Wednesday 17 December 2003

Mainstream media—just say no!

Commenting on my post about coping with information overload, Robert Castelo wrote: “The secret of course is filtering”.

Although he has access to 100 cable channels, Robert restricts his viewing to one: BBC4, which—by focusing on arts, culture, documentaries, debate and world cinema— has already done a substantial amount of filtering for him. He refines their filtering by going through the BBC4 schedule and choosing what he wants.

I implemented Robert’s filtering strategy a long time ago: firstly, by refusing to have cable TV installed, thereby restricting myself to five free-to-air networks; and secondly, by mostly watching SBS, the Australian network whose programming policy has, until recently, closely resembled that of BBC4. But SBS has a new Head of Television, New Zealander Shaun Brown, who in the last few months has implemented additional filtering on my behalf by ruthlessly cutting back the world cinema and the arts/culture/documentary programs—part of his plan to move the network downmarket in search of “a ‘younger, groovier’ audience”.

Although I still have a residual loyalty for a few shows that run on the commercial networks—such as The Sopranos, NYPD Blue, and Survivor—the neutering of SBS has made it possible for me to take Robert Castelo’s TV filtering strategy to its logical conclusion. On Monday night, as the final credits rolled on the Survivor Reunion show, I said a silent prayer of thanks that Sandra—and not the odious Lill—had won the million dollars then disconnected the TV from the external antenna.

We’ll see how it goes. If I want to watch a movie, I have plenty to choose from: a few dozen DVDs and a couple of hundred Japanese movies that I taped on VHS as SBS screened them over the past fifteen years. I’m writing this while I’m waiting for the DHL driver to deliver another Ozu DVD box set.

What will I miss on TV this week? A German documentary about the failure of the CIA and FBI to act on intelligence warnings received prior to the September attacks. Underground, Emir Kusturica’s foray through Yugoslav history (which I saw at the cinema). A Spanish documentary about the architect Antoni Gaudi. The Ginkgo Bed (a Korean ghost movie). A profile of The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan. NYPD Blue. The 30-minute SBS evening news bulletin. (Shaun Brown hasn’t managed to screw that yet though, given time, he’ll no doubt reshape the news for his younger, groovier audience.)

In other words, no great loss.

I stopped buying the Sydney Morning Herald years ago, though every day I visit the SMH website to stay in touch with local and international events and read the opinion pages. But the quality of writing and analysis that is available from the weblogs I read regularly is vastly superior to anything that the Herald (or any other mainstream publication) has to offer. For example:

So I just deleted the SMH website from the list of sites that load by default every time I open Mozilla Phoenix.

My new motto? Mainstream media—just say no! As tonio wrote in a comment on my Overloaded post:

If there’s something I desperately need to know about, someone will tell me whether I want them to or not, but not having already heard the same thing 50 times on 8 different news stations, radio, and the web makes their telling me a lot more interesting.

But what will I do with all this free time? Go for a walk every day, in addition to swimming laps at the pool. Read a lot more—especially now that I’m starting to read real stories in Japanese by writers such as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Natsume Sōseki, and Arishima Takeo. As well as writing the occasional weblog post. Which means that this evening I can start work on the post(s) about Sexual Globalization that I promised Halley Suitt.

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I understand your sentiments, I purposely left the television off here last Sunday to prevent my day being spoilt by the predictable, self serving bullsh*t about Sadam's capture. Nevertheless, cutting ourselves off from the mainstream totally seems like admitting defeat.

Additionally, I miss local news. How many weblogs challenge me with ideas relevant to Australia's situation or to New South Wales or Sydney. Or for that matter, Nashua, NH. The Weblog world seems to encourage global thinking at the expense of local interest.

And anyway, I would miss the cartoons.

Posted by Marius Coomans on 18 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Detaching the antenna is a rather extreme move, but if it gives you satisfaction, a good one. If it gives you more time to walk and write, especially write, then it is a very good decision.

Marius, you have an excellent point -- I find for myself I know more about what's happening in Iraq then in downtown St. Louis.

As for dropping television, I think I would miss my movie channels, History and Travel and Bio channels, and Star Gate.

However, for the most part, I have the television running behind me as I sit facing away from it, typing into my computer. I don't 'watch' television as much as I listen to it while writing. Like I am now.

Posted by Shelley on 18 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Shelley, listening to the TV while one tries to write sounds like the worst form of torture to me. But, it's a scientific and medical fact that women are much better at multitasking than men. To each his/her own, I guess.

Marius, a large part of my frustration stems from the fact that although there's a nominal change in both the local and international news, on a deeper level it's actually always the same. For example, our local news:

Hospital crisis. Australia loses Rugby World Cup. Refugee disaster. Nicole remarriage shock. Labor Party leadership mess. Australia wins Davis Cup. Matrix Revolutions marketing propaganda. Iraq crisis. Russell Crowe wedding drama. Australia loses cricket match. Royal Family tragedy. Kylie baby dilemma. Australia wins swimming event. Labor Party leadership upset. Lord of the Rings marketing propaganda. Australian loses golf tournament. Holly Valance bombshell. Public transport scandal. Australian wins women's surfing championships. Hospital crisis...

Boring, isn't it?

Posted by Jonathon on 18 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

You don't know how lucky you are. Here, in the US, things are far worse. On national and international matters, our monolithic mega-corporate press (TV, radio and newspaper) simply re-prints Republican press releases most of the time -- only small circulation magazines afford any genuine alternate viewpoints. In some ways, local coverage is even worse -- virtually no analysis of local affairs, just a succession of live from-the-spot scenes of fires, crime scenes, disaster sites (with questioning that invariably goes like this" "You've just lost your parents, spouse, children and family pets -- how do you feel?").

