Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You get the media you deserve

Looking at past articles and columns that appeared in our local newspapers, I can’t help but wonder why readers didn’t weigh in on topics as important as Ramsay Clark’s effort to impeach President Bush. Or a revelation by Greg Palast that U.S. intelligence and facts were “fixed” to justify the invasion of Iraq.

At least these stories -- and others like them -- can be found each year in the Project Censored anthologies of underreported news. That is, if you care to read them.

Even better, in this case at least, somebody has taken notice.

Former Lake County Poet Laureate Sandra Wade forwarded me some news of PEN Oakland award recipients. PEN is an international organization of poets, essayists and novelists.

The item that piqued my interest was the PEN Oakland Censorship Award, which was given to Project Censored for its ongoing research on national news stories that were ignored, misrepresented or censored by the U.S. corporate media.

Project Censored is a media analysis project at Sonoma State University.

I originally bought a subscription to Mother Jones because I noted the magazine’s frequent appearance in Project Censored’s anthologies of “Top 25” under-reported stories. I am appreciative, by the way, of a recent gift subscription purchased by Mr. Bob Brown for the Clear Lake Observer American.

In December 2006, Project Censored intern Heather Leidner arranged for a local appearance by Dr. Peter Phillips, the director of Project Censored. Leidner originally contacted me to invite the Observer American to receive proceeds from ticket sales.

Our non-commercial radio station, KPFZ 88.1 FM, was not yet on the air at that time. It was looking for matching funds for a grant it had been awarded to build a full-power station so I suggested that KPFZ would be a suitable beneficiary. Dr. Phillips’ appearance drew a packed house in Clearlake City Council chambers.

PEN Award presenters singled out “particular important stories about the nationwide move to impeach President George W. Bush and the fact that over one million Iraqis have lost their lives since the 2003 invasion, with more than 50 percent of those deaths attributable to U.S. troops and their allies.” I disagree with the presenters, however, that important stories like these are being “willfully buried.”

Judging from my first-hand experience, the people who care about these stories can’t be bothered to read the newspaper; they’re too busy chattering on-line. How else can I explain the absence of responses to the stories I’ve mentioned?

I believe that media “reformers” will face a fruitless quest if they have no investment in the outcome. Media, like other businesses, have to serve the needs of their customers or they will not remain in business for long.

If the only people consuming mass media are the ones who set trivial priorities, then those are the only people whose needs and interests will be served.

For more information about Project Censored, visit www.projectcensored.org. For more information about PEN, visit www.penoakland.org/.

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