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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 3, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, our conversation with "democracy now!" cohosts, juan gonzalez, who has a new tax, "news for all the people." he traces race in medium and talks about the shrinking number of media outlets controlled by people of color. juan gonzalez, coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is
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proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy empowerment one conversation at because a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: juan gonzalez is here. "news for all the people," which he co-authors the book. you all right? >> fine. tavis: there is a lot of research to pull all of this
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data together. what made you think that there was worth, value, necessity in doing all of this about race and the american media? why does it matter? >> i think many americans are satisfied with what they are getting from the system, but it is especially among people of color, asian americans feeling almost assaulted on a daily basis by the kind of news and coverage that is especially in the mainstream commercial media. they are still denigrated. they feel marginalized. they feel that their struggle in america is not properly represented, and i have been in the commercial media for 35 years as well as being a dissident, with another at "democracy now!" we feel frustrated with the
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american press representing our people. from the very beginning of our press and why it has been so difficult to have a fair and representative press in the area. tavis: you use some strong language. assaulted, denigrated. marginalized. why do they feel this way? >> the media is constantly portraying us as the other, as the problem, whether it is with immigration, arab-americans and muslims in the country, the sense that -- slaves against their masters. people of color have consistently been portrayed as
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the other, as the threat, and this has the impact of the young people growing up in these communities. >> i use the phrase "people of color" oftentimes in my discourse, and there is value in using it. sometimes it is relevant to a broad swath of the american public. in other times, it is just a short cut, but there are differences. how is it that you go about writing a text that puts all of that together under the umbrella of -- >> we try to tell the separate stories as well as the common experiences. the african-american press, the latin americans. also, the conflicts within the groups. there were often conflicts over class within the different
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ethnic and racial groups, but there is a commonality among them, which is, unfortunately, as our nation expanded across the continents end increasingly acquired more territory, the subjugation of the peoples in those territories became a huge part of the theme of american journalism, so we were able to on the one hand look at the differences. the cherokee indians at a press that was constantly talking about opposing the white settlement. they were supportive of the slave system. we look at both the commonalities of the experiences of the groups as well as the differences. we do not hide any of the problems that occurred. >> you have heard this a lot of times.
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the liberal media bias. we say often there is a capitalism media bias. in other words, all they want to do is make money. in multi ethnic america, the most ever, it is not because it is the right thing to do. why not correct this problem for the sake of making money, given that this is to the audience is more and more? >> as more and more consumers are becoming african-american, latino, as that portion of the country is growing, there is more interest in marketing to them, but this was more about --
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from the very early days, there were debates about how news and information should flow in a democracy, and interestingly, they had a conversation about whether they would receive information in the newspapers with government help and government subsidy, and this involved washington, jefferson, franklin, all of the founders, with big differences among them, and we find there is a very important role in the media policy, and in the early days, it was a good decision. increasingly, that centralized information flow, and it allowed companies to get bigger and bigger. ownership by racial minorities, radio stations, television stations, it has declined. the number of african-american and latino journalists working in newsrooms has declined.
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what we're seeing is the centralization of media ownership results in fewer african-american and latino voices being heard. this allows democracy to flourish, allows a dissident and different viewpoints to be heard, and allows groups to be heard by the rest of america. >> i want to come back to the point you make so brilliantly about the government's role in this process. you are making i think the case i am trying to make, which is if for no other reason than you like making money, how you continue to drive and survive in the future in this multiracial and small flight -- multi ethnic what used to be white plays called america if you do not respond people of color as consumers if you care about making money? do you follow? >> the companies want to have us
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as consumers, but they do not want to promote the necessity, the importance of disparate voices and a democratic republic. tavis: how do they get away with it? >> unfortunately, this is a movement in america, which in the 1960's and 19 70's held them accountable, it has become disarmed to some degree. between 1971 and 1973, there were 340 licensed challenges to the station licenses of radio and television stations, african-americans and latinos who walked in and said, "we are sick and tired of the kind of programming you have. we are sick and tired that you do not have programs for us. they fought to open those places up, and the companies responded.