For many years, National Public Radio provided an alternative, but over the past decade, as public funding has been cut and corporate quasi-sponsorships have become ever more important, the tone has become increasingly right-wing (except for "sexual" issues -- abortion and gay rights). NPR was a virulent antangonist of Clinton for at least 6 of his 8 year presidency and an ardent apologist for Bush (first as campaigner) and now as president. Once in a while, they throw in a liberal commentary for balance -- but most of the time even these commentators offer back-handed slaps at opponents of the Bush regime.

Consequently, I can no longer watch broadcast TV (and would rather not listen to radio news either). I check major papaers (Nerw York Times, Washington Post) mainly to see what the Bush administration line is. If I want to have any clue as to what is really happening in the world, I have to check papers from Canada, Australia and the UK (and sometimes France).

Posted by Michael Kerpan on 18 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

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Posted by mode on 19 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Michael, I'm not unaware of the changes in the American mass media. On my first visit to the US in 1981, I was astonished by how parochial the New York Times was, compared to Australian and European newspapers. I've been back to the US another dozen times since then and have observed the steady decline in standards. It's interesting that Americans hold such strong opinions when so many of them are, relatively speaking, so poorly informed.

I was surprised, however, by your observations about NPR which, because I don't listen to the radio, I've never heard while in the US. I've always assumed that NPR resembled our government-funded networks, SBS and the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission), which consistently show a left/liberal bias (fine by me, since they provide a valuable counterweight to the right/conservative bias of the commercial networks). Nor was I aware of NPR's antagonism to Clinton.

So, where does PBS stand in all of this? Over the years I've watched dozens of PBS documentaries -- mainly on SBS -- and the quality of those programs certainly hasn't diminished. Is PBS not publicly funded?

Posted by Jonathon on 19 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I think Mr. Kerpan's characterization of NPR's reporting is grossly exaggerated. If NPR was a "virulent antagonist" of President Clinton, one wonders if there are any words in the English language to describe the right-wing organs that were open in their virulent antagonism toward President Clinton?

I think NPR's coverage tries to be "fair and balanced" but generally leans leftward. Morning Edition's host Bob Edwards can almost always be relied upon to ask a question of a correspondent or a guest that highlights an apparent contradiction between the administration's statements and reality as reported by NPR.

I _like_ NPR, and in general, I think they do a better job in reporting fairly than other major media, and unquestionably better than Fox or The Washington Times in terms of "fairness" and "balance." But I strongly disagree with Mr. Kerpan's characterization. I don't wish to speak for Mr. Kerpan, but the only way I can understand what may be behind his characterization is the absence of a clearly left-wing major news organization a la Fox News or The Washington Times. The "liberal media" is, in general, a shibboleth of the right.

Posted by Dave Rogers on 19 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I began listening to NPR a LONG time ago -- and I am very disheartened with its steady drift to the right. It is not as blatantly right-wight wing as Fox or CNN or ABC -- but it persistently (and rather insidiously) backs Republican positions on a consistent basis. Fifteen years ago, NPR may have been "fair and balanced", albeit with a slight left-ward slant -- but not any more.

Most of its political commentators now come from right wing think tanks or right wing publications -- or are token "left wingers" who have actually spent much of the past decade bashing the Democrats more than the Republicans.

For instance, just recently, one of their regular correspondents (probably Cokie Roberts) stated -- as IF a matter of fact -- that the ONLY reason that Democrats in Congress opposed the Medicare "Reform" bill crafted by the GOP leadership was that they couldn't stand to let the GOP get credit for such a major improvement in Medicare. She ignored the fact that objections had been raised to the fact that much of the money was targeted to corporations, that the actual benefits would be tiny compared to the costs incurred, that many poor people would actually find coverage less affordable, etc.

Cokie Roberts has been a cheer-leader for Bush on a pretty consistent basis, even before he got the Republican nomination -- and her reporting on Clinton, and later Gore was frequently duplicitous -- and almost always contemptuous. Mara Liasson, who masquerades as a supposed NPR liberal is also a reporter for Fox News and a board member of a right-wing think tank, see:

There are now times that even Fox will cover news adverse to Bush -- that NPR will ignore. Also much more of NPR's time is now also devoted to safe fluff.

NPR now largely serves as a sort of conservative corporatist "fifth column", trivializing important progressive issues (again excepting abortion and gay rights) and trying to downplay Bush's assaults on worker's rights, the environment, civil liberties. and the international law. Many of the people who do this are people I once admired and respected -- and it is painful to see just how low this once important (and scrappy) institution has sunk.

Posted by Michael Kerpan on 19 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I forgot to comment on PBS. Here's a link that to a series of items that reflect the growing tilt of PBS to corporatism (if not outright conservatism) over the past decade:

Yes, some interesting shows still get made. But PBS has grown increasingly timid about presenting "liberal" voices and viewpoints and increasing unashamed about presenting a steady parade of conservative ones.

NPR and PBS are nothing like Australia's public broadcasting entities -- they depend heavily on funding by corporations, corporate-funded foundations and well-to-do viewers adamantly opposed to programming that "rocks the boat" in any way.

Posted by Michael Kerpan on 19 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

You'll no doubt be surprised when they come knocking on your door!

There needs to be another word for a more introverted introvert. Perhaps neutrovert, and I['m not referring to atoms...

Posted by victor echo zulu on 26 December 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour