The ‘toaster’ is overheating

By Lauren Vincent

Fair and balanced once actually meant fair and balanced. There was once a time, long, long ago, when journalism was the fourth estate and policies were made to protect the public interest. It seems like an unrealistic fantasy now that cable companies and networks are forming alliances and withdrawing every bone that’s been thrown to us in recent television history.

Media consolidation has been occurring for the last few decades, a result of the deregulation begun under President Ronald Reagan. The dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine, which required that television and radio broadcasters ensure that each viewpoint was heard when covering controversial issues, was only the tip of the iceberg. Further, since Mark Fowler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at that time, declared the television to be nothing but “a toaster with pictures,” why regulate just another household appliance?

Never mind that the “toaster” reached millions of American homes and was a main source of knowledge of current events for many, and shaped perceptions in the public mind. It was a far cry from the birth of the Fairness Doctrine, in 1949, when networks were considered public trustees. Now the business-friendly atmosphere of the Reagan era gave the media industry an amount of power that was unprecedented, allowing owners to yield unlimited influence over what went in and what was left out of the messages going to the public.

Today we have what many consider a hegemony of media – meaning dominant people and groups exert influence over others. According to media-watchdog group Free Press, the Big Six are Disney, CBS, General Electric (which owns NBC), Viacom (which owns MTV), News Corp. (which owns Fox) and Time Warner (who own Warner Brothers). These are corporations, not public trustees anymore. CEOs like Rupert Murdoch have their eye on the bottom line and are trying to make as much money as possible. So what do we get? Sensationalized media that’s sure going to keep us entertained, but not exactly informed.

This is evidenced by Fox News and CNN’s recent coverage of Anjem Choudary, an extremist who is advocating the adoption of Sharia Law in the United States. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Sharia Law is the moral code that influences law and policy in most Muslim countries. Searching this man’s name on FoxNews.com yields 14 results, while searching CNN.com yields 13. Why do we care about him?

Obviously and undoubtedly, the United States will never adopt Sharia Law. This one man advocating an unpopular point of view will clearly not gain ground in a secular country. Given that Christianity is the dominant religion in this country – its holidays are the only ones considered national ones, while every president in U.S. history has been Christian – and anti-abortion activists have not yet managed to reverse Roe v. Wade based on Christian principles, it is not plausible that the government will be convinced by Anjem Choudary that the U.S. needs to follow the Islamic moral code. So why treat him as a threat?

There are extremists of every kind and yet a non-violent Islamic radical is one which the media decides to pay attention to. It is a clear effort to continue the polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims that our country endures today. Just as the seemingly endless fight over the “Ground Zero mosque” gained a media spotlight for so long, this kind of thing will further fuel the fire and depict the discussion as Muslim versus American.

Choudary appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity” and over half of the interview is him and Sean Hannity yelling over each other to be heard. What are Americans supposed to learn from this? How is this effective? It’s only effective in painting the Muslim religion as barbaric and extreme as Sean Hannity lists Choudary’s beliefs, without the network giving us another picture of Islam.

The point is that this isn’t news. It’s a child-like argument being broadcast on national TV as if it were. This solitary British man wants a policy change from the United States. Since when does that mean it’s going to happen? Many more people want same-sex marriage to be legal in every state and that hasn’t happened yet; while it is a far more reasonable request, at least in my opinion and I assume in the minds of many. The fear-mongering of cable news networks provides a narrative of Muslim vs. Christian, which is translated into Muslim vs. American. Fox News strategic analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters said on the O’Reilly Factor: “I am sick of hearing that Islam is a religion of peace.

Well, if Islam is a religion of peace, fine, start acting peaceful. But I haven’t seen a lot of Southern Baptist suicide bombers lately, and I will not stand for moral relativism. Nine-eleven wasn’t our fault; it was fanatics who attacked our country because they hate what we stand for.” What this is to me is a generalization of Muslims as terrorists and Christians as peaceful, and therefore Muslims hate America.

This is one example of how the media can push a certain agenda on us. The limited viewpoint is a symptom of media conglomeration. It’s interesting to see the American coverage of the Middle East protests in comparison with Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language news network. I suggest to anyone interested in expanding their horizons to explore alternative media. Research the newspaper you’re reading or the TV show you’re watching and find out who owns it, and see if you notice a difference.

Lauren Vincent is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]