portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article coverage portland metro

alternative media

Photos of the KATU action

Photos of the KATU action
Them pushing us out.
Them pushing us out.
Yet again...
Yet again...
Us trying to get them to be civil.
Us trying to get them to be civil.
I don't know... but it looks cool.
I don't know... but it looks cool.
Whats with the shoving? What makes you so afraid of the truth?
Whats with the shoving? What makes you so afraid of the truth?
We got in... The initial happiness insues.
We got in... The initial happiness insues.
Us not really getting on the roof, but them being afraid anyway... LOL
Us not really getting on the roof, but them being afraid anyway... LOL
Them initially noticing us.
Them initially noticing us.
hiding from the truth?
hiding from the truth?
KATU talking to the cops
KATU talking to the cops
Indy Lovlies!
Indy Lovlies!
Mini cam man
Mini cam man
How many cops does it take to silence the truth?
How many cops does it take to silence the truth?
More media people
More media people
the best police liason EVAR!!!1!!!1!eleven
the best police liason EVAR!!!1!!!1!eleven
"No I don't know what to do without Meyers next to me!" (not an actual quote)
These are the photos of the Katu action. To coin a phrase it was "mostly peaceful" except for the mildy violent media censorship. Have a look.

add a comment on this article

The media is the appropriate target 24.Jan.2005 17:25


Continued pressure on all media sources is a good thing. They are easily manipulated...

oh the delight! 24.Jan.2005 17:26

craig craig@salvationinc.org

Awesome job by Subvertical addressing the complicit and war-profitting media.
Great task undertaken by you, I applaud your actions.
More exposure of how faulted our corporate media must come from the streets, walking right into a studio and demanding equal coverage, unbiased reporting and public airwaves.
What exactly did your statement read to the press?
Thanks again.

Take Back The Media! 24.Jan.2005 19:32

a Cascadian Mountain Primate

Its time to "Take Back The Media!"

Thank you Wee Raven! Well we all have heard the words from Jello Biafra
"Don't hate the media, become the media." This action by Subvertical is the very thing we need. On that day we saw the corporate media desplay the arrogance of a tyrrant dancing with his wife in a party that was one of many that totalled in the millions of dollars as the Americans died in Iraq, as Iraqis suffered from his greed, as survivors of the tsunami struggle to repair their lives. And yet the Amerikan "fourth estate" has become the state media no different from the Soviet controlled media during the Cold War or the Nazi propaganda of the 1930s and 1940s. We the people must remember that the air waves are owned by the public are the commons of all the people. It is time that we become the media and take back the media that has been usurped by the corporatists (fascists).

In a dynamic healthy democracy or a truly vibrant thoughtful anarchy information and communication without restraint or imposed censorship is crucial. The greater the access of information and the willingness to contemplate the diversity of opinion while respecting the "other" is the landmark of a society that has empowered its particapants. Out of such reverence of an imformed populace a true democracy or even an anarchy can emerge where the rights of all and the individual can be fostered.


What Fourth Estate?

By Mia Jarlov

The notion that the British press is a great instrument of liberty providing a check on the abuse of government power - any power - is a central part of our political culture. Indeed, the concept is a cornerstone of liberal accounts of the press. "[I]f people don't know about power and let their attention wander completely", wrote Andrew Marr last year, "then those in power will take liberties".

According to Marr, the BBC's political editor and a former editor of The Independent, "the only way to keep the huge power of the market and the political elites in some kind of check is through an informed, active and occasionally difficult citizenry. And this, in turn, needs public-sphere journalism, even if it doesn't always realise it." ('Is it possible that no news is good news?', The Independent, March 16, 2001). Since the rise of the 'fourth estate' in the mid-nineteenth century, conventional liberal thought has subscribed to the view that the press acts as an 'instrument against political power' rather than an instrument 'of' political power. The idea that the press is a vital defender of public interests is a myth that derives from classical liberal theory.

It can be argued that social theorist James Mill (1773-1836) was the originator of the concept of the 'watchdog' function of the press. He advocated press freedom because it "made known the conduct of the individuals who have chosen to wield the powers of government". But as John Merrill ponders in his 1993 book, The Dialectic in Journalism: "would he have cancelled the liberty of the press for those units that failed to live up to his rationale for such freedom? One is left contemplating since Mill does not answer it."

Editorial and journalistic practices in western democracies depend largely on liberal concepts of freedom, democracy and an 'independent' press. Influential media players ennoble themselves by hijacking the concepts of 'freedom', 'independence' and 'public interest' for their economic benefit, while abusing those very same words to justify entrenched professional habits that uphold, or refrain from challenging, illegitimate centralised authority. Such 'authority' includes the giant media corporations: an integral part of the elite forces that are driving economic globalisation, and that employ these same 'independent' professional editors, journalists and columnists.

Genuine freedom would allow honest commentators to generate intense public debate around the question of how a corporate media can possibly be relied upon to report the truth on corporate abuses of people and the planet. No wonder that George Orwell warned in his 1946 essay 'The Prevention of Literature' of the "dangerous proposition [by vested interests] that freedom is undesirable and that intellectual honesty is a form of anti-social selfishness".

