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The Widening Wasteland of the American Media

by RALPH NADER

There are times when unchallenged commercial greed morphs into institutional insanity. I am referring to the overall advertising-saturated, trivialized performance of the media conglomerates’ utilization of our public airwaves 24 hours a day and their dominance of the ever-expanding scores of cable channels.

Take a test. If you are an average consumer of TV or radio broadcasts or newspapers and magazines, you are ready for your exam. Have you ever seen coverage of the following three long-standing civic organizations working on very important aspects of our society’s needs and failures?

Lois Gibbs came out of the struggle over Love Canal’s toxified residential neighborhoods to start and lead the nationwide Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) in Falls Church, Virginia. Over the years the Center has organized thousands of small but vigorous community groups who are challenging or stopping the presence of toxic chemical particulates and gases in largely lower-income neighborhoods. Lois and her associates have trained thousands of ordinary people, committed to protecting their families, and educated scores of communities about the nature of these toxics and what can be done about them with law, action and exposure.

They have victory after victory to show for their efforts, but so intense and widespread has been the poisoning of America over the decades by corporations that there is always more to discover and do.

Right now, the Center has its community associations "fighting to block local schools from being built on contaminated land in Alabama, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island." CHEJ’s new report–Building Safe Schools: Invisible Threats, Visible Actions–covers the laws and situations in 250 states. Here is one example of many:

"In Birmingham, Alabama, Wenonah High School is being constructed on contaminated soil. The site is also across the street from the largest gasoline storage facility in the state and is adjacent to a railroad track and a junkyard. The site was further contaminated this past July by a gas spill when a train and gas truck collided right in front of the site of the future school."

For more information, see www.childproofing.org.

For an astoundingly-optimistic demonstration of what science can do for the people, consider the Appalachia Science in the Public Interest (ASPI) out of Livingston, Kentucky. Founded in the ’70s by one of our former public interest scientists, Dr. Albert Fritsch, ASPI has shown what can be done for peoples’ houses, cars, and larger buildings with "proven energy conservation, healthy home and renewable energy solutions." It connects "consumers with marketers of related products and services".

It is the moving force, with state agencies, renewable-energy companies and college institutions, behind the annual Bluegrass Energy Expo. The 2005 event featured, among others, the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Solar Car. The Expo has taught many people in what one writer called "a rich land with poor people" about sustainable forests, water purification and conservation. It is a very hands-on organization that makes you want to obtain its recommended products pronto. See its web site: www.a-spi.org. And send for its wonderfully-engrossing Simple Lifestyle Calendar 2006 for $7.50 (to ASPI Calendar, 50 Lair Street, Mt. Vernon, KY 40456).

In Washington, D.C. another unsung group of Americans is working hard at the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). END TWO There are hundreds of thousands of homeless people in our wealthy country. According to the Homeless Coalition, "60% are living in emergency shelter or transitional housing, and 40% are living on the streets. The majority, 53% are single adults, 42% are families and 5% are homeless/runaway youth."

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, says NCH, "multiplied the homeless population along the Gulf Coast by as much as a hundred fold." All this is in the face of the Bush regime’s proposed slicing of federal subsidies for housing by 40%. That proposal, sent to Congress, does not cut the burgeoning budget for the number one occupant of public housing–George W. Bush in the White House.

NCH reports, organizes and lobbies all over the country. They are supporting legislation, introduced by Rep. Julia Carson, of federal homeless policies that "tackle the root causes of homelessness and poverty in this nation." For more on NCH, see its web page: www.nationalhomeless.org.

Now back to the mostly maniacal mass media’s priorities. 90% of radio and television are devoted to advertisements and entertainment. Often the rest is staccato news, weather and sports repeated throughout the day. There are, of course, he sterling exceptions such as weekly sections of 60 Minutes or the two and a half minute investigations on the network nightly TV news.

Cable is a widening wasteland. With infomercials (bracelets and necklaces, etc.), re-run movies, sports and comedy shows, and endless silly drivel, it does not matter how many new cable channels are added. There will not be any devoted to the wholesome activities and successes of groups such as the aforementioned to life up people, get them more active and introduce the young to practical citizenship that solves serious problems.

That is, not until enough people around America become serious about the need for serious media and reassert some control over the public airwaves they own and the no-rent licenses given out to radio and television companies by the Federal Communications Commission. Communities that license cable companies also need to feel the enlightened heat of local residents and neighborhood groups. It is ours for the demanding.

Let’s start demanding.