Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"When Static Becomes News..."

Just imagine what it was like to live in a country where the only news was manufactured news. That you were being told what the government wanted you to know. And there was no way to know whether it was true or not....

...If you were subjected to something like that, it would make you very cautious about accepting what you saw or heard. It would make you critical and questioning. And in the back of your mind, it might even remind you of the kind of things that can happen in a totalitarian system where the objective is to control what you see and hear.

But you don’t have to relive the past in Europe to experience that kind of watered-down reporting; it is happening now as we speak, which is probably not much of a surprise to anyone who keeps a close tab on the news…

If anybody needs a reminder there are several good books on the subject. Read Backing into the buzz-saw: It is a story by writers who are edited or censured by their editors; editors who kill stories not because they are not true but because they could get the newspaper into trouble with the government.

The other night on the public news channel, George Clooney and Bernard Kalb discussed the clash between McCarthy and Edward R. Murrow in the film, “Good Night and Good Luck. ” They pointed out how alarmist the general public was when anyone mentioned Communism. McCarthy. Prior to getting on the Commie kick, McCarthy was fixated on his reelection. He happened to see what the young Nixon did to get the best of Helen Gahagan Douglas by charging her as being a communist sympathizer, which later ruined her political career. After seeing how paranoid America was about Communism, he decided that this was a cause that would not only get him reelected but make him seem the true patriot.

None of that nonsense should have been allowed to get that far. Eisenhower should have shut Nixon up which he didn’t do; and the public should have stopped McCarthy before he divided the country…

Clooney’s film however, helps to point up the similarities of what happened then and is happening now. How political interest and catering to those interests can discourage media from doing an adequate job of reporting or editing on subjects vital to the public.

C-Span coverage of freedom of the press raised some solid issues that a democracy has to be vigilant about. During the course of the broadcast, concerns were raised that the reporters are not doing the job of really reporting the news thoroughly and the blame, at least in part, should be placed on a media that is not looking to rock the boat. Moreover, part of the subtext was the bad behavior of one Judith Miller who showed how the media could be used to represent a vehicle for the person being written about, thereby turning the tables on the conventional role of editing and reporting.

In an age where the media is satisfied to keep the government happy, it is the general public that is not being served.

What does that mean?

It means we are at a major disadvantage. If we want to compete as a nation, we need to have the latest and most current information. And we have to be able to trust the honesty and integrity of those who channel the news and information to us. Somehow this reality seems to have eluded most of our policy makers who seem to think we are better off being dumb, fat and placid.

As a result now, fewer than ten companies control what we see and hear in the media. And most of these media empires are operated and run as conservative businesses that do not want to offend the powers that grant licenses and monitor content.

We the public have suffered. At the turn of the century, there were something like 150 newspapers serving the New York market representing virtually every segment of society and every interest. Today, by comparison, there are fewer than a half dozen!
And you can multiply that experience around the country.

A recent study shows that the majority of people get their news from the major networks. Each of the networks run one half hour show during prime time. These shows are approximately 29 minutes with anywhere from 17 or more advertisements which run approximately 30 to 60 seconds each. That means on average about seven to nine minutes of commercials allowing 20 to 22 of news. When you consider that of that remaining time, there is generally a tribute to the fallen GI's and one or two human interest stories, that doesn't leave a lot of time for hard news or the analysis of that news.

As a result, the media is fortunate if it focuses on one or possibly two stories that have international origins. That means that we as a people are being deprived of international content that impinges on what is going on around the world unlike most of the rest of the world.

What can we do about it?

We can gang up on our representatives and force them to introduce legislation that will reverse several of the latest FTC decisions that have actually reduced competition in the news and content areas and encourage them to works towards increased diversity of communications.

At a time, when so much of life is dictated by what's going on in countries around the world, it is not in our best interests to diminsh the flow of information but to actually encourage greater diversity and variety in our points of view.

Best wishes,

Les AaronPolitics Blog Top Sites


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