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Media Reform Needed for a Continuing Democracy

By Peter Phillips

The First Amendment of the US constitution, guaranteeing freedom of 
the press, was established to maximize citizen cognition of critical 
issues in society. It was understood clearly by the founders that 
Democracy could only be maintained through an informed electorate.

A daily newspaper, along with the three major TV networks, ABC, CBS, 
NBC, as well as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, are the major sources of news 
and information for most Americans. News stories and the invidious 
entertainment segments from these corporate sources generally have 
similar themes and common frames of understanding. This concentration 
of access to media sources leaves most Americans with very narrow 
parameters of news awareness and an almost complete lack of competing 
opinions.

Important questions that impact most Americans are generally ignored. 
Why are 45 million American without health care? Why is poverty 
increasing in the US? What happened to the safety net of social 
programs for the disadvantaged? What are the underlying reasons - 
other than oil - for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and 
Afghanistan? Will the military draft be re-instituted in the US after 
the 04 election? What is the truth behind global warming and extreme 
weather conditions? Where have all the living wage jobs gone? Why is 
minimum wage now at 60% of its value in 1968? Who got rich in the 90s 
and kept the money? Who owns the electronic voting machine companies?

Each of these questions and many more directly affect nearly every 
American and their personal motivations to participate in the 
democratic process. Yet the corporate media choose not to address 
these important issues in any significant way. Instead, they are 
keeping us on top of the Peterson murder case, the Michael Jackson 
trial and the threat of new terror attacks.

By not addressing relevant issues facing everyday Americans, the 
corporate media are weakening democracy in the US. More than half the 
eligible voters in the country do not vote in elections. Most 
non-voters believe their vote matters very little. Therefore, they do 
not make the effort to distinguish important issues between 
candidates nor do the corporate media do it for them. Non-voters 
often see little difference between the two primary political parties 
and tend to believe that voting is a waste of time.

The corporate media agenda of maximum profits undermines the public 
purpose of a free press by creating the fiscal necessity for cutting 
costs and increasing the entertainment content. Ratings and audience 
share translate to higher advertising value and higher profits. This 
structural arrangement of corporate media results in an electorate 
who perceive few personal reasons to get involved, not just as voters 
but as activists on political issues as well.

How can we address media reform to broaden citizen democratic 
participation? The regulator of the media -- the Federal 
Communication Commission (FCC) -- is the body established to insure 
that the purposes of the First Amendment are maintained. Bush 
administration pro-corporate media appointees, however, have captured 
the FCC. Chaired by Michael Powell, the FCC has been trying to relax 
the media ownership rules by allowing expanded market share by any 
single media conglomerate and they propose to deregulate the rules of 
cross ownership between radio, television and newspapers in the same 
locale.

Members of Congress have been attempting to scale back the proposed 
FCC changes, but they need a public outcry to encourage them to 
continue their efforts.

Media reform is not a topic covered by the corporate media themselves 
and without a strong public expression of concern congressional 
resolve may weaken in an election year. We must continue the pressure 
and demand that a diversity of independent news sources be maintained 
in every city. And we must ask for public funding of 
locally-controlled grassroots independent news agencies throughout 
the country as well. Democracy is too precious to lose.

Peter Phillips is Department Chair and Professor of Sociology at 
Sonoma State University and director of Project Censored, a media 
research organization.

--
Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
707-664-2588
http://www.projectcensored.org/

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