Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 56 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds   

Our Right to Know, and Debate: The Media's Role in a Democratic Society

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   No comments
Message Donald Archer
"Inch-by-inch, just a teensy-weensy bit, we lower our standards," to paraphrase Albert Brooks' character, Aaron Altman, in the 1987 film classic, Broadcast News---referring to the sorry state of corporate media. He might as well have been referring to democracy itself.

Democracy's health and effectiveness depend on every citizen's ready access to facts and truth---and to a thoughtful dialog regarding them. If we have to dig for these things---even if they are available, democracy is jeopardized: Most citizens have neither the time nor the initiative to take the trouble. And those in power know this.

Since we personally do not have ready access to national leaders or pertinent information, a reporter is essentially our surrogate. That's why a vital press is so important in a democracy.

A reporter is asking questions that we would, or should, ask if we had the opportunity. And an outstanding reporter asks questions we wouldn't have even considered.

Not only is the quality of the question important, the ability to follow up is essential: This is where truth is most likely to be revealed.

Twenty-five years ago it was customary for reporters to follow up questions at presidential press conferences. Now these events are tightly controlled by media handlers. Their mission is to make the speaker look good, not reveal the truth. As a result, follow-ups have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Major responsibility for our ignorance rests with the commercial news media: It tolerates and even promotes this sorry state of affairs. And as it has insidiously lowered its standards, we have lowered our expectations. The media has become essentially a conduit for propaganda and misinformation.

Democracy demands a public dialog, not a monolog. It's the media's job to challenge political leaders and ideologies---to honestly probe for truth, to hold our representatives accountable---not simply pass along "the message."

A major argument for commercial broadcasting is that it promotes freedom and diversity. In fact, the opposite has been the case. A handful of players, superconglomerates, controls all major media markets. In essence, there's no competition. We are left with little diversity and one ideology: profit---"McNetworks" and "McNews."

As for quality and depth of programming, clearly "free market" commercialism has failed. Turn on the TV or the radio and one finds homogenous mediocrity. We are left with a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

News-for-profit and a "free press" are inimical. The profit motive is intrinsically a self-censoring and self-editing process---coercion and government censorship are unnecessary. The status quo and establishment views are guaranteed protection; that's where the profit lies. Rock the boat and you lose the golden egg.

Media commentator Robert McChesney has observed: "What constitutes good journalism is bad business. It's that simple. Good journalism costs money. Good journalism is going to antagonize powerful people."

Good business means having fewer journalists, covering car chases and celebrity trivia rather than "digging into toxic dumps in working-class neighborhoods." Of course, the "unprofitable" stories are where democracy is most likely to be realized.

McChesney points out that daily newspapers used to try to reach 90, 95, 100% of the population. Now good business means writing off the bottom 30-50%. Advertisers want to reach upper-middle and upper income readers. That's where the money is.

Until the ascendance of Milton Friedman's "free market" mythology during the Reagan presidency, the "fairness doctrine" was a condition of broadcast licensing. Opposing candidates and positions were given airtime for balance---in the interest of fair and accessible public dialog. Candidates and causes didn't have to buy airtime, paid advertising, in order to get their message to the public.

Now, money, and only money, brings access to the public arena. That's plutocracy, not democracy. If democracy is to survive, or in fact be realized, our media system needs a radical transformation and restructuring.

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Rate It | View Ratings

Donald Archer Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Donald Archer is a painter, observer, and commentator living on California's Central Coast. His work may be seen at
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Leo Strauss and the "Crazies in the Basement"

Branding America

Another Century of War

Our Right to Know, and Debate: The Media's Role in a Democratic Society

"Voodoo" Politics

David vs. Goliath: Corporate Personhood at Odds with Democracy

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend