UCC's Parker lecturer calls for 'unfettered, unembedded media'
Written by J. Bennett Guess
October - November 2006
November 1, 2006
"The media in this country has reached an all-time low."
That's the blunt assessment of journalist Amy Goodman, who delivered the UCC's 24th annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12.
"Instead of a media that covers for power, we need a media that covers power," said Goodman, syndicated columnist and host of the Pacifica-network radio and TV program Democracy Now! ". Reporting from the victim's perspective - not being 'spun' - we see it so rarely in this country."
In a hard-hitting address that questioned the motivations of conglomerate-owned, profits-centered media companies, Goodman said that, after Hurricane Katrina, the American people got a short-lived glimpse of what an independent, victims-focused media might look like, despite objections from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency that insisted that reporters not show images of drowned bodies floating in a flooded, neglected New Orleans.
"This nation saw people suffering and they were horrified," she said. "If only we saw these images from Iraq, [of] the reality of war."
Using the war in Iraq as a persistent example, she said "embedded" journalism relies on what reporters' sources tell them, not on what reporters see, experience and discover for themselves.
"Increasingly, what do we get? . Static," she said.
In Iraq, unlike the immediate days that followed last year's Katrina disaster, the stories of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens are not given voice. Therefore, most Americans have little reason to identify with the suffering or incentive to demand change.
"When you hear someone speaking from their own experience . you can not help but identify," Goodman said. "'That's my boy, my mother, my aunt.'"
Moreover, Goldman said, instead of reporting the truth from Iraq, the U.S. government is paying to plant false stories in Iraqi newspapers about alleged successes there - Goldman and others have claimed - in order to bolster the war's image back home. It's a practice that's illegal in the United States, she said, but not in Iraq.
"But if you can plant it over there and it blows back here, it's the next best thing," she said.
The UCC's Parker Lecture, which annually examines the technological disparity that exists between wealthy, white communities and those living in poorer, underserved communities, is co-sponsored with the Washington, D.C.-based Telecommunications Research and Action Center. It is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications and the digital age from an ethical perspective.
Named for the legendary UCC pastor, the Rev. Everett C. Parker, 93, who led the UCC's historic campaign in the 1950s and 1960s to make the Federal Communications Commission hold its license awardees accountable to the communities they serve, the annual event draws about 200 media advocates, telecommunications industry executives, clergy and lay leaders.
Despite living in a digital, high-tech age, Goodman emphasized, we are increasingly seeing the media used as "the force of state" and not as the public's vehicle to "force the state."
"We need an unfettered, unembedded media," she said. "We have to take it back."
Goodman, who is in the midst of an 80-city promotional tour for her new book "Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People who Fight Back," also spoke later on Sept. 12 at People Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C., and on Sept. 14 at First Congregational UCC in Oakland, Calif.
Funded entirely through contributions from listeners, viewers, broadcasting stations and foundations, Goodman's "Democracy Now!" describes itself as maintaining "editorial independence, providing a counterweight to media consolidation."
Also, at the Parker Lecture, awards were presented to:
Katherine Grincewich, Associate General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in recognition of an individual whose work embodies the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications.
Randall Pinkston, CBS News, in recognition of special contributions in advancing the roles of women and persons of color in the media.
Ken McEldowney, Executive Director of Consumer Action, in recognition of efforts to educate and enable consumers to use technology as a toll of empowerment.