(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) challenged liberals attending the "Take Back America" conference to take on the "right-wing nuts" on talk radio and demand that local radio stations and newspapers provide "alternative points of view."
"The fight to allow people to hear different points of view is as important as any other fight, so I would urge people at the grassroots to start taking on the local media," Sanders said during a panel discussion Wednesday on the topic of media reform.
"If you have a right-wing station in your community, you've got to go up to those people and say, 'You've got to give us alternative points of view,'" he stated. "If you have a newspaper in your community that does not allow columnists from a progressive perspective, you've got to go challenge those people."
Sanders added that liberals in the audience should tell people in the media "that you're prepared to speak out against those advertisers who are supporting right-wing stations unless other points of view can be heard."
Still, the Vermont congressman noted that "we are making progress" in getting liberal viewpoints heard across the country.
"If we were sitting here six or seven years ago," the term "talk radio" would have meant "Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ollie North and all the right-wing nuts who would have occupied 98 or 99 percent of the space out there," Sanders said. Listen to Audio
"Well, you know what? Things have changed," Sanders said. The liberal network "Air America is doing very different talk," and several progressives are being broadcast on a variety of media outlets.
Nevertheless, Sanders admitted that he is unhappy with the number of liberals on the air. "This is a divided nation," he said, "so why isn't half of talk radio progressive?"
The congressman also noted that progressives are "making real, real progress in dealing with the issue" of "smaller and smaller numbers of multinational media conglomerates owning and controlling what the American people see and hear in the media."
"If you are concerned about the environment, if you're concerned about the decline of the middle class, if you're concerned about health care, you must be concerned about corporate control over the media," Sanders said.
"We are not going to be able to address any or all of those issues unless you have a level of political consciousness in America, and a consciousness which is developed by people having access to different ideas that they're not getting today," Sanders said. Listen to Audio
Regarding news programming, "somebody says this is what is important and this is not important," Sanders noted. "If you compare the amount of time given to crime as say, the collapse of the middle class, if you talk about the NBA playoffs as opposed to poverty in America, you're talking about numbers of 10 or 100 to 1."
If more complex issues are not addressed, Sanders said, "people who are working, not one job but two jobs and three jobs, trying to cobble together a living," will say: "Nobody cares about me. Nobody knows what I am going through. Why should I vote? Why should I participate in the political process?"
The congressman also criticized news stations that force people "to speak in seven-second sound bites. It is a sad day in America when I do not speak on television about Iraq - because nobody who covers Iraq in Vermont or in America can cover the issue in seven seconds."
Sanders also expressed displeasure with the way cable news was covering the breaking story that the federal government paid up to $1.4 billion to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that was used for football tickets, a tropical vacation and even a divorce lawyer.
"What Fox and others are now trying to do is blame the poor people," Sanders said. "There is a huge lack of accountability in terms of the Bush administration funneling out billions of your taxpayer dollars. But again, it is easier for Fox to blame poor people than it is their friends who are large, multinational corporations."
However, Tim Carney with the free market-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, took issue with Sanders' statements regarding media ownership.
"It's fine for the congressman to worry about corporate ownership of the media, but it's dishonest of him to equate 'corporate' with 'right-wing,'" Carney told Cybercast News Service.
"Sanders knows very well that big businesses are no free market swashbucklers or conservative crusaders - or maybe he's never heard of Ted Turner and George Soros," Carney added.
Michael Harrison, publisher of "Talkers magazine," disagreed with many of Sanders' other points.
"What he's saying doesn't fit within the First Amendment," Harrison told Cybercast News Service. "First of all, he's characterizing people he doesn't agree with as nuts, but they have legitimate points of view, just as the left has a legitimate point of view.
"And even nuts have the right to speak in this country," Harrison added.
Regarding conservative talk radio, Harrison said that "there's nothing wrong with somebody being successful and having a following. There's nothing illegal about it, either.
"There are other kinds of radio, too, as evidenced by the fact that Air America is out there, and we have National Public Radio" plus a wide variety of other formats, Harrison said.
In addition, "I think newspapers have the right to be whatever they want to be," Harrison said. "If you don't like it, start your own newspaper or don't frequent the advertisers."
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