24 August 2013

The Dangers of Corporate Censorship

On Monday my television received Current TV (though by that time it was mostly showing mostly the penultimate and final days of people like Jim Morrison and Richard Pryor - or maybe it was non-stop episodes of Vanguard, which is has been among the best American journalism in the past eight years or so).  On Tuesday, when that channel had transitioned to Al Jazeera America, it was no longer available for my viewing pleasure.

We are in the throes of a debate about information and the power of information, though that may not be obvious to most of us.  Sure we've all watched the spectacle of Edward Snowden's escape to Russia, though much of our attention has been centered on Snowden's weirdness (he's got sort of a 'foreign vibe', even though he was born in North Carolina... or it may just be a 'geek vibe', though I, myself, am a bit of expert with that and it doesn't usually trigger my odd-radar), but the real debate about who ought to have access to what information and how much that should cost (if anything) is raging.  This debate is also not just a debate, it's a battle and has already had casualties.

In the era of WikiLeaks, the end of internet privacy (at least for people cool enough to have twitter followers or loads of Facebook friends), and corporate data-mining, information has become a commodity (and to say so, a cliche).

The other side of #openInfo, though, is, necessarily, the free dissemination of all perspectives.  Right now, corporations have access to all manner of information about our everyday lives, preferences, and activities (governments may also be privy to the same), however, as soon as a private news organization, with a stated desire to broadcast all perspectives and de-centralize American journalism, begins its broadcast (or even its earlier Western Hemispherical movements), American corporations say, "no, that information is not suitable for your consumption" to its customers.

This has been largely covered by the mainstream infomedia... (the Slate article I link to here focuses on the unusual financial situation of Al Jazeera and raises the "problem" of non-profit news [though I, for one, cannont understand why anyone would think it a problem that an organization whose purpose is to disseminate information is not primarily focused on profits.  To me it's a similar no-brainer to the {non}question of for-profit colleges or health care companies that are more interested in profit than patients]).  

#RachelMaddow has been on a kick of late, focusing on information-redaction in a North Carolina county election board.  She's also been smartly encouraging folks to subscribe to their local newspaper, which is a great idea and the only true possibility today of keeping in touch with actual local news.  The logic runs like this: if you don't subscribe to a hard copy or online pay portal of your local news, that organization will have less money to pay actual local journalists...  So, in addition to the problem of profit motive, this leads to a problem of non-local news (or local news which is more 'earned media' by corporate interests, commentary and fluff than actual reporting).  Sound familiar?

Al Jazeera America reveals another obvious pitfall of American journalism, which is its inherent 'coastalism.'  Coastalism has, necessarily, been a problem of our nation since its inception, but the continual focus on our geographic extremes has lead to our polarized political standing today.  The disintegration of hard news and the 'talking-head-ification' of news broadcasts has re-centered journalism on the conversation and not the content.  Just imagine what it will mean when there are journalists in news bureaus in Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans, and Detroit (DETROIT!) to name a few, who are vying to get their stories on the air.  

AJAm will approach American news, I hope, with a fresh set of eyes, realizing that their is a whole middle of the country, which is under-represented in most American journalism.  Reactionary companies like Time Warner and AT&T should be boycotted as much as possible until they come to understand that restricting the type of information available to people is immoral if not criminal.  In the end, I expect AJAm will be available on U-Verse, but the attempt to destabilize the launch makes AT&T yet another American corporation worthy of scorn.  Not that that's really news to anyone...