The moral obligation of the press ought to be the monitoring of the instruments of political control and the highlighting of abuses of power: dual roles which the media singularly fails to perform, despite the pious claims made for it by modern commentators such as the BBC's Andrew Marr. On the other hand, the freedom and responsibility of genuine journalism reflect a profound duty to the society in which it is embedded. As noted by the third Press Complaints Commission in 1977, in linking press freedom with democratic responsibilities: "We define the freedom of the press as the freedom from restraint which is essential to enable proprietors, editors and journalists to advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate cannot make responsible judgements."

Critics such as Jean Seaton and James Curran have successfully exposed the myth that the press is a stauch defender of the public interest. In Power Without Responsibility, originally published in 1981, Curran and Seaton sketch out the interlinked political and commercial powers that came to preside over the media industry in Britain: "In the first place, some groups - stronger, richer, and with better access - are always able to secure more attention than others ... the [liberal] theory was produced to justify those who created the press and whose interests it largely served. This does not mean that newspapers, television, and radio have generally been instruments of crude propaganda: rather that the media are political actors in their own right."

In the early nineteenth century, when printing presses were becoming abundant and accessible to citizens, journalists started addressing vital issues through the press, such as 'the rights of man' and 'the relationship between master and slave'. This permitted a more radical analysis than before or since, with the Poor Man's Guardian of October 19, 1833 arguing that, "rather than there being a top and bottom in society, there [should] be no bottom at all". Some journalists challenged mainstream editors, accusing them of being "the very mouthpiece of an oppressive and morally defunct dominant culture" (Gilmartin, K: 'Print politics,' Cambridge University Press, 1996).

The radical media acquired huge popularity among British citizens. Workers would wait on street corners for the papers to arrive, gather in the shops to discuss political issues and read aloud for the benefit of the illiterate. The radical press, such as Poor Man's Guardian and Dispatch, was a powerful force in popular journalism. This was a press independent of established political pressure and still free from any commercial influence; a dynamic manifestation of both a working class and a working class movement.

As the radical press was self-sufficient on the proceeds of sales alone, it proved tricky for the government to assert any direct control. Various administrations did, however, attempt to suppress the radical press in any number of ways, one of them being through libel prosecution. This failed - and the radicals thereby gained further popularity. So press taxes and stamp duties were subsequently either introduced or raised. Stamp duty was increased by 266 per cent between 1789 and 1815. In 1819, stamp duties were redefined to include political periodicals. Press taxes served to restrict readership of newspapers to the well-to-do by raising cover prices and adding other taxes in order to try and restrict ownership of the press to 'men of some respectability and property', as Lord Castlereagh explained to the Commons in 1834.

It was generally agreed among the elite, including the evolving middle-class reformists, that it was potentially dangerous to social order for the lower classes to administer printing presses. Privileged opinion, as recorded in parliamentary debate in 1832, held that substantial stakeholders in society would conduct newspapers "in a more responsible manner than was likely to be the result of pauper management". Merchant reformers wanted to run the presses and stressed the importance of engineering broad social consent through the press, with the desire for private profits riding higher than any altruistic notion of democracy or diversity of statement. Parliament seemed happy to grease the corporate wheels. As the Lord Chancellor put it in 1834: "The only question to answer, and the only problem to solve, is how they [the people] shall read in the best manner; how they shall be instructed politically, and have political habits formed the most safe for the constitution of the country."

A tenacious campaign by 'reformers' to repeal press taxes was successful in the 1850s and 1860s. The subsequent 'free market' phase went hand in hand with intense industrialisation and commercialisation, including heavy reliance on advertising revenue. The radical press was rapidly eclipsed by cheap newspapers that propagated views conducive to elite authority and the maintainenace of 'social order'. In terms of the press, the words 'freedom' and 'independence' rapidly began to lose their meaning.

Structural changes within the industry encouraged the absorption or elimination of the early radical press. "One in four things happened to the national radical papers that failed to meet the requirements of advertisers", observe Curran and Seaton. "They either closed down; accommodated to advertising pressure by moving up-market; stayed in small audience ghetto with manageable losses; or accepted an alternative source of institutional patronage".

The reformed approach to the role of the press in the nineteenth century yielded an approach to political indoctrination that is recognisable today. As Noam Chomsky, the US commentator, explains: "The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist." The engineered mainstream misperception of press freedom persists to this day; namely, that the 'freedom of the press is rooted in the freedom to publish in a free market' with advertising acting as the 'midwife' of press independence. Anyone who dislikes the current choice of newspapers (and other media outlets) is supposely 'free' to set up their own alternatives - at crippling cost to all but a privileged few.

By the late nineteenth century, wealthy business men had taken on the role of establishing and maintaining capitalist order while basking in the approval of a society that, following the repeal of various taxes and duties, believed the press was finally free and independent. The role of the mainstream press was subverted to defending the stability of the state itself. The state is "the ideological universe within which the press freedom campaign was constructed", as Curran and Seaton note. "A tacit model of society which admitted no conflict of class interest, only a conflict between ignorance and enlightenment and between the individual and the state, provided the intellectual framework in which a free press could be perceived as both a watch dog of government and guard dog of the people".



