The News that Wasn’t

Camera crews are apparently not allowed at some of our so-called “public” hearings in Congress. Yesterday a journalist was arrested for doing nothing but standing by a a taping device. The arrest can be seen here. The chairman of the committee ordered his removal and the removal of all video cameras.  Apparently the reporter, an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker for the film “Gasland”, a film about fracking, was ignored by Congressional staff and therefore denied credentialing to get into the hearing. This might not be unusual, but the actual denial of entrance, the arrest, and the overt way in which the Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) avoided accountability and transparency is rare and another blow to the American dream. Here is what some Dems had to say about it in the report by Huffingtonpost:

“I was chair of the Subcommittee for four years, and we frequently had people show up the day of a hearing to film,” Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) told HuffPost. “We asked for their name, but they were told if they would not disrupt the hearing, they were free to record. A couple of times staff said, ‘You’re getting in the way, don’t stand there,’ but other than that, I do not ever recall anything like this. We certainly never turned anyone away for not providing 24 hours’ notice.”

“It’s an outrageous violation of the First Amendment,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told HuffPost. “Here we’ve got an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, and it’s an important subject and the subject that he did his prior film on for HBO. And they put him in handcuffs and hauled him out of there. This is stunning.”

“I found it ironic that there was not a flood of cameras there,” noted Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). “There was the one camera and then before that, the ABC camera … if you have a camera there to bring the issue home to the public, that’s a good thing.”

This does not look good for Republicans they want to discuss fracking, or as they might prefer it to be framed, “hydraulic fracturing”, without being transparent. This issue is part of the greater energy debate about renewable energy, polluting our water, and disrupting the seismic state of the earth’s crust. Currently it is a cheap way to get energy and part of that reason is that not everyone knows about the real costs of fracking. Those costs are carried by the unsuspecting citizens that live in fracking areas and suffer the consequences of fracking such as undrinkable water, skin lesions,  even radioactive contamination. When energy is cheap, it is just too tempting for some businesses, politicians, and consumers to turn down. The chances are that those folks do not have to suffer the real costs. Fracking seems wildly irresponsible given the planetary and human hurt it causes, but it is not the main topic today. That topic is the freedom of the press.

A free press is vital to a democracy. It is often called “the fourth estate”, meaning that it is essential along with our executive, legislative, and judicial branches for maintaining a democracy. Without it, how can the people stay informed? We rely on the press for our news to make informed decisions when voting, to follow stories that we may want to become active citizens around, and sometimes the news brought could mean life or death – in the case of a local warning of imminent danger. When we don’t allow the press to have freedom to cover the stories they see fit, we are allowing blinders to be put on us as American people. The picture above was found in the wall of a house of a friend, newspapers used to be stalwarts of truth and democracy, now their “credentials” (read, “affiliations”) are what is checked at the door. We are allowing those in power to tell us which press is “free” and which is not.

Media ownership is a bit of a different, yet equally important story. Our media, indeed global media, is owned by just a handful of older, very rich, white men. Thanks to U of Minnesota for this graphic.

For a study in what happens when media owners “go too far” take a look at Italy today and Silvio Berlusconi. He owned the largest media provider in the country which empowered him to acquire control of many industries, which made him feed messages to the people that he wanted them to hear, which got him elected as prime minister, which brought him even more power, which he mismanaged, which has brought the country to its knees and now is on the brink of collapse. Ironically he is the leader of the “People of Freedom” political movement. Talk about a contested concept! “Freedom” is in the eye of the beholder. One person might say, “he’s free to own what he wants and say what he wants” another person might say, “yes, but the people have no way of hearing any alternative information through their own media. How can they be free to choose when they don’t even know any options except what has been told to them by one entity.”. The fact is that we don’t know what we don’t know. You might be happy with the knowledge you have, but what you don’t know can hurt you.

Flammable tap water due to fracking

SOPA and PIPA woke us up with a disruption in our normal daily surf on the net. We were made aware of how our routine can indeed be disrupted by folks tinkering with our media freedoms. There are a whole host of other issues around media reform that are worth our attention. The best organization that lays this out is Freepress.net. They are nonpartisan and only concerned with making our media – print, broadcast, online, any other form imaginable – as democratic as possible.

Let’s stay awake on media issues. Net neutrality is another huge issue that impacts our web usage- it’s about having the freedom to surf where you want, when you want, without having to pay a premium for the privilege or go through a corporate filter that will decide what results to show you. Gather your information widely, from a variety of resources, take all information in with a grain of salt and be curious about your sources sources. Read the comittment of the Denver Post, it used to be a point of pride that a news organization would take advantage of special rights granted to them  – easy and cheap distribution channels, special passes to current events, broadcast public airwave usage – in exchange for service to the people. Ask yourself, how much of my media informs me? Ask yourself, is this still democracy when they are not allowed to access the news.

Thanks R.L. for the cool pic of the newspaper from your wall.

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