The Problem of the Media


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Whatever the complaint about media, one thing is certain: There are underlying structural issues at work that give rise to these problems. Attacking a single symptom — such as programming some might say is indecent — does not cure the disease.

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The Problem of the Media

  1. 1. Timothy Karr Campaign Director Free Press Big Media - Bad Democracy
  2. 2. The ‘tragedy’ of U.S. media “ 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.” President James Madison, August 1822 “ I’m here to confront you because we need help from the media and they’re hurting us.” Jon Stewart, October 2004
  3. 3. Why media matters to democracy We spend countless hours exposed to television, radio, CDs, books, newspapers and the Internet. These media inform our ideas and opinions, our values and our beliefs. They reflect and shape citizens’ understanding of social and political issues. <ul><li>The average American watches TV over 4 hours a day. </li></ul><ul><li>78% of American adults listen to radio every day. </li></ul><ul><li>88% of online Americans say the Internet plays a role in their daily routine. </li></ul><ul><li>The average American teenager will spend more hours per year watching TV than in school (1,023 for TV vs. 900 for school). </li></ul><ul><li>On average, an American child will view 40,000 commercials per year. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Our democratic system will not survive without “popular information or the means of acquiring it.” Our country’s founders understood that media and, in particular, journalism fulfilled this role by: Why media matters to democracy <ul><li>acting as a rigorous watchdog of those in power and those who wish to be in power; </li></ul><ul><li>presenting a wide range of informed views on the most pressing issues of the day; </li></ul><ul><li>exposing deception and permit the truth to rise to the top; and </li></ul><ul><li>assuring that this media is accessible to the whole population. </li></ul>
  5. 5. The problems of the media People on all sides of the political spectrum are concerned about the state of our media system. They complain that news media have drifted toward ‘infotainment,’ that local interests and standards aren’t adequately represented by local media. <ul><li>The watchdog is more often a lapdog and huge expanses of power in our society go unexamined. (Enron, the rationale for war in Iraq) </li></ul><ul><li>As issues are ignored, the range of debate narrows. (Darfur, Poverty) </li></ul><ul><li>Most of what we see and hear is homogenous. (Celine Dione, Jessica Simpson) </li></ul><ul><li>Society is misrepresented. ( E! Online , Geraldo at Large ) </li></ul><ul><li>Commercialism is out of control. (video news releases, celebrity news) </li></ul>
  6. 6. No matter what you care about — gun rights or abortion rights, the environment or economics — the media influence the perceptions of citizens and policymakers, affecting the laws that touch us all. No better proof can be found than in the millions of dollars politicians spend on television ads to run their campaigns: The problems of the media <ul><li>$800 million was spent on political and issue advocacy television messages for the first nine months of 2004. </li></ul><ul><li>Big Media’s campaign contributions from 1998 through September 2004 were $145.6 million. </li></ul>But what about the money media companies spend on politicians?
  7. 7. Whatever the complaint about media, one thing is certain: There are underlying structural issues at work that give rise to these problems. Attacking a single symptom — such as programming some might say is indecent — does not cure the disease. The problems of the media We must look deeper at the root causes . . . . . . and address them.
  8. 8. The problem with big media The U.S media system that dominates American politics and culture today has three fundamental flaws: <ul><li>Profit trumps the public interest. </li></ul><ul><li>A handful of corporations control the media. </li></ul><ul><li>Citizens are shut out of the media policy debate. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Profit trumps the public interest Most of the media that we see and hear is produced to make a profit — not necessarily to provide useful information and quality entertainment that accurately represents our society or fosters a healthy democracy. Here's how it works: <ul><li>Commercial media generally make money through advertising. They sell space to other companies who want to reach the media’s audience. </li></ul><ul><li>The more people read, watch, or listen to a particular program, the more money advertisers pay to place an ad in that program. </li></ul><ul><li>Media companies respond with ‘content’ that attracts the best audience for advertisers — not information that serves the best interests of the public. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Too few corporations control the media Through mergers and takeovers, a handful of extremely powerful corporate giants have swallowed up independent media companies, reducing the diversity of voices in the media market while intensifying the conglomerates’ influence. <ul><li>In 1983, 50 corporations owned a majority of the news media. In 1992, fewer than two dozen owned 90% of the news media. In 2003, the number fell to a total of six.. </li></ul><ul><li>Minority ownership of broadcast media is now at a ten-year low — a mere 4% of radio stations and less than 2% of TV stations are owned by people of color. </li></ul><ul><li>The number of radio station owners has plummeted by 34% since 1996, when ownership rules were loosened. That year, the biggest radio owners controlled fewer than 65 stations. Today, Clear Channel owns more than 1,200. