While flipping through the major over-the-air news broadcasting channels nothing seems to be eye-catching except the media personality’s unblemished faces. In the 21st century news topics don’t seem to vary much from station to station. This may result from some corporate owner sweating bullets at the mere thought of losing one-percent of the nightly news audience. A more reasonable explanation is the concentration of ownership, which reduces the diversity of media voices, and puts a great deal of authority in the hands of a few large corporations. Corporations have the strength to choose what stories would best reflect upon their reputation, political status, and profit margins in addition to keeping their sponsors content. No stories can undermine the network, for that would be preposterous!
We must remember that media companies aren’t selling to audiences – but selling audiences to sponsors. Advertising firms put the fuel into the consumer guzzling sport utility vehicles that media conglomerates joy ride around America telling us what is important. In simple terms: America has coined the term “agenda setting”. The correlation between the rate at which media firms cover a story and the extent that people think certain stories are important.
Agenda setting and media concentration lead to the general public believing a certain issue is more important than the rest. Bernard Cohen said it best in the year 1963: “the press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but is stunningly successful in telling its readers or viewers what to think about.” The media can set the agenda for the public’s attention to a small group of issues around which a public opinion can be formed. To dumb it down even more, what we know about the world is what the media tells us. And we are susceptible to believe anything that is on our television screen; it has always seemed credible. This impedes our democratic process because a democratic process can only function when its citizens are informed by unbiased, diverse media. Our democracy is undermined and in addition our political discourse being affected.
There might be a bright side, or a flicker of light, to all of this agenda setting, especially when the United States is in conflict with another country. Embedded journalists are an advantage for the military, such as the war in Iraq, to provide intimate views for the American people. For the military this provides a means for control, or an agenda, for what information would be relayed to millions of American viewers and readers. With the military enabling journalists to get closer to the action gives them a grip on managing the message. The information given to the journalists, once again, is manipulated and mostly controlled by the military's points of view, which would no doubt improve the attitudes of the future situation (War, Propaganda, and the Media). There is a fine line between misleading and withholding information for the good of our nation. If it is for the good of our country – let it be, but when corporate agendas are focused on profits rather than the truth then the issue should not fly with the general public.
The average American will have trouble fighting billion dollar media corporations. There needs to be a more diverse set of outlets to portray multiple issues and viewpoints. We have come to a point where news outlets are replacing our civic values with commercial values – to entertain rather than inform. We need diversity of information along with news stories that range from each side of the political spectrum. Our government cannot enforce censorship on certain parameters of American life due to our first amendment right, freedom of speech and expression. Where there is a will there is a corporate way; “censorship is by omission and misuse of language”, according to John Pilger, an investigative journalist.
A solution to this problem was brought to my attention by the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which believes that independent media is essential to a democratic society, and that aggressive antitrust action must be taken to break up monopolistic media conglomerates. At the same time, non-corporate, alternative media outlets need to be promoted by both the government and the non-profit sector (Issue Area: Corporate Ownership). The only way to have an unbiased information source is to enable a non-profit news group. The group would report from one side of the political spectrum to the other. If there are no sponsors to upset nearly any topic can be reported on. Maybe then some other real world situations would be deemed important rather than a few homogenized topics that the corporate world has set to be important that day.
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. http://www.fair.org/
Global Issues. http://www.globalissues.org/