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Citizens & Frogs, Media & Government

If you put a frog in a pan of hot water, it will jump out. If you put it in a pan of lukewarm water, then slowly turn up the heat it will boil to death.

We are no different. In Shakespeare's Richard II, the tragic king observes that man's capacity for adjustment seems infinite. Infinite, yes. We are frogs, all of us. The only response is, Do we want to be?, and in that question lies our difference. We can jump out before the water boils.

Not that we will. Only that we can.

Where am I going with this? Here—In the last post, I noted that most media are ignoring the military build-up in the Middle East. The reason is obvious. It's called big business. The media are big business. For news anchors, the build-up story does not scream. People might flick the remote to the next channel. Besides, if war erupts, why that would be a real screamer, attracting many viewers. Never mind all that B.S. about the public interest, say the media. A buddy of media executives, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell said he did not know what the public interest is. He was not kidding.

You and I are the public, and we know what it is. Our vital interest lies with knowing that massive military build-ups have occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. We are already like frogs, our troops in the scalding water of Iraq. Without public knowledge, without public debate, we may be plunged into a caldron. Mainstream news got us into Iraq because corporate profit margins rule out investigative journalism. Instead, the news anchors just parroted the White House buzz words. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Saddam Hussein linked to terrorists. Lies, all of them, we now know, but no thanks to the media's sense of public interest.

There went more frogs into Iraq. In the Nineteenth Century soldiers were openly called cannon fodder by the power elite. Those in power did not understand what we now call Spin, or Propaganda. This explains why recent polls reveal that public trust in government is far lower than in 1981.

The only way to stop being frogs is to understand what is happening to media in this country. Not only to understand it, but to make our voices heard before the water boils.

Think about this.

  • Could a few media conglomerates overwhelm smaller competing voices? Voices that have news and information vital to the public interest? Quite obviously, they have. A 2004 report identified 6 media conglomerates that owned 94 percent of the media market; (1) Viacom-CBS-MTV; (2) Rupert Murdoch's Newscorpt (FoxTV, etc.) (3) GE-NBC-Universal-Vivendi; (4) Time-Warner-CNN-AOL; (5) Disney-ABC-ESPN; (6) Comcast. In 1981 there was great worry because ownership had shriveled to 15 conglomerates.

  • Be clear on this. The news media is not in bed with big business. The news media is big business. The State of the News Media 2004 report produced by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in March found that most sectors of the news media have seen clear cutbacks in newsgathering resources. The number of newspaper newsroom staffers shrunk by 2,000 between 2000 and 2004, a drop of 4% overall. Some major online news sites saw much deeper cuts, such as MSNBC, which cut around a quarter of its staff between 2001 and 2003. Radio newsroom staffing declined by 57% from 1994 to 2001. After an up-tick in 1999, network staffing began to drop again in 2000. Since 1985 the number of network news correspondents has declined by 35 percent while the number of stories per reporter increased by 30 percent.

  • The 1996 Telecommunications Act further deregulated the Federal Communications Commission, paving the way for more take-overs. During the senate debate Senator John McCain said, "You will not see this story on any television or hear it on any radio broadcast." All together the 3 major network news shows aired a sum total of only 19 minutes of coverage of the Telecommunications Act, over the course of NINE MONTHS.

    Now, tell me that the media makes sure the public is well-informed.

  • These conglomerates are not answerable to the people although they use public air waves free of charge, tax free, thanks to the coziness between their lobbyists and Capitol Hill legislators, who need their campaign contributions. Soon only one voice will remain. Only one truth. Theirs.

    Oh, we will still have freedom of choice. We can select many different programs to watch. We have great variety in entertainment. Like a frog, we can sit contentedly while the water heats.

    But our understanding of our world, the way we see it, that is a different matter. It will be shaped by how big businesses want us to see it. There is a pattern to the way certain stories are covered, then dropped. The level of secrecy, of news distortion, or non-coverage has reached a historic low.

    Charles Lewis of the Center for Pubic Integrity was a producer for CBS Sixty Minutes until he concluded that the public simply never learned much of important news. Lewis has this to say of his own organization, Center for Public Integrity:
  • They don't investigate and report on the media because none of their findings would ever be reported by the media. They found that the most powerful special interest in Washington is the media. The National Association of Broadcasters has lobbyists. The public is entitled to seats in committee hearing rooms, but lobbyists hire place holders, poor people who stand in line holding their position, then slipping out when the lobbyist shows up as doors open for the hearing. The National Association of Broadcasters has nearly 300 paid lobbyists who give away tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions. And they control whether a politician gets on the air all over America. Not only that but the Fairness Doctrine has been abolished. No more free time for politicians. They must pay, which accounts for one third of media news budget, and the huge rise in campaign expenses.

    That's power.

    How much power do we have? One thing is certain. Our power will be limited to that of a frog in heating water unless we make ourselves heard.
    Source: Orwell Rolls in His Grave at Information Clearing House
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