The Mass Media as Fourth Estate

The mass media are often attacked by left-wing critics: from within the broadly Marxist vein of critical theory they are criticized for reproducing the dominant bourgeois culture; from within the 'political economy' vein of research, they are attacked for representing the interests of those who own them (see, for example, Chomsky's 'propaganda model').
Carlyle's definition of the fourth estate

However, from the perspective of those researchers who see the media as situated within the model of a pluralist liberal democracy, the mass media are often seen as fulfilling the vitally important r�le of fourth estate, the guardians of democracy, defenders of the public interest.

The term fourth estate is frequently attributed to the nineteenth century historian Carlyle, though he himself seems to have attributed it to Edmund Burke:

Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact, .... Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. ..... Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures: the requisite thing is that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite.

Carlyle (1905) pp.349-350

Carlyle here was describing the newly found power of the man of letters, and, by extension, the newspaper reporter. In his account, it seems that the press are a new fourth estate added to the three existing estates (as they were conceived of at the time) running the country: priesthood, aristocracy and commons. Other modern commentators seem to interpret the term fourth estate as meaning the fourth 'power' which checks and counterbalances the three state 'powers' of executive, legislature and judiciary.(For more detail of this notion, click here:
Habermas's public sphere

In recent years increasing attention has been paid by media theorists to the notion of the public sphere as developed by German philosopher J�rgen Habermas. Habermas, implacable opponent of postmodernist theorizing, argues that in eighteenth century England there was the emergence of a 'public sphere ... which mediates between society and state', in which 'the public organises itself as the bearer of public opinion' (Habermas (1989)).

Simultaneously with the growth of urban culture, where there was the development of a new arena of public life (theatres, museums, opera houses, coffee houses, etc.), there was also the growth of a new infrastructure for social communication (the press, publishing houses, libraries), together with increased literacy and better transportation. These communication webs allowed discussion of matters which branched out from relatively small groups into affairs of the state and of politics. According to Habermas, these led to increased social intercourse.

Rather differently from Carlyle (above: 'it matters not what rank he has'), Habermas emphasizes that the public sphere was class-linked and therefore accessible only to members of the bourgeoisie. As Habermas sees it, any member of the bourgeoisie who had access to the technology (i.e. novels, journals, newspapers etc.) was able to join in popular cultural debate based on a firm faith in the value of reasoned discussion. As Mark Poster succinctly summarizes the idea,

Although the public sphere never included everyone, and by itself did not determine the outcome of all parliamentary actions, it contributed to the spirit of dissent found in a healthy representative democracy.

Poster (1995)

In fact perhaps the most evocative description of that kind of public sphere is to be found in Neil Postman's description of eighteenth century America, a society in which literacy was vastly more widespread and democratized than in the Britain of the time. Postman is also concerned to show how print literacy in itself encourages rational and ordered thinking, participation in contemporary debate and the ability to understand and follow detailed and complex argument. (Postman (1987): 45-64)

Incidentally, the similarity of Habermas's claimed development of a public sphere to the current development of the Internet is striking and probably accounts in part for the renewed interest in his idea, some thirty odd years after it was first aired. (For comment on the Internet as public sphere, see Internet: general discussion) It has also no doubt come to be seen as an increasingly important question as increasing globalization undermines the power of the nation-state and the legitimacy of national democracies. As our traditional forms of representative, democratic politics apparently decline in relevance, as participation in such politics declines and citizens turn towards identity-based 'single issues', how can we develop a meaningful concept of the public sphere?

Habermas identified a variety of liberal-bourgeois rights which guaranteed the operation of the various spheres and their institutions:

A set of basic rights concerned the sphere of the public engaged in rational-critical debate (freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly and association etc.) and the political function of private people in this public sphere (rights of petition, equality of vote etc.). A second set of basic rights concerned the individual's status as a free human being, grounded in the intimate sphere of the patriarchal conjugal family (personal freedom, inviolability of the home etc.). The third set of basic rights concerned the transactions of the private owners of property in the sphere of civil society (equality before the law, protection of private property etc.). The basic rights guaranteed: the spheres of the public realm and of the private (with the intimate sphere at its core); the institutions and instruments of the public sphere, on the one hand (press, parties), and the foundation of private autonomy (family and property), on the other; finally, the functions of the private people, both their political ones as citizens and their economic ones as owners of commodities (and, as 'human beings', those of individual communication, e.g. through inviolability of letters).

This 'bourgeois public sphere' is seen by Habermas, then, as an area of informed, public and reasoned debate, to which the emergence of an independent, market-based press was crucial. It was open to a large number of people, within it various arguments and views were subjected to rational discussion and government policies were systematically submitted to its critical scrutiny.

