American Newspapers are Beholden to their Commercial Sponsors - and the Government
From Huanqiu, China; 22 February 2011, By Gong Tieying
The media suffer not only the interference of dominant businesses but also the interference of the government.|
This writer was once a workshop speaker participating in a United States news exchange seminar and experienced at close range how America — this media empire — functions. In this process, what impacted me the most was that this country, which controls the world’s right to speak, is not like how it’s advertised as having an absolutely free public opinion environment.
Internationally, the American media often appear as freedom apologists, boasting of their own absolute freedom and fairness, and arrogantly offering advice to other countries at every turn. But when the American news people communicated with this author, they did not avoid talking about the media’s public opinion tendencies.
Mark Feldstein, a career American news anchor of the last 20 years, said: “Two hundred years ago the source of newspaper financing was mainly the two main American political parties. In the 19th century the situation changed: The newspapers that relied mainly on the political parties changed to depend on commercial operations. Therefore, as everyone can imagine, whoever forks over the most money can control the newspaper and control the media.”
Those businesspeople who contribute capital do not perhaps need to carry out press censorship of the newspaper; the newspaper will carry out self-regulation: If the content displeases businesspeople, it will choose to not publish this news in order to avoid an interruption of financing. In this way the American media evolved from having a dominant political tendency to a dominant commercial tendency.
The media suffer not only the interference of dominant businesses but also the interference of the government — in fact, President Obama once experienced an intense conflict with Fox News. According to Lee Huebner, the former deputy director of the Nixon White House research and writing staff, Fox News is the medium of the conservative party and is often bitterly critical of Obama’s policies. Obama then dispatched special aides to see these media executives and publicly declared that Fox News is not impartial.
The media will also self-censor news unfavorable to the government in order to avoid offending the government. For example, after the American war on terrorism commenced, the government began illegally monitoring individuals’ phones. After The New York Times obtained this story, it worried that publishing would attract government disfavor and hesitated for a year whether or not to publish.
Afterward, it was only when the journalist covering this event wrote a soon-to-be-published book revealing this information that The New York Times carried the story. If the media report news unfavorable to the government, the United States government’s typical practice is to pressure media leaders, give rivals a story in the future or not invite your media reporter to attend events held at the White House — an endless variety of methods.
That is to say, in America it is also very difficult to find media that have absolute freedom of speech, and media that report with complete balance are similarly difficult to find. In fact, it’s not hard to understand this kind of phenomenon. In addition to the media not being independent of the whole society, society’s way of operating, its political system and business model all influence the media's reporting tendencies. Every society has different interest groups, and the media will naturally become the channel for expressing different views of society.
But, as the media, they still must seek objectivity and fairness, and the basic precursor of objectivity and fairness is not lying. Another takeaway of this writer in the seminar was this: No matter whether it is the government spokesperson or the media, none should lie. A government spokesperson who lies will lose credibility, and media that lie can’t talk about objectivity and fairness. Therefore, talking from this perspective of truthfulness, government officials and the media both need to oversee these efforts.
The author is the deputy director of the Tianjin Municipal People’s Government News Office.