Freedom of speech is second only to freedom of religion in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - the beginning of the Bill of Rights. Today however, the commercial nature of most media dictates against forthright speech. This might upset the advertisers who increasingly provide the media's raison d'etre.
Recently, the tuning on our radio slipped to an all-news AM station. Whoops! I was informed that if I bought a particular brand of gasoline, I would also get an American flag.
The last time our dial strayed from public radio, a rock and roll station was telling me to buy a certain brand of big-screen TV. Now I see why that dial's supposed to be kept on public radio.
Because it is most of the time, we stay fairly well-informed about what's going on around the world. Consequently, those two commercials had a particular dissonance.
Recent news about the huge, English-and-Dutch-owned oil company which is giving away these American flags, involved its extensive oil operations in Nigeria which provide much of the revenue for that country's military government. Last year, that government executed nine environmental activists who for years had fought that same oil company's abuse of their tribal homelands. Pools of oil on land and in rivers and large gas flares burning constantly are common there. Earlier last year, this oil giant was in the news because of its plan to dump an old production platform into the ocean in order to save money.
The television manufacturer is a large Japanese company which has been featured in the news because our government alleges that it allowed sexual harassment on an quot;outrageous scalequot; at its Normal, Illinois automobile plant. On public radio we hear about the former cabinet official who is currently helping the company to improve its practices and its image, while Jesse Jackson pushes the Japanese giant to adopt more sensitive and inclusive policies.
If you talk to people who know about global forest issues, however, you hear different news about this corporation. Besides manufacturing millions of cars and TVs, as well as cameras and beer, it is also cuts down large temperate rain forests. I'd heard of boycotts which accused it of being quot;one of the world's leading destroyers of rain forests.quot; Talking to a sustainable forester who works in South America, I found out that this company cuts down forests of 2,000 year old trees in Chile and grinds these majestic beauties into little chips to be shipped back to Japan for paper production. Apparently, it pays a similar disrespect to the old-growth forests in western Canada. Whether it's forests or women, there seems to be a definite pattern of abuse here.
Of course, these are just two ads for two companies. Given the enormous number of advertisements it takes to sustain a commercial station and the incredible range of brands and businesses owned by a single corporation, it is likely that there are other connections between large advertisers and global misdeeds, other patterns of abuse connected to many products.
Although the media tells us about protests over narrow issues such as too few benefits for domestic partners or too many benefits for CEOs, the larger picture of the range of activities and effects of a single corporation is rarely presented. The commercial media are too dependent on the dollars from ads for gasoline, cars, TVs, salad dressing and cookies to present the widespread patterns in behavior that few of us would tolerate.
Because corporations have gradually assummed the status of citizens in our democracy, and all the rights that go along with that, the issue is fairly complicated. With their tremendous wealth and skill, through PACs, charitable donations, and public relations and advertising might, corporations have a powerful effect on the nature of any debate.
Information is one of the best allies for creating responsible citizens. The first-hand knowledge we get from our gardens and other positive work is very important to our understanding of many larger issues.
Waving a flag obtained from a company whose other foreign operations support the opposite of democratic behavior, is ironic at best, and reprehensible at worst.
For help in making important connections when you listen to or read the news, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Information, Please, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth.
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