Curtain Raiser

The Canaries We Rely Upon, Colltalers

A free and critical press is essential to democracy. So it’s a bad sign when the few mega-corporations owning the media landscape are heavily invested in the ‘entertainment value’ of the news, while local papers fold. And it’s worst when the president call it an ‘enemy of the people’. ‘
A too-big-to-tell-the-truth news also produces its own complying audience, happy to follow somebody else’s fabulous life, and unmoved by the way society treats its vulnerable: the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the children. It’s no surprise journalists are also being killed in troves.
That may not be what Americans thought they’ve signed up for but it’s happening here and in many other democracies around the world. The process of turning the business of making people aware of what affects their lives is being taken over by an ‘investment banking’ mentality.
It hasn’t happened overnight, though. The practice of owning newspapers to intimidate governments and support discretionary policies had already been brilliantly portrayed in Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, a send up of powerful 1920s media mogul Randolph Hearst.
But even Hearst couldn’t possibly dream of having the power of influence of his modern incarnation, Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch. A raider who founded a global empire by acquiring traditional news vehicles and turning them into profitable, ultra-conservative information mammoths, his own magnum opus, Fox News, has created a fake reality from where it’s actually running the U.S. via its most ardent fan.
Predictably, there are now many companies vying for positioning themselves to the right of Fox. And with plenty of financial muscle to break some legs as needed to achieve it. The estimated $4 billion acquisition of Fairfax Media, Australia’s oldest newspaper company, by ‘tabloid and ratings TV-culture’ Nine Entertainment, as Guardian’s Andrew Jaspan puts it, fits right in this context. Other Murdochs will surely come.
Speaking of tabloids, have you heard of Tronc? Last week, the particularly atrociously named company, a reformatting of Chicago’s Tribute Publishing formed to cash in on the Internet beyond the news, executed one the ugliest acts against a vital, albeit far from its former glory, paper, the New York Daily News. In an one-minute meeting, it fired half of its editorial staff, some who’d been

with the rag for decades.
‘Ford to City: Drop Dead,’ its Oct. 1975 headline, will remain as the apex of a legacy of presenting the news as a punch in the stomach. But it was also an accurate way of informing its readers something they could all relate too: New York was broke but the president didn’t care.
The Sinclair Broadcast Group is another organization jockeying to that sweet far right spot from oh so liberal Fox. It owns hundreds of radio stations and wants to acquire Tribute Media from Tronc, which it’d make it another monster concern to carve away chunks of the ‘free press’ that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson thought crucial for a credible democracy. Thing is, not even free as a concept is the same today.
And that’s because, although these corporations are indeed free, which means, they’re obscenely wealthy to do as they please, they are hardly about being critical, or opposing an unjust status quo. One thing Jefferson is still on the money, though is: presidents have no right to ban the press based solely on their dislike of what the papers publish. And the media is a concession from taxpayers, not the other way around.
Which brings up Latin America and how it became such a brutal place for independent press, and journalists, to survive. Take Brazil, for instance. It’s now widely known that Globo, the country’s biggest media company, was behind or contributed to both the 1964 military coup, that installed a 2-decade plus dictatorship in power, and the legislative coup that deposed two-term President Dilma Rousseff 50 years later.
And Mexico sits just behind Syria and Iraq as the most deadly place for a reporter, who’s a higher chance of being killed than that of a cop. For speaking the truth to power, to become a journalist is a dangerous enterprise nowadays. But not if one works for Fox News, of course.
Reports put out by organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists are increasingly grim. In 2017, 18 professionals were killed; 34 have already had the same fate in 2018. That without mentioning media-related workers, an also endangered profession, or those who are imprisoned (262 in 2017, including in the U.S.) or have literally dodged many bullets shot to silence them.
None of these were working for pro-government companies, which makes them a kind of voluntary canaries, risking their lives to show that the air is toxic to everyone else, or that the ruler is naked and shameless. To honor their sacrifice is to challenge any nation that dares calling itself a democracy while hunting down the opposition when no one is looking. Or just for looking. In any event, we must bear witness.
Considering that, it’s hard to say what’s worse; a president who ostensibly turn the dogs, and his supporters, on an inconvenient press, as Trump has done, or a populace seemingly oblivious to serious threats against free speech and the right to criticize the government.
It’s the same moral contempt that some flaunt on social networks: offering excuses for the inexcusable and a rationale for the despicable. Why the government should hold immigrant children in cages, while deporting their unaware and misinformed parents is a common thread. But there are still independent and critical news outlets, in the U.S. and everywhere, where heat waves and climate change are fully reported.
The Nation, and DemocracyNow come to mind, as well as Link and Free Speech TV, along a myriad of small outlets that still profess the courageous art of investigative reporting and survive solely on citizens support. It’s up to us to reclaim the right stated in the first article of the U.S. Constitution, about the universal freedom of expression. Otherwise, some big corporation will, or already has. Here comes hot August. WC


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