Paul Cienfuegos’ June 30th, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News
(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)
Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.
I have been concerned for quite some time about the impact of large corporations owning virtually all of our mainstream media. In my opinion, Americans drastically underestimate the significance of this current reality. We the People simply cannot do a decent job of participating as informed citizens when most of us have no clue how to locate accurate and comprehensive news and analysis about what is really going on in our communities, our states, our nation, and the world. And therefore, a functioning democratic culture is close to impossible. This is just one of a number of reasons that I claim that we do not live in a functioning democratic society at all. That in fact, our nation was set up to exclude the vast majority of us from any meaningful participation in our own governance.
But let’s just imagine for a moment what might happen if Americans across the political spectrum decided one day that we’d had enough of a corporate media that wasn’t doing its job. And imagine if these Americans began to understand that rights are for people and other living beings. And that the proper relationship between The People and our corporate creations is that we are in charge, and that the corporation has duties and responsibilities to us that it must meet, or else its charter will be revoked and the company dissolved. And imagine if Americans understood that we must treat media corporations in just the same way as we treat energy corporations and food corporations and insurance corporations – as our subordinates. This is actual early US history, believe it or not.
If We the People understood our own history, and our responsibility as citizens, how would we act? What would we do, when the editors or publishers or owners of the Oregonian newspaper or NPR’s Morning Edition, or Fox News or the CBS News failed to adequately provide us with comprehensive and accurate news and analysis about the critical issues of the day, as is currently the situation?
At this point, because we treat large corporations as goliaths, rather than as our servants, most of us think that all we can do is beg and plead with corporate decision-makers: “Please sir, may I have some more?”. But if we could decolonize our minds sufficiently to see these institutions as our subordinates, as our servants, what changes in our news media would we insist on making?
Many years ago, I created a workshop to explore this topic, titled “Taking OUR Local Mass Media Back From Large Corporations”. I led it at the National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsin in 2003, and in cities and towns across the US. I naively thought at the time that my workshop would revolutionize the way that media activists organize communities to demand a better news media. But I was wrong. Media action groups continue to put almost all of their political resources into lobbying the corporate business people who have been hand-picked by the White House to run the FCC – the Federal Communications Commission. From a Community Rights perspective, that’s batting at windmills. We stay as far from the regulatory cesspool as we possibly can, focusing instead on law-making at the local level that rearranges who’s in charge of key decision-making.
Here are four principles that I developed for this workshop many years ago, that are still totally
1) That all work is ultimately local. That for the ordinary citizen (not the average activist) to comfortably choose to become part of a media reform movement, it would have to be local in its goals, it would have to be led by people living locally, it would have to be created and designed democratically through an open and ongoing program of outreach to the entire local community (not just our friends and allies), and perhaps most importantly, that its primary funding would come from those who directly participate in it.
2) That most Americans, regardless of their political party, age, gender, or location, are extremely concerned about the corporatization of our society and its media, and are capable of working together – across ideological boundaries – to insist that our local mainstream media in every American community become responsive to the people of that place, or be replaced by a locally controlled institution better suited to meet their needs.
3) That the notion that the average American doesn’t care about the state of our media is just plain wrong. Most Americans don’t participate as citizens because they know that their efforts will be fruitless, that their voices will be ignored by the powers that be, that their act of voting just further energizes a rigged election system. In other words, that they’ve accurately perceived the state of our so-called “democracy”, and chosen to not lend their support to such a charade. I’ve never met an apathetic American. No, I’m not kidding! Every human being cares to the extent that they have some control over the outcome of that particular situation. Sadly, for most Americans, that control ends at the edges of their yards. Beyond that, people feel powerless. It’s a catastrophe if our goal is to create a truly democratic society, but it’s not an accurate indication of the level of apathy among our citizens.
4) That the best way to challenge these giant media conglomerates, and the place where they are each most vulnerable to citizen action and disruption of business as usual, is at their thousands of local TV and radio stations and newspaper offices, which are located across the American landscape, where everyone already lives! Activists love to travel great distances to participate in mass actions. The average American does not. Activists have the luxury of being able to leave home for days or weeks at a time. The average American must somehow find the time to squeeze their civic participation into a very tiny number of brief moments of freedom each week. In my opinion, it’s a match made in heaven!
Therefore, if we are truly serious about building an effective sustained movement to challenge the corporatization of our mainstream media institutions, we must frame our goals and strategies in a language that resonates with most Americans, no matter where they stand on the ideological spectrum. To ask them to engage locally in response to the very localized corporate media crap that they have to endure every day, and to design campaigns which offer truly empowering, exciting, and ongoing opportunities to all participants so that everyone experiences a direct relationship between their collective actions and the results which unfold before their very eyes. I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to explore what it would take to create this sort of media activism where you live.
You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.
You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. You can sign up for my newsletter at PaulCienfuegos.com. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for!