"There is no such thing in America as an independent press.. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares write his honest opinions, and if you did you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid... for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper ... others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things... any of you who would be so foolish as to write his honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job... We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, possibilities, and lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."
One way to free the press from today's mega-corporate leviathans and their profit-seeking owners is to free editors from the constraints of their at-will employments.
We cannot pretend to have a free, honest, and representative press when editors of our mega-media organizations are hired and fired by a handful of media owners. As a consequence of this state of affairs, we, the people, and our elected representatives have absolutely no say in the critical matter of major media editor hirings and firings. For this reason, content is corrupt.
Clearly, this is not 1776 when one, and many others, could set up a press rather inexpensively and deliver their papers and opinions to the entire village. Further, the internet is no substitute today for the major papers and television channels in this regard. The existence of the internet is not then an excuse for leaving the corruption of the Fourth Estate as it is, and for alllowing control of the media by only one "factor" to the economic equation - i.e, capital and excluding the vast, wage-laboring, majority.
In fact, the vast majority of wage-earning people have no voice, and no effective media affairs participation. Thus we have Nightly Capital reports in every venue and not one Nightly Labor report. As a consequence the entire socio-economic process is corrupt, undemocratic, costly and dangerous. We, the paying subscribers and product-consuming listeners, do not elect our editors, as suggested by Edward Bellamy over a century ago.
What we need today is to separate ownership from editorship...within the major media organizations. We need an Editor Freedom act, legislation which places the hiring and firing of editors of the major media outlets into a more representative body of people from various walks of life - who then vet the hirings and firings and serve to protect editors in their job of seeing that the opinions of the vast majority are not overwhelmed by a small cadre of handpicked sycophants afraid for their jobs.
A thorough discussion of this matter, and the Editor Freedom Act I propose, can be found in the chapter on Media in my book - Cap-Com, The Economics Of Balance - and can be viewed in detail at www.editorfreedom.com.
In general, wherever a parity of public and private media is missing, so then is editorial diversity and a critical balance of opinion. Where a mostly private, corporate, media environment exists, and editor hirings and firings are the exclusive province of a handful of owners, the potential for pure plutocracy and worse is complete. Indeed, no effective democracy can exist where information and media are monopolized by either "factor" to the socio-economic equation - i.e. capital or labor.
Yet exactly this ruinous condition of "factor" imbalance, and one-factor's monopoly of media now serves to distort our media, economy, environment and democracy.
In contrast to the media estate at the founding of the Republic, for-profit media now spans the globe and the ever-increasing concentration of ownership allows a handful of owners, and their hand-picked editors, to shape debate, spin or disappear dissent, and control the very currency of democracy. In this setting, a "five-hundred channel" environment and unread internet sites mean nothing if all major radio and television media channels are controlled by the same factor - .i., capital - and set to its profit-seeking purposes and "talking points."
In short, capital alone now controls our economy, media, central bank, campaign finance system and, in effect, our democracy. In practice, the vast majority's concerns and interests are systematically denied, denigrated, and disappeared. In effect, only capital's ideas, values, and distorted "free market" and "free trade" concerns reach the public. Thusly, a corrupt, vicious, top-down, and undemocratic "Globalization" proceeds... against the wishes of the vast majority.
While, in theory, politicians may threaten media owners with license review or anti-trust action, it is media owners who possess the greater weapon today - i.e., one useful against incumbent politicians fearful of bad press, lack of access, and endorsement of opponents. Exactly this sorry, quid-pro-quo, relationship leads to media corruption and grid-lock benefiting a ruling, corporate, class.
"I'm the chief executive. I set policy and I'm not going to surround myself with people who disagree with me."
Otis Chandler, LA Times
Today's concentration of media ownership and editorial power brings into sharp focus not only the immense responsibility, but also the freedom and estate of editors - in particular those with audiences in the millions, or even billions. Yet it is major-media owners, and their hand-picked editors, who decide what the vast majority see, hear, and read. Media owners and their editors have become the unelected, and unregulated, keepers of the public trust and molders of the public mind.
This corrupt and unbalanced condition is comparable to privatizing the federal mint and eliminating all regulation on those who print and distribute our money (see www.PublicCentralBank.com.)
