Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why bother saving Congressional funding of public broadcasting?

In response to a letter from Matt Lockshin of CREDO mobile action calling on us to support continued Congressional funding of public broadcasting, I wrote in reply:


For 30 years I relied on NPR and PBS, and by extension the CPB, to supply me with "the rest of the news"; but a recent experience with looking into the nature of their coverage left my confidence in them shaken, to the point where they are no longer my menu - except occasionally when driving. I would like to ask you to consider my findings, and then to make the case that we should save Congressional support for these corporations anyway.

I have often noticed that there are news stories that go under the radar, stories that no rational, fair-mided media decision-maker would have failed to cover. During the Spring of 2008 I used the capabilities of Google News Search and Yahoo News Search to carefully research who was covering which stories. My starting place was stories that I had picked up from alternative sources but had not seen in the major media, and my criteria for pursuing the investigation were that any reasonable person would agree the story was newsworthy, interesting to the general public and important for the public to know about. I had several friends confirm my judgment on these points. I searched for coverage of each of the stories I suspected were being ignored on all the major television and radio networks, most of the national dailies and a sampling of regional dailies.

During the course of thirteen weeks I identified 13 stories that fit my criteria and were in fact ignored by most of the US corporate media. These stories covered a range of topics, from a speech by Obama calling for prosecution of Bush-era law-breakers to a statement by Putin that Russia had determined that Iran was not working on a nuclear bomb; coverage of major events and surprising vote outcomes in the presidential campaigns of Kucinich, Nader and Ron Paul; the House vote to ban Pentagon propaganda; the House resolution calling for a naval blockade of Iran (which reached over 130 signatures before it even broke into the alternative press, and never did get reported by the Times!); the removal of the Army judge in the first Guantanamo case; the Iraqi government's rejection of the US proposal for post-war treaties; and an authoritative report that the House Democrats were going to back down on their planned challenge of Bush's war authority. (They did.)

Most of these stories were picked up by international wire services, services that all the major US media have access to. Many were picked up by AP, Yahoo News and AOL News. Some were covered by a daily paper here or there around the US. In confirmation of our judgments about newsworthiness, many were headline news across Europe. But insofar as I was able to determine, not one of the thirteen stories was covered by PBS, NPR or for that matter by the BBC! Even the disgraceful New York Times did better than that, covering two of the thirteen!

Evidently there must be some group of people, formal or informal, who are deciding what we shouldn't hear or know about. Whether this is coming from some secret media leadership group, is directed by some agency within the government or results from informal conversations in the top private clubs we don't know, but arguably a common thread between all 13 stories is that their publication would have weakened the US corporate international agenda, and their suppression would tend to disempower and conceal domestic opposition to that agenda.

The question I would ask of you and CREDO is this: why should we be urging Congressional support for public broadcasting, in the face of the evidence that these public corporations are not serving the need for an informed public and are fostering the illusion that their listeners are getting an alternative and more thorough source of information? Would it not be better to separate our public broadcasting agencies completely from any power of the government to influence their editorial decisions - in the hope that at some point the contributing public could hold their management accountable for their self-censorship?

I look forward to hearing your case that we should support their funding anyway.
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