However, according to Habermas, after the first half of the nineteenth century the situation changed, as the public sphere became dominated by a strong, expanded state and a press which represented organized economic interests. The media, from having been part of the public sphere of reasoned discussion, became part of the process of 're-feudalization' of the public sphere as state, industrial conglomerates and the media undergo a process of fusion. The media became the manipulators of public opinion, conditioning the public into the r�le of passive onlookers and consumers. Similarly to Habermas, Elliott argues that in 1980s Britain technological and economic developments were promoting a

continuation of the shift away from involving people in societies as political citizens of nation states towards involving them as consumption units in a corporate world.

Elliott (1982: 243-244) in Golding and Murdock (1991: 23))

The 'fourth estate', 'guardians of the public sphere' become increasingly converted into industries, wholly oriented towards the profit motive, just another business held by some conglomerate. For Habermas the decline of the public sphere is linked to the triumph of instrumental rationality which he later discusses at length in his Theory of Communicative Action Habermas pleads for the revivification of the 'lifeworld' which operates according to principles of communicative rationality, but which has been 'uncoupled' from 'system' which operates according to principles of money and power, reward and punishment. The instrumental rationality of the system invades or 'colonizes' the lifeworld and thereby erodes the public sphere.

McGuigan takes as an example the Thatcherisation of Independent Television in the UK, after which

casualisation, poor pay and overwork all grew apace. Colin Sparks (1994: 151) has likened the resultant labour market to a peasant economy: '[Independents] are the industrial equivalent of small peasants who work themselves and their families to death in order to hold onto the family plot after the realities of the market place have dictated that it would be rational to sell up to a large capitalist farmer and move to the city to find work.'
Is this, then, the 'refeudalization of the public sphere' at the point of production? The robber barons themselves now raid on a much grander scale than in medieval times, organizing neo-feudal relations of production and consumption in the burgeoning information industries across the globe.

McGuigan (1996: 93)

The output of the robber barons' media no longer, in Habermas's view, can be seen as contributing to rational discourse in the public sphere. Rather it serves merely to entertain and turn the potential participants in the public sphere into mere passive consumers. Despite the radically different views held by Habermas and Baudrillard, the picture Habermas paints is not all that different in essence from Baudrillard's claim in In the Shadow of Silent Majorities that people simply don't care about 'the issues'. Baudrillard's silent passivities would equate, in Habermas's terms to a failure to take part in rational-critical debate (Baudrillard, though, seems to see them as having a kind of potential for a sort of resistance - the masses resist by demanding more of the same rubbish (though I may have misunderstood)). Habermas's re-feudalization is Baudrillard's simulation of debate by TV politicians. It would seem fairly clear that Habermas's portrayal of the re-feudalization of the public sphere is influenced by Adorno's and Horkheimer's portrayal of the operation and effects of the 'culture industries' (see the separate section) and equally clear that he would not take quite the same view today. Apart from the thesis of the public sphere overstating and idealizing the free debate of the eighteenth century, it also overstates the 'dumbing-down' thesis of modern media effects, assuming that the content of certain media products necessarily engenders passivity and false consciousness. Certainly, modern politicians attempt to manage the media agenda, certainly they rely on their spin doctors to present the right image, but in the eighteenth century they bribed voters and got them drunk on election day. The increasing mediazation of modern culture has been accompanied by increasing democratization, so media exposure cuts both ways. At the same time as it increases the potential influence of political leaders

it should also be emphasized that this situation greatly increases the visibility of political leaders, and limits the extent to which they can control the conditions of reception of messages and the ways in which these messages are interpreted by recipients. .... Hence the development of mass communication has not only created new stages for the carefully managed presentation of leaders and their views; it has also given these leaders a new visibility and vulnerability before audiences which are more extensive and endowed with information and more power (however intermittently expressed) than ever before.

Thompson (1990 :115)
The media as watchdog

It probably doesn't matter a great deal what Carlyle originally meant; similarly, it's probably of no great importance that Habermas has been criticized for idealizing the supposed period of informed public debate (for example, there were certainly class, gender and race imbalances in any public sphere that might have existed; it is also pertinent to ask whose public sphere is it and in whose interest does it operate?). What is important is that both writers paint a powerful picture of the media participating in the maintenance of the public sphere as a kind of neutral zone in which people organize and debate collectively and rationally for the benefit of the common good and contributing to the development of democratic debate.

Thus, the term 'fourth estate' is used today to refer to the mass media as a powerful watchdog in liberal democracy, revealing abuses of state authority and defending the democratic rights of citizens.
Media independence from the state - the free market

Not surprisingly, since this view of the media's fourth estate function is rooted within the pluralist liberal democracy model, it is commonly accompanied by an assumption that the media, in order to act as fourth estate, must be independent of the state. In other words, the watchdog function can only be fulfilled by a free market organization of the media. It is assumed that, if the watchdog is subject to state regulation, then it will become the state's poodle.

