Scott Peterson and the American Media

I know far more than I’d like to about Scott Peterson. Recently, the jury in his murder trial ruled that Mr. Peterson should face the death penalty for killing his pregnant wife Laci. I think it’s significant that it’s only at this time that stations north of the border led with this news. In the CBC’s case, the media frenzy surrounding the Scott Peterson trial was as much the news story as Scott Peterson himself.

Who is Scott Peterson, why is he on the news and why do we care? Apparently, he was a California fertilizer salesman. He’s on the news because he killed his pregnant wife. Why do we care? Quite possibly because he has movie-star looks, he has committed a heinous crime that thrills as well as horrifies a subset of us, and he’s rich. He’s a fertilizer salesman, after all.

That’s right. CNN and Fox are feeding us lots and lots of fertilizer…

Some sources say that, after the invasion of Iraq, the Scott Peterson case was the most-followed news story in the United States and parts of the world. The CBC didn’t have to look too far to find another case where a Californian husband killed his pregnant wife; indeed, one such case took place within days of Laci Peterson’s death, but the family was poor and Hispanic, so nobody paid attention.

It would be easy for me to get on my high horse and smugly assert Canada’s moral superiority over its southern neighbour. But I would be judging Americans by their media, and that would be inaccurate and unfair.

Remember, I knew far more than I would have liked about the Scott Peterson case. I certainly wasn’t interested in following it, but I couldn’t avoid it. How many millions of Americans do you think ended up tuning into this case because they had little choice but to watch as the American media pounced like a pack of ravenous wolves?

I still don’t believe that the media has a political bias; that would require far more control than the media seems capable of. But it is becoming clearer to me that, outside of NPR and PBS, Americans are not well served by their media. At least, they’re not as well served as we are by our media. Not that I think we should get smug about this either, as here sits transparently corporate-driven CanWest Global, echoing the sensationalism of American media in their drive to attract more ratings.

It’s ironic that Americans’ growing distrust of their media often manifests itself as a belief that the media is politically biased as opposed to corporately biased. Some Americans would rather believe that their news is being manipulated by elected politicians who can be driven out of office every two years rather than corporate honchos who hold billions of dollars worth of power and face no accountability except to their shareholders. It’s possible that the media’s corporate masters may even want this to be so.

But even if not, the media’s corporate bias, its drive to gain as much profit as possible while spending as little money as possible on actual news reporting, is at the root of the problem. If we do not wish to follow in the footsteps of our American cousins, then we need a media outlet that is fully stocked with resources and is truly independent, not only from government control, but from the influence of advertisers and corporate litigators.

For better or for worse, we have that in the CBC, and America has it in NPR/PBS.

Whether you are a libertarian or a socialist, the free flow of information is vital to a functioning democracy. It must not be twisted or curtailed by government influence or corporate influence. The media’s primary responsibility must be to the truth, not ratings. Let such a media outlet have checks and balances up the wazoo, but let us be prepared to pay for our independent information source through our taxes.

I’m beginning to think this is the only way we can access everything, and trust the information we’re receiving.

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