With media then, our information currency in being minted in any amount, and ideological denomination, that these corporate owners and their hand-picked editors determine. We are cheated, corralled and controlled with counterfeit information... an immense crime.
In the current regime the wage-earning majority has no say in major-media editor hirings and firings and so we, the people, possess no effective means to implement a freer press and a better balance in editorships. As commercialization and cleansing of the internet continues the people have little or no control over the content of their very informational life-blood... within such major media organizations.
Instead, a handful of owners, editors, and news agencies control the facts and opinions flowing to ever-greater numbers. Thus, the impact of the editorial powers of a handful of private concerns, and a handful of men, grows to global proportions. This is an intolerable condition in a so-called democracy.
A once freer, more representative and local, press has thus been replaced by a one-factor-owned and globalized "fourth estate" - with but one ideology and infallible agenda. But whose information is it?
Particularly in an era when for-profit mega-media is acquiring such global influence, the problem with current owner-editor relationships is that the public has no way to protect either editors, or the public interest, from any owner's ideologies, influence, political candidate preferences, and retribution against dissident editors and journalists. Major media owners remain free to treat editors as at-will employees, and manage opinion and content as their private preserve.
"I'm going to vote for Bush because its good for my company" Sumner Redstone, CEO Viacom
Given the importance of editor, gate-keeper, positions within today's degree of media concentration and control by one factor, editors within major media concerns need to be protected, and established, as quasi-public employees - i.e., those charged with minting, and not counterfeiting, our information currency. Where these editors have no real independence or protection from their employers, the public's media rights and information interests are jeopardized, if not ruined.
The public interest is clearly not represented or balanced today against a major media owner's hiring prerogatives and ability to threaten the jobs and careers of employee editors. Given this state of affairs media is then per se corrupt. The public has neither ownership interest, control, equal amount of time-space or same-reach media, nor any recourse over those who edit a privatized information stream sold to, and foisted upon, the public for a for-profit purpose.
As a vital first reform, and prior to achieving any public-private, or factor-balanced, parity of media ownership (which might achieve the same objective), an Editorial Freedom Act remedy should be employed to protect editors, and the integrity of our information stream.
The one-sided, capital-controlled, nature of media ownership and its weapons-of-mass-distraction-oriented content today is the best argument against further privatization, consolidation, and a strong brief for more public (but not government) ownership and editorial participation. For-profit networks today create prodigious amounts of scandal-gossip "journalism" while they ignore and black-out what is going on in our boardrooms, neo-slave economies, environments, legislatures, trade conclaves, and spy agencies in order to render invisible the real powers in our lives.
The public's distemper and cynicism today is justified and largely due to the fact that major media is unrepresentative of the vast, wage-earning, public and currently structured to prevent a full-spectrum of opinion, fact, and belief. In short, the public is now disenfranchised and enclosed in yet another way. There is no effective democracy in the media realm, and no "advise and consent" role performed by and for the vast majority.
As if concentration in one medium were not enough, nearly all major book publishers are now owned by media-conglomerates. Smaller, independent, houses are failing, unable to get distribution, or chained to the bottom line and to agendas calling for avoidance of ideas angering media owners, advertisers, and capital in general. First with newspapers, then with television, and now with books and increasing censorship of the internet, capital's media coup is nearly complete... and the Big Sleep has begun.
In effect, a handful of media owners and editors have become the unelected gatekeepers of our public truth and discourse. Accountable to no public body, they control the mass of information today and have the power to distort the intellectual underpinnings of society, extort government favor for further concentration, and act to deny and disappear the interests of the vast majority.
In the realm of information and ideas we are not dealing with toothpaste and toasters but with truth, balance, and the very thought-currency of a free republic. Without a factor balance in media, or any sanctions for editorial misfeasance, coercion, and professional retribution against editors (and the public they serve) they will remain complicit captives, neo-slaves, and prostitutes in capital's information monopoly.
"Add the fear and sense of victimization from the 9-11 attacks and a new political model suddenly lay open as a possibility for the United States. It would be a post-modern authoritarian system that would rely less on traditional repression of political opponents than on a sophisticated media operation to intimidate and marginalize dissidents."
