Thursday, September 11, 2008

Reflections on the press and democracy from afar

by 'A Fly On The Wall'

5000 miles away in Budapest, the concerns are the same as Lancaster’s (and elsewhere) as accomplished individuals in their early 40's bemoan the failure of the print media to perform its traditional "Fourth Estate" duties as a watchdog of the government, church and business establishments.

The head of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union points out the failure of Hungarian and other Eastern European newspapers and magazines to conduct serious investigatory reporting. He explains that reporters have to produce articles each week and are not allowed the two or three weeks required to research and investigate an important issue. Therefore, they are not sufficiently informed to ask perceptive questions. As a result, the print media uncritically report what they are told.

Further, their editors fear offending their advertisers. Unlike a century ago when profits depended upon "newsboys" competing on street corners, circulation today is based on home delivery and advertising is the key variable for profitability.

Sound familiar?

With few exceptions, newspapers and magazines have investors who seek the best possible rate of return on their investments. Capitalism is not built on idealism!

The civil liberties leader favors a web site that commissions journalists to conduct in depth studies of important topics and then publish them.

A McCaskey / Columbia University graduate who has resided in Hungary for fifteen years advocates a web site to monitor and critique published articles.

Both ideas are deemed worthy. So the matter becomes: From where will the money come to cover even the relatively modest costs of Internet publication? To combine both approaches into a single web site would require a budget of a $100,000 a year. (It would cost at least half again as much here in Lancaster.)

The discussion spotlights two of the most critical challenges to the furtherance and preservation of democracy and a constructive society: Will enlightened philanthropy support competition for self serving government and business interests and use the economical Internet to reach and inform the public?

And will the public, who tend individually to focus on its personal concerns, be willing to take the time to visit alternate sources of news and information?