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Monday, February 12

Cronkite decries push for profits

By Anick Jesdanun
Associated Press
NEW YORK - Pressures by media companies to generate ever-greater profits are threatening the very freedom the nation was built upon, former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite warned this week.

In a keynote address Thursday at Columbia University, Cronkite said today's journalists face greater challenges than those from his generation. No longer could journalists count on their employers to provide the necessary resources, he said, ``to expose truths that powerful politicians and special interests often did not want exposed.''

Instead, he said, ``they face rounds and rounds of job cuts and cost cuts that require them to do ever more with ever less.''

``In this information age and the very complicated world in which we live today, the need for high-quality reporting is greater than ever,'' he told journalism students and professionals at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. ``It's not just the journalist's job at risk here. It's American democracy. It is freedom.''

Cronkite said news accuracy has declined because of consolidations and closings that have left many American towns with only one newspaper. And as broadcasters cut budgets and air time for news, he said, ``we're all left with a sound-bite culture that turns political campaigns into political theater.''

The former anchor urged owners of media companies -- newspapers and broadcast alike -- to recognize they have special civil responsibilities.

``Consolidation and cost cutting may be good for the bottom line in the short term but that isn't necessarily good for the country or the health of the news business in the long term,'' he said.

Michael Copps, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, later said that looser broadcast regulations -- such as those that had required stations to regularly prove they serve the community interest -- have resulted in less local coverage, less diversity of opinion and fewer jobs for journalists over the past quarter century.

The FCC is considering relaxing the rules even more. The agency decided in June to reopen the hotly disputed issue of ownership limits, which currently restrict the number of radio and television stations that one owner can have as well as cross-ownership between newspapers and broadcasters.

"There is no such thing in America as an independent press... There is not one of you who dare to write his honest opinions, and if you did you know beforehand they would never appear in print... You know this and I know it... We are the tools and vassals of rich men... they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents... our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes." (US newspaper editor John Swinton, 1883.)

"The press plays a very significant role in maintaining and strengthening and justifying racism at all levels of society, providing a cover for racist activity." (The Runnymede Trust, London, 1989.)

"We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship of the press." (G.K.Chesterton.)

"Those fellows in the CIA don't just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own... They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they'll have something to report on... It's become a government all of its own and all secret. They don't have to account to anybody." (Harry Truman, quoted by Merle Miller in "Plain Speaking.")

"President Reagan and his news handlers have been making, shaping and faking news. This is an administration that has thought as much about news management, and practised as much disinformation as any in peacetime history. The milestones of its progress _ yellow rain, the El Salvador White Paper of 1961, the Pope plot, KAL 007, Sandinista gun running, stretch through the years." (The Wall Street Journal.)

"The minority, the ruling class at present, has the schools and press, usually the Church as well, under its thumb. This enable it to organise and sway the emotions of the masses, and to make its tool of them." (Albert Einstein.)

"Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return."
(William Randolph Hearst's correspondent Remington sent to Havana. 1890.)

"Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."
(William Randolph Hearst, in reply to his correspondent Remington in Havana. 1890.)

"The freedom of the press throughout the world where the capitalists rule, is the freedom to buy up newspapers, the freedom to buy writers, to buy and manufacture public opinion in the interests of the capitalists." (Lenin 1921.)

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