Building Media Democracy

by Peter Phillips

Project Censored newsletter, Spring 1999


The U.S. media has lost its diversity and its ability to present different points of view. Instead there is a homogeneity of news and a regurgitation of the same news stories on every channel and headline. Our corporate media outlets in the country spent hundreds of hours and yards of newsprint to cover Bill Clinton's sexual escapades and ignored many important news stories in the process. This amounts to structural censorship of the news.

Mainstream media tends to disregard news stories that affect the working people of our country, the 75% of us who are blue and white collar workers surviving paycheck to paycheck. Corporate media ignores the relevant questions for working people about why the value of our labor has on average declined for 25 years, why health care costs are so high, why housing is unaffordable, why we can't afford to send our kids to public colleges, and why our taxes keep increasing while corporate profits are at all time highs.

Working people in the United States are disillusioned with politics and tired of the entertainment junk being pushed as news by the national media. When over half the people don't vote, it is not because they don't care, but more about not knowing the issues or recognizing differences in candidates. Our media is not covering the issues that affect the lives of the majority of Americans.

New research on media corporate interlocks shows that the eleven largest most influential media corporations are directly connected through shared boards of directors to 144 of the Corporate 1,000 companies in the United States.

As media corporations join the ranks of the corporate elite, questions arise such as: How can we trust the objectivity of the New York Times book reviewers now that book reviews are linked to profit sharing with a Barnes and Noble Web site?-or, How can we believe the objectivity of General Electric-owned NBC's reporting on defense contracts or nuclear energy?

I believe that we are not going to reform the media system in the United States anytime in the near future. Media wealth is too concentrated, too solidified, and too integrated into the corporate-government elite to make social change within the existing system possible. Media has no interest in awaking the socio-political consciousness of the working people in the United States.

We can, however, look to ourselves for the direction we must go. The Media and Democracy movement is a grass roots effort based on a shared vision of building alternative news and information systems independent from corporate influence. Hundreds of pirate radio stations have sprung up all over the United States offering a diversity of programs. There are over 200 media activist organizations currently operating in the United States, over 400 nationally distributed alternative press news publications and thousands of regionals.

Alternative/independent media sources in the United States are still small and under-financed. Yet they offer a hope for the future. An alternative/ independent press can be a key element in a social movement that empowers working people in the United States to take control of their government-corporate power structures for their own betterment. We can strengthen alternative/independent news systems in the United States by subscribing to and supporting our local independent news services. Alternative publications can support each other by sharing stories for repeat publication and by developing joint marketing agreements. We can push our elected officials to keep public radio and television free from dependency on corporate funding, and we can support our local libraries in their quest for free access to the internet and government information sources.

People are only as free as their access to information about those in power. The democratic process demands full availability of information and news, anything less is government-corporate censorship.


Peter Phillips is an associate professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and the director of Project Censored.

Project Censored