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
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
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
Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
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