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Citizens are shut out of the debate Through well-financed lobbying operations, media corporations have overwhelming influence in Washington. Media policy is shaped in closed-door meetings with policymakers. So, even though we own the airwaves, they decide how media is created, financed, and distributed. <ul><li>Broadcaster spent $222 million to lobby government officials from 1998 to 2004. Over the same time, telecommunications and broadcast companies spent $2.8 million on entertainment and travel, taking FCC regulators on 2,500 all-expense-paid trips. </li></ul><ul><li>In 2003, the FCC responded to Big Media lobbying by voting to loosen broadcast ownership limits across the U.S. While the decision would have a huge impact on all Americans, mainstream media’s news outlets were silent on the issue. </li></ul><ul><li>Before relaxing ownership rules, FCC officials met 71 times in closed-door meetings with the nation’s major broadcasters. They met only 5 times with public advocates working on the issue. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Why media matters <ul><li>The public owns the “airwaves,” over which radio, TV, cell phone and even remote control signals are transmitted. The airwaves belong to you in the same way that your sidewalk or your public park belongs to you. </li></ul>to you Believe it or not, you have power over the media. <ul><li>Businesses, like cell phone companies, pay the government to use their airwaves. Radio and TV broadcasters, though, use these airwaves free of charge, even though they make enormous profits from them. In return for this favor, by law, broadcasters are supposed to serve the “public interest.” </li></ul><ul><li>Although the public owns the airwaves that are used by radio, TV, cell phone and satellite companies, citizens rarely have had a voice in controlling how their media is being used and abused. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Media is the issue <ul><li>People have begun to question mainstream media for missing out on important information and perspectives: “Why don’t we ever hear about this issue in the media?” </li></ul><ul><li>If you have asked that question enough times, you realize that: </li></ul><ul><li>While they own them, citizens rarely get to use their airwaves to make their own voices heard! </li></ul>The media, itself, is the issue.
  14. 14. Why media reform matters Media must not be considered just another business: they are special institutions in our society. Information is the lifeblood of democracy — and when viewpoints are cut off and ideas cannot find an outlet, our democracy suffers. <ul><li>Our media system is not the bi-product of a natural evolution or market forces. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s the result of policies created by Congress and other decision makers — under heavy influence from Big Media lobbyists. </li></ul><ul><li>Big media’s total lobbying expenditures from 1998 through mid-2004 were more than $957 million. In comparison, the oil and gas industry spent $396 million over the same period. </li></ul><ul><li>Through organizing and activism, citizens have formed an effective counterbalance to Big Media’s policy juggernaut — but much more work needs to be done. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Changing the media Government policies determine the structure of our media system, dictating how the system will operate and who will benefit. <ul><li>The media industry and their high- paid lobbyists in Washington work with policymakers to shape the media system so it fattens the wallets of media corporations, even when doing so isn’t in the public’s interest. </li></ul><ul><li>As voters, citizens, and constituents, we have power to influence policymakers. Free Press can’t match the massive funds of the big industry lobbies, so we fight with people power. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s that much more important for people to join the fight to see a media system that serves the people and provides more diversity, skepticism, accountability, and independent voices in the media. </li></ul>
  16. 16. The big media cure <ul><li>Ensure diversity of ownership </li></ul><ul><li>Support and subsidize noncommercial media </li></ul><ul><li>Hold media accountable to the public </li></ul><ul><li>Expand community access to media </li></ul>Until now, Big Media lobbyists have struck an unholy alliance with elected officials to enact policies that damage our democracy. The key to breaking up this pact and fostering better democracy is for citizens to mobilize to make better media policy.
  17. 17. Better media – stronger democracy Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Citizen activism brought us the 40-hour work week and gave women the right to vote, and it will be citizen activism that brings us the quality media we deserve.
  18. 18. Timothy Karr Campaign Director Free Press Big Media - Bad Democracy