Q&A with Emmy winner Sue Wilson
How do large corporate entities impact the news that we watch, hear and read every day? Why is freedom of the press such an important cornerstone of our country’s democracy?
These are questions Emmy-winning broadcaster and whistle-blowing filmmaker Sue Wilson has posed to citizens across the nation over the years.
Tonight, Wilson will lead a lively discussion on how local residents can help to reform the media, and improve the quality and integrity of news.
“Our very democracy depends on we the people receiving all the facts, not just those which support the corporate point of view,” she said.
Held at 7 p.m. today at the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley, the event is sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center and UUCM Social Action Committee, and will include a showing of the award-winning film “Shadows of Liberty,” followed by a short discussion with refreshments.
Wilson says the film delves into many of the same themes her 2009 film “Broadcast Blues” addresses, such as how corporate interests affect reporting.
The Union talked with Wilson, founder of the Media Action Center, about her experiences as a journalist and her views on media reform.
(This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: As an Emmy-winning broadcaster, you’ve spoken before some large audiences and cities around the country. Why come to Grass Valley?
A: I would go just about anywhere because I think this whole topic about, what is news? What is truth in news? What are facts in news? What is misinformation in news? What is propaganda in news? These topics, to me, every person in this country should have on their minds, but few people do. I just think it’s just such an important topic that I’ve spent half my life educating people about what’s gone wrong, especially in broadcast news.
Q: At what point, as a journalist, did you start to form a perspective that something was wrong with the media in our country?
A: I had an experience one time with a corporate owner who was a boss of mine years ago. I was covering a murder trial and they told me to spin the coverage to make the accused person look guilty. I never did know why … I refused to do it. It opened my eyes to what large corporate interests are doing. We’ve gotten to a system where families and smaller entities used to own these newspapers and broadcasters, to now typically there’s a big corporation that owns a big block of what we the people get as news. How often is this happening? It may be happening a great deal more than it used to.
Q: When people critique the media they seem to use the term “mainstream media.” What does that term mean to you?
A: We used to think of mainstream media as three big networks and the New York Times and The Washington Post. Mainstream media is all of that media that reaches lots and lots of people. Today what we’re saying is you have to think about corporate media, because it’s a corporation, and corporations have their own agenda which they wish to push. If they can control all the mainstream media outlets to further that agenda, then that becomes a problem for you, and me, and everybody else. So we hope that there are organizations and newspapers that are willing to go up against the corporations and report truth, and whatever happens be damned.
Q: Politically, do you think mainstream media is more liberal than conservative, or vice versa?
A: They did focus groups on this term “liberal media” years back, and they found that it tested very powerfully and that they could raise a lot of ire by attacking the “liberal media.” I’m not going to say there is no liberal media, but I’m certainly not going to say there is no conservative media. I think that since that time when they decided to make the media a political football, it has been extremely harmful to democracy. Instead of creating a set of facts and have everybody opine of what those facts mean, you now have two sides in many cases, playing politics. We’ve gone from a time when we could sit around the kitchen table and discuss facts, to a time now where facts are whatever the guy on the television told you that you agree with, and that’s not really healthy … We all share almost the same values but we’ve been trained to argue about these small margins that have divided us into this terribly warring nation.
Q: To piggyback on that, do you think broadcast audiences understand the difference between a commentator and a journalist?
A: No, I don’t think any more that they can. I think once upon a time when shows were formatted in a different way, and that would have been pre-1987, we had the fairness doctrine and it stemmed from broadcasting. They put special rules in place for broadcasters, that if you’re going to be discussing controversial issues, matters important to the public you have to offer time to the opposing view. You would have a moderator seen as a journalist and people arguing from the same set of facts and giving their point of view. Once we lost that, I think people are becoming more confused and they tend to trend toward whatever their viewpoint or world view is, and they will listen to those people that they agree with.
Q: So what do regular citizens do? What do people within the media do to change what you call corporate media impacting news practices?
A: The people in the media, when we go to our editors and news directors, I find amongst the newsrooms themselves there is an enormous amount of integrity. But when you’ve got a boss on the top it’s a tough street to walk when you’re a reporter and your news department knows what the facts are and everybody wants to report those facts, but big daddy corporate owner goes “No, no, no, no,” what do you do? … It’s a very tough situation.
But with people outside of the media I have seen local residents that have seen something egregious in news coverage and have protested, and I have seen that tactic work.
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User