Freedom of speech is second only to freedom of religion in the First Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution - the beginning of the Bill of Rights. Today however,
the commercial nature of most media dictates against forthright speech. This
might upset the advertisers who increasingly provide the media's raison d'etre.
Recently, the tuning on our radio slipped to an all-news am station. Woops! I
was informed that if I bought a particular brand of gasoline, I would also get
an American flag.
The last time our dial strayed from public radio, a rock and roll station was
telling me to buy a certain brand of big-screen TV. Now I see why that dial's
supposed to be kept on public radio.
Because it is most of the time, we stay fairly well-informed about what's going
on around the world. Consequently, those two commercials had a particular
Recent news about the huge, English-and-Dutch-owned oil company which is giving
away these American flags, involved its extensive oil operations in Nigeria
which provide much of the revenue for that country's military government. Last
year, that government executed nine environmental activists who for years had
fought that same oil company's abuse of their tribal homelands. Pools of oil on
land and in rivers and large gas flares burning constantly are common there.
Earlier last year, this oil giant was in the news because of its plan to dump an
old production platform into the ocean in order to save money.
The television manufacturer is a large Japanese company which has been featured
in the news because our government alleges that it allowed sexual harassment on
an"outrageous scale" at its Normal, Illinois automobile plant. On public radio
we hear about the former cabinet official who is currently helping the company
to improve its practices and its image, while Jesse Jackson pushes the Japanese
giant to adopt more sensitive and inclusive policies.
If you talk to people who know about global forest issues, however, you hear
different news about this corporation. Besides manufacturing millions of cars
and TVs, as well as cameras and beer, it is also cuts down large temperate rain
forests. I'd heard of boycotts which accused it of being "one of the world's
leading destroyers of rain forests." Talking to a sustainable forester who
works in South America, I found out that this company cuts down forests of 2,000
year old trees in Chile and grinds these majestic beauties into little chips to
be shipped back to Japan for paper production. Apparently, it pays a similar
disrespect to the old-growth forests in western Canada. Whether it's forests
or women, there seems to be a definite pattern of abuse here.
Of course, these are just two ads for two companies. Given the enormous number
of advertisements it takes to sustain a commercial station and the incredible
range of brands and businesses owned by a single corporation, it is likely that
there are other connections between large advertisers and global misdeeds, other
patterns of abuse connected to many products.
Although the media tells us about protests over narrow issues such as too few
benefits for domestic partners or too many benefits for CEOs, the larger picture
of the range of activities and effects of a single corporation is rarely
presented. The commercial media are too dependent on the dollars from ads for
gasoline, cars, tvs, salad dressing and cookies to present the widespread
patterns in behavior that few of us would tolerate.
Because corporations have gradually assummed the status of citizens in our
democracy, and all the rights that go along with that, the issue is fairly
complicated. With their tremendous wealth and skill, through PACs, charitable
donations, and public relations and advertising might, corporations have a
powerful effect on the nature of any debate.
Information is one of the best allies for creating responsible citizens. The
first-hand knowledge we get from our gardens and other positive work is very
important to our understanding of many larger issues.
Waving a flag obtained from a company whose other foreign operations support the
opposite of democratic behavior, is ironic at best, and reprehensible at worst.
For help in making important connections when you listen to or read the news,
send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Information, Please, WSHU, 5151 Park
Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth.
C1996, Bill Duesing
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. This essay first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing