Nick Weingartner Exam Three - Essay Two Ronald V.

Bettig

How to Fix the Media System: Three Approaches to Reform

In order to think critically and achieve a full-scale understanding of the media system, the United States, democracy and even society and culture, it is crucial to understand the political economy of the communications system. It not only alters the form, range and content of media products, but effects the functioning of our government and how we live. There are three normative goals of democractic communication – informing the citizenry, acting as a watchdog, and representing diversity and creativity. The first, informing the citizenry, is an extremely important function. In order for a democracy to sustain itself, its citizens must be informed so they can self-govern, and elect leaders who truly represent the issues they want fixed. This goal is not being met by the media in its current form, as content is altered and changed by the ruling class as explained through Jhally’s Conciousness Industry approach and Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model. The result is that little news of importance gets discussed, and emphasis is put on superficial “news” items such as celebrity gossip, leaving the citizenry uninformed and damages democracy. The second goal, media as a watchdog, is also important to democracy. The media must do their job and provide hard-hitting, investigative stories examining government and big business, revealing their discrepencies to the public and

keeping them within the ethical bounds of the people. The third goal, to represent diversity and creativity, is important because in a democratic society, all voices must be heard, and diverse and creative ideas must be presented. Without them, the status quo looms, shutting down progress on important issues and slowing our enlightenment as a society. The U.S. media currently fails at this also, as only five companies control almost every outlet in the nation, producing a massive amount of the same opinions and stories, presented over and over and over (Bagdikian, pg. 5). The current media structure not only fails to meet the three normative goals of democratic communication, but also significantly alters the form, range and content of media product. The changes in form can be seen in both news and entertainment content. In news, journalistic pieces have become shorter, with a loss in quality and in localism (Turner). “The reason is simple: Good journalism is bad business, and bad journalism is good business” (McChesney, pg. 22). In entertainment, both recorded music and filmed entertainment have become obsessed with demographics, trying to reach the largest possible audience – this has shorten songs, and promoted movies with heavy special effects and minimal dialogue, as a way of appealing to a larger global audience (Bettig and Hall, pg. 56). These changes in form, when combined with the concentration present in the U.S. media system, also affects the range in content. With fewer people operating media outlets, fewer ideas get presented. These ideas, when filtered through ownership, advertising, sourcing, flak and anti-communism, are also severely limited in their range (Herman and Chomsky, pg. 2). Content is also altered by these trends, with media product looking drastically similar across all mediums. When these trends are combined, it is clear that the current U.S. media system offers the illusion of having more content –

there may be more media product, but all of it is the same, homogenous blend that pleases those in power but damages democratic communications and society. However there is a range of ideas on how to change or sustain the current media structure, This range can be simplified into three approachs – neoliberal, reformist and radical. The neoliberal approach is in favor of the current structure of media. They are proponents of deregulation, believing wholly in the power of the marketplace and its ability to provide diversity and information, and in words, sort itself out. They cite libertarian philosophers and economists Adam Smith, David Riccardo, and John Stuart Mill. They believe that culture should be exchanged for profit and that a commercial and advertising supported media system is best. They wish to eliminate public broadcasting, which currently only takes $438 million of the federal budget (“National Public Radio”). Tecnological Determinism is also a dominant philosophy in the neoliberal approach, believing that technological advancement is always positive, and regardless of the effects on society there is always a technological fix. As demonstrated earlier, the neoliberal approach to media structure is not meeting the normative goals of democractic communication, and is therefore in need of reform. The reformist approach aims to alter the current system in a way to help it reach the normative goals, without wiping the current system away entirely. With thinkers like Ben Bagdikian and Robert McChesney as a foundation, the reformist approach favors a hybrid of private and public funding. Bagdikian argues that a non-partisan committee must be formed to assess the functioning of the modern media, a reforming of the

National News Council to offer feedback on the news media, a rewriting of the Telecommnications Act of 1996, increased non-political funding to public broadcasting, a reconstruction of the FCC from a captured agency to one that works in the interests of the public, a restoration of the Fairness Doctrine that would force networks to “devote a reasonable amount of time to discussion of controversial issues of public importance, and to permit reasonable opportunites for opposing views to be heard,” an end to the auctioning of broadcast frequencies to private ownership, an increase in low-power neighborhood radio and TV broadcasting, a ban in paid political TV advertising, the teaching of media literacy in public schools and more citizen involvement in media reform groups (Bagdikian, pgs.xxxi-xxxv). McChesney argues for the application of antitrust laws on media conglomerates, a rollback in the number of media outlets and one person or corporation can own, a reinvogration of the regulatory process that would draw attention to the fact that citizens can challenege broadcast liscenes in their neighborhood, the expansion of not-for-profit use of low-power FM stations, an increased funding in of public broadcasting, a requirement that broadcasters give candidates free air time, the banning of media conglomerates from imposing their power on the U.S and world via international trade deals and lobbying, and the expansion in access of the media spectrum to independents (McChesney, pgs. 13-14). Both argue for similar tactics, notably the increase in funding of public broadcasting and the proliferation of low-power FM stations to support diversity and creativity in the discourse. Public broadcasting, reformists believe, could rival the negative influence of the Big Five is properly funded. “If, for example, the United States had devoted the same percentage of its GDP to journalism subsides in 2009 as it did in the 1840s, we calculate that the allocation would have been

