dark side to the company but by then it is a part of their personal timeline. They can’t take the company down without changing their own past. This could require a more strategic response, with the PCs eliminating the darkness while keeping the company intact (so they can receive vital exposition in the future).