Seldom so few
MINNEAPOLIS — Some 3,500 stout hearts attended the National Conference for Media Reform last week, and if that seems few for such a big job, note that their numbers are growing. Bill Moyers, the keynote speaker, accurately described media reform as “the most significant citizens' movement to emerge in this new century.”
The American media have always sought to make money, of course — and some of them made plenty in the old days — but as one of the speakers here noted, there was also a fairly widespread notion in the old days that newspapers and other media were supposed to do more than just make money, that the best of them would comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that reporters and editors were in something of a partnership, even if uneasy, with the owners, and that journalists possessed skills that were often, if not always, used to inform the citizenry on important matters. It is not so now. A handful of big corporations own virtually all the media outlets, and they're not interested in truth and justice, only revenue. They value only reporters and editors who share their goal. (The Minneapolis Star Tribune, once an estimable publication owned by a high-minded journalistic family, is now owned by what is described as a “private equity firm.” The newspaper didn't cover the media-reform conference in its living room, though the event included big-name speakers such as Moyers and Dan Rather.)
Consolidation is the root of media evil, Moyers said. “As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and broadcast outlets, news organizations are folded into entertainment divisions. The news hole in the print media shrinks to make room for ads, celebrities, nonsense and propaganda, and the news we need to know slips from sight.” And he cited the placement of government propagandists in mainstream media as a symptom of journalism in crisis. “You couldn't find a more revealing measure of the state of the dominant media today than the continuing ubiquitous presence — on the air and in print — of the very pundits and experts, self-selected ‘message multipliers' of a disastrous foreign policy, who got it all wrong in the first place.”
The citizen soldiers of media reform have made advancements, overmatched though they appear. Last month, they persuaded the Senate to nullify a Federal Communications Commission attempt to promote even more media consolidation by allowing a corporation to own both print and electronic media in the same market. The reformers still must win over the House too, and if they do that, there's likely a presidential veto waiting.
But the cause is not lost, and before Minneapolis we might have thought that it was. People who care about freedom and democracy can enlist at www.freepress.net.