This argument has been used to legitimate the increasing deregulation of American and British broadcasting over the last decade or so. The regulation of broadcasting (even in the USA) was originally tolerated because the relatively limited number of frequencies available meant that franchises had necessarily to be limited. Therefore, since some had to be excluded from obtaining a franchise (a restriction which did not apply to anyone wishing to launch a press title), there was a requirement in both countries of some measure of public service broadcasting (more especially in the UK), which to an extent would cater for the interests of those excluded from a franchise. However, the development of cable and satellite TV has meant that in the USA people can choose from more TV stations than newspapers and in Great Britain from at least as many. The deregulation of broadcasting, from this point of view, therefore becomes a legitimate goal, since, it can be argued, that will ensure broadcasting's independence of the state.

Whilst in Britain the deregulation of the media has continued apace, a move justified in part by the desirability of reducing the interference of the 'nanny-state', this has not been accompanied by any significant liberalization of the Official Secrets Act . Despite New Labour's professed intentions of introducing a Freedom of Information Act, nothing has yet been passed into law and the proposals so far made for such an Act could hardly be recognized as promoting freedom of information. At present (mid-2001) it remains unclear what will be the effect of the European Convention on Human Rights, now part of UK law. Article 10 of the Convention prescribes a basic right to freedom of expression, which should be restricted only for pressing reasons of the public interest.
Media concern with rational debate?

However, whilst one can certainly find the media revealing abuses of state power - for example, the repeated exposures of 'sleaze' in parliament, especially within the ranks of the current (April 1997) Conservative majority in the UK parliament, we need to bear in mind that the prime function of most media organs today is to provide the public with entertainment. That naturally tends to negate any supposed fourth estate function, since there is not even much coverage of state practices in the first place, let alone any rational debate and criticism of them. As mentioned above, it is always pertinent to ask whose fourth estate is this and in whose interest does it operate? If we consider the current revelations of 'sleaze' on the part of Conservative MPs in The Sun, it could be argues that The Sun is performing a public service by making public the greed and sexual indiscretions of MPs, matters whose revelation is in the public interest. However, it should be borne in mind that these attacks on Conservative misdemeanours are within the context of The Sun's switch of allegiance from the Conservatives to New Labour. The Sun is owned by Rupert Murdoch. In preparation for the 1997 election victory, Tony Blair, leader of New Labour was careful to court Rupert Murdock, whose support he believes he needs in the election. One way of gaining Murdoch support is to propose more lenient legislation than the Conservatives on cross-media ownership, which is indeed the position New Labour has adopted.

During the early months of 1998, US media organizations have repeatedly had to issue apologies for misreporting. The New Republic discovered that certain articles by one of its most favoured young reporters were fabrications; the Boston Globe's Patricia Smith resigned after admitting to inventing characters in four 1998 columns; Time magazine at the time of writing (July 1998) is investigating what it suspects is untrue reporting in in its columns and on CNN regarding claims of US troops using nerve gas against other US troops in South-East Asia. A New York Times editor ascribed this current surge in misreporting to 'a massively increased sensitivity to all things financial'. This is in part due to the operation of the global free market as we see it operating in other spheres too: mergers into huge corporations, with the usual attendant reductions in staff and staff training in order to maximize shareholders' dividends, shareholders who are to a great extent composed of retirement funds and insurance companies who will soon shift their stock elsewhere if they can get a higher return. In part it is probably also due to the increased competition arising from the use of new technologies. Photos are transmitted digitally, stories are e-mailed from across the globe, and perhaps more importantly scoops are announced on Web sites by freelancers running their own fairly small and cheap set-ups; 'freebooters' might be a more accurate term as some of them don't seem overly scrupulous about checking their facts. In such circumstances, the conventional media can be easily scooped by a small Web organization. As a signal of the shift from hard to soft news, Neil Hickey of the Columbia Journalism Review examined the cover stories of Time and Newsweek in 1987 and 1997. In 1987, Time had eleven covers relating to foreign news; in 1997, only one. Domestic hard news covers reduced from twelve to nine. In other words, the overall total for straight news dropped from around 45% in 1987 to 20% in 1997. Obsession with ratings, says Hickey, is 'at an all-time high' in TV newsrooms, where, until recently, ratings were largely an irrelevance, the emphasis being on news coverage. The broadcasters and the press editors respond to criticism by saying that the US public are currently not concerned with hard news as the economy is prospering and are not concerned with foreign news since the collapse of the USSR. In giving the public soft news, the media are merely giving the public what they want. To some that may sound like the way a democracy should function, but, in response to this argument Hickey quotes the former President of NBC News, Reuven Frank:

This business of giving people what they want is a dope-pusher's argument. News is something people don't know they're interested in until they hear about it. The job of a journalist is to take what's important and make it interesting.

in Sell The Front Page! by Neil Hickey, extracted by The Guardian, July 11, 1998, with permission from Columbia Journalism Review
Media independence from their owners?

