Media Forum at SUNY Old Westbury
“The News L.I. Isn’t Getting, Part 2”
Wednesday, April 19th, 2017
SUNY College at Old Westbury
The diverse and informed panel explored a range of media problems and their causes.
- Greg Palast: Winner of Puffin Award, reporter for BBC, The Guardian (UK), and Rolling Stone Magazine. Author of The Best Democracy That Money Can Buy (book & film), covers voter suppression, 2000 – 2016 elections
- Christopher Twarowski: Editor In Chief, Long Island Press; formerly at the Washington Post
- Rashed Mian: Reporter, Long Island Press; graduated Hofstra University in 2010, majored in journalism. Mian reports on civil liberties and Long Island’s Muslim American community
- Mario Ferone Field Organizer (NH, NV, NC, NY & IN) for Bernie Sanders presidential campaign; youngest candidate to run for NYS Assembly (age 19). Also worked on campaign for Tim Canova campaign (FL). Lifelong Plainview resident with a B.A. in Economics & Political Science from Stony Brook University, and finishing a masters in Public Policy.
- Joseph Manfredi, SUNY Old Westbury Instructor, American Studies, & Station Manager of OWWR (Old Westbury Web Radio)
- Steven Abreu; president of PEL club (Politics, Economics and Law).
Mr. Palast joined the panel via Skype from Los Angeles. We are deeply grateful to all of the participants.
The Constitution regards freedom of the press as vital to democracy. The framers of the Constitution provided substantial subsidies to the press (via cheap postal rates) without regard to political viewpoint, allowing a wide variety of publications to flourish.
In the 1934 Communications Act, FDR granted big media companies free use of the public airwaves in exchange for a) producing comprehensive news programs, b) requiring equal time to both sides of issues, and c) giving candidates free air time. But since then, media corporations have chipped away at their legal responsibilities to inform the public, by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine (1987) and allowing consolidation of media outlets (1996). Today, we find that most news coverage is in the hands of six very large corporations that emphasize profits, and who relegate production of quality news reporting as too expensive and secondary to their interests.
Devotion to the bottom line has resulted in: a) shallow news coverage, b) editorial judgment that’s increasingly constrained by the views of corporate owners, and c) important stories being ignored or unreported. For instance, among those mentioned at the forum were:
- Months before the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, BP had another blowout in the Caspian Sea near Azerbaijan. This was not brought to the attention of US officials.
- Many thousands of voters were removed from the voter rolls in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, based on a list of alleged felons compiled by a private company. The list had a large number of inaccuracies, and the illegitimate removal of voters tipped the balance in favor of George Bush.
- Many tons of radioactive waste was dumped on land owned by Verizon in Hicksville. When the Long Island Press reported the story, Verizon pulled all its ads from the paper.
- John Ridenhour, who as a G.I. in Vietnam gathered information on the My Lai massacre, had great difficulty finding anybody to publish the story or investigate further. The New York Times agreed to look into it only when Ridenhour threatened to read the story on the steps of the Pentagon.
A more subtle problem is the introduction of stories as news which are really intended to promote the viewpoints of advertisers or corporate owners. The public is often unaware that many stories have essentially originated in PR departments.
The Internet offers many news sites that are not controlled by the big six corporations. These can be useful as alternatives to the mainstream news programs and newspapers.
Garden City Media Film Series
Beginning in March 2017, a series of documentary films exploring problems of the media was shown at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau, 223 Stewart Ave, Garden City, NY 11530.
Mar 31th The Brainwashing of My Dad
Jan Senko shows how her dad changed, politically and personally, as he listened to radio broadcasts on his commute to work. A trailer is available on YouTube: Brainwashing of My Dad Trailer
Also visit: The Brainwashing of My Dad website
Apr 28 Shadows of Liberty
Jean-Philippe Tremblay’s revealing report of how money and corporations influence the news we see. See the trailer, or watch the film online, at the Shadows of Liberty website: Shadows of Liberty
May 19th Broadcast Blues
Sue Wilson examines the influence of corporations on lawmakers as they make media policy often contrary to the public interest. The trailer is available at her website: Broadcast Blues
June 9th Project Censored
Project Censored is a media literacy group devoted to educating the public about the importance of a free press. Each year they publish a report about the most important under-reported stories. Website: Project Censored
The film, Project Censored The Movie: Ending the Reign of Junk Food News, tells what is wrong with the media and about their own work in bringing important stories to light.
