Throughout human history news was not a spectator sport. We all participated in the gathering of the news and we all told the news – at the marketplace, around the campfires, as we met each other on whatever paths we traveled – human beings have always been great ex-changers of news. Today, corporate media has taken over the telling of the news by controlling the news sources and reporting methods and use them to advance special interests and/or specific agendas. Real news has been replaced with sensationalism, celebrity, and conjecture – all designed to change public perception.
Reporting and the Fourth Estate
In the United States, the “fourth estate” is supposed to monitor the political process to ensure that political players don’t abuse the democratic process. But some call the media the fourth branch of government as it plays such a central role in the fortunes of political candidates and issues. This is where the role of the media often becomes controversial. Real reporting consists of research, objectivity by interviewing and fact gathering from both sides of an issue or telling both sides of the story, and presenting facts in such a way that a man vs. man story allows readers to form their own opinions, not the other way around.
Walter Cronkite is a perfect example of what real reporting is all about. CBS Nightly News at one time was the most trusted name in news, and Walter Cronkite was their figurehead. He was the one who told America that President Kennedy had been shot, that we had put a man on the moon, and the painful truth that America could not win the war in Vietnam. Cronkite set the standards of television news high, back when television was new and malleable. He was loyal to those standards, and his audience was likewise loyal to him. He was an incorruptible force in a profession that was easily corrupted. Walter Cronkite represented excellence n journalism – which is defined as the fair, accurate, contextual search for truth that provides citizens with the independent news and information they need to run their communities and their lives. There have been very few such honorable newsmen since…
Public information, the news we rely on, is now in the hands of giant corporations who decides what is and what is not newsworthy. Commercially driven journalism has no interest in the common man who is basically shut out altogether – it has become a system that tells us only what people in power are interested in or want to talk about. Do not doubt that this is an all out effort to control people – their ideas, even their imaginations. This is a crisis of democracy for you cannot stifle discourse and still claim to have a free society. This is about a clash between two worlds – big media corporations spinning public perception for profit versus the defenders of liberty and democracy.
“When men yield up the exclusive privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon” ~ Thomas Paine, 1776
It could be argued that America was founded by a journalist (Thomas Paine) with the concept that if you gave citizens the information they need, they could rule themselves. The founding fathers gave us the fundamental right to a free press. The First Amendment is written in terms that are absolute and its command is that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…” (Article One,Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, 1789).
According to Journalist Amy Goodman: “Journalism is the only profession explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, because journalists are supposed to be the check and balance on government. We’re supposed to be holding those in power accountable, asking the critical questions. We’re not supposed to be their megaphone. That’s what the corporate media have become.”
Every progressive movement in America has its roots in the press. The abolitionist movement didn’t begin in Congress – it began in those freely distributed weekly newspapers that were painstakingly printed out. The early Americans realized that information was power – it was information that freed us because when people have information, they can make decisions on what to do. But that idea has since become deeply distorted. Media is how we converse with each other, how we discuss the world around us and that is now constrained due to corporate intervention in the reporting process. There is much information that we need to know, that is being held back by corporate media who for whatever reason, decide it not in their best interest to divulge.
CBS along with other media giants control everything we see, hear and read through television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, films, and large portions of the Internet. Today a total of six major corporations control U.S. media: General Electric (MSNBC, NBC), Walt Disney(ABC), News Corporation (Fox), Time Warner (CNN), Viacom (MTV, Comedy Channel),and CBS. In particular, News Corporation’s Fox News channel is infamous for its ideological bent and constant factual distortions. Polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, and NBC/Wall Street Journal have all linked higher levels of misinformation among Fox News viewers when compared to other MSM outlets.
The press has been eager to promulgate its own self-importance. In a democracy it is imperative that issues be discussed openly and arguments dissenting from accepted wisdom be at least aired without fear of any physical retaliation. But this is hugely optimistic. The word ‘free’ is probably the most abused word in the English language. The free press is supposed to mean that it is free from outside interference.