Another factor which needs to be borne in mind is the increasing concentration of media ownership and the merger of media organizations with non-media corporations. It could be argued that, with the declining r�le of national state governments and the increasing power of transnational corporations, the media watchdog should pay more attention to abuses by global capitalist institutions than by the state. And here, of course, is the rub. The supporters of the free, deregulated media market argue vociferously that media institutions must be independent of the state otherwise they will be in some way beholden to it. The argument runs, for example, that such media will think twice before criticizing the government of the day for fear of losing subsidies or of provoking restrictive legislation. So newspaper editors in Britain have campaigned against the introduction of any kind of right to privacy. Pressure for such legislation has mounted as the press have become increasingly intrusive in their coverage of royalty, celebrities and MPs. The British press point to the example of France, where there is an established right to privacy and where, as a result - or so they claim - the press is the government's lapdog. (It is ironic, perhaps, that Diana Princess of Wales was killed in a car crash allegedly caused by pursuing press photographers in Paris) (For further comments on the right to privacy, see the section on the Press Complaints Commission. Note that the European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into British law via the Human Rights Act in 2000. Currently, early 2001, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are about to sue for invasion of privacy, relying on the provisions of that Act. There has never before been a right to privacy in British law, so it remains to be seen how the courts interpret the Act, especially as it may conflict, particularly where the media are concerned, with the Act's guarantee of freedom of expression.) Similarly, Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp., for instance, claimed that the price paid by British broadcasters for their privileges was their freedom. From this argument, though, it surely follows logically that those media which are owned by major corporations must be beholden to those corporations, a corollary which Mr Murdoch chooses to overlook.

The following issues are discussed in other sections of the Infobase:

* possible effects of deregulation of broadcasting: Blumler
* supposed advantages of public ownership: public service
* ideal r�le of the press in a democracy: the Royal Commission on the Press
* some of the possible influences newspaper owners may have had: newspaper ownership

But it is not an open and shut case. Supporters of the free market's independence of the state should bear in mind, for example, Thames Television's defiance of the Thatcher government in the Death on the Rock affair. On the other hand, those who argue that the free market must necessarily lead to protection of the owners' interests should bear in mind Donald Trelford's defiance of Tiny Rowlands.

The question needs to be asked, though, to what extent the free press is at all free. When Carlyle advanced his notion of the fourth estate, he said that for anyone to become 'a power, a branch of government' in the nation 'the requisite thing is that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite'. Carlyle is speaking here of the Habermasian public sphere in which a range of relatively small partisan presses present their views, which are taken up in discussion, fed back into, and commented on in, those presses in open and rational debate.

As Habermas sees it, early capitalism was compelled to resist the state, hence the drive for a free press, open discussion of state affairs and the demand for political reform and greater representation. However, as capitalism gathered impetus, it moved from calls for reform of the state to the take-over of the state. Once the capitalist state was in being with the corporate financing of lobbyists and government think tanks, MPs' directorships, the injection of business funds into parties' election campaigns and so on, the media's r�le underwent a significant change, in Habermas's view: where they had once been providers of information and argument to the neutral public sphere, they became manufacturers and manipulators of public opinion. The public sphere became a fake. This view seems certainly to be shared by Noam Chomsky, who comments that:

What is being reported blandly on the front pages would elicit ridicule and horror in a society with a genuinely free and democratic intellectual culture.

Chomsky (1996 : 91)

and that:

The intellectual level of prevailing discourse is beneath contempt, and the moral level grotesque.

Chomsky (1996 : 92)

Thirty years after Habermas first sketched his gloomy vision of the collapse of the public sphere, the media have progressed ever further towards concentration of ownership, ever further towards monopoly capitalism. Murdoch's News Corp, for example owns around 60% of metropolitan daily circulation in Australia, Fox TV, Twentieth Century Fox, a controlling interest in BSkyB, Star TV (the SE Asian satellite channels), Times Newspapers, The Sun newspaper as well as magazine and book publishers including Harper Collins and Triangle. The enormous wealth and global reach of such media organizations is unprecedented, with the result that the free play of market forces hardly allows a level playing field.

Does it necessarily follow that, because ownership is concentrated, because media conglomerates and the state share common interests, the media are powerful shapers of public opinion? It is a widely held view that that does follow - for example after the 1992 General Election, won by the Conservatives after confident predictions of a Labour victory, the Sun newspaper proclaimed triumphantly in a banner headline: 'It's the Sun wot won it!'; Lord McAlpine, Conservative Party treasurer, thanked the Conservative press for securing the victory; Neil Kinnock, the Labour leader, blamed the Conservative press for Labour's defeat. There is plenty of evidence from the reception studies of the 'new audience research', though, that there is no such simple linkage between the views expressed by the media and people's political (or other) choices. Reception studies show that readers do readily develop oppositional readings of media texts. That is clear from the simple fact that somewhere around 40% of the Sun's readership - a fairly constant figure - are not Conservative voters.
A revival of the public sphere?

A recent study by the Harwood Group, Citizens and Politics: A View from Main Street America (sorry, I don't have a reference) revealed widespread dissatisfaction with news coverage. The factors we have discussed above (concentration on soundbites, focus on personalities in politics, sensationalism etc.) led people to feel that the newsmakers' agenda was not theirs.

