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The Fight of Our Lives: Bill Moyers on the Danger of Our Corp. News Media [View All]

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Nov-20-05 06:38 PM
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The Fight of Our Lives: Bill Moyers on the Danger of Our Corp. News Media
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Edited on Sun Nov-20-05 07:32 PM by Time for change
The chapter that I discuss here comes from Bill Moyers' book, "Moyers on America -- A Journalist and His Times". This chapter is Moyers' warning to us that if we don't find a way to get our news media back we may have lost our democracy and our country for good.

As Moyers notes, "What we're talking about is nothing less than rescuing a democracy". And, "Free and responsible government by popular consent cant exist without an informed public". This knowledge was the rationale behind the First Amendment to our Constitution, passed in 1791. But Moyers discusses three powerful forces that are undermining the freedom that our First Amendment was meant to provide us with.

The desire of government for secrecy

This desire of course is as old as history itself. Only seven years after the passage of our First Amendment, Congress passed, under the urging of the John Adams Administration, the infamous Sedition Act, which essentially made it a federal crime to criticize the government. Fortunately for our country, the courage of at least a dozen editors (who went to jail rather than comply with this law), the built in expiration date of the Sedition Act, and the ascendancy to the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson in 1801 all served to limit the damage of the Sedition Act to our democracy.

In 1971 the Nixon Administration used the doctrine of "prior restraint" to try to prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers, with their numerous embarrassing revelations on the history of our role in the Viet Nam War. Again, it was the courage of numerous editors (later vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court), who pressured their publishers at the New York Times and the Washington Post not to cave in to pressure from the Nixon Administration, that scored another victory for Democracy.

The priority given by media giants to commercial over democratic values

In 1934 (FDR's Administration) the Federal Communications Act (FCA) was passed, with the intent of preventing monopolies of news that would allow a small number of news organizations to operate against the public interest.

However, the Reagan Revolution ushered in a deregulation ideology beginning in 1981 that resulted in the elimination of many of the public interest safeguards of the FCA. The networks then began to cut their news staff, especially their investigative units, and the priority given to news of public interest began a long decline. Moyers notes:

A crowning achievement of that drive was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the largest corporate welfare program ever for the most powerful media and entertainment conglomerates in the world V passed, I must add, with support from both parties. The beat of convergence between once-distinct forms of media goes on at increased tempo...

The linkage of media giants with authoritarian government

The protection offered us by our First Amendment is based on the assumption of a separation of our government and a free press, which is supposed to protect us from government abuses. Moyers goes on:

What would happen, however, if the contending giants of big government and big publishing and broadcasting ever joined hands, ever saw eye to eye in putting the public's need for news second to free-market economics? That's exactly what's happening now under the ideological banner of "deregulation". Giant media conglomerates that our founders could not possibly have envisioned are finding common cause with an imperial state in a betrothal certain to produce not the sons and daughters of liberty but the very kind of bastards that issued from the old arranged marriage of church and state.

Consider the situation. Never has there been an administration so disciplined in secrecy, so precisely in lockstep in keeping information from the people at large and -- in defiance of the Constitution -- from their representatives in Congress. Never has the powerful media oligopoly ... been so unabashed in reaching like Caesar for still more wealth and power. Never have hand and glove fitted together so comfortably to manipulate free political debate, sow contempt for the idea of government itself, and trivialize the peoples' need to know.

He goes on in that vein for some time, but I think this is enough for this post.

So what can we do to avoid losing our democracy?

Moyers concludes that, as history teaches us, in order to preserve democracy it must be fought for. And he ends with a number of general suggestions. We must:
-- Prevent the Internet from being taken over by the media conglomerates.
-- Get our fellow citizens to understand what is happening.
-- Prevent further monopolization and restore the limitations of cross-ownership of news media outlets.
-- Expand opportunities for non-commercial news media organizations.
-- Watch critically and carefully attempts by the government/corporate power structure to further abuse its powers.
-- Recruit and train journalists with a strong sense of public service.

And in Summary

It would take courage to confront powerful ownerships in that way, but not as much courage as is asked of those brave journalists in some countries who face the dungeon... We are in the fight of our lives... Those are difficult tasks at any time, and they are even more difficult in a cynical age such as this, when a deep and pervasive corruption has settled upon the republic.

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