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what did the government do? it used to be that a government license had to be renewed every three years. the expanded it to eight years. they made it more difficult for this effort of accountability to occur, and so now, what you have is the media companies are sliding backward. they are not being held responsible for their public interests to provide news and information, to provide quality children's programs. no one is gauging how much time they are devoted to commercials rather than to content, so the safeguards that existed before to insure that the public airwaves were used to serve a public function, they have been whittled away, so they are able to develop the consumers, to exploit the market, but they are not being held responsible for their public interest requirements and also the citizen movement has become
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disarmed. unfortunately, too many of our civil rights organizations, which used to stand up against a media concentration. the comcasts and time warners and other media companies, and they are now less confrontational to big media. tavis: when you say, and i am paraphrasing, that the government has been a friend to the media business of late, during the bush years, these policies got much more lax. you lay this out. between the bush years, the world's got much more lax. the fcc gave them a pass on many things. what you call centralization, i call monopoly, so it becomes more monopolistic. i respect his mother and father, but michael powell, an african- american was head of the fcc, son of colin powell.
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they let this happen and let the rules get more blacks are running the fcc. he is no longer there. -- lecter rules get more -- let the rules get more lax at running. >> when barack obama was running for office, he utilize the new media to a great extent to be able to mobilize the massive extent of people to support him, and he also promised that he would fight for a free and open internet. really, the battle in the media today is over the future of the internet as a voice, video, and print all converge on the internet, and unfortunately, here is the chairman that does not have a good record on this. the issue right now is on the internet, will the people who control the pipes through which
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all of the information flows to your smartphone and your computer, your television set, will they be able to speed up or slow down content over the internet depending on what people are able to pay? if you're able to pay, your website or my website or anyone else's website can be accessed at the same speed as the cnn website, as the l.a. times website, but the major media companies, if they have their way, it will be possible for them to speak up or slow down sites depending on who pays the most, and therefore, small entrepreneurs, racial minorities, people who do not have the cash to pay, they will be slowed down, and we're going to begin to recreate the same kind of inequities, economic inequities and racial inequities that existed. we are going to find it replicated in the new media, and
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less government policy ensures an open, nondiscriminatory internet, and unfortunately, the obama administration and the leader are talking one way, but they are allowing much more of their agenda at the fcc. tavis: you said something, which was in the news a few weeks ago, and i wanted to ask your take on it and what your co-author had to say about it in the text. al sharpton was being considered for the job at msnbc. "the new york times" ran a number of major stories about the role al sharpton had as one of those civil rights leaders, the role that he and others played, the naacp and other organizations, the approval to purchase nbc.
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you said back in the day, black folk did not use to do that. they used to complain. now, they're finding out a way to go after these civil-rights leaders, go after these organizations, and i am not going to say buy them off, but figure out to get their approval, so they can get approval for these mergers. this becomes a front-page story. he is going to work for the company potentially that he signed off on or supported publicly being able to purchase, msnbc. that became a national story. i come back to this because it was in the news prior to that and i am sure will be again in the future, but what has happened that has allowed a black and brown, all kinds of organizations -- i am not demonizing just black folk or black organizations -- but what has happened that allows them whose communities are not being well served by these networks to
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sign off on all of these mergers. >> is really frustrating, because given the role that the civil rights organizations played it to see what is happening now, to some degree, you can understand. government programs have been cut. many of the civil rights organizations are doing good work, and they are looking for support, and along comes the time warner, along comes a comcast, along comes an at&t or verizon, it gives money to the scholarship program, helps their building funds, and they may not even understand the full impact of what they are doing, but they agreed to sign off. in the case of reverend sharpton, i have great admiration for what he has done. i think it is terrific yes got a new show. but in the old days, the civil rights organizations would have said to give us a show and show as you are going to good
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program, but we won a proof. >> they did have some that they put together. i did not get into all the details, but they have a committee. non-binding agreements. >> going in a different direction. when it was tied to license challenges, and the companies made written agreements that were binding, then a new policy in the same media company could not change direction. it was a lot more difficult to do it. i think what is happening is that these civil-rights organizations unfortunately are not maintaining the kind of consistent and direct approach to the companies that ensures a long term substantive change in
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the quality of the program. and then the mergers occur. tavis: with all the well-to-do blacks, well-to-do asians, tell me why there are fewer stations, fuel outlets, fewer newspapers owned of people of color than in the past. how is this possible? >> once again, i believe it comes down to government policy. in the 1970's, the carter administration began a series of policy decisions at the fcc that provided an incentive for a media company to sell a station to a minority owner or to get a tax credit. it was called the minority tax credit, and suddenly, the number of minority stations owned by african-americans and latinos increased dramatically.
