Monday, January 24, 2011

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow; Media, Ethics, and False Equivalency

While we're well aware that yesterday and today are considered by some to be the most depressing days of the year, the blues and the chill that some of you feel likely had nothing to do with the season.

In case you hadn't heard, Keith Olbermann, the most well-known left-leaning media figure on television, abruptly left his position at MSNBC last Friday night. While there were some in the right-wing media who were jumping up and down in unmasked glee, there were also a number of conservative commentators who have generally kept their mouths shut and their keyboards silent over this issue - for good reason.

The sudden and mostly unexpected departure of Olbermann isn't a petty issue over internal corporate policies, as was Mr. Olbermann's temporary suspension last autumn. This time, it was not a straw, but the impending corporate yoke that broke the commentator's back.

Last week, the FCC and the Justice Department lowered the final regulatory hurdles to allow giant cable and internet provider Comcast to complete its purchase of NBC/Universal, one of the largest television and movie corporations in America. As multiple sources have confirmed, it was made clear, on more than one occasion by Comcast corporate executives, that when Comcast took ownership of NBCU, they would (and will) meddle in the content of programming on NBC, MSNBC, or pretty much any program or any channel they choose.

In short, Comcast corporate executives seem to see no problem with corporate censorship - not so that their corporation remains in compliance with laws regarding broadcasting and free speech, but so that corporate executives can censor, limit, and eliminate the opinions of those employees who disagree with the opinions of management.

Simply put, Mr. Olbermann refused to bow to such offensive censorship rules - so he left before Comcast legally took the MSNBC reins this week, as a knowledgable colleague confirmed Sunday morning on a different network.

If the topic of censorship in the media seems to ring a bell with you, it wouldn't surprise us.

After the attempted assassination in Arizona a few weeks ago, many people in right-wing media attempted to claim - falsely - that calls for civility, even from those on their own political side, were simply attempts to silence their First Amendment rights. We highly doubt many of these same organizations or individuals will be calling for the reinstatement of Mr. Olbermann's First Amendment rights any time soon.

Censorship - whether it comes from the government, as those on the right fear, or from corporations who have a stranglehold on the media, as those on the left fear - has the same effect on our society, regardless of the origins of such constraints.

Just as gun owners do not have a right to do anything they wish with firearms wherever they choose, corporations have no right to limit the free speech of their employees in the manner that drove Mr. Olbermann out.

Mr. Olbermann's departure should also make it blindingly clear to those who've claimed there is some kind of equivalency between the extremely right-wing Fox News Channel and Mr. Olbermann's now-former employer MSNBC that no such parallel exists in America.

Our concern over Comcast owning NBCU was not just that of corporate censorship, or of net neutrality issues, but also of a severe chilling of the members of the media from being able to do their jobs, whatever their political proclivities might be.

While it may be different for you, the chill in the air we began feeling this weekend most assuredly had little to do with the season.

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