$30 billion” (Nichols and McChesney, pg. 14). The underlying principle in the reformist approach is that the marketplace fails, and tactics must be implemented to compensate for it. Radicals, however, believe that the entire system must be dismantled and a new one built in its place. Radicals are proponets of democractic socialism, arguing that democracy should extend into the marketplace and participatory economics should be established. Captialism, they believe, is an old arachiac system that uses the worst features of the human condition to propel economics, and argue that society should base itself on the positive, empathic parts of the human condition and work forward from there. They argue that media should change its structure from a sender-reciever relationship to one where the receiver can also participate, and the sender can be a recever as well. Herman argues that the commercial media system provides some diversity, but that “it is an outrage that they have abandoned public service in their quest for profit” and argues for reformist ideas such as antitrust laws and the implication of the fairness doctrine, but also believes that alternatve media outlets should be supported not only by large increases in public funding, but also by whatever means necessary (Herman, pgs. 26-30). One example is the founding of Black Liberation Radio by M’Banna Kantako in 1986, which is broadcast illegally and provides an alternative discourse beneficial to the community (Herman, pg. 28). Radicals also support shorter work weeks by imposing a limit to the amount of hours that can be worked and argue that the leftover hours can be distributed to the unemployed, helping to eliminate inefficency in the marketplace and making sure wealth can be distributed to all members of society, not only members of the ruling class. They also argue for an elimination of copyright

laws and a participatory workplace where every member of a company learns every aspect of the business – from janitorial tasks to accouting tasks to creative tasks – increasing efficency and workplace happiness while not “eroding” the workers as they work down to the tasks they are assigned (Albert & Hahnel, pgs. 28-29). This would also assist in the diversity of workplace output. An example would be at a publishing press, where the changing of positions would result in different books being accepted for publication under different editors, resulting in a more diverse exchange of ideas. The structure of society must also be altered under the radical approach, including reworking democracy to aid the people who will bear the costs rather than the corportations, growing and supporting local ownership, maintaining ecological sustainability and only take out of the ecosystem what you can replace, maintaing a common heritage in our global worldview, promiting diversity, enforcing human rights for all, maintaining each citizens right to work, promoting food security and safety by dismantling agribusiness, redistributing wealth to those of all classes and implementing “The Precautionary Principle” that aims to hault technological determinism and assess each piece of technology not only on the basis of technological creation, but also on its effects on humanity (“Z Papers on Vision”). Personally, my opinion lies somewhere between the reformist and radical approaches. Although I believe in the concepts of participatory workplaces and the inefficencies inherent in capitalism, I believe that it is necessary to be pragamatic in reform. Therefore, I argue that the first necessary step in is the application of antitrust laws to break up the Big Five. This would immediately increase diversity, lead to a rise in employment and lessen the power that the current media system holds over our

democractic process. It is necessary to then draft laws that limit the number of media outlets any one person or corporation can own to ensure conglomeration is no longer encouraged by our government. However, this is not enough, and a large increase to public funding is necessary to counteract the influence of ad-based media. I would draw these funds with the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts. I would also proliferate low-power FM stations as a means of encouraging local discourse. Media literacy would also have to become a tennet in public education, and follow Adams an Goldbard’s suggestion that all schools should be equipped with closed-circuit TV and audio systems, where students are also given the equipment and opportunity to participate in the production of the media product for both (Adams and Goldbard, pg. 37). Subsquently, I would formally encourage small businesses to look into participatory workplaces, providing tax breaks for those who put one into action. This, as explained earlier, would lead to greater productivity in our society and encourage all workers to work up to their full potential, rather than down to what they are required. Our current media system is broken – it fails to meet the normative goals set up by society and significantly alters the form, range and content of media product negatively. However, it is not beyond repair, and there is a range of approaches available for reform. But, in the end, it is up to the people to educate themselves and put reform into place – because in a democratic society, people should be put over profits, and our current system fails at doing just that.

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