MEDIA BRANDS: Creating a biased news organisation is not the answer to the media's lack of credibility.

What is a news organization?

What is a news organization?

Any thoughtful journalist must be wrestling with this question, as anyone with an internet connection can publish something that looks like news. But at least as impactful as the rise of phenomena like blogs in diluting brands as credible and far-reaching as CNN and The New York Times has been the ongoing assault on the so-called liberal media elite. Unexpectedly, the next and perhaps most important volley in this battle may be fired not by a conservative academic or journalist with an ax to grind, but by the National Rifle Association. Reacting in pique to the to the Supreme Court's decision late last year to uphold restrictions on advertising during election seasons, NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre threatened that his organization may skirt the law by buying a broadcast outlet to reach its 4 million members. "If the so-called bill says I can't make commercials, then I'll make newscasts," LaPierre told reporters last month. The FCC would, of course, have some say in the matter if the NRA follows through. But even if this is just hot air in the wake of a ruling that clearly hamstrings the NRA's communication efforts, the notion of such a powerful lobbying organization creating its own nationwide bullhorn that by definition is biased is provocative. It's also alarming, the more so when you consider the indignant way in which LaPierre has thus far talked about the matter. Aside from his cynical and misguided conviction that there's no difference between ads and news content, there's an apparent disdain for the spirit of the Court's ruling on McCain-Feingold that, coming from the head of an organization that regularly wraps itself in the US Constitution, is especially unsavory. More than just a matter of regulatory and constitutional law, this could be an intimation of where the next front of the cultural war may be. The establishment media has been discredited to the point where the following comment from LaPierre is no longer shocking: "The idea of where people get their news has changed. Who's to say CNN is any more credible [than the NRA at] delivering news about firearms and hunting?" An easy answer is reporters whose salaries are paid by gun lobbyists may have a rough time covering a major social issue objectively. But that's beside the point, and it's certainly not to say that Disney owning ABC and its news division is an arrangement that inspires warm feeling about the media. Nor does the predominance of liberal-thinking journalists in newsrooms. The answer to these problems is not to flood the airwaves with propaganda. The real issues are whether the laissez-faire FCC will see the potential dangers in these kinds of endeavors when they arise, whether the traditional media can recover its reputation, and whether Americans - even those passionate about certain issues - will see that one bias is not an acceptable substitute for another. -matthew.creamer@prweek.com

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