since 2004

On CNN: It Seems You Can’t Even Buy a Balanced Debate

In activism, censorship, free press, immigrant rights, media justice, racism on October 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm

On Twitter, @mediajustice just shared this: CNN rejected a television ad from immigrant reform advocates. The ad, critical of CNN’s own Lou Dobbs for his anti-immigrant and patently inaccurate tirades, was produced and sponsored by Media Matters and America’s Voice.

Dobbs’ hour-long show airs daily and has also been the target of the grassroots Basta Dobbs campaign in recent weeks. Ironically, that campaign is asking the show’s advertisers not to lend credibility to sensationalist, and racially hateful, journalism. While media outlets always reserve the right to reject ads, CNN seems to be sending the message that Dobbs deserves his pulpit while his critics do not. Yes, not even if they buy it.

From a public debate standpoint there are many nuances to this campaign and the Dobbs criticism. I plan to address those in future posts. But, for now, I will say: We need to understand media accountability as distinct from censorship, and journalistic speech as a powerful form of speech that can and should be held to a high standard by the public. If a journalist, even in an editorial form, is being irresponsible with their influence it’s the public’s right to challenge that influence, especially when lies are let to stand by a media outlet. Some would say this is a slippery slope to free speech infringement. I disagree. It’s a matter of understanding media accountability models developed within a human and civil rights framework — frameworks that inherently value freedom of speech and information (more on this in later posts). Further, just like book challenges provide a pulse-check on ideological debates (information we need!), media accountability campaigns bring necessary perspectives to the surface. It’s only then that we can engage the questions, “Are all ideas created equal?” and “Whose agenda is reflected in the criticism?” In the Dobbs case, does a major media megaphone for this particular man’s ideas create more danger and inequity than social good? And finally, if media outlets must operate in the public interest, is Dobbs’ particular brand of punditry in the public interest? Do we define that interest, or does the corporate outlet?

More on this story from the Huffington Post.

Watch the Media Matters ad.

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