June 17, 2002
Which came first, the loss of democracy or the loss of a free press?
I suppose a case can be made for either proposition, but as an old news hound, I hold to the latter.
Decades ago we let the media slip into the hands of a few fat cat corporations with the sensitivity of sharks, the ethics of Mafia hit men, and an imperial lust for power and gold.
We are now paying the price for allowing this to happen as the media allies itself to the political power structure, providing readers and viewers with a very distorted picture of the world. It seems real -- until you take a closer look. Then you discover it is an Escher painting, an impossible world that violates the laws of the universe.
Thus we have the moronic puppet George W. Bush being portrayed as a leader with the stature of a Churchill or FDR, his incredible gaffes expunged from the public record. Questions about 9/11 go unasked, the Enron scandal disappears from view, anthrax becomes a crossword clue, White House nuclear threats are treated as routine, and Bush's embrace of Israel's war criminal Sharon is covered as though it were honorable. His Homeland Security, with the stink of the Gestapo about it, is treated only as a political/administrative project. And the ludicrous War on Everybody and Everything is treated with great solemnity.
But the world presented serves interests of both the power elite and the corporate media, the public be damned. It allows the politicians and other power brokers to spin their webs of deceit without challenge. In turn, the government gives the corporate media monopolistic control over information -- and immense profit.
For example, the 1996 Telecommunications Act gave away the store to the media giants who control TV. Under the act, the largest media companies in the world were handed several new channels in every market where they currently own one, a gift of public property worth as much as $70 billion. Restrictions on ownership of newspapers, radio stations and TV stations and networks by any one corporation were loosened, leading to even more mergers in a field with too few players already.
Some eternally optimistic folks think that the Internet is safely in the hands of the citizens and is a counterweight to the corporate media. They are delusional. The Internet is about to fall under the control of the same media giants. The FCC is giving control of the Broadband Internet to a handful of corporations. In March, the FCC ruled that cable companies do not have to open their networks to competing ISPs, virtually assuring that soon the average Broadband subscriber will have only one or two options for getting on the Net. DSL is next. The FCC is planning to let local phone companies -- now essentially down to four Baby Bells -- deny other DSL providers access to local phone efforts. The net result will be that cable companies and Baby Bells will quickly establish a monopoly on Broadband service over their own networks.
There once were thousands of ISPs offering dial-up service; there will be fewer than a dozen Broadband providers. That will bring higher prices and poorer service as quickly as you can say 'bottom line.' More importantly, the monopolists will have the opportunity to control access to information content that offends them. And if you don't think that will happen, take a look at AOL -- and I have some Florida swampland I can let you have cheap.
The censorship is inevitable. Only the degree is in question. AOL, for example, once cut off access to a breast cancer survivors discussion group. "Breast," you see, was one of those offensive words that AOLers couldn't be allowed to see. Will anti-Bush sites offend the monopolists? Progressive sites like Swans?
Probably control of the Internet will never be as flawless as the corporate media's control of broadcast and print news. That control is near perfect. And no wonder. A FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) study of national TV news shows in the year 2001 shows that 92 percent of all U.S. sources identified were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.
In short, the coverage is essentially only of the power elite. Progressives and other dissenters are invisible.
Every time that Bush needs the public attention diverted from some ugliness that can no longer be denied, the White House issues another threat report. And the media pretends that the story is fair and accurate and dutifully plays it large, thereupon effectively hiding the ugliness once again. It's a pattern as predictable as sunrise.
Without access to accurate information, democracy is impossible. When the corporate media joins forces with the controlling power structures, the public no longer has accurate information. And democracy dies, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
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Related Internal Links
Propaganda Then And Now (Gilles d'Aymery - November 2001)
The Media Marches Off To War (Deck Deckert - October 2001)
The Media (Deck Deckert - April 2001)
Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic.
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This Week's Internal Links
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Essays published in 2002 | 2001