I don’t watch the news on television. I skim a few news websites each day to keep abreast of what is going on in the world. I read the headlines, but rarely click-through to read the articles. I wasn’t always avoidant of news media – it is an acquired distaste.
I miss the news coverage of my youth. Each evening, thirty minutes of news was presented on the major networks, delivered by intelligent, trustworthy, unbiased news anchors. Verified facts were presented in a way that was free of opinion, split-screen talking heads, and celebrity gossip. It was real news.
The 24-hour news cycle has created a monster. To fill the 61,320 hours that constitute a year of news content, media outlets have created filler and label it news. Moreover, there is fierce competition for viewership, creating the need for sensationalism. The news is tailored to feed some of humanity’s ugliest urges – gossip, speculation, vitriol, and voyeurism – that anyone can consume anonymously, free of guilt for their participation, and likely failing to understand their role in its perpetuation.
News once served the purpose of providing straightforward information about national and world issues. In 1941, the Mayflower Doctrine forbid editorializing on the radio. It was repealed in 1949, and replaced by the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to provide coverage of public issues, and to fairly represent opposing views. The Fairness Doctrine was abolished in 1987 based on its potential to interfere with the free-speech rights of broadcast journalists. Congress has made several failed attempts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine to create broadcast accountability for serving the public interest.
Today, very little can be done to ensure that broadcasters and other media outlets provide information to the public that is fair, balanced, or even truthful. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was intended to create competition to enhance the quality of the media. Instead, it opened the door for giant corporations to buy broadcast media outlets and thereby control the information provided to the public. More than 90% of the media is owned by six companies: CBS, Comcast, Disney, News Corporation, Time Warner, and Viacom. Radio stations and local newspapers have undergone a similar consolidation of ownership. Without regulation, further consolidation is inevitable.
The preamble of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states that, “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.” It is counterintuitive for a corporation to allow a media outlet it owns complete freedom of expression. Capitalism dictates self-preservation and promotion.
I would rather not get my news from sources that may have a reason to manipulate my perception for their own gain. I believe that the core values of responsible journalism cannot withstand the influence of ownership by massive corporations.
At one time in my life, I could turn on the news and feel that I was being truthfully informed. Now, all I can do is refer to multiple news sources and hope that the truth is somewhere in the deluge.
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