In an impassioned show of support for broadcast television and radio, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who serves as Senate Minority Whip, told nearly 500 attendees of the NAB‘s State Leadership Conference that there are three things Congress “can — and should — do to help protect the integrity and independence of the media.”
Speaking Tuesday morning, Durbin called on Congress to preserve federal libel standards. “Just because someone doesn’t like a story, doesn’t mean it’s libelous” he said.
Then, in a show of support for NPR and PBS, Durbin urged the Federal government “to invest more, not less, in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” Why? “America’s 1,500 NPR and PBS stations don’t compete with local broadcast organizations — they complement what you do. And, they cost less than 1 one-hundredth of 1 percent of the Federal budget.”
The third thing Durbin believes Congress should tackle: The safeguard of Federal whistle-blower protections. “We need to pass a federal shield law,” he said.
Durbin opened his address to State Leadership Conference attendees by referencing Louis “Studs” Terkel, who was squelched as a radio host during the McCarthy Era in the 1950s due to his political viewers. It set the tone for Durbin, who directly addressed the growing strife between the media and the Trump Administration.
“Despite that experience, Studs Terkel never lost faith in American democracy or the innate wisdom of the American people,” Durbin said. “As he once said – these are Studs’ words: ‘I’ve always felt … that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence — providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.'”
Addressing the audience, Durbin then said, “Many of you come to Washington each year to plead your case for laws that affect broadcasting as a business. As important as those matters may be to your bottom line, today I want to reflect on something even more important: The survival of journalism as a critical pillar of democracy.”
The discussion then turned political, with Durbin assailing Trump. “Abraham Lincoln once said: ‘Give the people the facts and the Republic will be saved,'” Durbin said. “He meant the real facts, not alternative facts. He, too, would be worried about what’s happening today.”
Durbin continued, “Turning reporters into enemies — not just adversaries, but enemies – is a strategy that strongmen use to silence critics and maintain power. Their goal is to discredit the messenger. That way, when there is bad news, or news that contradicts the official line, people won’t believe it. Soon enough, people start to lose faith … not just in the media, but in all of the institutions that hold a society together. They lose faith in the power of debate and elections to change anything. They become cynical and apathetic.
Democracies can’t survive in a universe of ‘alternative facts.’ American democracy depends on informed citizens debating our choices vigorously and then choosing a path forward. ”
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