The relationship between the media and democracy is critically important, but many of those who represent the media are overpaid gasbags and “presstitutes,” according to David Barsamian, the founder of Alternative Radio.
Barsamian gave a speech titled “Media & Democracy” to over 65 people at Lane Community College on Thursday, March 5. He discussed our current media landscape, corporate control of the major news media outlets, drones, war and more.
He was quick to inform the audience that he had no credentials, other than media skills he’s developed from common sense. He explained that he tries to present something that will challenge the system of domination, power and privilege that he sees in corporate media. He says it doesn’t take a Ph.D. or even a high school diploma to find the biases in today’s media.
“Media love to present themselves to the world, and to us, as being on our side, that they are objective, they are balanced, they are free from any bias or agenda. Any casual scrutiny of the performance of the media would completely blow that out of the water,” Barsamian said.
Most media is owned by large corporations and their primary goal is to make profits, he explained. Six corporations: Comcast, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS control 90 percent of the media in the U.S., according to Barsamian.
“We’re talking here not about news corporations per se, we’re talking about large conglomerates that are dedicated to one thing only, maximizing the bottom line,” he said.
Barsamian argued that by controlling so much of what the audience sees, the media also influences the opinions they hear. The opinions of the media, he argued, range from A-B instead of A-Z. “If we were to have a vibrant media, I think our democracy would be healthier than it is today, because then people have a wider range of opinion to choose from,” he said.
He pointed to a consistent image appearing in the media, of bearded and turbaned men usually wearing masks and wielding AK-47s. The purpose is to keep people in fear, he said, adding that it’s one of the ways the media presents a narrow range of opinions. He drew on several other examples involving the war in Iraq and the use of drones in warfare.
To emphasize his message, Barsamian draped a t-shirt with the words “don’t trust the media” over the podium. Responding to this message, Barsamian sarcastically disagreed. “You can trust the corporate media to lie, to fabricate, to invent and to distort,” he said.
“One of the things that we don’t recognize as we consume and entertain ourselves with media around us is that its actually bringing us a kind of filtered message that relates to the exercise of power; and unless we understand who’s exercising that power we can’t evaluate whether that message is good for us or not,” social science instructor and chair of the Lane Peace Center Stan Taylor said.
Barsamian sees numerous opportunities to get news apart from the corporate controlled media. He pointed to The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, Dollars and Cents magazine, The Progressive, The Intercept and other sources that he believes are more trustworthy sources for news. These alternative sources, however, can’t be found at the local supermarket, he explained.
“You have to look for alternative sources,” he said. “I think you have to use your common sense: does this add up? Who benefits from a particular policy? Is it we the people that are benefiting from having all these bases in the Arab Middle East or is it the military industrial complex?”
For a healthy and vibrant democracy in which the people are well-informed, Barsamian believes the United States needs fact-driven journalism. He endorses a thriving media that gives people a broad range of opinions and is free from corporate influence. “Jefferson understood this way back when; when he said information is essential to the functioning of democracy,” he said.
Taking back the media
Students of today can change how the media functions. “We’ve seen interventions by young people all over the world,” Barsamian said. He pointed to Egypt and to popular protests like the Occupy movement as examples where young people not only exercised democracy but also created media attention around it.
Barsamian stated he believes that education also plays an essential role. “I think the information is there, it’s a question about instilling in students a question of skepticism,” he said. He pointed out that education must be active, with students engaging with the material and injecting it with their own genius, brilliance and ideas.
Taylor believes that it is vitally important for students to be aware of the topics Barsamian covered. “I think it does expose them [the students] to new things and opens their eyes in ways that are really important,” he said.
Alternative Radio is a weekly one-hour public affairs program offered free to public radio stations in the U.S., Europe, Canada and beyond. Barsamian says he started the program because he was fed up with corporate media. The show airs on approximately 200 radio stations, providing information, analyses and views that other media frequently ignore or distort, according to the station’s website. KLCC 89.7 FM broadcasts the program on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m.