All Governments Lie
Inspired by legendary investigative journalist I.F. Stone, a high powered group of modern journalists expose government lies and corruption.
With Q&A by filmmaker and media expert, professor Jeff Cohen.
Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave, Huntington, NY 11743>
7:30, Wednesday, June 14
After viewing this penetrating and information-packed film, the audience was able to speak with Jeff Cohen in person during live (and very lively!) Q&A.
Jeff Cohen Interview
Prof. Cohen was also interviewed privately by Janine Melillo of LIMTF. He gave advice for how the Task Force can be more effective in bringing its message to the public.
Here are some brief notes from the interview.
Notes – LIMTF Interview with Jeff Cohen , June 13, 2017
( “J:” to indicate Janine’s question/ comments; otherwise text is Jeff Cohen.)
Opening question about how hard it is to get an environmental story produced on ABC News – Victor Neufield, head of news division – his wife is a spokesperson for the nuclear power industry. Spousal relationships need to be “correct”, e.g. wouldn’t be acceptable if spouse worked for Greenpeace.
Refers to 2013 book: This Town (Washington DC) by Mark Leibovich about the power culture.
J: We are seen as a satellite to NYC; we don’t get L.I.-centered news
So many places are lacking local news like this; it’s very common. Cannot have local democracy w/o local media. In 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed to note that Americans were reading newspapers of all sorts. But now half a dozen corporations control everything. Democracy needs many viewpoints, accountability of officials. The US falls flat in both departments. Independent media is rising, but mainstream media is crashing because advertisers no longer need newspaper ads. Says there’s an independent local online newspaper. L.I. Business news? Or theislandnow.com?
J: How do we get the most effectiveness from our efforts?
You’re doing great stuff. That’s important. Do what you can. Key thing: affiliate with journalism departments, students, to encourage more local news. Approach professors about collaboration about news. Local county and municipal governments need to be reported on.
J: Project Censored’s Christopher Oscar said that students produce a video for each story in Sonoma State University’s annual book “The 25 Most Censored Stories.”
Spread the word that there are alternatives to mainstream media. Let people know about alternatives: Democracy Now (Amy Goodman); Common dreams; truthdig. Jeff recalls underground newspapers in the good old days, e.g. Ramparts, but now there are many more independent journalists and online news outlets. This is a good time for independent media. Trump trying to end net neutrality; the corporations will be able to discriminate. Ajit Pai (Verizon attorney who now heads the FCC) wants to end neutrality. This is a freedom of the press issue, the biggest battle we face just now. Use militant non-violent demonstrations.
J: What about the ‘Net Neutrality July 12 Day of Action’?
Great. Talk it up. Freepress.net, the organizer of the Day of Action, was founded by R. McChesney (also author of “The Problem of the Media”)
J: How do you start telling people about media literacy?
Must start in the high-schools. Get young people involved: commercials, TV programs, then news. Failure of education. School boards are open to it. Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” documentary; discusses women in ads, gender stereotyping.
J: Then you start questioning other things.
Summary of Professor Cohen’s advice to LIMTF:
- Spread the word about Independent Media (like the list on LIMTF’s website). He said to hand that list out everywhere, at supermarkets and flea markets. He also suggested we tell people to try watching “Democracy Now” a few times a week for a month, and see if their opinion of mainstream news starts to change.
- Be really active about Net Neutrality. For example, there’s the July 12 Internet-Wide Day of Action (link of our site). He said to mount protests at local government buildings.
- He said that our group should generate new content weekly on our website and on social media.
- And the best way to get the manpower to do that is to reach out to college journalism programs. They have the energy. (A group member suggested that we sponsor internships, for them to post our events and media news. And even produce video & audio podcasts.)
- Bring media literacy to young people. ‘Project Look Sharp’ media literacy at Ithaca College for high schools: https://www.projectlooksharp.org/