Free Press or Death

Once it was my job to monitor all three of the network nightly news shows. Not as punishment, but as a way for the presidential campaign....

June 5, 2008

Once it was my job to monitor all three of the network
nightly news shows.  Not as punishment, but as a way for the presidential
campaign that I worked for to keep track of what was and was not getting
covered.  It was interesting to see which stories they covered, how they
covered them and where, in their programs, they placed them.  But I was
often disappointed to see that networks tend to consider things like 120 second
consumer report segments more newsworthy than, say, a presidential candidate's
universal health care proposal.

Twenty million people get their "news" from network
broadcasts each day.  I—and everyone
else—had to come to grips with the fact that these shows have lots of power
to sway public opinion.  But in an ever expanding
media merger landscape where General Electric's outlets (get it—"outlets"!) don't spend a lot of time reporting on the enormous
amounts of money our government spends on the defense industry, people have to
be careful about the news nutrients they consume.

Fortunately, the public craves solid food for
thought.  A recent study by the Associated Press (done not so much to
improve the actual content, but to figure out how to market the content
to 18–34 year olds) shows that "participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting
but had difficulty immediately accessing such content because they were
bombarded by facts and updates in headlines and snippets of news." 
(No idea why "facts" interfere with the audience's ability to
decipher the news, but I have good news for these folks: Newshour and Bill Moyers Journal,
among others, are just what they're looking for!).

More worrisome still, the "Big Six"
corporations that control most of what we see on network TV (GE, Time Warner,
Walt Disney, News Corp. Viacom and CBS), have donated more than $127 million in the last decade just to the
Democratic and Republican National Committees alone (this does not include
donations to individual candidates).  With all the influence the Big Six
already have, you wouldn't think they would need to buy even more influence. 
But I guess you gotta spend money to make it okay for you to drown out any
competing voices.

My point?  As John
Nichols and Robert McChesney explain
, we've reached a crucial moment in the
battle to maintain an independent, free and substantive press.  Grassroots
groups and the general public have waged a remarkable campaign to prevent the
FCC from handing over more power to the predominant purveyors of news and
information in America. 
But we must continue to be
vigilant
by participating in FCC media ownership hearings or we'll hear
fewer voices and certainly less diverse ones, above the crackle of breaking news
from the Brangelina front.

The Brennan
Center's work on democracy issues is vital.  But a free press is
fundamental to a fully functioning democracy—it's no accident that it's
written into the very first amendment. An uninformed electorate will likely make bad
choices.  Instead of following this ridiculous suggestion to institute a voter
qualification test which could take voting rights away from people, let's do
our best to make sure the media stays free,
diverse, and relevant so that everyone gets the information they need.

Mike Webb is a
hypocritical New York elitist who, in his publicity job, feeds at the trough of
the news industry.