Everybody is doing it....|
So who funds the media?
Britain the funding for the BBC comes partially from the government, even
though the BBC has a long-time reputation as an excellent and independent
news source. Recently that independence is under attack as the Blair government
and the BBC are now at war over whether the government has, as The Economist
magazine writes, “
sexed up the evidence of Iraq’s weapons
of mass destruction.”
is that the BBC may have “sexed up” the evidence that the
government “sexed up” its evidence. Accusations flew back
and forth about the credibility of anonymous sources in the Blair government
who leaked information about the WMDs. The BBC claimed the evidence was
no good. The Blair government claimed their source was no good.
the middle between the Blair government and the BBC was David Kelly, a
respected British intelligence analyst who pointed fingers at both, and
who turned out to be the anonymous source. Just hours after Prime Minister
Tony Blair addressed a joint session of Congress, David Kelly brought
an end to being caught in the middle between the government and the BBC
when he committed suicide.
Economist about the affair, “Neither
the government nor the BBC will emerge from this scandal untainted.”
this kind of scandal/war between the government and the media is avoided
because our government, with the minor exception of PBS, does not fund
media. In America, advertisers fund media, especially radio and television.
So why does it matter who funds media? Because the sources that fund media
determine who gets to play the role of censor.
where the government funds a larger part of the media, this kind of conflict
that would damage both institutions was inevitable. In our country, if
certain advertisers want to pay for Peter Jennings and Dan Rather being
openly hostile to Republican Presidents, then so be it. The discipline
of accountability is not with the government but with those advertisers.
American readers, viewers and listeners may bemoan the large and increasing
censorship role that advertisers play in our media, and they may bemoan
the continuing mergers forming monolithic media empires, but most would
agree: it’s still better than having government play the role of
news censor. And that is exactly what is creating the explosive controversy
today in Britain.
Blair government feed false information to the BBC or did the BBC manipulate
their government sources? Is there reliable, independent news media in
Britain to help resolve the issue? The latter question is most certainly
the larger problem.
getting too arcane about it, one of the unwritten rules in American press
is that providers of media don’t call for censorship of one another.
Print, radio and television outlets have historically rallied around one
another when advertisers or the government wanted to censor a free media.
Almost all of American media rallied around The New York Times
and The Washington Post when they published Daniel Ellsberg’s
classified Pentagon Papers.
to home, The Oregonian has, predictably, a long record of defending free
speech, going after Lon Mabon and the OCA when Mabon’s organization
suggested banning certain books from Oregon libraries, and defending the
right of Portland school children to read the American literary
master Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn
when Portland school board member Derry Jackson wanted the book removed
in 2002. Likewise they were quick to jump on the bandwagon with Multnomah
County library in their suit to defend their right to have unfettered
Internet access (pornography included) for all their patrons.
One of the reasons that media has stuck together on first amendment issues
is because together they all face the battle of just how much freedom
their advertisers will permit in producing their news products. Which
brings us to today. On the last Saturday in July, the Oregonian decided
to jump ship from its long-held position of being an advocate of free
speech, instead becoming a community leader for censorship. They made
the jump with a simple headline which read: “Broadcasts of University
of Oregon sports shouldn’t share air space with an outrageous radio
talk show.” Translated:
The Oregonian wants/is demanding that the University of Oregon drop KXL
radio as their Portland station because the Portland news radio station
happens to carry the Michael Savage show. Egads.
offered up as evidence that age-old anti-democratic mantra:
“Everybody’s doing it.” The paper cites the cable news
network MSNBC that recently dropped the Savage show. What the paper fails
to mention is that Savage was dumped at MSNBC because advertisers wanted
him dumped, not because a news editor or producer was offended.
a censorship victory to add to their reputation as newspaper power broker,
the Oregonian attempted to muscle U of O Vice President Dan Williams into
dropping KXL from the Duck network. When Williams reminded the paper that
“free speech laws bar public agencies from using contracts to attempt
to regulate expression,” that incredible irony appeared to be lost
on Portland’s new news censors.
above the “Letters” page at the Oregon Journal throughout
the 60’s and much of the 70’s (years Portland’s former
afternoon paper was owned by Newhouse) led with this Voltaire quote: “I
disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right
to say it.” Yet another irony lost on the newspaper’s local
or East Coast corporate headquarters.