Monday, March 21, 2005

Comm 226: VNRs and Democracy

Given the suggestion of John that many people may not be interested in democracy (and he may be right, who knows?) I thought I would make a post on VNRs. As it turns out, this isn't a just a Bush technique. According to at least this 1994 post, the Clinton admin was doing somewhat similar things as I mentioned earler....
Congress and the White House have gotten into the act. Congress creates VNRs in its own fully equipped, tax-payer-funded television station in the belly of the Rayburn Building in Washington. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration hires out, paying companies like Medialink of New York--at taxpayer expense--to transmit VNRs by satellite to stations around the country.
Honestly, I don't care who is in power in the government, it seems to me that if we value independent thinking then we should be concerned that governments create VNRs that pass as news and have been for over 10 years!

Call me a curious, but I am always interested in how people are trying to influence the way I think and feel. So I decided to go to's website and guess what I found...
"Our and U.S. Newswire services generally grow in both strong and sluggish economies," Moskowitz continued. ", our joint venture with Business Wire, continued to expand its reach to more than 35,000 registered users, up 32% from the fourth quarter of 2000. The increased reach has carried over to the client base, attracting domestic and international companies, including Anheuser-Busch, National Semiconductor, MG Rover, Kraft Foods, Taco Bell, Motorola, Qwest, American Home Products, Hasbro, Pfizer, Sony Electronics, Novartis, Nextel, Prudential Insurance, Stockholm Stock Exchange, and Universal Studios."

"Additionally, we have seen growth in our U.S. Newswire (USN) service, a leading news release wire service utilized by approximately 1,900 government associations and public affairs news sources," stated Moskowitz. "After previously working with the Clinton Administration, during the first quarter USN began working for the new Bush Administration, transmitting news and information issued by The White House to newsrooms nationwide. In an effort to cost effectively broaden the reach of USN, we have added sales personnel in the Midwest Region and consolidated USN’s operations with Medialink’s Washington office. USN will continue this integration in the coming months, expanding USN’s sales presence with Medialink offices nationwide." (emphasis mine)
So guess what, you and I are paying for Medialink's services, have been for quite a while, and you probably didn't even know about this.

This is where the issue of accountability kicks in. It may be true that the transmission of perfect information and transmission is impossible to get, but the deliberate creation of government-funded information, no matter how noble its intentions, should be labeled as "government funded information". Or should it not? I mean, there is plenty of government information that is labeled. Pamphlets, books, reports, legislation... why not these White House press releases? We know why they are not... executives of all types want to effectively mobilize their agenda to a mass society. The question is, is this the only way to do it? Should we be democratic in our deliberations about policy? Or can we not afford that luxury? Maybe we need to seriously think about John's point that democracies are inefficient at times. Indeed, they are. Perhaps we cannot deliberate in a time of serious threat? Honestly, I don't think there are easy answers to these questions. The truth is that conservatives and liberals alike should be invested in getting the best information possible. If you are a conservative the last thing you want is to grow government and place it in places like our mass media, which these VNRs do. If you are a liberal you would hopefully want to place a check on any misuse of information production and distribution by any government: misinformation distorts the social good according to liberal beliefs in the competitive marketplace of ideas. Wherever you stand politically, the issue of the VNR should at least make you sit back and think.

1 comment:

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