The Demise of “Current Affairs”
I have recently returned from a week in Australia, where I was pleasantly surprised by the extensive coverage of “current” (government) affairs on mainstream TV and in the major newspapers. Current affairs programming is very much lacking in New Zealand, as in Canada and the US. For younger readers, who may be unfamiliar with the concept of current or public affairs, these were programs and/or newspaper articles offering in-depth investigative reporting and/or diverse views on important aspects of public policy. The PBS program Bill Moyer’s Journal, which aired for the last time in April 2010, was an excellent of current affairs programming.
Prior to the corporate consolidation of the mainstream media, all the major American TV and radio networks, including PBS and NPR, offered at least a half dozen current affairs shows every week. Most featured wide ranging debate between experts and “analysts” representing a wide diversity of perspectives. In the last two decades, this diversity has totally vanished from the mainstream airwaves and major dailies. Instead what we get is universally pro-Wall Street and pro-corporate news and opinion. Given that most federal policy is pro-Wall Street and pro-corporate, it’s also strongly pro-government .
Because most western democracies have experienced the same media consolidation as the US and Canada, I expected to find more of the same in Australia, especially as the main news item for the week concerned the privatization of education (i.e. the diversion of taxpayer money to support private schools). Over the past year, this issue has also received major media attention in the US – both in the form of attacks on teachers and teachers’ unions and unabashed boosterism for (publicly funded) privately run charter schools and (publicly funded) voucher schemes making taxpayer money available to parents who send their kids to private schools. Thanks to major lobbying by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch Brothers and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US media has been pretty unified that poorly funded, poorly performing inner city public schools should be punished by having their funding cut still further – if not instantly shut down and transformed into privately run charter schools.
The Gonski Report and Public Funding of Private Schools
In Australia, in contrast, the mainstream media is far more willing to look at factual evidence, i.e. what statistical studies actually reveal. The issue of school privatization was all over the Australian news last week owing to the release of the Gonski Report. The Australian government commissioned prominent businessman and philanthropist David Gonski to undertake an analysis of why student academic achievement is declining in Australia. The report’s conclusions were unequivocal: 1) student achievement in well-funded government and private schools meets or exceeds international standards, 2) by age 15, students from poorly funded schools are more than two years behind their well-off contemporaries, 3) the only way to improve academic achievement in low socioeconomic schools is to increase per-pupil funding to the level of well-funded (government and private) schools, and 4) Australia has no hope of maintaining its global economic dominance with a large uneducated underclass.
Funding Education: An Economic Investment
Given that similar studies in the US, Canada and New Zealand show that students in poorly funded schools perform worse than their counterparts in well-funded schools, these findings and conclusions seem eminently logical. Mind you Gonski isn’t some bleeding heart liberal urging better funding for low socioeconomic schools because of his progressive ideological beliefs. This is a prominent industrialist asserting that improving the academic achievement of all Aussie children is an investment in Australia’s economic future.
Australia’s mainstream press was quick to pick up on number four – the importance of educational reform to the country’s economic future. An editorial in the August 27th Sydney Morning Herald is an excellent example. Recipe for Education Apartheid starts out “The achievement gaps between rich and poor exposed by Gonski are nothing less than a national scandal.” It’s typical of the commentary I read in a number of papers and watched on Australian TV. Can you imagine reading something like that in the New York Times? It wouldn’t happen.
Could you even imagine the Obama administration ever funding a Gonski-type study? Forget it. That wouldn’t happen, either. The President, along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, supports an aggressive school privatization agenda and is too busy pressuring states to transfer even more money from public to unproven charter schools. As with most of Obama’s neoliberal agenda, there is big money in privatizing public programs and transferring taxpayer dollars to private corporate coffers. We’ve already seen it with his giant insurance and drug company welfare program known as Obamacare and with his rapid “corporatization” of the US military, resulting in the transfer of trillions of taxpayer dollars to dubious private contractors like Blackwater and Halliburton.
American Readers Abandon the Pro-Corporate Dailies
Even if the US government (or one or more states) did undertake their own Gonski study, we could count on the mainstream media to bury it. American academics have performed numerous studies that definitively link public school funding with achievement, as well as documenting low academic performance in low socioeconomic students who attend charter schools. None of this receive mainstream coverage. The mainstream media is too busy pushing their pro-privatization agenda to care about the evidence.
It pleases me immensely to see the American public wising up to to the pro-Wall Street propaganda peddled by the corporate media. Big city newspapers are dying like flies, as former readers flock to the Internet to find out what’s really happening in the world. I call this poetic justice.