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Gore: Democracy Under Media Siege

September 10, 2002

This article appeared in algore04.com, a "grassroots site dedicated to re-electing Al Gore". It is a report of a lecture given by Gore to students at Middle Tennessee State University.

By Patrick Chinnery

Al Gore warned yesterday that American democracy is facing a dangerous threat from media conglomerates.

The lecture, delivered to an overflowing room of students and professors in the John Bragg Mass Communication Building, focused on upcoming Federal Communications Commission commentary regarding the dismantling of media ownership regulations.

"The FCC proposal to eliminate all of the restrictions on highly concentrated ownership of multiple news outlets is a dire threat to the survival of democracy in the United States of America," Gore said.

The FCC is investigating the merit of keeping its regulations in place regarding how many television and radio stations any one individual or corporation can own in any given media market. The current limit is three.

"They are not asking for comments on why the limits should be removed," Gore said, "they're asking for comments why they shouldn't be removed."

According to Gore, there is a two-fold danger when one group owns a substantial portion of a region's media outlets.

First, politicians will naturally cater to that group's interest in order to gain favorable press coverage for their campaign or cause.

"Look at the ability that television has to grab people's attention and hold their attention. And you think about a single individual owning all of the major broadcasting stations in Nashville, Tennessee, and what would the attitude of the elected official representing Nashville be toward the individual owning all of the broadcast news and cable news outlets in Tennessee? Might it be obsequious?" asked Gore.

Profit motive is the force behind the second danger, Gore explained.

"When there is too much concentration of ownership, the potential for expansion and the opportunity to continue earning profits tends to depend more and more on government policy. What's that person's policy concerning the governmental body that has to make those decisions? Might it be fawning?" Gore asked.

This relationship of obsequiousness and fawning will be responsible for an eventual blandness that threatens the democratic process. "It has already created a timid media that refuses to question governmental decisions," Gore challenged.

To illustrate his point, Gore described a provision of the Bush administration's Homeland Security bill. It states that all local and state officials will be given the legal right to withhold from the news media even unclassified information.

"Could there possibly be some abusing there?" Gore asked.

Another trend Gore explained that was affecting broadcast and cable news is the emergence of news as a commodity. He defined commodity as a cheap and readily available good.

Because news can now be had on demand, Gore said, high-cost producers were left scrambling to package a low-price product. News "helpers" soon entered the scene.

"The arrival of commodity news pushed both newspapers and broadcast news outlets out of their niche so that they had to start selling something else - a hybrid product of news plus," Gore said.

This rush to create a more-than-news product has led to networks pursuing more opinion-based programming as well as promoting celebrity. This trend calls reporters' objectivity into question because they must balance accurate reporting with their personal opinions when answers are solicited.

"If a reporter went on television as a personality, expressing his or her personal views, that reporter's objectivity was subject to being questioned the next time the reporter wrote about the subject of the talk," Gore said.

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