Saturday, December 24, 2005

Public Interest -vs- Private Agendas


As a follow up on the previous rant of the Power of Propaganda, this article focuses on how we've got to the point we are today, in regard to how the media 'has been', and 'still is' a powerful socially structuring tool. The power associated with the media is hard to measure as we are saturated daily with an unending collage of facts and fiction. Has the media been transformed into a form of control used by a wealthy few whose only concern is to keep the majority within their social design? Just how influential is corporate media, and what are it's potential impacts on democracy? A difficult question to answer just do to the fact we are dealing with an abstract rather than a simple formula of measurement. But yet people as far back as the 1920s became concerned with the power associated with the emerging new media of radio. The thought was, that if control of radio was concentrated in the hands of a few, freedom would cease to exist.

These fears of the possibility of a reduction in democracy, and the possible domination of the people through the use of the media, brought about certain safeguards which were enacted here in the U.S. The enactment of the Public Interest Standard within the Radio Act of 1927 was the first attempt to make the airwaves a public utility. However the Radio Act also gave broad powers to the Federal Communications Commission. And the National Association of Broadcasters, with their interests in commercialism of the airwaves, began to build their business around "clear channels" dedicated for the major players such as RCA and NBC. An industry was born and it's growth soon moved away from the original concept of the air waves being a public utility, and has moved into the "marketplace" or profit model we have today.

Shortly after the Radio Act, a need was seen in regard to how broadcasters permitted political candidates the use of their airwaves. With the 1934 Communication Act, a provision was made called the Equal Time rule which required a broadcaster to allow equal time to political opponents. The view of this provision has changed considerably and remains as a point of interest as it continues to evolve such as in the definition of "bona fide news" and how this definition applies to broadcasters when airing presidential debates.

Another policy, which grew out of a concern that broadcasters might use their stations as advocates of a singular perspective, was the "Fairness Doctrine". This was an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. But in 1985 the FCC began denouncing the doctrine and in 1987, with both houses of Congress voting to put the fairness doctrine into law, President Reagan, in keeping with his deregulatory efforts and his long-standing favor of keeping government out of the affairs of business, vetoed the legislation.

As deregulation of the "public interest" policies have continued, the news divisions of the major broadcasters have become subsidized by the networks and have become profit centers designed to generate revenue and advance corporate agendas. As Al Gore stated in his speech to the We Media Conference:
The news divisions - which used to be seen as serving a public interest and were subsidized by the rest of the network - are now seen as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, more importantly, to advance the larger agenda of the corporation of which they are a small part. They have fewer reporters, fewer stories, smaller budgets, less travel, fewer bureaus, less independent judgment, more vulnerability to influence by management, and more dependence on government sources and canned public relations hand-outs. This tragedy is compounded by the ironic fact that this generation of journalists is the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of their profession. But they are usually not allowed to do the job they have been trained to do.

What is happening with all the deregulations of the media industry is the growth of a monopolizing enviroment. As media consolidations continue to transform the once many media companies into just a few corporations who are concentrating the power of the media for their advantage, the availability of unbiased reporting disappears. Now the huge conglomerates are allowed to own broadcasting stations which can reach up to 45% of the national audience, which is up from 35% just recently.
"The public has a right to be informed by a diversity of viewpoints so they can make up their own minds. Without a diverse, independent media, citizen access to information crumbles, along with political and social participation. For the sake of democracy, we should encourage the widest possible dissemination of free expression through the public airwaves."

Just this month F.A.I.R.'s bi-monthly magazine EXTRA, revealed a six month study of the guest list on C-SPAN's Washington Journal. Some of the findings of the study were:

  • Republicans outnumbered Democrats nearly two to one while not a single third party representative appeared during the study period.
  • People of African and Asian heritage accounted for 4% each, people of Middle Eastern and Latin American descent were 3% each, and no Native Americans were identified at all.
  • Male guests outnumbered women by four to one
  • Journalists accounted for nearly a third of all guests (32 percent), the largest single occupational group on the guestlist. Of opinion journalists, 32 were right-of-center while only 19 were left-of-center.
  • Citizen-based organizations and public interest groups accounted for just 9 percent of total guests.


Exploitation of the media via political advertisements has also expanded as seen in the media advocacy of of the Swift Boat Vets against John Kerry and the refusal to allow NARAL's ads against supreme court nominee Roberts. F.A.I.R.'s report entitled Judgment Reserved to Judgment Reversed discusses how front groups, utilizing advertising, do the political parties dirty work on the fringes of honesty. While political slanting of the media is very noticeable and most of us have accepted that fact, more and more we also see the advantage of "big money" when it comes to utilizing the media to enhance certain corporation's public relations. Take a look at the article Media Lick the Hand That Feeds Them, which is focused on wal-mart's flexing of it's money muscle. I'm not focusing on wal-mart but they just happen to be the largest corporation in the world and therefore are a big player in the media game.

Even National Public Radio isn't immune to the one sided style of media. In a study done on NPR, it was noted that 64% of their sources were elite government officials, professional experts, and corporate representatives. The abuse by the media of allowing concentrations of power, whether that power be based in capital or in the political arena, is absolutely unacceptable. People are beginning to realize just how important mass media is in swaying public opinions through one-sided reporting. The activists who desire to bring equality back into the media and make it once again a vehicle of "public interest" have adopted a Citizen's Guide to Public Interest Obligations and a Bill of Media Rights.

In his recent speech , Gore also explained how democracy is in grave danger at the hands of the political and corporate money bags.
"Our democracy has been hollowed out. The opinions of the voters are, in effect, purchased, just as demand for new products is artificially created. Decades ago Walter Lippman wrote, “the manufacture of consent…was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy…but it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technique…under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer plausible to believe in the original dogma of democracy.”

Gore goes on to explain how important the internet is to the citizens and how willing the people must be to fight for it.
The final point I want to make is this: We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Worldwide Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it because some of the same forces of corporate consolidation and control that have distorted the television marketplace have an interest in controlling the Internet marketplace as well. Far too much is at stake to ever allow that to happen.


Walter Cronkite, on an appearence on the Larry King show, stated that "We are an ignorant nation right now. We're not capable of making the decisions that have to be made at election time, and particularly in the election of our legislatures and our Congress as well as the presidency of course. I think we're in serious danger. We sure do need to prove him wrong! It's our watch and we must build our knowledge resources so that we can fight this giant spin factory which has developed through the media. It's up to us to prove Cronkite wrong and bring accountability back into media, and educate ourselves in the ways of the machine. They can steal my possessions, but I for one won't let them steal my mind any longer! I have had enough and it's time that my thoughts make their way back into reality and out of the fantasy of the spin!

1Comments:

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Sunday, 08 January, 2006  

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