Free the Media
An alternative/independent press can be a key element in a social movement that empowers working people in the U.S. to take control of their government-corporate power structures for their own betterment and the betterment of the world.

Speech by Peter Phillips
Director of Project Censored
at International Conference on the Ownership and Control of the Media
Athens, Greece, May 27, 1998

It is a great honor to be here representing the 125 faculty and students from Sonoma State University and the 21 national judges (including Michael Parenti, here today) who work on Project Censored every year. Since our founding 22 years ago by Dr. Carl Jensen, we have been giving annual awards to the authors of the most important United States news stories not covered by our mainstream media.

Twenty-two years ago there where approximately 50 media corporations that dominated the U.S. news services. Today that number is less than a dozen. The Federal Communications Commissions used to limit television and radio station ownership. Now, since the passage or the Telecommunications Act in 1995 a single corporation can own, radio, television, book publishing, newspapers, and Internet services all in the same market area and up to a 1/3 market share nationally. This means that the dozen major media corporations that own most of our news systems today will be down to 3 or 4 corporations in the next decade.

Mainstream media are in a gold rush of acquisitions and mergers including: Time-Warner’s merger with CNN, ABC being taken over by Disney, and Westinghouse (CBS) buying up Infinity Radio Group. More than a third of all the radio stations in the United States have been sold within the last 18 months. This is happening in the newspaper industry as well. Gannett and Knight-Ridder have taking the lead in ownership of newspaper chains, together they holding close to 200 metropolitan news publications.

I was impressed to learn yesterday that Athens has some 15 daily newspapers. In the United States 98% of all cities have one newspaper, and these are rapidly being taken over by giant corporations.

The U.S. media have lost its diversity and its ability to present different points of view. Instead there is a homogeneity of news stories and major media tend to look alike.

The media in the U.S. has created, to use Neil Postman’s words, the “best entertained least informed society in the world."

Americans are ignorant about international affairs and alienated from their own social issues. An eighth of the people in the U.S. live in gated communities and as Cornel West says the “vanilla” suburbs have built institutional barriers to segregate themselves from the “chocolate” cities.

The media provide entertainment and fear. The American public watches celebrity news, infomercials, titillation, and sex as entertainment. Crime reports, stories of the under-class, immigrants, and welfare cheats create fear and loathing. Crime reporting has risen 300% in this decade while at the same time the actual crime has declined in the United States.

Media develop target markets and audiences, focusing on the upper middle class – people with money and the ability to buy products. Little wonder that a recent Associated Press story released nationally was titled: “How to Decorate around Your Big Screen TV.”

Researchers at Sonoma State University, last summer, looked up the names of the people who served on the boards of directors of the 11 media companies that dominated the U.S. market. We found that 155 people sit on the boards. This is a group small enough to fit into this room. They are 90% white males. Recently, Rupurt Murdock, despite his marital difficulties, has graciously agreed to allow his wife Anna Murdock to retain her seat on News Corps board of directors.

Who are these 155 media elites – directors of the largest combined media news systems in the world? They include men like:

The 155 media elite are mostly individuals who inherited wealth, were educated in private preparatory schools and ivy league universities, and whose main social interactions occur at the Knickerbockers Club in New York, Bohemian Grove in California or the Piedmont Driving Range in Atlanta. They represent private wealth, private education, private clubs and they control immense media resources.

These media resources provide for most people in the United States their sole source of news and information.

The top 11 media corporations in the U.S. form a solid network of overlapping interests and affiliations. The 155 directors of these 11 media corporations sit on the board of directors of 144 of the Fortune 1000 corporations and interlock with each other through shared directorships in other firms some 36 times.

NBC, Fox News, and Time-Warner each has a board member who sits as a director on tobacco producer Phil Morris’s board. CBS (Westinghouse) shares directorships on fortune 1000 boards with the Washington Post, Time-Warner, NBC (GE), Gannett, Viacom and the Times Mirror Corp. (L.A. Times).

Little wonder that the U.S. news is so bias against democratic liberation struggles all over the world and so favorable to multi-national capital flow, International Monetary Fund polities, GATT, MAI, NAFTA, and all the other neo-liberal economic policies that favor the free flow of international capital and wealth acquisition. Democracy to the media elite means freedom to economically exploit, freedom to move money anywhere in the world, and freedom to present their own ideological messages.

The U.S. media ignore big questions like:

These are the questions of a socio-environmental apocalypse. The collapse of a market system growing exponentially to levels of higher wealth concentration and elite consumption is inevitable. Free market capitalism is creating an evil empire of corruption and waste that generates wretchedness for billions of people. All the indicators are that wealth and resources do not trickle down but rather become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the elites in the nation states of the first world and their senior and junior partners around the globe.

What hope have we? What direction can resistance take? I believe that we are not going to reform the international global media system, especially in the United States. Media wealth is too concentrated, too solidified, and too integrated into the corporate-government elite to make social change within the existing system possible.

We can, however, look to ourselves for the direction we must go. In the past two years there have been two Media and Democracy Conventions in the United States. One was in San Francisco two and a half years ago and the other in New York last October. They each brought together 1,500 to 2,000 independent/alternative media writers, editors, film producers and broadcasters, who jointly recognized many of the same concerns with corporate media that we have covered over the past three days.

