When U.S. President Ronald Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine in 1988, he killed a piece of American democracy, says Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The duty to inform was taken from the media and replaced with the aims of corporations, to deliver people to advertising and to hell with balance, fairness and critical thinking.
Kennedy, who founded the environmental group Waterkeepers in the 1980s, was the keynote speaker at the International Association of Great Lakes Research conference in Peterborough, Ont. at Trent University May 22.
The topic may have been Our Environmental Destiny, but his message was of the danger to civilians when corporations take over both the government and the media, as he argues has already happened in the U.S.
It was Reagan, he says, who let it all happen with his gift to the Christian Right in 1988 (this group later came to dominate radio across the nation). That was the year he eliminated a law that forced American media to present balanced and fair news coverage as a public good. Some saw the law as censorship, while others a method of presenting all sides to the public.
"Today as a result of that [the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine] there are five major corporations that control 14,000 radio stations in the United States. All 2,200 TV stations," he said.
"They no longer have an obligation to serve the public interest. Their only obligation is to serve the shareholders, so they cut costs, they got rid of all their investigative reporters. Eighty per cent of investigative reporters have lost their jobs over the past 15 years," he said.
This has led to the war in Iraq and the wide latitude given polluters. The reporters lost over the 15 years since the elimination of that law has left a vacuum filled with entertainment and Hollywood gossip. If the media had still been strong, Kennedy argued, the American people would have been more skeptical of the reasons to go to war in Iraq and would have noticed Bush appointing corporate lobbyists to the head of environmental departments.
"When I was a kid there used to be 47 foreign news bureaus just in Europe. Today they have none. You buy news from a can. We're supposed to be leaders of the free world, but we have no clue what's happening in the free world," he said.
"Ninety-nine per cent of Americans can't tell you who the prime minister of Canada is. This is why our country accepted this neo-con fantasy that we'd be met with flowers and rose petals in the streets when we invaded Iraq," he said. Kennedy claimed the only source of true international news for Americans is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The son of assassinated presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of assassinated president John F. Kennedy, this Kennedy was invited to speak based on his work as an environmental lawyer and activist. Using law in both Canada and the U.S., his group sues major polluters and then uses that money to sue more polluters.
Kennedy warned the more than 2,000 Canadians at his talk that if this country doesnâe(TM)t learn from his country quickly, it will follow close behind.
"I'm going to talk about the situation in the United States today and I'm going to do that as a cautionary tale, as a moral tale, because in many ways youâe(TM)re on a parallel track here in Canada, but there's still a lot more time for you to get off of it," he said.
Kennedy did not discuss Canadian media, but noted that Stephen Harper's Conservative government is becoming as entangled with corporate power as the Bush administration is.
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