Media Ownership In The Public Interest
The idea of the Fourth Estate is that the media will act as a check on the three branches of government. Journalists should hold our elected officials accountable for corruption, and help to create an informed public. This isn’t happening. Laura Flanders published an essay on The Next Systems Project this month that dissected the failures of the media and suggested paths forward to build an actual Fourth Estate in this country. Her solution was to democratize the ownership and distribution of media outlets.
The corporate control of American news publishers undermines journalism as a practice. The hyper-concentration of wealth and the further consolidation of media ownership has illuminated the corrupt practices that determine what does and doesn’t get discussed in popular media. The editors work, guided or not, in the interests of the rich people who hired them. They decide which stories are important and which stories go unheard or misrepresented.
A media landscape designed to serve the public interest would spread stories that accurately describe activity in the world to help citizens to make the best choices and encourage informed political participation. They would uncover corporate and political corruption; take verification and accuracy seriously, especially in the march to war; and ensure the proper, legal functioning of the government. We currently have a media landscape that broadcasts stories that serve business interests, justify and glamorize our growing list of wars, and keep people divided from their potential allies.
The American system of news distribution functions for special interests because newspapers and broadcasters are owned by a cadre of billionaires. These billionaires have close relationships with each other, politicians, and intelligence agencies.
Their interests are intertwined. The billionaires need the politicians and intelligence agencies to protect them from public campaigns for redistribution, and to help ensure that no militant campaigns for redistribution can succeed. The politicians need the billionaires to finance their campaigns, and they need to stay in the good graces of both groups or their reputations and careers will be destroyed by the media. The intelligence agencies need the billionaires and the politicians to spread their lies.
They all need the public to continue to be useful idiots. Billionaires need us to buy what they’re selling, fight for their rights to own expansive resources, and live lavish lifestyles. All this, while one in nine people lack access to clean water. Politicians need us to vote for them but ignore their corporate allegiances. And intelligence agencies need us to fight each other while the above trio continues to consolidate their power and resist popular demands from factions of society.
The private control of the flow of information facilitates the subversion of the public interest. People interested in overcoming these obstacles need to create innovative models of ownership and distribution for public-interest media. The internet and modern communications technologies allow anyone to perform journalism. The cellphone camera and live streaming technologies have allowed black Americans to show the world how they are treated by the police. The brave Egyptians who toppled their Dictator in the Arab Spring shared their stories with the world in real-time by Tweet. The people in the streets are making breaking news as volunteers. The professionals in respected publications are painting a corporate-friendly, war-approving, American-exceptional world for their audiences. The title of journalist is a misnomer, they are in public relations.
The journalists in the corporate newsrooms fear for their jobs if they oppose the wars. People who were fired for questioning the march to war include Bill Maher from ABC, Chris Hedges from The New York Times, and Phil Donahue from MSNBC.
The essay discussed the path being led by independent media toward a new media structure that removes that fear. A media structure that leaves them accountable to the reader, not the advertisers and owners. A structure that pays well, trains great journalists, uncovers injustice and corruption, and produces informed civilians.
Read Flanders’ essay to learn more about organizations producing journalism in the public interest through innovative profit-models and forms of ownership.