An analysis of how global news corporations control the access to information was aired last week – but chances are most of us in this country didn’t catch it.
Eighty-year-old veteran US journalist Dan Rather told Bill Maher’s Real Time show (available only through YouTube or as a bitTorrent file) that he was sacked in 2004 by his corporate boss CBS after reporting George W Bush’s appalling national service record in the Vietnam war. As records show, Bush went AWOL in the National Guard for a year after being given a plum post because of his family connections.
‘Everybody should be concerned about this,’ Rather said, of censorship and control.
‘There are no more than six – my count is four – who control more than 80 per cent of the true national distribution of news.
‘Now, these large corporations have things they need from the power structures in Washington, whether it’s Republican or Democrat. Big business is in bed with big government, and this has more to do with the average person reads, sees, hears than most people know...’ He goes on to say that the corporatisation and the politicisation of news has led to the trivialisation of the news.
There was a time, he says, when corporations saw news, at least in part, as a public service. ‘The firewall between the news division and the corporate structure has now disappeared.’
Maher agreed, and made the point that news was a loss leader (much like the Coles and Woolies milk wars).
‘In the old days, news didn’t have to make money,’ Maher said. ‘The Beverley Hillbillies made money, so that meant you could do what you do.’ Rather added that this was the case for CBS news until fairly recently. ‘With constant consolidation, ultimately under the Viacom flag, that’s when it went all out the window.’
Honest brokers of information are becoming far less fashionable these days, but controlling the flow is not a fait accompli. Basically this means maintaining scepticism and suspending beliefs on all things driven by corporations.
The late comedian Bill Hicks said it best: ‘Go back to bed America, your government is in control. Here, here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up, go back to bed America, here is American Gladiators, here is 56 channels of it. Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go America – you are free to do what we’ll tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!’
It’s broken but thankfully it’s not broke. Despite cuts to community services, the Byron Council budget forecast is for much of the same. Unfortunately the stagnation continues. While our neighbouring shires push for development to ‘stimulate’
a stalling global economy, this council is left – in the most part – bickering and incapable of making even the slightest improvements to infrastructure.
Perhaps this perceived incompetence actually works in our favour. Dealing with any Council DA is a well-known nightmare. Such bottle-necks result in a low level of development and therefore we remain unique in a world trying its hardest to aspire to economic growth at any cost to the environment.
Policy and operation – or councillors and staff – have been at each other for some time now. Through the recent code of conduct actions instigated by the general manager (operation) against the mayor (policy), it is clear that we have reached a dysfunctional state. Not that the mayor doesn’t give it back – she consistently berates staff in council meetings for a lack of transparency, reports and results.
Part of the problem is the ideological divide between councillors who whole-heartedly support staff and those who claim they are being fed bullshit. The supporters of staff include Cr Woods, the oft-mute Cr Heeson and the long-serving Cr Tucker.
‘Let them get on with their job’ is often heard in the chambers, particularly from Cr Tucker, and when you consider the disparity in pay between staff and councillors, it isn’t a surprising attitude. But that’s not what democracy is about. Why be a councillor if staff run the place entirely? It’s no secret that Crs Tabart and Barham have the biggest axes to grind, while Crs Staples and Richardson are usually less combative.
Crs Morrisey and Cameron tend to vote slightly in favour of letting staff do their job without too much question or interference.
On Monday night, a week ago, councillor hopefuls for the upcoming election were invited to an info session at the chambers. Despite a healthy turn-out of 27 or so (though the session covered other shires), there was only one face recognisable that regularly turns up for Council meetings – Jim Beatson’s. Another face in the crowd was the Byron Community Centre’s Paul Spooner.
Much of this job is not glamorous. The legal and policy language is a study in itself and dealing with the crazy locals – both wealthy and not so – has never been an easy task.
Greg Dutton and his team tried hard to gain financial support from our wealthiest to purchase Mullum’s IGA.
While commendable, it is not entirely surprising that it didn’t get up. Enticing a large pack of alpha men (presumably) into a project that would provide Mullum with an alternative to Woolies was always going to be a hard sell.
Imagine having to deal with all that ego? Hopefully it isn’t over and the community still has a shot. Woolies, it should be noted, operates as a corporate psychopath. While it employs a handful of locals, the company has no interest in Mullum, or any of the towns it benefits from.
It is only driven by profit and presides over the largest share of the nation’s pokie and alcohol market. Along with Coles, they are squeezing Aussie farmers, which is about as dishonourable as it gets.
Only a handful of politicians are prepared to say this and unsurprisingly they are mostly independents. Australian Workers’ Union boss Paul Howes recently said both Woolies and Coles threaten the future of Australian food production. Even the madhatter MP Bob Katter wants an enquiry into their duopoly.
Anyway here’s a few things that our Shire’s wealthiest could do to make a difference to our ideologically war-torn Shire.
Step up and be a renegade: get a commuter railway service happening between Bangalow, Byron, Mullum and Billinudgel. No need for Council approval – it’s state government land.
Yes, that’s right, ignore the state – they ignore us anyway – let’s show Australia that progressive ideals can be followed through with action.
Base-load power from solar has been available for some time now – why not make this Shire an example? I am sure there’s a return in there – if anything just for ego’s sake.
Oh and an artificial reef/surf break would be sick. Anywhere from Tallow south or around Bruns. Sweet.
Last weekend’s MardiGrass festival proved once again that Nimbin is a truly progressive township.
It’s willing to hold on to its ideals despite society’s scorn, and that makes it a leader in any place and time.
Hemp should not only compete with the fuel, plastics, cotton and paper industries, but be allowed as a food. Currently Australia and New Zealand are the only countries that don’t allow this, according to local hemp-fibre advocate Paul Benhaim.
He says the Australian governing body that decides the fate of foodstuffs, FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand), will submit its final report in December on hemp seed to the ministerial COAG committee. More on this can be found at www.hempfoods.com.au.
Through long-term strategic PR campaigns, the mainstream has been led to believe that pot is a gateway drug. It’s not; it’s more of a drive-through drug that leads to french fries and sugar-coated doughnuts.
There are no recorded deaths from dope smoking, though hydroponic pot is well known to be a shitty synthesis of what is a naturally occurring psychoactive element. Marijuana grown under lights with chemicals can potentially cause a higher level of psychosis and hospitals unfortunately have to cope with ‘hydro’ wards. The recent hydroponic bust in Ewingsdale has the full support of The Echo. Hydro dope is dangerous, is costly to our health system and has no benefit whatsoever.
US publication The Lowdown (www.hightowerlowdown.org) examines such topics and provides a much-needed alternative perspective to the US corporate/political agenda.
Every month, the publication examines a different subject in detail; in November 2009 it was the war on drugs. It reads in part, ‘In 1914, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst mounted a yellow- journalism crusade to demonise the entire genus of cannabis plants. Why? To sell newspapers, of course, but also because he was heavily invested in wood-pulp newsprint, and he wanted to shut down competition from paper made from hemp – a species of cannabis that is a distant cousin to marijuana but produces no high.’
The Lowdown says US president FDR signed federal prohibition laws on August 2, 1937 which remain in effect today. The article adds, ‘It’s not widely publicised by the US agriculture department, but marijuana is America’s largest cash crop – topping the value of corn and wheat combined. A 2005 analysis by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron found that legalisation would generate $7.7 billion a year in enforcement savings for local, state, and federal taxpayers, while producing annual tax revenues of $6.2 billion.’
Not many Australian politicians have the balls for this kind of reform.
Thankfully Texas native Jim Hightower from the The Lowdown will be talking about such issues with Kerry O’Brien at the Byron Community Centre on Wednesday May 16.