Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dialogue a Key Ingredient of Democracy Missing in US Corporate News Media

For anyone imbibing US corporate news media, the outcome is certain: they will be treated to a zero-calorie infotainment diet served on traditional feeding intervals at the networks, or for the insatiable junk food news consumer, round the clock cable news menus heavy on advertiser appetizers and tabloid dessert specials. This is a recipe for a literal Truth Emergency in our society. When we rely on corporate media outlets to provide context for national discourse, we find ourselves in a sea of information but are left with a paucity of understanding regarding anything relevant in our daily lives.

So-called “news” topics range from Tyra Banks’ figure fluctuations to the Balloon Boy hoax; from the White House Beer Summit to the death of Michael Jackson; while We the People become bloated from ubiquitous, no news nonsense. Absent from this smorgasbord of purported news programming¬ is any actual information, or news, generating healthy democratic dialogue and responsive representative government policy on the most important issues facing the general public– our faltering economy, lack of healthcare, and issues of war and peace.

The purpose of the free press, as enunciated by key founders of America, was to keep the citizenry informed, engaged, and in dialogue with one another about the crucial issues of the day. The health of any democracy can be diagnosed by the degree to which information flows freely in the culture. Anything that interferes with that free flow of information is a form of censorship, which acts to derail, distort, and deny the efficacy of any true democratic experiment.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison supported a vigorous public arena of discourse, debate, and competing ideas. In short, they wanted to encourage the process of dialogue and free expression as vehicles to achieve the best of democratic possibilities.

Jefferson opined that newspapers would better serve the country, by reporting the facts of matters at hand, than any form of government. In his first inaugural address, Jefferson said, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” Now imagine Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly advocating honest, open dialogue on their corporate media programs.

Madison warned, "A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” Now envision that Americans demand that the truth be spoken across the so-called public airwaves. The sharing of knowledge becomes a dialogue that leads to informed opinions and choices, ones that measure up to the national values and principles in our founding documents.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are not just words on parchment. They are the very concepts that make us humane in the modern world. The media, the supposed free press, should be encouraging robust dialogues while fighting for the future of all Americans, not just for the insurance companies, banks, big pharma, and the military industrial complex. In keeping with the founders’ notions of natural rights and intent in providing for the general welfare, we would do well to note that healthcare is a human right, workers have the right to the fruits of their labor, environmental degradation is a crime against humanity, and war is terrorism. These positions should all be part of our national discourse in a truly free press. Where are these voices in the corporate media cacophony?

Instead, the privileged institutions of corporate media are daily miring us in cynicism (reports of personal scandals, rampant corruption, and Congressional stagnation), rationalizing us into deep denial (falsely claiming the recession is over while key public indicators refute this), and leaving us footing a multi-trillion dollar tab for Wall Street bailouts and illegal wars (TARP, Iraq, Afghanistan, but nothing left for the public at home). A truly free press would herald these vile decrees and deeds as those of charlatans and demagogues. We must be the change we wish to see and we must not rely on spoon-fed, top down, corporate media propaganda. We must become the media in the process of sharing knowledge with each other on the road to a better world. Since the corporate media are not in the business of news and are not beholden to empirical truths, rather, only to shareholder profits and their own bottom line, they should not be trusted.

If a failing corporate media system ensconced in hyper-reality creates an excited delirium of knowinglessness, that system must be declared incapable of accurately informing the citizenry. The public must turn to independent journalism based in muckraking traditions, with transparent fact-based reporting that asks the tough and critical questions of itself and its leaders. An actual free press would provide factual knowledge and encourage us to engage with each other in our local communities on a daily basis in the quest to solve societal problems.

This is possible with our collective efforts, so long as we simultaneously reject the projected imaginings of the corporate media profiteers and their industry of illusion. The health and meaningfulness of our cultural dialogue, as well as the future of our republic, may well depend upon how swiftly and significantly we address the current Truth Emergency and what we do about it.
________________________________________________________________________

Mickey Huff is most recently co-editor with Peter Phillips, of Censored 2010 (where many of the ideas in this essay are further developed); is associate professor of History at Diablo Valley College; former associate director of Project Censored; and on the executive committee at the Media Freedom Foundation. He blogs at http://dailycensored.org and http://mythinfo.blogspot.com, and helps maintain http://mediafreedominternational.org. He can be reached at mhuff@dvc.edu.

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