I work as a physician in a public hospital in Chicago. I take my time chatting with patients (I do not live under the mercy of HMOs). I treat people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, social classes and literary levels.
We talk about the influence of Harry Potter on kids, Britney Spears on teenagers, Anthrax on mask sales and the American war on arms and oil industries, etc.
The themes of our discussions reflect the daily news one can watch on television, hear on the radio and read in the newspaper.
Many people, however, decided long ago to resent the conventional media channels. “The news is commercialized,” said my friend, a physician from Chicago. “I do not like watching TV any more. They keep repeating the same story day in and day out.”
Another friend, who drives two hours daily to work, took a more moderate position. She said, “I only listen to the National Public Radio. They broadcast intelligent programs and target educated people. No commercials, no advertisements.”
The media has come under the mandate of the advertising companies. They have tarnished its credibility and misguided the audience. The marketing industry has spoiled our media.
Commercials have permeated all forms of our media. The idea was that by having the programs sponsored, the consumer paid less to receive the information.
However, we have to tolerate the frequent interruptions of the shows. The larger the audience a program attracts, the more advertisement it includes and the more fragmented it becomes. When a show is not sponsored or under-sponsored the network does not broadcast it.
The scary thing is that the commercials, indirectly at least, can affect the quality and the quantity of the programs. For instance, “Politically Incorrect” Bill Maher criticized the American attacks on Iraq and Sudan in the recent years and described them as “cowardly” as the Sept. 11 attack.
As a result, the sponsoring companies of his show withdrew their advertisements. The show was threatened to be put “on hold” permanently.
Maher had to publicly apologize, change his statement and even attack the Middle Eastern dogma.
A recent report reflected money influence on the well being of the news agencies. The report asserted that ABC, CBS and NBC have lost almost $90 million because of the continuous, commercial-free coverage of the Sept. 11 events.
So what! Isn’t America our country? Doesn’t it deserve our time, money and support?
It is our right to receive “clean” news and information, as it is our right to drink pure and clean water. News commercialization is a derogatory act. We have to stand up to it.
One solution is to support the “public” media. Outlets such as National Public Radio are doing a great job. Though they depend on pledges from the audience and various grants, they still faithfully report on a variety of subjects and represent the whole community in the areas they cover. Their materials are well-edited. They even encourage the public to participate in writing the shows and reports.
In the last decade or two, we have witnessed a media boom. It transferred the world into a small village, where people, from east and west, can communicate live, exchange ideas, understand each other’s circumstances and conflicts, express sympathy and share happy moments.
Ironically, this same genius tool, influenced by money and politics, can subdue minds, move the masses, spark conflicts and wars, even generate hatred and bigotry.
Dr M. Nabil Majid-Agha is a member of the American Medical Association political action committee and the president of North Broadway Health Services, which provides medical services to Bosnian refugees in Chicago.