Monday, May 20, 2013

Read This Article: A Word From Our Sponsor.

Yes, I know it is long even though it is well-written.  But it is important reading:  A case-study of the reasons why the concentration of all media in just a few diamond-ringed paws is a Disastrous Thing For Democracy.

That would be true even if the paws had callouses from ditch-digging and irrespective of the color or gender of the owner of those paws.  Democracy has certain basic requirements for it to go on breathing and having all information filtered by one viewpoint means turning off its oxygen supply.

Yet this is the trend I see in all media:  The very rich individuals, a handful of them, are buying it all up and that's who will give us masses most of the information, pretty soon.  The Koch brothers are contemplating buying up a large number of newspapers, right now.  If the deal goes through, those newspapers will not criticize the Koch brothers or perhaps even their values.

The political games about the media and its concentration are weird stuff:  The Republicans don't want the government to subsidize any media, because once that is removed only the moneyed ones will own the media outlets.  And what those outlets will cover tends to take the viewpoint of their owners. 

The weirdness in that is naturally the support of millions of not-wealthy people for those viewpoints.  My guess is that the support is based on short-sightedness (get glasses!), not realizing how news are selected and covered, or perhaps the need for only our daily circuses:  sports, naked women and celebrity news.

That we could get the Soviet-style Pravda and Izvestia not because of the government but because of the billionaires is something that either doesn't occur to those supporters or something they don't think matters in their own lives.

But accurate information matters.  It matters in deciding whether a country should go to war, it matters in how many victims cigarette industry manages to produce, it matters in deciding whether to import products from China or from India or from Pakistan or from some other country.  Yet those with power and money have certain incentives not to give the rest of us accurate information.

And so does almost every individual.  That's why we need a real marketplace of ideas!  I bet you never thought I'd use that wingnut term!  But I mean something different by it.

A functioning marketplace has many, many firms and many, many customers.  The firms which wish to enter can borrow funds to do so, and the funding is available not just to a very select few but to all who otherwise have the necessary training and experience and know-how.  This marketplace is not a totally chaotic one.  It has some way of organizing to allow interested consumers to find the various sellers of information, and the market adheres to certain basic rules of honesty.  Those rules of honesty are monitored.

To see what I mean by the honesty rules, think of an ideal farmers' market.  The rules are that the products must be what they are advertised to be, that the scales are not fixed so as to cheat the consumers, that basic hygiene is followed, that there is a complaints procedure unhappy customers and sellers can use, and that some organization checks all that stuff out and makes sure all is going well.

Markets for information and opinions are trickier to monitor and what to include in the rules would certainly be debated.  But under no conditions are we going to have a well-functioning marketplace for ideas if all the stalls at the idea-farmers' market are owned by the Koch brothers, for example.