Media and Democracy is rapidly becoming a grass roots movement based on a shared vision of building alternative news and information systems independent from corporate influence. Hundreds of pirate radio stations, many now under attack by the FCC (and defended in part by the National Lawyers Guild and Luke Hiken, here today) have sprung up all over the U.S. offering a diversity of programs. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Institute of Alternative Journalism (IAJ), and numerous 1st Amendment groups, internet newsletters, and news magazines are active all over the United States. Progressive media networks exist in L.A., Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Houston, New York, and Seattle. TV producers from Free Speech TV, People’s Video, Globalvision, Deep Dish, and Paper Tiger TV are being joined by small progressive shoe-string budget cable show producers all over the country: People like school teacher John Morearty in Stockton California, who for five years has been doing a weekly hour long progressive TV show aired in his local community. Our Pacific Radio network has been joined with Hightower Radio and United Broadcasting and over 100 alternative newsweeklies are published in almost every major metropolitan area in the U.S. Two video producers, Beth Sanders and Randy Baker made the film “Fear and Favor in the Newsroom” that describes the consequences of media monopoly. This film is being shown at activist meetings all over the country.

Alternative/independent media sources in the U.S. are still small, often territorially competitive and under-financed. Yet they offer a hope for the future.

Academics, progressives and leftists have been rightly criticized for being intellectually elitist and condescending. Michael Moore criticized the Media and Democracy Congress in New York for its failure to incorporate working class people into its agenda. Moore asks where are “the women at Sears who sells blouses by day and then waitresses at Denny’s from 8:00 P.M. to Midnight.”

This is a failure that we cannot ignore! The 60% of the population who are blue- and white-collar workers surviving paycheck to paycheck are alive and well. Yet they are confused by a media system that can’t or won’t explain why the value of their paychecks have declined for 25 years, why health care costs are so high, why housing is unaffordable, and their taxes keep increasing.

Major media have led working people toward racial hatred, immigrant bashing and attacks on welfare. People are fearful of the homeless because they fear homelessness themselves. They blame and attack the victims of corporate greed. They pay high tuition to send their children to state universities. These students often end up back home after graduation with huge student loan debts and few professional prospects for employment. Most working people are politically alienated and more than half no longer vote.

Yet, working people have strong core values that honor hard work, freedom, democratic process, equal opportunity, freedom of expression, due process and systemic fairness. Several times over the past 100 years working people have joined with progressives, forming social movements that changed the United States. The Progressive Movement 100 years ago challenged the Robber Barons and corporate wealth concentration and instituted income tax on the rich, an eight-hour work day, the rights of governmental recall, and citizen proposition. The Suffrage movement gave women the right to vote. The Labor Movement in the 1930s forced a New Deal that allowed unionism, national social welfare, old age pensions, and national public health. The Civil Rights Movement broke the back of racial segregation and the Peace Movement challenged the illegal war in Vietnam. The Environmental Movement, the American Indian Movement and the Women’s Movement have all made needed changes in society. Each of these movements depended on thousands of working people, who contributed, marched and in many cased died for their beliefs.

We must, and we can reawaken the values of the working people in order to mobilize against the socio-environmental apocalypse. A free flow of ideas will only happen outside of corporate media, outside the government-corporate spin doctors.

An alternative/independent press can be a key element in a social movement that empowers working people in the U.S. to take control of their government-corporate power structures for their own betterment and the betterment of the world. “Free the Media” can become a real rallying cry that will allow the emergence of what the new democratized AFL-CIO calls “Common Sense Economics” an economics that unmasks corporate wealth exploitation for the betterment of working people worldwide.

Can we strengthen alternative/independent news systems in the United States? I believe we can by sharing news stories, Internet connections, joint promotional/marketing plans, and by addressing the important socio-economic, environmental, gender and racial issues in the U.S. and in the world.

I think that the American public wants to know that the U.S. is now the arms merchant to the world selling 60% of all export weapons, using 650 government employees in embassies all over the world to promote weapons sales for private corporate profits. I think the U.S. public wants to know that many of their cosmetics and body lotions are carcinogenic, that U.S. companies manufacture torture devices and that a national I.D. card systems is just around the big brother corner. I think that the public does want to know that their private e-mail, telephone, and fax messages are monitored by U.S and ally intelligence services and that their public universities have become dependent on private corporate funding.

These are issues that can lead to the apocalyptic questions of wealth accumulation, environmental sustainability, and surplus labor forces.

For people in the U.S. this means building and supporting alternative news and information systems, and becoming local activists with global awareness. For those outside the U.S. it means sharing viewpoints, news stories, information with the alternative press in the U.S. and helping reeducate working people to our shared global problems.

Project Censored annually compiles a listing of over 400 alternative press publications and media outlets in the United States. We are willing to share this resource electronically with journalists anywhere.

Remember, we have had Reagan, Thatcher, and Yeltsen, but as Jim Hightower likes to say, “Three right turns make a left.” So it is time to move forward, remembering that Robin Hood may have been right after all.

Thank you.

 Return to The Putnam Pit