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RM Issue #031024

You will never see this on CNN '
Friday, October 17, 2003 @ 00:10:04 CST

By Paul Harris

YellowTimes.org Columnist (Canada)

(YellowTimes.org) or CBS, or NBC, or any other of the major American communication networks. You might see it tucked away on the back pages of Canada's CBC or Britain's BBC or any number of small independent media sources. Increasingly, though, you are seeing it on the Internet on sites such as the one you are reading right now.

There is a feeling that the Internet is full of junk and it is, but it is also full of free-thinking and spirited debate about the issues that affect us all. Even though much of the Internet has come under the watchful eye of the dominant corporate media empires, that free-wheeling and vigorous exchange of ideas and values is ongoing; the media magnates have not figured out yet how to stifle the obvious groundswell of people who are just plain angry about watching our world sliding into a toilet and who are increasingly convinced that everyone is lying to us about it.

Why should the media care? Because the people who are filling the Internet by writing all those news pieces and opinion pieces and publishing research and parsing the truth out of the lies or semi-lies spouted by government are doing the job that most mainstream media long ago abdicated.

This is not about the awful things occurring in the world; anyone can see that. It's about the abysmal failure of the media to help us understand what is going on around us, to show us the truth, to point the blame and sing the praise where it is warranted, to challenge the comfortable lies we have come to accept as our reality.

Maybe it is nave to think that television and newsprint and radio can ever hope to provide honesty and integrity; in these days, they rarely even make the attempt. They are, primarily, entertainment vehicles and news is currently all about entertainment; it isn't about the current events of the day, or "what's been did and what's been hid." It is simply packaged gloss designed to fill a half hour or full hour (less the time needed to sell the sponsors' products). It always fits the allotted time; it rarely rouses the audience or challenges it to think; it never makes the people of the country telling the story think that they might be the bad guys; it just delivers the comfortable half-truths that keep the greatest part of the audience placid. And its truth seems to be directly proportional to the good looks or believability of the news reader.

Virtually all forms of news media are owned by corporations. Increasingly, those are huge corporations with rapidly diminishing numbers. "Media concentration" has been raised and discussed for several years but there is little understanding of just how pervasive it is -- and how perilous. In these days, honesty in journalism is a privilege rarely exercised in the halls of corporate media except in those benign stories about kittens trapped up a tree who scamper down in a display of cuteness just as the firefighter's ladder reaches them.

In an article by Howard Kurtz appearing October 5 on WashingtonPost.com, he opines that journalists "are the public's watchdogs, with special freedoms enshrined under the First Amendment. Reporters say they could not dig out vital information about government and business" without the ability to shield sources and print the truth. Mostly, they do shield sources but the printing of truth remains only an occasional adventure. In fact, reporters are so constrained by the interests of the corporations who pay their salaries that they can only nibble away at the edges of full disclosure of the facts they have gathered. Frankly, the vast resources that go into reporting such minutia as O.J. Simpson's case, or Heidi Fleiss's little book of customers, or whether Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck are still on speaking terms, can hardly be dignified with the concept of "public's watchdogs." Unfortunately, that is the depth to which the bulk of "news" has sunk.

There are serious dangers in the way journalists do their jobs. If they truly are the watchdogs of the public interest, then let them justify the findings of a recent study conducted by the University of Maryland. UM's Program on International Policy surveyed a group of polls taken at various times during 2003 in various parts of the United States and investigated the results to determine the effectiveness of the media. Specifically, the issue was the war in Iraq and UM found that 60% of Americans believed at least one of a small group of incorrect "facts" about the war. For instance, the results showed that 48% of Americans believed evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda had been proved; 22% believed weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq; 25% believed that world opinion favored the U.S. going to war with Iraq. At least 60% of Americans believed at least one of these things and 45% of the viewers of one particular news network believed all of them. [For the record, all of these are incorrect.]

UM took these results a little further to determine just how Americans got to be so ill-informed and it seems the blame lies squarely with misinformation or disinformation spread by the mainstream media in the U.S. There are no prizes for guessing which news network did the poorest job of educating the audience; it should be self-evident. But the point is that these misconceptions among the American people developed out of the "public watchdog" function described by Mr. Kurtz. With respect, it ain't working.

This is not meant to be a slam about the education or public awareness levels of Americans. One of the most defining events in the history of Canada and one of its proudest moments was the large part it played in the D-Day invasion at Normandy in June 1944. In a recent poll, 47% of Canadians couldn't identify the event.

The truth is out there. But you're going to have to look for it because the "news" sources aren't free to give it to you.

[Paul Harris is self-employed as a consultant providing businesses with the tools and expertise to reintegrate their sick or injured employees into the workplace. Canadian businesses can reach him at paul@working- solutions.ca. He has traveled extensively in what is usually known as "the Third World" and has an abiding interest in history, social justice, morality and, well, just about everything. Paul is also a freelance writer and can be reached at paul@escritoire.ca. He lives in Canada.]

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