Friday, April 15, 2011

The state of our media as Earth Day approaches


My most salient reflection on Earth Day (just a few days away) is that Climate Change is the moral imperative for our generation. If we don’t move to stovepipe Climate Change news and information to the front pages of mainstream media, we jeopardize the next generation’s ability to have a clean, healthy environment.

Climate Change is not just another special interest, though judging from the treatment it gets from mainstream media, it seems that way. Climate Change is the environment we now inhabit, where our atmosphere and oceans are heating up, where extreme weather events are normal, and a 1% increase in greenhouse gas since the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution is melting the arctic glaciers. It means day-by-day our atmosphere and water bodies are heating up far beyond the usual (pre-human) pace of climate change. We need know how Climate Change is affecting the ability of future generations to have a future. And that will require participation by everyone who shops, who works, who plays, and who breathes on this precarious planet. So, you’d think this would be what appears on the media that everyone sees and hears. But it isn’t.

I’ve just come back from the’s National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR): “The NCMR is the biggest and best conference devoted to media, technology and democracy.” It was a great three-day conference on describing and overcoming the challenges for a free press in the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the assault on public funding for Public Broadcasting, and the threat against net neutrality. In case you haven’t noticed, there is a crisis in our media and our First Amendment:

“The amendment prohibits the making of any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’, impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.” First Amendment to the United States Constitution - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

It must sound strange to those who only listen to mainstream media and don’t notice much of a problem at all with free speech and least of all why. For some, I imagine, even if there is an issue with this amendment, how are environmental issues related? To the un-critical eye there seems to be a lot of media out there—a bewildering amount of websites, blogs, chat, tweets, social media, and more—but nevertheless there is a crisis: a great dearth of investigative reporting and new FCC rules that threaten to carve up the Internet (where we’ll get most of our information in the future) where only a few corporations can survive.

One concern is that by 2015 most folks in this country will be connecting to the Internet via their mobile connections and that signal may only allow what the few providers choose for you to hear. That’s not a free and open Internet. It impacts particularly low-income families, who are now moving to mobile Internet connections because this technology has enabled them to compete with everyone else for jobs, information, health, emergencies, directions, and connectivity to all the important people in their lives. I.e. it violates the basics of a healthy democracy.

What this has to do with local environmental news is that despite the rise of the Internet and information about our environment, mainstream media on and off the web is disinclined to view environmental news as important. One of the dilemmas of the media crisis is how to fund news and information so everyone can thrive in a democracy. This new media, so desperate for financial stability, believes that caving into the public’s desire for happy news, catastrophes, and sports news, trumps the need for sobering, accurate, and objective news on the state of our environment. Despite the world-wide crisis of Climate Change and pollution and an environment hardly fit for the next generation, these issues do not appear often or thorough enough to educate the public on the seriousness of these issues. Along with that, many of our best news sources are moving behind online pay walls, making it more difficult for low income folks to find out what they need to know to vote and take action on our environment.

The media crisis: Investigative reporters are losing their jobs in droves, trying to find a new media format that is able to give them a living wage and the power to back their usually unpopular findings, like discovering the sources of pollution or cancer clusters. And this isn’t the half of it. Check: Free Press | Media reform through education, organizing and advocacy

So, how do we fix it? How does a democracy fund a media that gets important, not necessarily popular, information to the public? One of the things I learned at the NCMR conference is that those severely challenged by our unequal distribution of wealth have become empowered by mobile technology. In the present world, the majority of those who are not rich and aren’t going to receive the great tax breaks coming up from the last budget negotiations are realizing that their future depends on keeping the net neutral. So, they need this technology that gives them a fighting chance to thrive and prosper.

We have to find a way to focus on important issues like keeping our environment sustainable and keeping the cost down for the new media. The marketplace is incapable of supplying the public with a free and open media that is unbiased and offers a complete picture of our environmental plight. We are part of a global cloud-sourced spigot of information about our environment because we are those ‘who speak for our planet’ as Carl Sagan said. We cannot stand to let the few and powerful game our Internet the way they have taken advantage of the economic crisis to pay themselves and avoid paying taxes.

Earth Day, be there, aloha.

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