The Role of the Media

In this American election year, I am struck once again by the dearth of choices for the American voter.

A nation of 300 million still operates with an outdated two-party system that discourages new views, new ideas, new platforms. Election after election, one is forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Is there a difference between Bush and Kerry when it comes to Iraq? Or Israel? I can’t tell.

When a third candidate wants to run as an independent, he is lampooned and derided as a “megalomaniac” who will only help “the enemy.” Isn’t the real reason for such invective against Ralph Nader the significant number of votes he commands? The power structure would like him to fall in line, to obey, to deliver his constituency, but he won’t go away.

It has been said that 9/11 came about due to a massive failure of intelligence. I submit that we have had a massive failure of the media, and for a much longer time than that. A free press in a free society serves the public interest. It acts as a watchdog over government and commerce. It encourages the free flow of ideas, diversity of opinion, public debate, and informed decision-making.

But a press that is controlled by a few large corporations sometimes forgets the public interest. It becomes another tool for maintaining the status quo. It is used, quite effectively, to mislead the public and to whip up support for war. A free press would make space for eminent writers like Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and Arundhati Roy in its op-ed mix, but our media wants to shield us from such “dangerous” views.

At no time in human history has one nation wielded such power over—yet displayed so little interest in—the rest of the world. The British once ruled supreme over their empire, but they did this by traveling to and engaging in the colonies. Even today, their knowledge of the world far exceeds that of the average American, and their publicly funded news organization, the BBC, sets the standard for news reporting.

How do people in a free society make intelligent choices about their involvement in the rest of the world without the active help of a responsible media? I fear for a world remade in the image of Bush’s America, in which “freedom” and “democracy” must be imposed on others with tanks and guns, in which the only role allowed the media is an embedded one.

Arvind Kumar, member of editorial board

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