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during the gingrich revolution in congress, the first thing that they do is the eliminate the minority tax credit at the fcc, and from that time since then, the percentage of minority ownership in radio and television has gone down, and increasingly now, these huge mergers in companies that are also not just television companies but newspaper companies, as well, they ever eaten up a lot of the spanish- language press in america. most of the spanish press is not owned by latinos. walker -- telemundo is owned by -- another, foreign ownership. we are in a situation where the white population of the united states will be a minority of the
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country, but despite the amazing growth of the non-white population of the united states, a minority ownership is decreasing. >> i am not naïve and asking this question, but my white brothers and sisters can clearly look at what they are putting on the air every night and see that pretty much it is all day, all night, all white. there are so few people of color who get a chance to ask the questions, to profile people who want to be profile. if you are one of these networks, you are sitting it in your office and see this all day long. i am not not even asking this, but how is it that this it's justified that is it changing demographically so fast? >> it is astounding to me that that continues, but i think the problem is that we do not understand, many of us -- i concluded that i did not
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understand the system after 35 years of being in it. tavis: hence, the book. >> you have to go back and see that and the critical role that government policy has played. we have not had a free market in the media. we have had government decisions. every time a new technology comes on the scene, whether it is the telegraph or early radio or cable television or the internet, the new technology destabilizes the existing order, forces a new information system to be developed, and the government has to be ripe -- rewrite the rules. tavis: and when they do so, it is to enforce the status quo. >> sometimes they win victories. you can win victories, as was done in the 1970's. it resulted in people like ed
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bradley getting on the air and geraldo rivera. the first generation of african- americans and latinos that came into television was as a result of the protests against these companies. >> i can imagine those watching to say that this conversation is futile because with all respect to tavis and juan, thanks to barack obama, we live in a post rish of america, and we are out of step. it this is -- i have said many times that i and members of the media, people of color, or the media of color is more relevant and more necessary now than ever before. that is my sense, because there are some questions that do not get asked if we do not ask them, some topics that do not get addressed if we do not address them, and some people who will never get profiled if we do not profile them.
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but how do you get to that where we do not need this? >> you get it even from young progressive white people who say this is identity politics. that is from another era. but what we discovered is that this has been a consistent cried throughout the history of the united states, when in 1827 they created the first black newspaper, "freedom's journal," their first was to say too long have other spoken for us. we have been denigrated. the same issue has been raised. too long have other spoken for us. if this is post ratio, why have there been such a consistent problem, and i think it is the
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same, whether it is with the heroes and the heroines of the asian press and the native american press and they must have a platform. tavis: we only have a few minutes to go. i could do this for hours. any reason, given that government is the real culprit, any reason to be helpful -- hopeful? >> absolutely. the main arc of the american press as been for the news for the few and the powerful. there has been progress. sometimes it has gone backward for a while, but generally speaking, more and more people people are getting a sense. you see a determination to change the system.
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>> i have said many times what we did in america is not broadcast, it is narrowcast. there is this powerful new book that is called "news for all the people." i highly recommend it to you. juan, great book. that is it from our show. as always, keep the faith. today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with mark bowden and lisa randall. that is next time. we will see you then.
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>> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> be more. pbs.
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