Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the May, 2006 Newsletter

Which News Do We Get?

In the United States, we have a free press. That means the government cannot dictate what appears in publications. These days we are showered with news 24 hours a day. Does this mean that we get all the important news, and that the accounts we get are accurate?

If we did, this article would not have been needed.

Like everyone else, reporters and publishers have opinions. Even if they do their best to be objective, those opinions inevitably color their reports. However, there are much more powerful but less recognized influence on what we are told and not told:

1) The “standard” sources of information are becoming more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and all of those hands are corporate. For example:

  • One company (Clear Channel Communications) owned 1200 radio stations as of the year 2004;
  • One media mogul (Rupert Murdock) owns both a major television station and two newspapers in New York City alone, as well as the entire Fox television network, and myriad other communications outlets throughout the United States and overseas;
  • The Time Warner corporation owns a major movie studio plus multiple radio stations, television stations, magazines, cable channels, and an Internet service provider, plus other holdings.
  • The extent of holdings by the multinational conglomerate General Electric (“GEC”) is staggering: Their media arm alone owns and operates the NBC television network (when is the last time you heard anything negative about General Electric on an NBC program?) and a group of individual TV stations, a Spanish-language TV network, a portfolio of other news and entertainment networks, a motion picture company (Universal Pictures), several television production companies, and several theme parks.. GEC is also a major power in the fields of Energy (including nuclear power), finance, transportation, medical systems, various consumer and industrial products, health care, and more.

The amassing of more and more outlets in ever fewer hands is the dominant factor in limiting the news we get from the major sources, but there are other factors as well:

2) Although some communications outlets, such as the Fox News cable channel, are blatantly partisan, others have a patina of objectivity. Nonetheless, the outlets must ultimately serve the interests of their owners. At one time, the news departments of most television stations were insulated from the money-making portions of the business, but for other programs on the television station, or for films about to be released? Guess who has a financial interest in those films.)

3) Partly as a result of the above, news media are increasingly timid about saying anything that might offend anyone except for the day's official villains, for fear of losing some of its public or its advertisers.

4) Governments including ours, are using more and more sophisticated methods of "spinning" the news and in smearing those who have the nerve to criticize them.

Some of the factors that degrade the quality of news coverage are our own fault:

5) We increasingly crave news that is entertaining and superficial, now known in the industry as "infotainment". Like "infomercials", which are simply half-hour or full-hour commercials, infotainment is misleadingly named (on purpose, of course). It is nearly unalloyed entertainment, with very little real information.

6) We buy into the feeding frenzy on sensational stories, and are willing to pay close attention day after day as additional minor details or pretend-developments are reported.

7) We have little interest in anything outside the United States unless it involves murder or cataclysm.

8) Unlike Europeans and many people elsewhere, most Americans know only English, so they cannot read newspapers in other languages and thereby find out what the foreign media are telling their own people.

So where can we get reasonably objective and broad news coverage, or at least where can we find a variety of opinion?
  • Newspapers of quality (as distinguished from the tabloids, which latter are devoted mostly to celebrity gossip) cover many stories in much greater depth than television or radio. And if you read several newspapers of differing orientation, you can gather facts on several sides of any question, and can often find news in one paper that another ignores. Some newspapers have well-deserved reputations for quality. The New York Times is one (in spite of its recent difficulties). The Record of Hackensack is another.
  • There are several sources of broadcast news that are not controlled by large corporations or heavily influenced by governments: Two primary such sources are short wave radio and the Internet:
On short wave radio you can find English language programming from many countries, as well as some programming that originate from the United States. Unfortunately, with the explosive growth of the Internet and a corresponding move there by an increasing proportion of people who are looking for news, many countries have curtailed or even ceased shortwave broadcasting.

On the Internet you can find an enormous amount of independent news and commentary, and can even listen to radio broadcasts that are outside the range of radios in your area.

It’s tempting to give a list of shortwave radio frequencies and Internet sites, but there are so many, and the process of selecting which ones to mention would necessarily be so subjective, that we have decided just to tell you how to find the sites of interest to you, and then invite you to explore.

There are guides to shortwave broadcasts. The consulate of a country that interests you can probably tell you, or help you to find, a listing of their broadcasts.

On the World Wide Web you can go to a search site (such as www.google.com) and enter keywords representing your major interests. You’ll be astonished at the number of references they produce: As an experiment, I randomly entered “Zambia elections“ and from the Google search engine alone I got several hundred results.

Americans are considered worldwide to be ignorant and parochial. If you don’t want to be in that group, you might want to broaden your sources of news.

W. A. Shapiro