After getting a major shot of publicity in the United States as a result of its coverage of the unrest in Egypt, Al Jazeera English is embarking on a huge marketing push. The network took out this full-page ad in this morning’s Los Angeles Times:
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Well, last Tuesday’s elections went almost as predicted by Big Media. I say “almost,” in that even though the Democrats got creamed in the House races, they managed to barely hold onto the Senate. All year, Big Media were pretty much salivating over seeing a repeat of 1994, wherein the Democrats lost both the House and the Senate to the Republicans, a blowout many attributed to so-called liberal “overreach” on the part of then-President Clinton’s administration.
Aside from the Republicans, the corporate media were big winners in this year’s turbulent mid-terms. This election was the most expensive non-presidential election in history, with $4 billion spent by candidates. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, independent groups were able to anonymously bankroll an onslaught of political advertising on behalf of mostly Republican candidates.
And Big Media was there to cash in. Hundreds of millions of dollars from political spots went right into the coffers of television and radio stations and cable outlets across the country. It’s no wonder that political pundits paid little attention to the corrosive effect all this advertising – much of it deceptive – had on the outcomes of the electoral races. The media barons would no doubt be the biggest obstacles to an effort to require all political advertising be free.
The corporate media is primarily interested in boosting ratings by pumping up the horse race between the Democrats and the Republicans. They are less interested in providing voters with accurate information about issues and candidates that the electorate needs to make sound decisions. Worse, we have radio and television outlets spewing propaganda 24-7, with no accountability demanded by advertisers or federal regulators. So what you end up with is a confused electorate, whose voting patterns give an unclear and distorted picture of what it is they exactly want from their representatives.
The profit motive, the quest for ratings, and false equivalency are killing the credibility and independence of the Fourth Estate in this country. They’re also killing our democracy. The mainstream media are largely to blame for a public that is increasingly ignorant and ill-equipped to make rational decisions about public policy.
The wall between news and entertainment must be restored. Journalists must stop giving fanatics, lunatics and shysters equal weight with academics, scientists and other experts in various fields. It’s time for all reporters, editors, producers and publishers to stop the “he said, she said” stories, and start informing their audiences as to who is telling the truth and who is lying. Exposing lies is not “biased,” because the truth cannot be biased. The news must become a public service again. The survival of our democracy depends on it.
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Unless you’re a political junkie, chances are you didn’t know there was a very large civil rights rally going on at Los Angeles City College last Saturday. The event was was among several satellite demonstrations held across the country as part of the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington D.C. Organized by civil rights groups, unions, environmentalists and other liberal organizations, the rally was meant to mobilize Democrats for the Nov. 2 midterm elections, as well as provide a counter-movement to the conservative Tea Partiers. The event took place on the National Mall, where thousands of Tea Partiers – led by conservative TV commentator Glenn Beck – had gathered a month before.
The pro-corporate, anti-tax Tea Party movement has gotten wall-to-wall press coverage, even though only about 30 percent of the population actually supports it. Saturday’s event did get some national coverage from the major television networks, but that paled in comparison to the kind of attention the Tea Partiers are getting on a routine basis. Locally, all I could find was this 37-second clip from ABC7 News. Kudos to ABC for showing up.
Los Angeles’ only major newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, published a small photo of the Washington rally on its front page below the fold, with the story buried inside. There was no mention of the local event. However, the paper went out of its way to cover a Tea Party rally in Beverly Hills last week, where only 200 attended. One of the paper’s columnists, Steve Lopez, even provided additional commentary. Why the Times ignored the much larger, LACC One Nation event is a mystery to me. Maybe the editors thought coverage of the Washington rally was enough. But it seems to me when there’s a local angle to a major national story, the public should be informed about it.
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This little gem of an animated video I came across on The Kicker blog at the Columbia Journalism Review. It was made using a novel “text to movie” website called xtranormal. This video is hysterical and all too true, in light of what’s happened to several reporters recently when they ran afoul of the social media police. Be an MSM journalist – lose your soul?
As if the proposed Comcast/NBC Universal merger just wasn’t enough, the nation’s big broadcasters are strapping on the feed bag, ready to engorge themselves with more tasty snacks of the public’s television and radio airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing its media ownership rules for the fourth time since 2000, and the National Association of Broadcasters is again asking the commission to ease up on the regulation.
Specifically, the NAB wants the FCC to eliminate rules restricting cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations, relax radio station ownership rules as well as rules restricting ownership of television stations in certain markets. Media watchdog group, Free Press, immediately petitioned the FCC, criticizing the NAB’s request, and noting that the commission has gone too far already in allowing more media company consolidation. Free Press Policy Counsel Corie Wright:
“The FCC’s media ownership rules are critical to ensuring that the public’s primary news and information sources do not become consolidated in the hands of a few companies. Moreover, the so-called efficiencies of consolidation have not materialized. Instead, the cost of consolidating has placed a number of companies that might otherwise be profitable in dire straits, resulting in disinvestment in newsgathering and job losses for journalists.
