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Friday, January 28, 2005

The Watchmen

A Fox television station in Florida is facing a challenge to its FCC license. It's about time something like this happened.

(Of course, since this is a Republican-dominated FCC, I expect they'll spent less time considering this than they did on Janet Jackson's bare breast, or pixellated cartoon posteriors.)

Two reporters for the station in question did some investigative work that involved the use of hormones in cattle that management determined would have alienated Monsanto (manfacture of the hormones) and the local dairy industry. The reporters alleged that they were ordered by higher-ups to distort and falsify the reports.

The key paragraph is as follows:
That verdict [awarding damages to the reporters against Fox for violating whistleblower protection laws] was overturned in 2003 when an appellate court accepted Fox's defense that since it is not technically against any law, rule or regulation for a broadcaster to distort the news, the journalists were never entitled to employee protections as whistleblowers in the first place.

The station actually argued on appeal that there is no law against distorting the news, or against a televesion station failing to report some bit of news that it should uncover. I suppose that's technically true, but it tells you everything you need to know about how much you can trust corporate media outlets, and tells us that we need all the alternative forms of media we can get.

There's a certain amusement factor here - since this is a Fox affiliate, after all.

When they have to choose between their advertisers and the truth, or between their advertisers and the public interest, these entities going to choose the former more often than not. Which makes a certain sense when you consider that they're not in business to serve the public so much as they are in business to make money so they can pay their shareholders, creditors, and employees.

Except they're doing it with our airwaves. That's right, our airwaves. The increasingly small number of various corporate entities that run our media outlets don't, contrary to what many believe, own the spectrum they use the way a landlord owns a building, or the way you own the digital camera you just bought. They are trustees, and a trustee that abuses its trust and defaults on its obligations ought to be called on it. A democratic civil society depends on the free flow of information, and that's facilitated by a free press. That's the difference between journalism and public relations, and journalism is of no value when it becomes indistinguishable from PR.

For all the talk of a "liberal" media bias out there, these are the sorts of things that drive the real biases in media reporting.


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