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  • Friday, January 20, 2006


    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) is celebrating their 20th anniversary so I thought I would bring you a sampling from the current issue of EXTRA (Jan./Feb. 2006).

    In case you are not familiar with FAIR, it is a media watchdog group with progressive values. I think FAIR is roughly comparable to Media Matters for America but they are more activist oriented and take a longer view than MM. FAIR has co-sponsored some excellent media research over the years.

    One of the first was an analysis of the guests on Nightline, the ABC news show. “Rather than trying to evaluate the content of Nightline’s political discussions -- an approach that is fraught with subjectivity -- [FAIR] wanted to analyze Nightline’s guestlist, the roster of experts and officials who appear each night to discuss the ‘top story’ of the day.” The statistical results of looking at 865 Nightline programs over a 40 month period between 1985 to 1988 were very revealing.
    The vast majority of guests -- 80 percent -- represented powerful institutions such as government or major media, while representatives of community or civic organizations, minority communities and social movements, at 6 percent, were almost invisible. Eighty-nine percent of the American guests were male and 92 percent were white. [p 13, Extra, Vol. 19, No 1]
    Near the end of the same article there’s this tidbit: “FAIR’s 2003 study of television news coverage in the weeks leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which found that less than 1 percent of on-camera news sources represented organizations opposed to the war…” This is nothing new to me, but these kinds of hard figures refute the so-called impartiality of American journalism and certainly give lie to the right-wing noise machine which insists the press is “liberal.”

    Another interesting facet of FAIR is their approach to activism. First, they don’t generally advocate advertiser boycotts. They don’t oppose the tactic but they don’t think it’s appropriate for them as advocates of a freer press. Second, they generally don’t provide an online ability to generate a form e-mail letter to companies they call for actions against. The logic is that perhaps fewer people will write but the individual tone and content of the letters that are written will make them more effective. When clicking a button sends a letter, it’s easier for the corporate recipient to discount the identical message from large numbers of senders.
    FAIR’s belief is that the best answer to bad speech is more speech. We don’t insist that people whose opinions we disagree with should be silenced; we call for a full range of debate, where viewpoints from all parts of the political spectrum are treated by the same standard. This approach is tested by the hateful rhetoric that often spews forth from major commercial talk radio stations, sometimes crossing over into calls for violence.

    In these cases, our approach has been to ask the parent companies what, if any standards they have -- does the company have any rules regarding what they are willing to broadcast? Is the company willing to stand behind bigotry and violence as defensible free speech? Simply posing such question can provoke a media outlet to rethink what they have chosen to air. [ibid, p 16]
    Anyway, I think FAIR does good work and deserves support.

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