Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fear and Prejudice

With all due respect to Jane Austen’s choice of title and the thoughts of collective theologians, I believe self-centered fear rather than pride is the bane that continues to drive prejudice within the United States. Recently I saw the play “Race,” which provided a wonderful opportunity for discussion afterwards. Undoubtedly, this discussion, the ongoing media-induced melodrama concerning the proposed building of an Islamic mosque and cultural center within walking distance of the September 11, 2001 al-Queda terrorist attack upon the World Trade Center buildings and its innocent civilians, and the ongoing politically-based collective denigration of Mexicans as “illegal immigrants” inspired me to reflect upon the correlation between fear and prejudice .
For two hundred and nineteen years the United States has been a more perfect union because of Amendment One of the Constitution whereby "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Why doesn’t the press, which obviously embraces the freedom granted to it by the First Amendment, recognize the Amendment’s strength is based on protecting ALL the freedoms granted within? Could it be the desire to manipulate freedom of thought in order to maintain power is more inticing than the freedom ensured through a balanced education? If so, isn't regulation to increase equal access to balanced information in the public interest?
Since 2003, when the Bush Administration changed the FCC ownership rules, can anyone deny the increased partisanship of cable news broadcasts? Can Fox News or MSNBC really be considered true reporters of news rather than creators of news? On a daily basis, doesn't the partisanship exhibited in the media exemplify "yellow journalism"?
While the Constitution protects the freedom of the media, it does not guarantee its fairness. Based on the First Amendment, the Federal Government may not place a prior restraint on the news. Broadcast media, i.e., radio, television, have a special legal status that is more subject to regulation than print media (newspapers, magazines) because their assignment of a broadcasting frequency by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is regarded as a public trust. As noted above, until the 2003 regulation changes, the FCC prohibited a single individual or firm from owning both a leading television and newspaper in the same city so as to insure diversity. With the increase in cable and satellite channels the rule was unwisely deemed to be outdated. The result has been a single entity can now own nearly 50% of a region’s media. Although the FCC imposes an equal-time rule, which requires stations to give equal time to opposing candidates if free time is given to any candidate, or to offer opposing candidates air time at an equal price in the case of paid political commercials. However, the equal-time requirement does not apply to news, talk shows, or documentary coverage. This is just one loophole whereby partisanship is now allowed to freely create fear and distortion as a way to retain power.
The result of such media oligopoly and manipulation seems to be the promotion of prejudice rather than balanced education. The Fairness Doctrine, which once "enforced the FCC’s belief that broadcast licenses (required for both radio and terrestrial TV stations) were a form of public trust and, as such, licensees must provide balanced and fair coverage of controversial issues” was repealed in 1987. In the ensuing twenty-three years it should be very apparent to the three branches of government that the Fairness Doctrine truly did serve the public interest.
As the first step toward promoting education to ensure an informed populace, the Fairness Doctrine should be restored and include both quasi-news and talk shows for terrestial, cable, and satellite sources within the Doctrine's expectations. Since its accessibility and influence upon a given market has allowed the media to virtually become a fourth branch of our system of government, without FCC regulation ensuring an expectation of equal access and fairness, the very freedoms granted by the Constitution would continue to be eroded through partisan manipulation. Balanced education through bi-partisan access and presentation of information would be this great country’s best deterrent to the promotion of self-centered fear and the resultant continuation of prejudice.