Journalists of the World Unite

Prevent Mass Distraction in a World of Potential Mass Destruction

By DANNY SCHECHTER

Danny Schechter, a former producer at CNN and ABC News is the Executive Producer of Globalvision, an international TV company based in New York.

The predators are no longer at the gates. They are well inside. The global media is unfortunately all too honest--honest about its real objectives--ratings and profits. Throughout the world, two mergers sweep the industry.  On the business side, there is increasing concentration of ownership and creation of strategic alliances that make for homogenization and sameness, conformity and cloning. A second merger fuses the news business into show business. Entertainment values and packaging take precedence over substance and content.

While the media echoes the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, it becomes a weapon of mass distraction, dumbing down the news, selling consumption and celebrity with soap opera style storytelling. Privatization is the watchword.  Regulation in the public interest has to fight--and often succumb--to market pressures. As the media giants war for market share, the public is conditioned to a junk news diet. The elites are well served, the masses ignored. There has been a proliferation of business news, but little labor news. Thanks to CNN, Saddam is Hitler, OJ is better known than Mandela, and the whole world hangs on the latest Monica minutiae. Some critics call this "tittytainment"--akin to mothers nursing and conditioning children with a plug-in drug. In America, as globalization makes global news more important, there is less overage. In England, journalists at the BBC's famed News Night claim that they are overworked and under-resourced with less air time for important stories and more focus on the bottom-line. In France, TF-1 reports a 35% cut back in international news. In China, Murdoch drops the BBC from his Star satellite after the Beijing commisars complain about too much human rights coverage. In Russia,  state-owned media give way to millionaire-owned monopolies and cartels. In the new South Africa, home of human rights, the public broadcaster drops a human rights TV show ``not commercial enough."  Everywhere the details are different but increasingly the results are the same. Investigative journalism is practically an endangered species, hard hitting documentaries are a rarity, and self-censorship abounds.

POST-JOURNALISM'S CHALLENGE

Commercialization seeps in at an alarming rate even into so-called public broadcasting. At CBS, there is a scandal when it is revealed that newscasters and sportscasters have been contracted to wear a NIKE logo on their clothes, turning them into human billboards. (A correspondent who petitions her boss to run an updated expose on NIKE sweatshops in fired.) Meanwhile, the CBS Affiliate in New York boasts; "more news in less time. "Speeded up delivery. High story counts. Flashy graphics. Little context or background. It all adds up to less comprehension and understanding. "Who lives in Sarajevo?" asks a New York Times poll after four years of TV coverage of war in Bosnia. 59% of the respondents pick the wrong answer; 25% say they don't know. No wonder illiteracy is epidemic in the US. There are more political ads on local TV news than political reports.  Politics is depoliticized.  A focus on individuals replaces attention to institutions.

So, what is the challenge to media workers of conscience in what has been branded "the post-journalism era?" Is it to accept these trends as inevitable, to take refuge in the myth that "we are only giving the people what they want? " Or can we somehow create an insurgent "globalization from below," a media and democracy movement to find ways to pressure and reform the industry? Freedom of the Press is not just Freedom for the Press Lord. Ten Years ago, Ben Bagdikian, author of "Media Monopoly" wrote that 50 companies controlled the media in America. Now it is down to down to seven. Journalists of the world unite--we only have our profession to save. When we go, democracy follows. That's the way it is.