FAIR says PBS shafts the public

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As if the Saab commercials and endless props to the multitude of underwriters weren’t enough to convince you that public television is already hopelessly commercial, now there’s a study to validate your feelings on the subject. The study, conducted by Prof. William Hoynes of Vassar College and released by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), found that PBS programming is becoming increasingly business oriented and elitist.

Hoynes analyzed two weeks of PBS news broadcasting, tallying up the topics covered and the “type” of people interviewed on the air. Hoynes, who conducted a similar study in 1992, found that the percentage of sources from “corporate America or Wall Street” (36.3 percent) had nearly doubled in the past seven years. The percentage of female sources, on the other hand, had fallen slightly to 21.5 percent.

The study also reveals that political coverage relies almost exclusively on testimony from government officials (50.2 percent), professionals (31.2 percent — overwhelmingly journalists) and corporate or Wall Street representatives (11 percent), leaving little room for other perspectives. Opinions from consumer, environmental, or labor advocates, for example, were almost never included.

Finally, the report slams PBS’s economic coverage for being focused nearly exclusively on “business class” issues and representatives, while “citizen activists” or people from the “general public” each make up about 5 percent of the voices heard on “public” television.



More kids homeless than during Depression

July 1

A report in the LOS ANGELES TIMES (reprinted in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE) reveals that more than 1 million American children are homeless, the largest number since the Great Depression. It is curious to note that such a statistic comes at a time when the stock market is hitting its highest numbers ever and the economy is enjoying an unprecedented surge in growth, quite unlike those dark days of the 1930s.

“The face of homelessness in this country has changed dramatically,” said Ellen Bassuk, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and president of the Better Homes Fund, which produced the report, “Homeless Children: America’s New Outcasts.”

The report, which was released at the Second National Conference on Women, further posits that about 40 percent of the homeless today are women and children, and that they compose the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/1999/07/01/MN8465 0.DTL&type=printable


Navajos say gov’t cheated on coal deal

June 30

Last week, the Navajo Indian Nation filed a lawsuit in US District Court against the world’s largest private coal producer, the Peabody Group. According to THE WASHINGTON POST, the suit charges the company with “‘corruption’ of a federal administrative appeal… and interference with the fiduciary trust relationship between the US government and the Navajo Nation.”

The dispute goes back to 1984, when the Nation sought to renegotiate its royalty rate for the coal, which then stood at 2 percent. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) studied the issue and determined that the Navajos were entitled to receive royalties equivalent to 20 percent of the coal’s value.

But the Navajos were never told of the judgement. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, then-Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel buried news of the decision.

After meeting with a Peabody lobbyist, Hodel then allowed the company to negotiate directly with the Nation. The company promptly got a better deal. The new agreement gave the Navajos a 12.5 percent royalty rate (the federal minimum) — 7.5 percent less than BIA’s earlier judgement.

Company executives responding to the lawsuit said that the Navajo and Hopi Nations receive more than $40 million per year in royalties and taxes. Peabody’s Vice President said, “we are confident that the lawsuit is without merit, and our intent is to aggressively defend our actions.”



Florida’s faulty electric chair

June 29

Lawyers for two convicted killers are in the unenviable position today of arguing before the Florida Supreme Court that the state’s electric chair may not instantly kill their clients.

The reason is that the Department of Corrections failed to make a $265,000 repair that was recommended in April, according to the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Noting that the electric chair malfunctioned several times during tests in January, the lawyers contend that use of the glitchy chair constitutes cruel or unusual punishment. Indeed, when Florida electrocuted an inmate two years ago, flames shot out of his head — while he was still alive.

Lawyers for the state Attorney General’s office claim that “Old Sparky” — the cutesy nickname for Florida’s 76-year-old killing machine — is in “excellent condition.”



World bank burns poor nations

June 28

The World Bank is sponsoring environmentally hazardous medical waste incineration programs in developing countries, according to a report released last week by the Multinationals Resource Center (MRC). The Washington DC-based group is a member of Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of more than 180 organizations dedicated to reducing pollution-generating practices in the medical field.

The World Bank’s Dangerous Medicine: Promoting Medical Waste Incineration in Third World Countries details how the Bank and its sister agency, the International Finance Corporation, have sponsored health-sector projects that promote medical waste incineration — a practice that is being phased out in the United States partly due to public health concerns — in 20 different countries from South America to Africa. The incineration of medical waste releases toxins such as dioxin and mercury into the atmosphere; the EPA has, in fact, specifically identified these incinerators as a leading source of dioxin and mercury pollution in the U.S. food supply.

The authors of the report charge that the World Bank “rountinely continues to include…incinerators in its health sector projects,” despite the toxic pollution they generate and the availablity of safer, more economical waste-treatment options. The fact that the Bank promotes the practice at the same time that it is becoming obsolete in most industrial countries “perpetuates a double standard in which Northern citizens are afforded a higher degree of environmental and public health protection than Third World citizens.”




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