People who casually use the term "piracy" to refer to the unauthorized exchange of copyrighted music, movies, books, and software would gain a deeper understanding of the terms they use by picking up the highly readable book Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age by Marcus Rediker. This recently released study (Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-5024-5) describes the lives and political significance of pirates at the period of their greatest growth during the early eighteenth century.
Pirates, in Rediker's analysis, were more than just thieves. They created an alternative way to regard work, society, and life's pleasures in an economically and religiously repressive age. [...] Is it difficult to find a common thread between the villification of eighteenth-century pirates and the villification of people who trade or illegally sell music, moves, books, and software today? Like the old pirates, the information traders create a bounty from the work of others (the artists and writers). But at the same time, they create a new vision of information democracy that contrasts positively with the control freaks and commercial cynicism of the mainstream media conglomerates.
Information traders promote diversity, by allowing people to sample dated and unusual works. In an age where radio stations and movie studios bend their offerings to the profit-based goals of an increasingly small number of owners, this is crucial. Information traders also allow communities to form around works--something studios would like to do but are usually too controlling and hidebound to carry off.
As a constant consumer of news, Kerry says he spends a good deal of time thinking about the role of media in a democratic society. And he gets frustrated when television networks fail to live up to the responsibility that should go with a license to use the people's airwaves.
When it was mentioned that many Americans had expressed disappointment with the decision of the nation's broadcast television networks to air only three hours of Democratic convention coverage, Kerry said, "I share the disappointment. We're a democracy, and the strength of our democracy is in the ability of citizens to be informed. If the major media are unwilling to inform -- and simply because there is not a clash or a conflict or something doesn't mean (a convention) is not informative -- I personally think it's a derogation of their responsibility (that goes with using) the broadcast airwaves."
In particular, Kerry said he was upset that the nation's commercial broadcast networks -- including ABC, CBS and NBC -- decided not to air any coverage on the second night of the convention in Boston. That was the night when Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama delivered a much-praised keynote address, Ron Reagan broke ranks with the Republican Party to criticize President Bush's limits on stem-cell research, and Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke about her husband.
"My wife gave a wonderful speech, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, it was a brilliant night," said Kerry. "I think it's very disappointing that the American people, at least the people who watch the networks, missed it. I talked to several of the anchors beforehand but, you know, that's the way they decided. Obviously, I disagreed."
Asked if he thought the decision of the networks to downplay the coverage of the convention sent a signal that told Americans not to take what happened in Boston seriously, Kerry said, "I don't know if its that message or not. I think most Americans are smart enough to understand (that it does matter)."
But Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was seated next to her husband, interrupted him and said, "That is the message, I think. I agree that it hurts."
Concerns about consolidated media, particularly consolidated media that does not see itself as having a responsibility to cover politics seriously and to question those in positions of authority, have been highlighted in recent documentaries such as Robert Greenwald's "Outfoxed," a critique of the conservative bias of Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News programs, and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9-11." Kerry has not yet seen "Fahrenheit 9-11," but he described its success as "remarkable." And he made it clear that he shares the view of those who believe that media consolidation is a significant issue in contemporary America.
If Kerry is elected president, he will be in a position to influence the media landscape. Encouraged by President Bush and lobbyists for the major networks, a Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission sought last year to ease limits on media consolidation at the local and national levels. Kerry, who notes that he voted in the Senate to maintain the controls against consolidation, says he would set a different course by appointing FCC commissioners who are more sympathetic to diversity of ownership, competition and local control. Several days after he sat down for the interview that is recounted here, Kerry amplified the point when he promised a gathering of minority journalists that, "I will appoint people to the FCC, and I will pursue a policy, that tries to have as diverse and broad an ownership as possible."
Distinguishing himself from President Bush, Kerry says, "I'm against the ongoing push for media consolidation. It's contrary to the stronger interests of the country." Diversity of media ownership and content, the candidate explains, "is critical to who we are as a free people. It's critical to our democracy."