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The University of Hartford

Fourteen Years After 1984
Can We Move from Alternative Broadcasting to an Alternative Mass Media?
By Mike DeRosa
New Focus Host and Public Affairs Director

Articles    Photos   Staff Biographies

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible."
George Orwell, 1946.

     For the last 30 years WWUH has been an alternative source of accurate news and important information. WWUH has also been a source for alternative music and cultural events. Since 1968 WWUH has been in the forefront of the alternative journalism movement in this country. The real challenge in the next twenty years is to develop the foundation for a future alternative mass media.
     Historically the "broadcast reform movement" of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s is the precursor for alternative radio stations like WWUH. Robert W. McChesney in a book entitled "Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935" documents this early history. The "broadcast reform movement" of the 1930’s was the acknowledged enemy of the commercial broadcast networks and the big money interests that they represented. These almost forgotten pioneers of early radio had a completely different vision of what mass communications could become. Robert McChesney’s book documents how these radio pioneers tried during the early 1930’s to establish a public mass media that was community controlled and how their valiant efforts failed to be established into law. While their names have been largely forgotten, their deeds live on in stations like WWUH. Their struggle was an intense fight against the concept of a mass media that was advertising driven and network-dominated. These early radio pioneers built radio using the resources of universities, libraries, unions, and progressive religious groups. These early experiments in radio had a profound influence on the future of all media and while they lost their fight for a truly "public" mass media in the United States they have left us an important and inspiring legacy.
     The work of I.F. Stone and other alternative journalists, the development of the "underground press" of the 1960’s, and the development of "pirate radio" also played an important role in the development of the alternative media movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
     Today the challenges facing producers, readers, listeners, and viewers of this "alternative" tradition are in some ways even greater than of the early media pioneers. Recent decisions by the FCC and changes created by the Communications Act of 1996 have strengthened the hand of the mass media corporatists. In major cities through out the United States one or two mass media corporations now have control of most of the stations in that market. In Hartford, for example, two companies now own the majority of the stations in this market. These corporate behemoths have only one thing in mind: the financial bottom line. Their definition of the financial bottom line is to extract as much capitol out of the medium while providing the minimum of public service as required under law. These corporations thrive on creating a mass media that is homogenized and sterile. Since most audiences are never given an opportunity to experience anything different they become addicted to the sameness and ignorance that is mass media and mass culture. This is then reinforced by program directors who say without flinching that they "are giving the public what they want." The public usually gets what is commercially viable for these big media outlets.
     The licenses for radio and television stations are bought and sold at an increasingly fast pace and in most cases are just another commodity in an ever inflated marketplace. Mass media audiences are bought and sold by corporations only interested in turning their clientele into demographic groups that are used and abused. The law requires that radio and T.V. stations work in the "public interest, necessity, and convenience." Clearly the new ethic and unwritten law require mass media to work for corporate interests, oligopoly control, and the capriciousness of corporate leaders.
     A famous French novelist once said that "behind every great fortune is a great crime". The crime that is perpetrated against us in this case is the destruction and degradation of our cultural, political and economic institutions via corporate control of media. The corporatists are not only for maximizing profits they are also for a new kind of social control. This social control is similar to that found in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where mass media is a distraction that hides the potential and reality of people’s lives.
     The mass media corporations that run and ruin our economy use the mass media as a gigantic home shopping corporate network. For example, they will produce a movie, which also creates CD’s, toys, and accessories that are designed as part of a "concept" and create "buffo" profits. Profits are further increased in movies by accepting donations so that companies can have their products make a cameo appearance. These mass media projects then are shown on HBO, sent to video stores, and virtually work their way first into our homes, and then into our minds and consciousness. They are then exported to foreign countries to carry further the corporate messages that are considered politically correct by mass media executives. We are bombarded with hundreds of one-dimensional commercial, sexual, and political messages each day that tell us how to dress, how to speak, how to relate, and ultimately how to think and whom to vote for. We are told that only violence solves problems, that Burger King and McDonald’s produce the best food in the world, and that corporate America has created the best of all possible worlds.
     This approach to mass cultural control is a new kind of censorship that filters out ideas much more effectively than those of the great dictators of the 20th century. Since the corporatists own most of the radio, television, newspaper, and other mass media outlets, they control the overall world view that most people get from these mediums. While the first amendment protects freedom of speech it does not protect us from the oligopolies that own the vast majority of the news and information outlets. These outlet's control who is interviewed and whose views are reported.
     Some people believe that "journalistic integrity" or a "sense of fairness" will save the day. Clearly we need to support those within established media outlets who are willing to give alternative voices an opportunity to be heard. But reliance on the idealism and the thoughtfulness of those in mass media is not enough. We need public and community control of such powerful mediums.
     Since most of our government officials are presently controlled by legalized bribery, also know as campaign donations, there is little hope that a truly public mass media can be established though government intervention. This makes the idea of an alternative mass media become even more important and relevant to our situation and dilemma.
     If our government cannot control these media giants then it becomes critical that we support and develop alternatives to corporate mass media. The combination of the internet and alternative radio is just beginning and it can become a powerful force for new ideas and new political, social, and economic institutions that can begin the process of change. Right now you can hear WWUH on internet live using a free program that you can also get off internet. The internet offers a great opportunity to develop new ways in which old technologies can be interfaced and improved. Clearly the various programs that you hear on WWUH are an alternative to your media diet that give you interviews and information that can make a real difference in your life. We hope that you will continue to support WWUH and alternative news and public affairs at the station.
     But we are very far from the kind of alternative radio, T.V. and internet that we need to develop the kind of society which we deserve. Clearly we need new resources to build this new alternative mass media. While volunteerism will help to develop this new mass media, full time workers will be needed.
     This means that we must develop bigger resources collectively and effectively. Most of us are willing to spend 30 or more dollars a month to be hooked up to a cable system which basically is manipulating us in one way or another. Perhaps it is time for people to make a major investment in the development of a mass media that really represents them rather than multi-international corporations.
     Perhaps we could get some relief from some level of government on this issue. Some people have suggested a 1% tax on all advertising or a $1 charge on all new radio, T.V. , or other electronic devices which would go to developing a real public alternative network. Perhaps we could get some help though collective action. Many of the institutions which host many of the alternative media outlets have to be educated on the importance of these institutions in society. All of this takes time and effort but the payoff is immense and important.
     If you have some ideas about the future of public affairs and news at WWUH why not drop a line to me Mike DeRosa, Community Affairs Director, so that we can begin a dialog on what the next 30 years should be at WWUH. Better still why not think through all of the above ideas and let’s start a dialog about the development of a alternative mass media. We need to start plowing the ground before we can deposit the seed which will blossom into a new media for a new tomorrow.

NEXT ISSUE: MEDIA ALTERNATIVES IN OTHER PLACES.

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