Friday, August 04, 2006

If a society's communication system is broken, what does that mean?

By communication I don't mean our telephones and text messaging systems, I mean the way we get the information that we need in order to function as citizens of a democracy.

Recently I just finished a book called, "The Creation of the Media," by Paul Starr. It traced the rise of various media from before the revolutionary war in America. It compared the development of the press in America, England, France and to a much lesser extent, other European countries. What was interesting was that America had not only the most wide open press or newspapers in the 18th century, but the government actually gave the fledgling industry a hand by shipping newspapers through the mails free of charge. De Tocqueville was amazed to find newspapers out in the backwoods of America when he visited early in the 19th century. By comparison, European newspapers either did not exist or were found only in the major cities but not in the country towns. And the cost of newspapers was usually affordable to Americans, while European newspapers were too expensive for all but the aristocracy or gentry.

But, whereas European newspapers were heavily censored and rigidly controlled by their governments, the American press was freewheeling and attacked any and all politicians with indiscriminate gusto. As America and the world evolved their communication systems, to telegraph, telephone, radio and TV, the Americans always seem to favor private ownership of these systems with some government control, while the Europeans favored government ownership and complete control of these systems.

It is against this backdrop that sometime in the late 20th century the American media, disappointingly and tragically, became broken. It ceased to be the once vaunted "free press," and became instead the sycophantic, profiteer and cowardly "mainstream media" or the dreaded "MSM."

This came about for several reasons. One is that the broadcast media depends on government approval in order to keep their invaluable licenses. The license gives each network or station permission to use the public airwaves, which are represented by some 1500 frequencies on the broadband spectrum. Thus whenever any political party controls the White House, the Congress and the FCC, broadcasters become exquisitely sensitive to the wishes of the government. In addition, virtually all of the media depend on advertising which comes primarily from the large corporations in America. Here again, the media, especially the broadcast media, will bend over backwards not to offend whatever the prevailing view is of "decency" or what their advertisers might feel is "unpatriotic" or "anti-free market."

And so the news has become sanitized and sterilized and offered like pablum to babies, instead of the unadulterated facts for adults that it should be. And a society whose communication system is broken like this can no longer function as a democracy. The people elect politicians who don't truly represent them, because they never got all the information necessary to make the correct decision. And whether it's war or fiscal priorities or any other important issue, the people will continue to be misled and under-informed, until finally the society breaks down and new leadership is brought in to attempt a recovery.

The bible says that in the beginning there was "the word," in essence, information. Without it we as a society cannot function and yet we have allowed our government and our corporate elite to "shoot the messenger (media)" whenever they don't like the message! If the media continue to offer only messages that those in power want us to hear it will mean the death of democracy in America, which will be the death of America.


At 8:52 AM, Blogger mpower1952 said...

Followed your link from Atrios.

Nice writing. And definitely spot on, as they say now.


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