Monday, November 28, 2005

OPINION: Mainstream media not under corporate control, CBS news chief says

Here's a view about the extent to which mainstream media's news agenda is set by its so-called corporate owners. That's a view expressed repeatedly in the Robert Kane Pappas film documentary, "Orwell Rolls in His Grave."

The comments below are from Andrew Hayward, president of CBS News. He was on an Oct. 5, 2005, panel at the "We Media: Behold the Power of Us," conference at The Associated Press headquarters in New York City. The conference was organized by The Media Center, the think-tank arm of the newspaper publisher-sponsored American Press Institute. His comments were made generally; the Pappas film was not in any way a subject of the session.

Here is Hayward verbatim, as transcribed from the MP3 download of the the panel he was on:

"One of the misunderstands about these conglomerates, certainly maybe not in this room, which is a sophisticated audience, but among the public at large, is that the conglomerates are actively telling us what to cover and actively censoring or blocking stories based on what advertisers want. That is not true. There is still a very solid firewall in this country between news providers and sponsors, and to the degree it becomes permeable, I think there are going to be a lot of watchdogs who are going to sound the alarm.

"I think the real issues is what the vice president correctly said -- its the sins of omission that are more important to me than the sins of commission, because you can always ignore the Lacy Peterson or the runaway bride, but not having a vigorous debate about global warming or about what is going on in the classrooms -- that is something that we can tag the media with -- however we also have to look again at the marketplace and the audience . . . the fact is if there weren't the marketplace for the runaway bride it wouldn't be on as much as it is . . . I don't think we can wish away the influence of the marketplace on American media."

Hayward's comments earlier about the future of media were interesting as well. Here's an excerpt:

"We're at the very early stages of development in the democracy that could go one of several ways. At its best, the disaggregation of content, the lowering of barriers of entry ot news, and inforramtion and opinion providers sare in fact a very good thing that could recreate the kind of feisty dialog that the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created the town meeting model for our democracy. At its worst . . . and the vice president even cited this case of the sudden upsurge in the number of emails urging that a particular professor be fired . . . at its worst you will have an atomized world in which people have, or chose, access only to the things that they are interested in and you will have a completely splintered society where even though the information is available, for those who are actively willing to seek it, to learn about public affairs, most people will live in a comfortable cocoon of their own self-reinforced opinions and its going to be even harder to reac!
h consensus on the issues of the day. And I think we have to grapple with those contradictions and discuss them rather than, recycling what to me are fairly familiar criticisms. It's not that they aren't valid. They're familiar because they've been around for a long time. But i think looking ahead is a lot trickier than looking in the rear-view mirror."

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