BY RALPH NADER
In 1961, President Kennedy’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission [FCC], Newton Minow, described television as “a vast wasteland.” Perhaps nothing demonstrates that better these days than the rise of Donald J. Trump as a presidential candidate; now the presumptive Republican nominee. Trump’s boisterous carnival barker persona has dominated the airwaves for the entirety of the 2016 election cycle, eclipsing what precious little time remained for the serious issues that affect millions of Americans. CBS president Leslie Moonves recently pulled no punches about the Trump phenomenon, saying it “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Trump is a symptom of a larger problem – profit-driven commercial television has put a stranglehold on our public discourse, highlighting controversy, carnage and entertainment fare over serious matters. The media industry reshaped our precious public commons into a fortress of exclusion that blocks dissenting, innovative and majoritarian viewpoints on matters that address society’s most basic needs. One thing is clear: something’s gotta give.
Fortunately, we have the power to massively shift how our public airwaves are utilized. After all, the airwaves are owned by the people and are used by these tawdry broadcasters free of charge! [In the past, I’ve referred to bombastic media personalities Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as “corporate welfare kings” because of how they freely use the public’s property.]
This exclusionary media has obscured the fact that the public could take back some air-time and condition over-the-air and cable licenses to provide serious, well-funded, diverse and informative content.
On May 23, 24, 25 and 26 at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, a large gathering of civil society will take place to challenge the entrenched power of the corporate/political complex. The event is called Breaking Through Power. This “civic mobilization” will involve thousands of people at Constitution Hall and around the country and connect long-available knowledge to long-neglected action for the necessities and aspirations of people from all backgrounds.
May 24 will be dedicated solely to challenging mainstream media, bringing together authors, documentary filmmakers, reporters, columnists, musicians, poets and editorial cartoonists who will demonstrate the need for higher standards on television and radio, and in print and on the web. Some participants on that day will be Phil Donahue, Laura Flanders, Eugene Jarecki, Patti Smith, Mark Green, Matt Wuerker and many others.
The major mobilizing action on May 24 will be to create a new advocacy organization called “Voices.” The purpose of Voices is simple – to push for enlarging and enhancing space for serious content in all forms of media. Voices will be staffed by public interest lawyers, writers, and traditional and social media specialists. Voices will advance long-neglected standards in the 1934 Communications Act which contains the imperative that broadcasters meet “the public interest, necessity and convenience” and other laws under the jurisdiction of the FCC. The Voices staff will make the case for much more air-time on TV and radio and space in print publications for a multitude of subject matter, issues and activities that are now excluded or censored routinely as a result of a business-model of maximum profit above all else.
Changing the corporate media for the better is easier than you think. The current campaign season has drawn the interest of millions of young people who yearn for a better future. Many have supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’ agenda for a more just society. Now, when political excitement is at its peak, is an ideal time to channel civic energy – no matter which candidate for president you support – into real, transformative action that benefits people instead of corporations.
Visit breakingthroughpower.org for more information and to register for one or all days of this historic event.