« Bebuild NYC with A Purpose | Main | Ann Coulter Insane Tilt Alert »

August 23, 2002

Left Overworries Media Monopoly

Carol Avedon has a link to Bernie Sanders holding hearings on the monopoly in media control by corporations. Now I dislike capitalist power across the board, but I just think the left obsession with media bias and control is misplaced. Not that the media isn't biased but the issue is whether lack of corporate control would make much difference-- there are plenty of rightwing family-owned newspapers across the country.

And the hard fact for the Left to deal with is the base issue of packaging progressive information in a way with mass appeal. With the Pacifica stations, the left has control of five radio signals in the largest media markets in the country-- so they don't have the excuse in that medium of not having a voice. Yet their ratings are so small as to be ridiculous-- this is from a slightly old New York Times article but the basic numbers haven't changed:

"The signals from Pacifica's five stations -- KPFA in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles, KPFT in Houston, WPFW in Washington and WBAI -- reach 22 percent of all U.S. homes, about 50 million potential listeners. Yet barely 700,000 people tune in during any given week, according to Arbitron ratings."
I'm not really picking on Pacifica especially-- I've been interviewed on Pacifica and WBAI and could be considered part of the problem -- but the point is that the issue is not simply access to the public. The Left has access to the public through the Internet, Pacifica and a range of other ways, but as they say in advertising, if the dog won't eat the dogfood, you've got a problem.

Part of the answer is that the mainstream media actually coopts many of the left's most popular issues-- running consumer investigations, environmental alerts and so on, just leaving the harder political analysis by the wayside. Part of the problem may be production values -- where money does help the corporate stations -- but I'm a little skeptical that's the main issue.

But I think the tougher issue is that a lot of progressives have lost that populist impulse that would make popular media (note populist--popular :) They don't necessarily have the desire or energy to produce the entertaining fluff that can be wrapped around the edgier middle.

Or contrarywise, and not unreasonably at points, they feel that it's more important to make media with lower ratings that reaches and involves the harder core activist strata of society, who in turn will take the knowledge one-on-one to neighbors and others. And on the more optimistic level, if you look at media in an expanded way-- including union publications, direct mail letters, community newsletters, school papers, and so on-- there is a quite broad array of progressive information out there in the world.

The point is not that the media doesn't matter, but far more important is political organization on the ground. With real organization, the kind of precinct and networks that unions at their best and the Christian Coalition at its height specialize in, the message progressives want delivered gets to people from the best information source posibble, their friends and neighbors. The obsession with the media by many progressives is just a way looking for a shortcut to grassroots mobilization that nothing but elbow grease and door knocking will ever solve.

Posted by Nathan at August 23, 2002 11:36 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


It's Avedon Carol, actually.

You neglect the *concentration* of newssources in fewer and fewer hands.

If the Podunk Times is run by a rightwing fundie but the Pdunk Gazette is run by a liberal bleeding heart and the Podunk Post is run by a moderate conservative you don't need to worry overtly much.

If there's only the Podunk Times and it with the two local radio station and the local tv station is part of BigFascistCorp (tm) then you need to worry. Tese can and will bombard the reader with the same message, serving the interests of the company not that of the public.

That's what your "newspaper owned by rightwing family" misses.

Posted by: Martin Wisse at August 29, 2002 08:23 PM

On the contrary, the question of why WBAI has 500 listeners cuts to the heart of the matter. 30 years ago, Jonathan Kozol derided the left's infatuation with symbolic victories (defeats) and its comfortable insularity. Things have not improved.

Posted by: citizen k at August 31, 2002 10:10 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)