I recently saw the Italian documentary Viva Zapatero. It should be seen by every American, showing as it does the ease with which Italy slid into being a politically censored society because of Silvio Berlusconi's monopoly ownership of the media.
The film describes the struggles of Sabina Guzzanti, whose satirical show was canceled after a single night despite the fact that the show's ratings were huge and the public obviously loved it.
It was fascinating to hear government and media spokesmen trying to justify the cancellation. They argued that, "people don't want that kind of show" (despite the ratings), that it was in poor taste, etc., and tied themselves in knots trying to redefine satire to de-legitimize the show. They even criticized Guzzanti for not presenting opposing viewpoints. Sound familiar? How often we hear that an alternative viewpoint should never be aired on TV unless an opposing opinion--the one drummed into us every day from government sources--is aired along with it.
There were three lessons to be learned from this movie. First, the obvious one about media control. It's no accident that Bush's strongest support comes from areas of the country where a range of viewpoints in news sources is virtually nonexistent.
Our mainstream media are already hopelessly corrupt. As Al Gore points out, while scientific studies over a 30-year period have been unanimous in warning us about global warming, the media have consistently and fraudulently presented it as a controversy. And when the link between smoking and cancer was discovered in 1957, the media managed to cover it up, downplay it, or flatly deny it for decades. Fox News is little more than an outlet for government propaganda, and telling the truth on any private network is grounds for dismissal if it reflects negatively on a corporation that is, or might one day be, a sponsor.
The second lesson is that Berlusconi achieved his position not just through his own efforts, but with the collusion of shortsighted and corrupt center-left political leaders--a host of Lieberman types who cared more about their careers than the welfare of the nation and its people.
The third lesson is the importance of the internet. In Italy Guzzanti managed to get her message across by previewing other shows on the Internet and then having them shown in theatres everywhere to sell-out crowds. Authoritarian politicos and media moguls around the world are unceasing in their efforts to gain control over the Internet, and our resistance to these attempts must be equally unceasing. The Internet is the most important refuge of democracy amid the authoritarianism of the Bush-Cheney junta