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  December 17, 2015

Corporate Media and a Depraved Indifference to Suffering

Paul Jay on corporate TV news defense of the billionaires and the need for real news.
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Paul Jay, is CEO and Senior Editor of The Real News Network. He currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to TRNN, Jay was for ten seasons the creator and Executive Producer of CBC Newsworld's flagship debate programs, CounterSpin and FaceOff.

Jay has produced and directed more than 20 major documentary films including "Return to Kandahar", "Lost in Las Vegas" and "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows", a feature length documentary, that was screened in 25 major festivals and won more than a dozen awards. It's been called "one of the most acclaimed Canadian films in years" (Eye Magazine), "A tale as bizarre as Kafka and as tragic as Shakespeare" (Ottawa Citizen) and "one of the best films of 1998" (Peter Plagens, art critic for Newsweek).

A past chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada, Jay is the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.


Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

The fate of humanity can't be left to billionaires.

People yearning for systemic change are building movements at work and in communities, taking action in the streets and at the ballot box.

Monopoly media stands in defense of the status quo. Corporate-owned television networks--liberal and conservative--treat grave problems as mere background for sham political theatre. No wonder: they sell at least $11.4 billion a year in political advertising. 

Concentration of ownership leads to concentration of power. An important piece of this power structure is the handful of major media and telecom conglomerates that have a strangle hold on television news.

Daily news is critical. It’s where we form our first opinions about a breaking story, and the repetition helps shape our worldview. We have to break the monopoly on television daily news. Be it war and the destruction of whole societies, catastrophic consequences of climate change, chronic poverty and the ravaging of workers' living standards, or systemic racism and mass incarceration--the solutions to these burning issues are beyond current politics.

The billionaires who dominate the economy, electoral politics, and the media are not interested in confronting the transformative changes needed to address these crises. They have a depraved indifference to people's suffering. No wonder: according to an IPS report, the Forbes list of the top 400 American billionaires own more wealth than the bottom 61% of the population combined. The top 20 wealthiest people own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households.

Our national elections have become a façade of democracy that determine little more than which group of billionaires will control government. Conservative pundit George Will said it best: "Surely in a democracy it's time for us to quit being sentimental and say the question we settle in an election is not whether elites shall rule, but which elite shall rule."

This frank admission goes to the heart of what’s wrong with today’s news. To fight this, we need television news that doesn’t represent one section of the elite or another, but instead reports with the interests of working people in mind. That's why The Real News Network is non-profit and does not accept advertising, government or corporate funding. Our viewer-supported model allows us to act independently, fearlessly seeking facts and effective solutions. We need independent video news that breaks into the mass consciousness. We have to target those who need change the most—working people and the poor, whose lives are battered by a system dominated by rapacious billionaires. Corporate media currently control this market, serving as the "gatekeeper of mass consciousness."

Most people rely on local TV programs for their news and information. For many, national news is abstract, while international news is off their radar entirely. Local news thus plays a critical role in mass media's influence. We believe, however, that local corporate news is vulnerable in certain cities. It is the weak link in the corporate media chain. Advertising-driven TV news must go where the money is, ignoring the interests of working people and the poor. In cities with large black and Latino populations, that usually means targeting an audience of white people with higher incomes. For example, in Baltimore, the TV news market includes Baltimore city and county. The city’s population of 620,000 is 63.5% black, while the county's 820,000 people are 65% white. Poverty in the city is 24%, in the county less than 6%. Median income in the city is $40,000, and in the county it is $66,000.

The demographic group advertisers desire is in the county, and corporate television news caters to that audience with on-air talent that is 75% white. Our target audiences are working people, particularly those of color. TRNN has ten on-air journalists, 70% are people of color. Of course, it’s not just about who’s on air. Corporate news will not and cannot challenge underlying assumptions about who owns wealth and who holds power. Corporate local TV news won't go beyond the sensational, turning tragedy into infotainment. Murders in Baltimore city are soaring to levels not seen in 25 years, on track for around 350 in 2015. Compare that to New York City, expected to have the same number of murders, but in a city that has 8.4 million people--fourteen times the size of Baltimore. If people can't explain why there is such chronic misery, they can’t search for effective solutions. Of course, searching for solutions is not the objective of corporate news; making money is. By speaking to people’s real interests, and by delivering a product with high journalistic and production values, we think we can win a significant share of the mass market. In so doing, we can help change the political culture of a major city. 

TRNN's tagline is, "The future depends on knowing." But a better future will only exist if we fight for it. Our job is to break the corporate monopoly on local television news. If we can do it in Baltimore, we can and will do it in cities everywhere. We need your encouragement, your intellectual and your financial support. If all of us pool our resources, we believe our strategy will be a game changer. Please make your tax-deductible donation now.

Together, we will Make Real News.


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