It's the annual public-awareness campaign designed to highlight the issue of the public's right to access government information. Mainstream media's stated goals during this time is to make sure people know they can get their hands on a goodly-amount of what lurks inside file cabinets and databases of government agencies both local and federal.
That's rich, given the propaganda machine that mainstream media's become thanks to pre-packaged government-produced news reports that are regularly used by newspapers, network affiliates and radio stations alike.
That's right, federal, state and local governments have been taking advantage of cash-strapped, down-sized newsrooms all across the country and finding willing acceptance for their pre-packaged news stories. "Video news releases" produced by the federal government make it onto your local news with frightening regularity. You see a "news" story, you DON'T see who put it together.
Federal agencies from the Pentagon to the Department of Agriculture have been blurring the lines between government information and propaganda for years now. While the Clinton administration utilized government-produced news items, the Bush administration has taken the use of this means of influencing public opinion to a whole new level. Congressional democrats say Bush's White House spent double ($254 million during its first term) what Clinton spent on PR contracts to get certain policy-related stories on the air and into print.
Local TV stations get a "story"on medicare (and how recipients will get better drug coverage with lower spending) without having to use limited resources to actually produce the story- and the administration gets to advance the notion that the first-ever prescription drug "benefit" is a good thing…. (for the pharmaceutical industry?) While PR companies, the federal government and the local affiliates might consider this a win-win situation , the public should realize it's lose-lose for them.
Recently a study sponsored by the Knight Foundation and reported by The Oregonian showed that fully half of the high school students who responded said that newspapers shouldn't be allowed to publish everything without the government's approval.
Given the preponderance of government-produced "news" reports, those kids should be thrilled!
So much for the First Amendment.
The next time you watch a TV news story about how rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan or Iraq are going just according to plan, stop and ask yourself "who serves to benefit from this report?"
And ask if the code of ethics the Radio-Television News Directors Association is being adhered to. It states:
" Clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders".
When next you see a story about a new pharmaceutical product, or about the good things being done by the Agriculture Department-which by the way has an annual budget of over $3.2 million to produce roughly 90 "minute messages" for local affiliates- call the station and inquire as to the source of that report. Chances are they won't even know! When stories get fed from satellite sources, some news directors aren't even aware those stories originated from the federal government.
Time to rethink your news source?
Time to stop thinking "it MUST be true I saw it on TV/ read it in the paper"?
Time to wonder how we came to allow 'state-sponsored' news ?
Time to let the sunshine in.
© 2005 Mary Starrett - All Rights Reserved
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Mary Starrett was on television for 21 years as a news anchor, morning talk show host and medical reporter. For the last 5 years she hosted a radio program. Mary is a frequent guest on radio talk shows.