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Part Two: Documentary Filmmaker Sue Wilson's Got the "Broadcast Blues"

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Joan Brunwasser       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Welcome back for the second half of my interview with Sue Wilson, who made the 2009 documentary, Broadcast Blues. With polarization so rampant, there's very little resemblance (and no overlap) between the reality of the Right and that of its liberal/progressive counterpart. When is it considered simply presenting another viewpoint, when is it outright lying, and how can the public tell the difference?

Facts are knowable, and it should be the job of either a news host or, in the case of opinion shows, the broadcaster to present them.

In the case of a news show with guests, there is no reason for a host to just allow a free for all; it is very simple in the age of the internet to have a producer fact checking during the course of a program, and giving the facts to the on air host so he or she can inform the viewers. (Many hosts won't like that, because they can appear unfriendly, and they risk losing access to the guest the next time. Oh well.)

It is much more difficult to monitor a three hour tirade on talk radio. But broadcasters have a duty to the public interest; is it in the public interest to allow outright lies to go unchecked on the public airwaves? I think not.

As to the public, don't believe everything you hear. Look it up for yourselves.

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Phil Donahue: If we don't have dissent, we don't have democracy.

Call me skeptical or maybe just pragmatic. But, I don't believe that people will suddenly wake up one morning and institute fact-checking every time (or any time) they hear or read anything. That's what makes the imbalance in what the public actually is exposed to so damaging. Did monitoring truth in advertising and media content go the way of the Fairness Doctrine and is there any chance of getting them back?

You're right, it is very difficult for busy people to try to cut through to the facts. But I do think we have to start taking some personal responsibility for the sources of news we consume. If a piece of information sounds outrageous, that's a tipoff that it is probably not true.

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No doubt, the decline of quality information started with the demise of the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine did have legitimate problems: both political parties used it as a legal club to bash each other over content, not just in news but in fictional programming like "Maude." For that reason, there is no political will to reinstate it, (despite what Right wingers say about the issue).

But we lost so much with the Fairness Doctrine. Most people know that we lost Equal Time for opposing viewpoints, and that Personal Attacks, once prohibited without giving the other guy a chance to respond, are now the norm. We also lost Community Programming. But perhaps the most pernicious effect is on our political debate. Stations used to provide equal airtime for all political candidates; that gave an opportunity for candidates to be heard without having to raise a lot of money. Today, candidates, even incumbents, spend 75% of their time fundraising to buy political ads that do not even have to be true. Media companies profit, the public loses.

We need to realize what we lost and find a way to restore sanity to our airwaves, while eliminating the legal hammer the Fairness Doctrine unwittingly created. Challenging licenses of stations that do not serve the public interest is one place to start, although the FCC has historically ignored those challenges.

I will soon be announcing a license challenge which I think people can rally around. I will use it as a publicity tool to embarrass the FCC Media Bureau into action. More on that later.

Speaking of politicians, media ads and money, how does the recent Supreme Court decision on corporate campaign donations affect the state of our media? I'm almost afraid to ask how much worse things can get.

With the Citizens United decision, we can expect so much more corporate money to funnel into a system that is already pro-corporate. And the great fear is multi-national money will influence our elections.

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Lawrence Lessig is proposing the following Constitutional Amendment: Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to restrict the power to limit, though not to ban, campaign expenditures of non-citizens of the United States during the last 60 days before an election.

The idea here is that while corporations may enjoy personhood, they are not citizens of the U.S. I respect Lessig so much, I think this is a keen idea. But it will take years for it to happen. Unless the FCC suddenly has a change of heart on the Fairness Doctrine, we're going to have some ugly elections for awhile.

Sigh. As if elections haven't been ugly enough up to now. What kind of response has your film gotten so far?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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