Free Press?

Along with a number of my blogging buddies I have wondered aloud why there is so little genuine press coverage of such things as political debates. Why aren’t the politicians pressed harder by the reporters? Why aren’t we allowed to hear both sides of the issues? I have often thought that many of our problems stem from the fact that news has become entertainment, that, in general, what we are allowed to hear is determined by a few corporations that really want to amuse us and to think alike. When my mind wanders in this direction I hear a small voice in my ear whisper that this sounds like “conspiracy theory.” But the fact is that five major corporations in this country own 90% of the public media. These corporations determine what we hear and see and in large measure the way we think. For those of us who treasure our freedom, this is a serious problem. Some have said that in our day our freedom has increased, whereas the truth of the matter is that it has diminished.  The data in the following article suggest why:

The trend of media conglomeration has been steady. In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the American media, including magazines, books, music, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio and television. By 1992 that number had dropped by half. By 2000, six corporations had ownership of most media, and today five dominate the industry: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom. With markets branching rapidly into international territories, these few companies are increasingly responsible for deciding what information is shared around the world.

What this means for all of us is that the free press which Thomas Jefferson once said was the cornerstone of our democracy has become the voice of a handful of giant corporations that clearly do not want the citizens of this country to exercise free choice. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that our freedom is largely an illusion, since the corporations are in control of the commercial messages that persuade us in hidden ways to make the choices that will increase profits for those companies that support the media through advertising. And this goes for our political choices as well — with rare exceptions. We are convinced that we have a great many choices, whereas in fact those choices are limited in ways we are largely unaware of. It matters not how many books we have to choose from in the library or the bookstore, it matters which ones we choose or if we choose any at all

But there is more. The free exchange of ideas was guaranteed by the F.C.C. in 1949 as a result of what was then referred to as the “Fairness Doctrine” which guaranteed that both sides of controversial issues must be made public. This doctrine was rejected in 1987 by the F.C.C. under the leadership of Mark Fowler who had been a member of then President Ronald Reagan’s campaign staff and who argued that the doctrine violated the first amendment. As a result, the door was opened to the media to indoctrinate rather than inform — present a single point of view repeatedly and ignore opposing views; this gave rise to such abortions as Murdoch’s Fox News.

Thus, it is not surprising that we now have entertainment in place of news, that the dogged and determined press of, say, the Roosevelt era that helped Teddy bring down the Trusts, is a thing of the past. What we now have is “news” presented by glib, beautiful people whose strings are pulled by a handful of giant corporations which prefer that we know only what they regard as important. That is to say, our democracy has been replaced (as Aldous Huxley predicted) by an oligarchy that calls the shots while the rest of us go through the motions and do what we are told and elect those politicians who are found to be malleable. Radical change is in order, but does not appear to be in the offing.



9 thoughts on “Free Press?

  1. Hugh, many thanks for the well written post. And, as you point out it is more than entertainment as the news content is controlled by some sources with shallow coverage to worse where it is spin-doctored, misinformation, and disinformation. As Mark Twain said it is easier to fool someone than to convince they have been fooled.

    Keep spreading your truths. Keith

  2. I go back and forth on this one myself. Let’s tackle the problem of the oligarchy generally later, these are very large concepts and I don’t want to diminish the respect I have for that one as well.

    Focusing then only on the concept of media as entertainment not journalism, this too even if not conspiratorially achieved is an evil of our information-age consumerism. We are lazy, me too and everyone. If my news is not written in a way that captures my attention as would a sci fi novel or headline in sound bytes as fast and primal as my EDM then I become disinterested. I can always find something more compelling to capture my attention. Even if there is no Will (as proxy for conspiracy) behind this, it still does beg a vacuum where discourse and depth of information once existed for something to take its place.

    Begs the question: How can we improve our current media quality? Trust busting the conglomerates? Forced proportional representation of bias? Regulation of affiliation? I’m not sure I know what an effective strategy alternative would be to propose.

  3. I’ve heard tell that one can always tell a slow news day…whether it be local or national coverage….by the telecast of a dog or cat story that closes out the programming.
    Lester Holt is even guilty.
    Shame on you, Lester.
    I always thought ye be a better man and we be the better for it…..

  4. Great post, Hugh. I’ve been grappling with this issue for quite some time, among friends and colleagues, and concluding that the wide proliferation of information among all media, has actually led to our being more uninformed than any time in history. Will Rogers is quoted as saying, “If you don’t read newspapers, you are uninformed. If you do, you are misinformed.” I believe we are more misinformed today than ever, and a case in point is the absolute lack of major media coverage for Bernie Sanders. Why wasn’t it widely reported how he gathered only $4million less in contributions this last quarter than Clinton, and that was achieved with small donations from individuals, not PAC’s nor lobbyists nor Wall Street, as Clinton has done. This is significant, yet only garnered minor headlines.

    I read many sources for my news, yet am still not convinced i am getting the whole story. I don’t know the answer either, but I do know what we have today is certainly not working.

    I do believe radical change is coming, not just in media, but politics and government, too. I just don’t know where the tipping point lies.

    • If Sanders were to win and bring a majority of Senators and Congressmen with him that would be a radical change, for sure. But short of that I can’t see one in the offing!

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