Here may lie the most important effect of mass communication, its ability to mentally order and organize our world for us. In short, the mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about. -Shaw & McCombs, 1977
Below is a letter I didn't send last year, but I've recently been thinking about something called Agenda Setting Theory. For much more on this see: mediatenor.com
Last year I communicated with NPR Ombusdman Alicia C. Shepard about the censorship of discussion by public radio stations regarding controversies at the universities closely affiliated with them, like Wisconsin Public Radio, located on the UW-Madison campus. She recounted her personal experience with the public radio station affiliated with a university she attended (or maybe was just familiar with.)
She characterized this problem as "self-censorship" and said she had no idea how to combat it. The points raised below are slightly dated, but the main idea remains the same.
I don't think anyone should contribute to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's public relations efforts aimed at stifling public discussion of its most controversial practices and problems. This means not donating to WRP.
If you decide not to donate to them, please send them a note explaining why.
Wisconsin Public Radio
821 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Director of Radio
October 15, 2009
WPR has just finished its Fall Fund Drive. I am writing to explain why I did not contribute to WPR and why I asked others to withhold their support as well.
I listen to WPR almost exclusively on the way to and from work. There is much about the station’s broadcasting that I find valuable and enjoy listening to. But it is my impression that potentially controversial matters involving the University of Wisconsin, Madison are taboo subjects for discussion on WPR. This is particularly true when the topic involves the university’s use of animals or violations of Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Agriculture regulations, and recently, even violations of Wisconsin’s Crimes Against Animals statutes.
If one listens carefully, as I do, it is possible to hear occasional slight mention of a problem at the university in the news segments, but rarely if ever is there any “digging deep” into the issue which your current appeals claim is a reason to support the station.
Here’s a brief list of very recent problems and issues involving the university that I have not heard being discussed on WPR to any significant degree even though they have been written about in the local press.
* The sheep decompression case.
* The proposed new BSL-3 lab a block off Regent St and the university’s refusal to provide a copy of the NIH grant application for this facility.
* The proposed expansion of the UW Primate Center.
* The open investigation of the NIH Major Action violations.
* The university’s refusal to consider the ethics of experiments on monkeys.
The list of similar events from years past that have not been discussed on WPR is a long one but a few of the more recent examples include:
* The Madison Aerosol Cabinet discontinuation.
* The National Bio-Agro Facility (NBAF) condemnation by the General Accounting Office. The university had gone to great lengths to have the facility sited at the Town of Dunn.
* Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s Ebola research violations and the controversy surrounding his Spanish flu research.
* The multiple violations over the years of the Animal Welfare Act.
It appears to me that WPR has a policy, perhaps unvoiced, maybe even unrecognized, to remain mute when it comes to stories and issues that could prove embarrassing to the university.
Even when an opportunity exists, the station seems unwilling to plumb such matters. For instance, during Jean Feraca’s recent interview of Richard Davidson on her show Here on Earth, there was a discussion of claimed connections between compassion and kindness and meditation. According to Feraca, she is a neighbor (and apparently a personal friend) of Davidson’s.
But Davidson’s claim of such a connection is challenged and maybe even disproved by his largely hidden research on fear and anxiety. He pursues this by identifying particularly anxious young monkeys, experimentally damages the emotion centers of their brains, and studies the resulting changes in their reactions to fearful stimuli. This wasn’t brought up by Ms. Feraca. If meditation makes one kinder and more compassionate it is hard to understand Davidson’s continuing invasive experimental methods using animals he feels are emotionally similar to humans. Further, there was no link to Madison Magazine’s long article from last year examining this matter. This is but a single recent example of the phenomena I am pointing out.
I could go on at length about each of the instances I’ve noted above and many others. WPR essentially ignores controversies involving animal experimentation or biomedical research generally at the University of Wisconsin. This absence of coverage and discussion results in broad ignorance of the issues among the station’s listeners. The station’s programming functions as a defacto university propaganda tool through this absence of coverage.
For all these reasons, I haven't contributed to the operation of WPR and have encouraged others to withhold their support as well.