It has been suggested that TV talk shows have to some extent supplanted the news media in addressing people's genuine concerns. One only needs to take a quick look at some talk shows to see that the distorted infotainment which is presented there would hardly satisfy Habermas's criteria. I don't suppose that we would want to see the Ricki Lake or Jerry Springer shows as model democratic forums, with their barely articulate guests, their pop psychologists and their stacked audiences baying for blood. And yet..... in the USA there has been an interesting development over the past few years, namely the use of Web-based message forums devoted to these talk shows. On these message forums the debates which were aired on the show continue to be discussed. They are not moderated as far as I know, so the content is not always as reasoned as Habermas might like to see in his public sphere, nor, to the best of my knowledge, is there any evidence that the producers take any notice of what is discussed. However, they look to me as if they offer potential for open and productive debate, especially as Web TV is just around the corner. Watch this space....



The Crumbling of the Fourth Estate
Posted May 5, 2004
By Timothy W. Maier

President George W. Bush recently turned to Brit Hume of Fox News and told him flat out that he prefers to get his "news" from White House and national-security staff, rather than as reports from journalists. Though that may have stunned the media elite, many ordinary Americans cheered. For two decades polls increasingly have indicated public dismay at the spin and fantasies of the press. In fact, a recent Gallup Poll says Americans rate the trustworthiness of journalists at about the level of politicians and as only slightly more credible than used-car salesmen. The poll suggests that only 21 percent of Americans believe journalists have high ethical standards, ranking them below auto mechanics but tied with members of Congress. More precisely, the poll notes that only one in four people believe what they read in the newspapers. Chicago Tribune Editor Charles M. Madigan may have put it best when he offered this advice: "If you are a journalist, you should probably just assume that you come across as a liar."

A 2004 study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of Columbia University's storied Graduate School of Journalism, underscores Madigan's observation. "Since 1985, believability of the daily newspaper has fallen by a quarter, from 80 percent in 1985 to 59 percent in 2002," notes the study, which includes data gathered by the Pew Research Center to form its conclusions. The study also points out that there has been a rapid decline in newspaper readership since the 1980s, with slightly more than half of Americans (54 percent) reading a newspaper during the week.

"The three television network news divisions and local news also saw significant drops from 1985, when they were all above 80 percent for believability," the study reveals. A 1999 survey conducted for the American Society of Newspaper Editors also points out that about 53 percent of the public view the press as out of touch with mainstream America, while 78 percent think journalists pay more attention to the interests of their editors than their readers.

Indeed, the recent humiliation of the once highly regarded journalist Jack Kelley of USA Today and former New York Times rising star Jayson Blair hardly shocked the public. About 22 percent told a Pew survey in 2003 that they thought the unethical practices of Blair, which included fabricating sources and events, occur frequently among journalists, while 36 percent said they thought wrongdoing happened occasionally. Another 58 percent believed journalists didn't care about inaccuracies.

A 2002 Harris Poll produced similar results. In the age of Enron and WorldCom disasters, even accountants scored higher on trust than journalists. That same survey said Americans tended to trust clergy, teachers, doctors, police officers and the president, while those at the bottom were Congress members, corporate leaders and journalists. "I never bought into the polls," says Ted Gup, a former Washington Post and Time reporter who is author of The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives. Indeed, that 2002 Harris poll noted that even 51 percent of the pollsters say they don't trust polls, so who is to be believed? "I think journalists play a very big role in the feelings about the world, and anyone who is that influential is going to attract criticism," Gup says. "But I still notice that when a politician and journalist walk into a room, [people] gravitate toward them. I don't think the public is going to run them out of town on a rail."

And yet, Gup observes, "it breaks my heart" whenever a journalist is outed as unethical. "You know, Janet Cooke was a friend of mine," he recalled about the disgraced Washington Post reporter who had to give back a Pulitzer Prize for fabricating a story in 1981. "Ten years after it happened, I bumped into her in a grocery story and she saw me and rushed into my arms and gave me a big hug. I couldn't remember her name. I blocked it out because the pain was so big." While Gup says he has no reason to believe the number of dishonest journalists is greater than in the ranks of politicians, stockbrokers or priests, it nevertheless deeply concerns him. "How we are perceived affects our credibility," he says.

In the last two decades nearly two dozen writers have been caught breaking the unwritten canons of journalism [see sidebar]. And certainly the recent DVD release of Shattered Glass, the gripping and frightening story of Stephen Glass, a serial liar at the New Republic, is not likely to restore faith in the craft. Glass' stories about computer hackers and drunken Young Republican orgies - all fabricated - are as legendary as the fictional notes, phony corporate Websites and bogus business cards he created to cover his fraud. To the public, Shattered Glass likely will reinforce the Hollywood stereotype of journalists as sleazy and insensitive attack dogs with no regard for the truth, but it also should be a wake-up call for journalists.

"For me, I think it's editorial leadership," says Adam Penenberg, the former Forbes Digital Tool reporter who helped expose Glass. Author of Tragic Indifference: One Man's Battle With the Auto Industry Over the Dangers of SUVS, he says that even "when I worked at Forbes, no one ever gave me a piece of paper to sign about ethics." Penenberg believes an ethics guideline on the dos and don'ts - such as not altering quotes, avoiding use of anonymous sources, not holding positions that could be considered a conflict of interest for a reporter, and not owning or purchasing stock before or after writing about a company - would clear up a lot of gray areas between reporters and editors. Creating an ethics standard of the sort that Fortune 500 companies require of their employees would "put the fear of God" into reporters, he says.

