Bountiful Bristol Bulletin

Corporate media kills! by andykisaragi
January 31, 2007, 6:21 pm
Filed under: international, media


Good headline eh?

Democracy Now! reported last Thursday on a train crash in Minot, North Dakota back in 2002. A 112-car train was derailed and an explosion leaked hazardous chemicals – 240,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia – into the atmosphere, leaving a plume of vapour drifting through the town. Anhydrous ammonia burns eyes, skin and lungs on a brief exposure – prolonged exposure can shut down the respiratory system entirely. Hundreds in the town were hospitalised; one was killed.

So far, so horrible. But what’s this got to do with the media?

Well, all six of the town’s local radio stations were owned by media giant Clearchannel. When the train derailed and the town started to fill with noxious gases, panic ensued. Residents who called 911 were told to listen to KCJB, the town’s designated local emergency broadcaster, for instructions. When they tuned in they were surprised to hear nothing but the usual smooth talking djs and Britney classics. Tune to the other local stations. Smooth talking. Britney classics.

See it turned out that none of these ‘local’ stations were local at all – they were just pre-recorded shows piped in from outside the state. There was nobody in the KCJB studios or offices to raise the alarm, nor at any of the other Clearchannel-owned stations.

It’s a good little parable showing the importance of community media and community interactions. A genuine local media outlet, run by local people and built from complex local interaction, would have immediately been able to adapt to this situation, get the necessary information out there, and maybe even saved a life. The ‘local’ media which the town of Minot had was part of a large system which had ironed out all the complex interactions and connections with the local community. Very efficient from Clearchannel’s point of view, but hopeless when it comes to fulfilling the needs of the local community, and being a building block of a robust, adaptive community, able to respond to crises like this.

So, I guess the message is this: get involved in community media! We’re still looking for recruits to write for this site, if you’re interested then leave a message or send an email. There’s BCfm which is due to start broadcasting in a couple of months, with plenty of opportunities to get involved. Or start something of your own! To prepare ourselves for the changing world in the years to come, nothing is more important than community, built by interaction and communication mediated by, well, media.


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