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The Information Curtain

What can be done about the media's stranglehold on the news?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)

Winston Churchill is credited for coining the expression "The Iron Curtain" to describe the separation of communist countries in Europe following World War II. In essence, the former Soviet Union built a wall around eastern Europe and kept its citizens in the dark. For many years, eastern Europeans secretly tuned into the Voice of America to find out what was really going on in the world which was in stark contrast to the Soviet propaganda machine. The Iron Curtain wasn't raised until 1991 when the Cold War finally came to an end. Similarly, there was a"Bamboo Curtain" surrounding Communist China to keep the Western World out. Both curtains represent an approach to keep the citizenship in line, and propaganda was an inherent part of manipulating the masses.

Today we have an "Information Curtain" that is essentially no different than the Soviet system, yet much more sophisticated in terms of controlling the people through the dissemination of truthful facts. So much so, an incestuous relationship now exists between government and the press, which, in theory, is supposed to be independent but is now nothing more than an arm of the government with considerable swagger to dictate legislation and elect officials at all levels of government.

The Information Curtain dictates what news and information is to be released to the public, and how it is to be presented ("spin"). The media's stranglehold of news is such that trust in the media continues to decline with the result being a public totally ignorant of the facts despite the availability of easy to use technology to access information. Frankly, more and more people have stopped reading newspapers, and watching the news on television simply because they no longer trust the media. As evidence, consider a September 21, 2012 poll by Gallup, entitled "U.S. Distrust in Media Hits New High." In it, Gallup contends"Americans' distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004."

Should the media be interested in restoring its credibility, a major cleanup is in order. First, consider the "Journalist's Creed," a code of ethics written around 1906 by Walter Williams shortly after founding the Missouri School of Journalism. His intent was to devise something similar to the Hippocratic Oath as taken by physicians swearing to practice medicine ethically and honestly. The Creed reads:

"I believe in the profession of Journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public; that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one's own pocket book is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another's instructions or another's dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds the best-and best deserves success-fears God and honors man; is stoutly independent; unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power; constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of the privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance, and as far as law, an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship, is a journalism of humanity, of and for today's world."

In theory, all journalists are to adhere to this code, yet I personally do not believe there is anyone following this pledge anymore, and I suspect a lot of Americans would agree with me. So what can be done to restore the integrity of the media, or to lift "The Information Curtain"? First, like any profession, how about revoking a license to practice news? Since other craftsmen and professionals must periodically update their certification to practice their craft, why not the media? And, No, they should not police themselves. An independent body should handle such certifications, and certainly not the government.

Consumers could also boycott the media, but that has never proven effective in modern times. Instead, it would seem to make more sense to institute a certification system with a board to review reported violations of the code of ethics and sanction penalties for violations. Just about every other profession has such a system, why not the media? Maybe then we could learn to trust the media again and finally lift "The Information Curtain."

Then again, maybe they are not interested in restoring their integrity. After all, the money and control is probably better under the current system.

Keep the Faith!

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