But in reality the press is simply free to spread its own agenda. Mainstream media is owned by private individuals through corporate conduits and exists purely as a propaganda machine to distribute news that serves the interests of its owners. This cannot be stressed enough! It can be obvious, as in backing a particular political candidate, or more covert, as in burying or outright omitting news that is seen as damaging to their corporate interests or image. As corporate media is basically corporate advertising,why do people still believe it? Sadly,most people do believe what they read or see on TV or hear on the radio; no matter how outrageous or improbable the information may be. Only a small number of media outlets are reporting the real news about politics and other challenges ahead of us. Rupert Murdoch admitted in a television interview that he feels it is media’s responsibility to manipulate the public opinion. He also confessed that during the Iraqi war Fox News not only backed but promoted the Bush policy. Not exactly the ‘Fair & Balanced’approach Fox News claims.
The Fifth Estate – Citizenship Journalism
Most people think of themselves as being smart, street-wise, and able to distinguish what is true and what is not. Yet, most people still depend on mainstream corporate media sources for their ‘news’ –the same MSM they often blame for being biased. One cannot at the same time believe and disbelieve the corporate media; either you understand what is being fed to you,or you do not. The Fourth Estate, in the shape of self-interest corporate mainstream media, is no longer there to serve the interests of its readers, if it ever was.
But thanks to the advent of the Internet with all its permutations, manifestations,and progenies, we can now watch in real-time the same breaking news stories that formerly only cable and network news offered. We can comment and share and make our own decisions about what is happening in the world without a reporter from CNN telling us what we see – or how we should feel about it.
We can see the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and see and hear comments of real people who are affected by these events without the spin of news agencies.We see the riots taking place around the world as people rebel against unfair governments or unjust acts. We can see first-hand, the unfiltered horrors of war. We see raw, naked truth and wondrous, unmitigated beauty.
The Internet is simultaneously global & local. There is no excuse to keep begging at the altar of corporate media for ‘faux news’. There is no excuse for swallowing lie after lie when there are far more honest sources of information. Being aware of the propaganda and the news-speak is useful in knowing what one is expected to believe, but there is no reason to actually believe it when there are alternatives that are just a click away. If people really want to know what is going on in the world there must be a new element, a Fifth Estate– Citizen Journalism.
Most Americans admit a healthy skepticism about the information that advertisers ,politicians and the media churn out, but nevertheless, most tend to allow that data to influence choices and opinions. Why? Because this is what we have leaned to accept as the most reliable we have. But information is never neutral, and the interests that underlie the “truths” we have come to trust all have agendas. The public’s disinterest in the pursuit of actual knowledge is supported by Corporate Sponsors seeking to manipulate. As Susan Crossen reveals in her book “Tainted Truth” ‘people are neither trained nor inclined to question the methodology behind the construction of facts that infuse our lives’. As a result, we are at grave risk of being continually misled. Only research and greater awareness on the part of the public will result in those deceptions behind the “truth” we are presented being exposed.
Here is a thought: With global interactions being so accessible, what if we the people took it upon ourselves to start speaking directly to citizens in ‘opposing’ countries? Forget the politicians and diplomats, just citizen to citizen through social media? Would more wars be prevented? I think so. Most people – worldwide – want the same thing: the opportunity to live a happy life and raise their children IN PEACE.
With such a multitude of platforms for social communication, why do we continue to let our politicians write the narrative for us, especially when it most often isn’t representative of how we the people really feel?
We currently live in a culture of taking, of distortion, and greed that dictates our reality. But in this new age of communication, with all the wondrous things at our fingertips, we have the capability to make the world better place for everyone, not just the privileged and powerful. By sharpening our awareness of the world around us (the issues, the important ideas and how to present them) we are linked to the past and our view of life widens as do our personal horizons. Developing this perspective is critical in this time of amazing technology where things change so rapidly. The world grows smaller and the lives of the diverse populations become more interconnected. In such a world we must avoid the temptation to concern ourselves exclusively with our own interests and pursuits.This is also the reason it is imperative that Net Neutrality be preserved – to maintain the purity of the news without the filter of Corporate Media.
In order to exist in harmony we must understand and accept different cultures and value systems, even while we remain true to our own. We are now plugged in to that giant global marketplace where we can do what human beings have always done – exchange news.