It is media owners who are free today and not the press, wage-earning majority, or any at-will-employed editor or journalist. Given the pervasive factor-imbalance in media, and the reality most editors are not independently wealthy or publicly paid, their hirings and firings should then - within media of a certain size and influence - be subject to public scrutiny and sanctions if necessary. Otherwise, without levers, the people are removed from the major-media "free press" equation and democracy is potemkin.
More than ever before, the Achilles' heel of democracy is found in the absence of adequate public, non-profit, media and lack of participation in editor hiring and firing decisions. To the extent of imbalance between public-private, labor-capital, media ownerships, and editorial influence, some form of editor protection becomes necessary and vital. Ownership must then be separated from editorship.
Unlike other employees, in performing what is clearly a quasi-public function, editors of our information currency need special protection from their employers, and appropriate sanctions must apply whether media is private or public in form.
As keepers of the public trust, no editor or reporter should feel they must tow a party line or ruling elite's agenda, avoid taboo subjects, or protect ownership's interests out of fear for their job and professional status. Yet precisely this lack of freedom and real independence is the sorry estate of editors within a mega-media world which capital alone owns, controls, and edits.
In the absence of countervailing rights or sanctions, such major media owners have a private, undisturbed, right to mold opinion as they see fit, and to maintain a mere pretense of objectivity, or none at all. With impunity, they may not hire those with whom they disagree, and fire any who stray from their party line. Objectivity and Fairness Doctrines have been dropped and so major media owner's prerogatives now prevail.
In practice, at-will editor employees fearful for their jobs know what not to do, say or print. Repression is then unspoken, and censorship is self-inflicted given the lack of real independence.
"Mirroring a trend in the broadcast industry, growing numbers of newspaper publishers have dropped any pretense of serving the public, the rallying cry today is... corporate profits... and because original souls don't thrive in such an atmosphere, and the people who are there don't want to displease those who hired them... they have a sense of what can get them into trouble. And what can get them into trouble is bucking the advertising imperative, even in the name of the public's right to know."
The democracy-crushing enclosure of major media by capital exists without any recognition of the need to achieve real editorial freedom or any factor balance in the fourth estate. Worse, there are few, if any, penalties for editorial manipulation and media owner's reprisals against dissident editors. With such power in the hands of the few, the very issues, editorial freedoms, and sanctions of the kind suggested here are sure to be taboo. No remedies are then introduced, or enforced, by editors and politicians who live in fear of media moguls able to make and break their careers.
Will an Editorial Freedom Act be debated in the media? In the Congress, Senate or our Journalism schools?
As things stand, media owners have the power to make "our" politicians tremble at the thought of disturbing their information monopolies. This influence of a handful of media corporations has grown to neutralize government and steal the powers of the people. Global media giants have thus become a de-facto, privatized, form of government - i.e., one empowering a world-wide oligarchy and dictatorship of capital.
With media ownership having become a power second to none, the "fourth estate" has become the first - i.e., a ruling regime unaccountable to the public and run by a handful of people. Media and the "free press" have become defective, dangerous, and undemocratic institutions for our failure to separate ownership from editorial control, and arrange a vital and necessary balance of public and private sources of information.
With the "Fairness Doctrine" gone and remaining laws subverted by regulatory agencies controlled by industry appointees, networks regularly deny even the requests of the President of the United States for airtime... and so deny to the American people, and their elected representatives, access to our own publicly-owned airwaves. In a final insult, those who own, control, and edit the editors expect the public to believe their one factor monopoly - within a money-corrupted political system no less - will somehow protect the marketplace of ideas and estate of the majority.
Clearly, the concentrated ownership and global reach of mega-media concerns, and difficulty of market entry today, are developments unforeseen by both the writers of the U.S. constitution and classical economists. The founders took a raucous, diverse, locally-owned, and easily disseminated free press for granted - as one might do in a time when entry into the field was relatively easy and inexpensive. This state of affairs is no longer the case. New societal and marketplace conditions require new reforms and greater public empowerments in order to, once again, free the press.