Aya Saed | Should a point of view have a dollar value?
Seeds of Reason | Advertisements in the media tell us that free speech is rarely free
February 9, 2012, 10:30 pm·
Seeds of Reason
During the Super Bowl, corporations paid an average of $3.5 million in exchange for 30 seconds of your divided attention. What glitz were we granted, you may ask? A sexy M&M telling us to eat her and swimsuit-clad supermodel Adriana Lima with a bunch of fast cars racing around her. In other words, absolutely nothing worthwhile or memorable.
Over the last week, in a similarly problematic fashion, The Daily Pennsylvanian has been inundating its audience with ads from organizations such as the David Horowitz Freedom Center — a well-funded but ideologically dangerous organization. In fact, it was profiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation’s leading organization fighting hate groups, as part of the “Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.”
In past years, the DP has refused to publish other hateful ads by people like Bradley Smith, founder of the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust. Smith’s organization questions the validity of certain Holocaust claims. The same moral compass that was used to prohibit such discriminatory content, however, was not applied to the Horowitz ads.
An organization equipped with money should not have the right to spew hatred and bigotry on college campuses through its media.
Ideologies aside, when media outlets are run like corporations, problems can arise. It’s simple: when the highest bidder has the loudest vote, interests can clash. A newspaper may want to spark discussion, but this can come at the expense of offending its community of readers.
“I have been appalled and disheartened by the diminishing sense of respect in our public and political discourses,” Africana Center Director and English professor James Peterson wrote in an email. “If you consider the racialized discourses in the Republican presidential campaign, the anti-China Hoekstra ad, or the utter disregard for women’s reproductive rights in the current discussions directed against the [Health and Human Policy], it becomes clear that we are regressing in our collective ability to engage in open dialogue about critical progressive issues.”
Given the many issues our society is burdened with solving, our media outlets should be open spaces for dialogue that do not answer to well-funded organizations with strong opinions. In an ideal world, opinion-driven ads would not have a place next to objective news content.
Alternative media outlets and platforms have attempted to “counter certain discursive trends in the public sphere and to give voice to those who are fighting for women’s rights, racial equality and general respect for humanity,” Peterson said.
As students in a metropolitan center, we do not have to veer far to find alternate media outlets. Organizations such as the Media Mobilizing Project have been providing an open space for the otherwise voiceless citizens of Philadelphia to engage in public discourse for years. MMP has established community-generated blogs, radio shows and a TV show that aim to end poverty by mobilizing poor and working people of all colors.
“Too often, the people of our city and beyond stand alone in silence, divided and isolated,” MMP Digital Inclusion Director and Web Strategist Bryan Mercer said. “When we share our stories for the purposes of educating, organizing and network building. It becomes possible to disrupt the stereotypes and structures that keep us divided and to build a powerful movement in which our different fronts of struggle become one.”
MMP is an example of an organization that generates news content while simultaneously building a strong and open community — something that all traditional media outlets should not lose sight of. Rather than favoring well-endowed organizations that have the ability to publish potentially hurtful ads, publications have the duty to level the playing field and ensure that all sides of the debate may voice their opinion.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no qualms with free speech, since I am obviously utilizing that right as you read. What I ask of you, however, is to think critically about what you hear, read and watch. And above all, to ask your media outlets to adopt higher standards.