January 24, 2004

Two blogs in one.

I was in Saigon, Vietnam when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. I spent my first 25 years living in Arlington, VA, a mile from the Pentagon and the following five years in New York City, a mile from the two towers. My home -- and my home -- were attacked and I was, like the Americans who were my friends and family, emotionally shocked. People in Vietnam -- a communist country with state controlled papers -- said to me, "oh, but Hani, did you know that no Vietnamese people died? The newspaper said so."

"ARE YOU JOKING?" That's what I asked them incredulously. "If I was in one of those towers, I would have been reported as an American death."Do you believe EVERYTHING you read?" I'd say.

"What do you mean?" they'd ask, in total surprise, like I grew three heads. It has never occurred to most Vietnamese citizens that if they read something in print, it may not be true. That if ANYTHING is in print, then it must be true. Because it's in print. The Vietnamese education system does not allow the free thinking we were raised with here in America -- to question what you're told. To think outside of the box. To create. To innovate.

Who controls print? The communist government -- to benefit the people. This is why when I worked in Vietnam, we had to pay a government censor to censor our publication -- a directory listing of restaurants and shops. Once, I gave an employee the task of designing a new notepad with our new company logo. I gave him a sample -- for size and ideas -- of a notepad with our old rectangular logo placed along the bottom of the sheet. How did he 'design' the new notepad? He placed our new square logo -- stretched out and distorted into the shape of the old logo, so it would fit on the bottom of the sheet, just like the sample notepad I had given him. The Vietnamese fit square pegs into round holes -- and lack imagination, creativity, and innovation -- because they were taught great things, like respect for their teachers and their elders. They were taught to never question authority. Well, isn't the state-controlled media an authority? So, goes the logic, it is not to be questioned. Unfortunately, like the Communist-educated Vietnamese who were never given the choice, most Americans never question the media input they absorb everyday.

The voter fund of Moveon.org, an online advocacy group in the United States, recently sponsored a contest for Bush in 30 seconds ad spots. They were willing to pay the $2 million for a 30 second spot during the Super Bowl, but CBS refuses to air it. They say they don't want to cause controversy. Sources say that CBS, however, will air the advocacy commercials of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy -- which in the past has casually compared drug use with supporting terrorism -- a notably controversial piece.

You don't suppose it has anything to do with Viacom -- CBS's parent company -- lobbying for the lifting of Federal Communications Commission limits on media consolidation and conglomeration do you?

Nearly every channel you watch on television, cable, and satellite; every channel you listen to on the radio; movies you watch; and newspapers and magazines you read are owned by a mere six corporations owned by a mere few people, predominantly affluent white male. Kind of scary, don't you think? The fact that so much of our media is owned by so few people who regularly lobby the government to make their wishes come true -- paid for in the form of political contributions -- makes me begin to think that our media is becoming state run. Isn't it?

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