“We urge the Commission to resist industry pressures to further weaken ownership limits. Companies that have made poor business decisions should not be rewarded with permission to engage in even more media consolidation that would further injure competition and diversity among local media outlets. It is not the Commission’s job to protect industry profit margins. Rather, its role is to promulgate and enforce regulations designed to promote competition, diversity and localism so that the public interest is served.”
If the FCC lets broadcasters own just about every newspaper, television and radio station in one market, quality journalism will continue to suffer. We’ll have even fewer – if any – news stories about how the City Council is spending taxpayer money, and more gossip about Lindsay Lohan’s legal troubles. After all, to a media company looking after its bottom line, gossip sells – government doesn’t. And there will be fewer alternatives available for the kind of reliable information one needs to make good decisions in a democracy. The Internet has yet to become a sufficient destination for local news. Besides, most people still get their news from television. Instead of informing viewers, broadcasters are spoon-feeding them entertainment disguised as “news,” with the result being too many people who know next to nothing about how their government works. That’s what rampant consolidation has brought us.
These broadcasters have stuffed themselves enough. Isn’t it time the FCC put them on a diet?
The Federal Communications Commission on Friday is holding a public hearing at Stanford University on the impact media consolidation and technological innovation has had on journalism. The hearing is part of the FCC’s review of its 2010 media ownership laws. This free event will feature a panel that includes Tim Westergren, Founder of Pandora Music, Eddy W. Hartenstein, Publisher and CEO, Los Angeles Times, Jim Joyce, President, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, and Vice President, Communications Workers of America and Alan Mutter, Publisher, Reflections of a Newsosaur, and Tiffiniy Ying Cheng, Co-Founder, Participatory Culture Foundation. The public will be able to comment during two comment sections. A schedule is available here.
The national media reform organization, Free Press, is urging all citizens concerned about too much corporate control over what we see and hear to attend this hearing. Says Josh Stearns, Program Manager for Free Press and SaveTheNews, “Even though President Obama has opposed media consolidation, Big Media has been beating down the door at the FCC. They are pushing the Obama FCC to go even farther than the Bush FCC and dramatically relax media ownership laws, letting absentee Big Media giants control even more local media.”
Below is footage of the most recent public hearing held in Columbia, South Carolina.
Although the Web has become a valuable refuge for those of us seeking alternatives to the Mainstream Media, most Americans still get the bulk of their news and information from the broadcast and cable networks and commercial talk radio. Most people still listen to music on commercial radio. And because of media consolidation, many cities, including Los Angeles, have lost newspapers, creating an environment where only one publication dominates. Contrary to what the big media conglomerates argue, letting fewer and fewer of these companies own more and more stations has not created competition, but stifled it, leading to dumbed-down infotainment masquerading as “news” and a lack of diverse voices in our media. As a result, Americans are as ill-served and ill-informed as ever – a situation that is having disastrous consequences for our democracy. With the pending Comcast/NBC Universal merger threatening to make our airwaves even more homogenized, it’s imperative that the public makes its voice heard. So if you can get up to Stanford this Friday and go to this, please do so.
What: Media Ownership Public Hearing
When: May 21, 2010, 10AM to 5PM (the public comment section is at 11:45 and 3:30)
Where: Stanford University, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, 471 Lagunita Drive, Stanford, CA
On Friday, Los Angeles Times subscribers found this splashed across the front page: a full page advertisement for the new Johnny Depp/Tim Burton film, Alice In Wonderland, featuring a heavily coiffed and made-up Depp as the Mad Hatter. Except this wasn’t the real front page. The ad was wrapped around the actual newspaper. Looking at today’s letters to the editor page commenting on the stunt, some readers were not amused.
The Times, whose parent Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2008, has gotten in hot water before over aggressive strategies to raise money. In 1999, a scandal broke out over a profit sharing agreement the newspaper made with the Staples Center sports arena. The incident elicited anger from newspaper staff and readers alike. In April 2009, the paper published a faux front page column about a day in the life of a rookie Los Angeles Police Department officer. The “column” was a promotion for the then-NBC show Southland. Critics said the stunt damaged the newspaper’s credibility, going beyond what is ethically permissive. The newspaper’s executive editor said later that the Southland ad was a mistake. The Alice In Wonderland ad may get fresh criticism, and might cost the troubled newspaper more subscribers. But with the newspaper industry nearing financial collapse, will readers just have to get used to these sorts of creative – and journalistically questionable – ways for news publications to raise money? Or, if we don’t like this cozier relationship between editorial and advertisers, then the only other way to save the newspaper industry might have to be more government involvement and investment.