PBS changes look bad, and some good news

Bad news first:

  • “NOW” with Bill Moyers is no longer. NOW will be hosted by NPR’s David Brancaccio. NOW had been sliding ever since Brancaccio came on board (I first noticed the goofy animations with sound effects and the occasional “What NOW?” segment after he came on; this segment always struck me as odd because I think it’s part of doing a good piece to point out to someone what they can do to avoid the bad things being described in the piece, don’t wait until a few segments later). My guess is that you can expect fewer in-depth reports on a range of subjects NPR is more comfortable bringing us (or not bringing us): virtually nothing on media consolidation (a staple of the former NOW show under Moyers) because that might raise the spectre of low-power FM which NPR worked to defeat when they felt it posed competition for their listener base; the rising cost of health care will be covered but without any mention about practical solutions including universal single-payer health care (if this manages to somehow leak out, I’m sure it won’t receive any serious analysis); interviews with right-wing or “centrist” “newsmakers” who want to inform us how social security should co-exist with investment plans (because co-existance makes eventual takeover easier to swallow).
  • NOW will shrink to 30 minutes. This means less time for in-depth coverage of…anything, really. But this also means 30 minutes for PBS to fill with something else, something pro-corporate like another half hour of Tucker Carlson or that new talk show with Paul Gigot, who gets enough coverage from his articles in the Wall Street Journal and his time on PBS’ NewsHour (referred to more accurately as the LiarHour by Paul Mueth, co-host of News from Neptune). In case you haven’t seen Gigot’s PBS show, it’s a lot like “Washington Week in Review” with Gwen Ifill in that they both have on some journalist friends from the corporate (and during times of war, possibly embedded) press. They all cover what the White House tells them to and in the way the White House tells them to so they can continue to be called “journalists”.

If NOW were a community media production, I’d cut them a lot of slack. I know how community media runs on no money for the show (or whatever the hosts can afford to put in), and no staff–two big factors that determine how much of a show there will be. I host a community radio show called Digital Citizen every other week. I rarely have substitute hosts and I spend considerable time researching things to talk about on the show, recording phone interviews, editing other pieces, and I have no staff to speak of.

But PBS is nobody’s community TV station, it’s a bona-fide corporate-funded outlet for news and entertainment. Take a look at some of the heavy hitters funding the LiarHour alone: ADM (corporate criminal: pricefixing), SBC (telecommunications corporation), CIT (commercial finance corporation), and Grant Thornton (an accountancy firm).

Time will tell, of course, and I will happily watch NOW beyond my assessment period if I’m wrong. But NPR is untrustworthy and fails to cover items of genuine interest to my Digital Citizen audience which I could easily defend as worth anyone’s time.

Neither they nor NOW covered the Microsoft anti-trust case and its settlement (the largest anti-trust case in US history with a settlement widely viewed as insubstantial). There was no debate or discussion about what Microsoft did wrong from the perspective of one of their biggest competitors: The free software movement. The free software movement, now 20 years old, has provided the only real competition to proprietary software (including virtually all of Microsoft’s software). Occasionally we get to hear from the open source movement (offering their watered-down version of the debate which never includes software freedom but instead banks on elements monopolists can compete with handily like price, features, and technical correctness).

If your PBS outlet is like mine, you have the opportunity to see a lot of business shows (Business week, Wall Street Week with Fortune, Nightly Business Report, and various business segments on other PBS shows).

But there’s no coverage of this issue or technological-ethical issues to speak of on PBS, NPR, or NOW. Even during the media reform concern, there was no room for discussing free software from the perspective of not choosing between masters (Apple or Microsoft? Word or WordPerfect? Netscape or Internet Explorer? Eudora or Outlook? Which media mega-corp should run your TV and radio? Should we think beyond dividing up media the way we do–TV and radio are one in the digital age, right?). The Eldred v Ashcroft case got NOW’s attention, and Eben Moglen was briefly in one segment of that piece. But that was the closest NOW ever came to discussing the issues of intellectual freedom.

I promised you some good news, so I had better get to it. Check out these quotes:

“[I]f Kerry were half as radical a departure from the Bush agenda as the Republicans claimed, the case for voting for him would be a lot stronger.

But Kerry isn’t any of the things that the Republicans denounced him for being. He hasn’t rejected the Bush Doctrine of waging “pre-emptive” wars–in fact, he boasts that he will use more U.S. soldiers to win the “war on terror.” He isn’t about to “cut and run” from the U.S. occupation of Iraq–actually, he promises to carry out the occupation for oil and empire more effectively. He’s not for raising taxes to pay for “big government” spending programs–he’s for more tax relief for U.S. corporations (sure, in the disguise of a program to reward businesses that keep jobs in the U.S., but we’ve heard that one before, and should know by now that the trickle-down effect didn’t work, whether it was promoted by Ronald Reagan or the NAFTA-loving Clinton administration).”

This comes from the Socialist Worker on why voting for the lesser evil is harmful to long-term progress. Well worth reading, and please note the publication date as I am late to the table on their article, not they. Also, read Counterpunch. All cards on the table: I’ve contributed an article to Counterpunch.