Former broadcaster assails mainstream media

The corporate stranglehold on the mainstream media submerges many viewpoints, but the technology exists to create a strong alternative media.

That was the message expounded Thursday by Jeff Cohen, a New York resident and former broadcaster who in 1986 founded the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR).

Cohen spoke at what was billed as a Festival of Alternative Media in Smith Memorial Student Union. Although it was sparsely attended, those who did participate expressed a strong dedication to the development of alternative media.

Cohen, who has been a frequent guest speaker on television news commentary programs, said he had been more or less forced off news and discussion shows on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News Channel for being too “left.” The problem, he argued, is that the mass media are dominated by a few corporations whose viewpoint tends to extinguish dissent.

He named Disney, Time Warner, Viacom and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. as current corporate media giants, owning both networks and local media outlets. Relaxation of ownership regulations has led to a number of corporations owning many radio and television stations in single markets.

“Most censorship in our country is corporate,” he said. He lumped broadcast news today under the label of “disinformation – mass media taken over by big media conglomerates.” He pictured television news as an orgy of cross-plugging of sister corporations, for example Disney movies being plugged on news outlets owned by companies within the Disney media conglomerate.

He also criticized television news currently is obsessed with the “runaway bride” and the Michael Jackson trial rather than with significant news stories.

“The number one fear on the networks is getting yourself identified as liberal,” he said. Corporations not only affect the politics of reporting, Cohen observed, but also the political process itself.

He described the Republican Party as 100 percent corporate-dominated and the Democratic Party – represented by people such as John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Al Gore with strong business ties – as roughly 50 percent corporate-controlled.

When it came to analyzing network news attitudes to the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, he pointed to a statement by Dan Rather, former CBS news anchor: “I always give the president the benefit of the doubt.”

To help break the corporate stranglehold on mass media, Cohen recalled, “I have told labor to buy media.” He stated a real need for unions to become involved in mass media ownership.

“How do you bring the news to working-class people?” he asked.

On the positive side, he saw alternative media as having great opportunities. The necessary technology and research are inexpensive.

Cohen criticized the news media, such as MSNBC, for their reliance on information from internet sources. “MSNBC is Googling,” he said.

“Technology has laid the basis for a flowering of democracy,” he concluded.