By NANCY JAMES
Recently Nancy James, of Seagrove Beach, attended a three-day conference on media reform, held in Minneapolis, and filed this report.
Bill Moyers put it the most simply: “As journalism goes, so goes democracy.”
The acclaimed PBS commentator was addressing over 3,000 participants at the National Conference on media reform. It was sponsored by Free Press, a national media-watchdog group.
Moyers credited our founding fathers with great foresight in protecting freedom of the press– the only business enterprise mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. They realized, he said, that “without a free and truly independent press, this democracy would not make it.”
Why? Because the news media must keep citizens abreast of major events and issues so that when we vote we can make informed decisions. But “what we need to know,” Moyers said, “is compromised by those in power.” Instead of watchdogs, many in the media have become lapdogs, he said, in order to stay on the inside track with the officials they cover.
Media consolidation is another huge factor in the decline of the media, Moyers said. The fewer the number of independent newspapers and radio and TV stations, the less chance for diverse coverage and opinions. Because many media owners today are huge corporations, they care only about the bottom line. And that’s why the country is getting less and less good investigative journalism and more “infotainment” featuring celebrities, crime, disasters and sports.
Moyers was just one of many presenters at the conference but the only one who had an entire hour to himself. Other speakers included Amy Goodman of radio’s Democracy Now, broadcaster Dan Rather, former TV host Phil Donahue, author Walter Mosley, columnist Arianna Huffington, and two FCC commissioners, two U.S. senators and one representative. They were augmented by about 60 panel-discussion speakers.
The main problems pointed out by the speakers, in addition to media consolidation and reporters too close to their sources, included the following:
“Government consistently gets the easy questions wrong” and no one in the media calls them on it.
Congress members are wholly dependent on private money to win their seats, a situation that will not change until the media publicize the connection between who contributes and who is rewarded by subsequent legislation.
Lobbyists are so powerful on Capitol Hill they often write legislation, yet their influence is seldom questioned by journalists.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), appointed by the president who must name three of his own party and two from the opposition party, keeps attempting to weaken the rules against single owners of multiple news media in the same market. Only through the Internet has the call to action roused millions of people to tell their senators and representatives to override the FCC’s latest attempt. The Senate overwhelmingly voted to override this spring; the House is now considering the measure.
The Internet, in fact, was one of the few providers of news that came out positive at the conference. Speakers stressed that we must be vigilant not to allow special interests to change the present freedom of the Internet, which is sometimes called “net neutrality.” Some telecommunications companies have tried to set up a two-tier system where they would be given primary access and the rest of the providers would come in second.
Calling our Congress member to guard net neutrality and to override the FCC on consolidation were two actions suggested by speakers.
Besides the Internet, several bright spots were found in so-called alternative media, which included minority-owned press, independent radio stations, and magazines that now do much of the investigative journalism in the U.S.
The conference was designed for members of the mainstream press and alternative media, elected officials and concerned citizens. The 3,500 who attended represented all 50 states plus a dozen foreign countries, including nations in Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Far East.