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A valuable voice

‘Democracy Now!’ replaces ‘The World’ after Vioxx scandal



Recently KCBX, our public radio station, added the independent news program “Democracy Now!� to their schedule.

Along with some other changes, which include the return of “Radio Nation� and “New Dimensions,� this represents a stunning turn-around from programming choices, including “The World,� made at the end of last year.

“Democracy Now!� is produced by the Pacifica Radio Network, a group of five radio stations across the U.S. and the only one that is independent of corporate sponsorship. In a country based on democracy and the principle of free speech necessary for its survival, only this one radio network survives that is free of corporate control. Hosted by Amy Goodman, the news on “Democracy Now!� is quite different in form and content than anything the corporate versions offer.

Sponsored by at least four corporations, “The World� is not free of such corporate control. This was clearly demonstrated by their refusal to cover the Vioxx scandal. A story buried on page A6 of the SLO Tribune revealed that a study sponsored by the FDA found Vioxx responsible for 140,000 cases of heart disease and 56,000 deaths during the five years it was on the market. It also revealed that the FDA had threatened the lead scientist of the study, Dr. David Graham, with dismissal if he published the results of this study when they were available last fall. The FDA finally allowed publication of the story last month. In a letter to the editor of the Tribune, I pointed out that Merck, the maker of Vioxx, sponsors “The World.�

I copied this letter to the management at KCBX and they contacted Public Radio International, producer of “The World,� questioning them about why they did not cover this vital story that goes to the heart of how our drugs are regulated. KCBX was not satisfied with the answers provided by PRI, and this seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. “The World� was pulled and “Democracy Now!� was put in its place.

I say the last straw because, along with others, we have been working for the past 21 months to convince KCBX to carry “Democracy Now!�

It has been a long and, at times, contentious struggle to convince KCBX that “Democracy Now!� is a legitimate non-corporate alternative that should be allowed a proper space on their schedule. Their reticence is understandable since the show airs stories from a perspective that is vastly different from what most folks are accustomed to.

While many listeners might be overjoyed at this development, there will be others who will not appreciate the type of stories that are carried nor the obvious bias with which they are reported.

That’s right, the people who produce “Democracy Now!� have a bias.

But then, so does every news program. Each one needs to decide which stories to cover and how they’ll be covered. How much time will be devoted to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and how much to the Vioxx scandal?

News organizations that rely on corporate support for their survival will undoubtedly be influenced by that relationship. This effect may not even be entirely conscious, and in many cases I suspect it is not. But it is undeniably present as the Vioxx example illustrates.

What passes for objectivity in the corporate media is actually a façade, an air of objectivity that relies on judicious story selection, carefully constructed language, and a lack of depth that prevents any serious consideration of the harm caused by corporations whose only reason for existence is their financial bottom line.

In contrast, the bias of “Democracy Now!� is not hidden. It is clear this viewpoint favors peace over war, supports social justice around the globe, and tends to be skeptical of those in power, asking hard questions of Democrats as well as Republicans.

“Democracy Now!� goes into more depth on the stories they cover than is typical of the mainstream media. Coverage goes far beyond the sound bites that have become the norm elsewhere, with some programs devoting the entire hour to a single interview.

A recent example was the Dec. 31, 2004 interview with John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions.� This interview reveals how loans made by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been used throughout the world as tools to achieve economic domination over developing nations.

The effects of these policies are known to the inhabitants of those countries, even if they are largely unknown to most of us in America. Understanding stories like this will go a long way to explaining “why they hate us.�

To those individuals that will not appreciate this approach, I’d like to ask a favor. In the comfort of your own space, please try to listen to “Democracy Now!� and hear what they have to offer. You certainly do not have to agree with their perspective, but try to become acquainted with it. I ask this because communication between opposing viewpoints seems to have largely broken down in this country. Our species faces some gargantuan struggles in the near future and we can only tackle these with a respectful, information-based discussion. Viewpoints that challenge the status quo should be experienced directly, not via some crude characterization by those who oppose it.

At first it may be difficult to hear the version of reality that “Democracy Now!� offers. It is a natural desire to believe that our problems are being intelligently handled by responsible representatives. We would like to believe that our ship is essentially in good order and headed in the right direction. Further, it may seem more comfortable to believe that whatever problems we do have are the result of outside forces bent on our destruction rather than our own internal deficiencies.

While it may be unsettling to consider that much of our distress is self-inflicted, it can also be empowering since it implies that our survival is within our control. We can choose to fix what is wrong rather than feeling like a helpless victim. We can only accomplish this if we are clear on exactly what the problems are, and I believe “Democracy Now!� can help in this regard.

Still, some will not be able to accept “Democracy Now!� on any terms. Some may even contact KCBX and demand the show be taken off the air. To those folks I suggest you simply turn off the station for the offending hour. To demand the show be removed is to demand that no one be allowed to hear this alternative. This, of course, is nothing less than censorship and something our country cannot afford.

“Democracy Now!� airs weekdays at noon except Tuesdays at 4 p.m., following the weekly meeting SLO County Board of Supervisors broadcast.

SLO County activist Mark Phillips is glad he doesn’t have to harass the fine folks at KCBX anymore. He invites your comments about “Democracy Now!� and the media at mrppy@fix.net.

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