Alex Jones, director of the Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University and a former media critic for the New York Times, says many media organizations have a "strict ethics-standards policy." Coauthor of The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times, he notes that the Times has "very rigorous standards," but says rules that are obvious to the profession, such as not plagiarizing, hardly need to be put formally into a code. "You don't have those types of rules. You have an assumption of professionalism," he says.

That assumption apparently went astray at the Times, but the Blair incident has caused the paper to move aggressively to fix problems. For instance, it finally has acknowledged that it took, without proper attribution, a quote from a 1997Insight story about singer Pat Boone and heavy metal. The Times explained on March 7 that "a request for acknowledgment went astray" for seven years. Meanwhile, it remains unclear under what circumstances the Times must include attribution when picking up the work of other journalists.

Penenberg argues for a strict set of rules to eliminate the gray areas. For example, is it ethical to alter a quote to fix grammatical errors or improve clarity? Must a reporter identify an anonymous source to his editor or fact-checker? Are there different rules for "star reporters" such as Glass, who for so long duped fact-checkers with fabricated notes? "Stephen Glass was the best liar I ever dealt with in my life," he says. "In my only phone conversation with [Glass], that lasted an hour long, I had him dead to rights. I had a checklist. I didn't give him any breathing room. Yet Stephen Glass was able to manipulate the situation and never admit he made it up." The only thing he didn't make up in the story "Hack Heaven" was that there is indeed a state of Nevada, Penenberg chuckles. Glass succeeded at fraud because everyone trusted him.

Gup says: "Journalists can't function without trust - one is between the journalist and the public and the other is between a journalist and an editor. ... An editor can't police journalists at every twist and turn. All they can do is have an antenna up and look for anything suspicious." A journalism professor at Case Western University School of Law in Cleveland, Gup recalls an incident in which an editor changed quotes in a story; he responded by stating in a memo that unless the editor also conducted an interview with the subject, the quote should stay as written. His quotes never were changed again, and that sort of care helps build reader and editorial trust.

Jones says of most concern to him is not the idea that "journalists pipe quotes or write phony stories, but ... that the editors involved have done their duty. There is not enough blame on editors - Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley should never work in journalism again. They betrayed a trust, but the editors did not follow up when there was reason to think that actions should be taken. They bear responsibility. The shock to me is not that Blair and Kelley were able to survive in the environment but the [editors for whom they worked] tolerated them as long as they did."

What needs to be done? It begins with hiring practices, Gup says. Editors should be "hiring someone with character," he explains. "Companies need to spend more time investing [in] people with character ... someone with integrity that grasps the full and humbling responsibility a journalist has." The problems of the Blairs and Glasses "begin with culture and end with culture," he says. "[A sound] culture promotes integrity. If you hire someone with high character, they will police those who don't have it - and if you are fabricating, you will be outed. You will be revealed and found out."

And finally, when the story ends up in the editor's hands, Jones says, "News organizations should take the advice of the great communicator, President Ronald Reagan: 'Trust but verify.'"

Timothy W. Maier is an investigative reporter for Insight magazine.



Take Back the Media! 24.Jan.2005 19:43

a Cascadian Mountain Private

To be upfront in my opinion on that day this was the most important event that was intentionally not covered by the corporate media. This scares the Corporatists more than anything else. If the people were to awaken to the theft of the media by elitist busnessmen or the corporatists and the people were to take the media then Amerikan fascism would begin to lose it's grip.

This is the Press Release from that morning. 25.Jan.2005 03:56


> DO NOT RELEASE UNTIL 10:55AM on 1/20/05
> Contact: Pax Sacco
> Portland Activists Hold Spontaneous Press Conference inside Television
> Station on Inauguration Day
> Local Portland activist group, Subvertical Action Netwerk, employs the
> creative tactic of taking the news to the media, rather than waiting for
> the media to come to them on January 20, 2005. The group seeks to
> nonviolently confront the media and demand accountability for the lack of
> responsible journalism they have perceived during the Bush
> administration's terms.
> The action will commence at the KATU station on 2153 NE Sandy Blvd at
> 11am. Activists plan to have a frank conversation with media personnel
> about their concerns that the media seeks to create a culture of fear and
> suspicion which fuels public support for the war and the general trend of
> fascism that the Bush administration is perpetuating. Further issues
> include ABC's continuous attempts to discredit, misrepresent and
> marginalize anyone who comes out against said policies while operating
> under the appearance of being fair and unbiased.
> "Why does this country believe that the media is objective even though we
> see again and again that this isn't the case? At no time in history has
> it been more blatantly obvious that our country is responsible for
> limiting the standard of living for the peoples of the world. The media's
> portrayal of the Bush administration as benevolent and the notion that the
> US government can define the terms of other nations' development has
> prevented the American people from recognizing its own role on the world
> stage." said Trin Kiger, SAN member.

add a comment on this article