By Greg Jackson
Imagine, if you could, having to live and function in a society where the government tightly controls the media. A place where journalists, as well as opinion writers, must operate within the confines of rules and regulations that prohibit anyone from speaking out against the actions of the government or insulting elected officials and their minions (a/k/a staff). For many of us, when we think about “state-run” media, the image that comes to mind is a communist nation just 90 miles from Florida’s southernmost tip or a tiny country halfway around the globe that is ruled by an impulsive, war-hungry dictator. But is it possible that this idea of state-run media is closer to home than we think?
Surely I can understand a government wanting to get the record straight, pushing to have fair reporting, or providing counter viewpoints to issues brought forth by residents and casual observers. But there are times, even in the good ole’ U-S-of-A where governments press the issue of wanting to control the message so much that it begins to take the form of state-run media. To find an example of a government seeking to control the thoughts of its citizens through media, what exactly should you look for? I am glad you asked and am happy to share some examples: Government officials and staff calling news stations to discredit investigative reporters to “kill” a perceived negative story. Calls made to editors of publications pushing to have opinion pieces pulled under the guise that opinions must be based on something other than opinions. Incomplete information provided to elected officials and the public by a staff that seems to have its agenda. News publications being attacked for reporting facts. Fights being picked by residents. Elected officials seeking to elevate their own “leaders” to discredit longstanding community leaders.
As you all ponder this a bit, I think I can actually envision some eyebrows beginning to raise as many of you start to see some resemblance of purported attempts at state-run media in your own hometown. And in the immortal words of Sir William Shakespeare, as spoken by the character Marcellus in Act I of Hamlet, I hear someone saying: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
As many of you know, I have not been shy about sharing my thoughts about the workings of Apopka’s government. Due to those opinions, I have also been subjected to calls from the government to have my opinion pieces censored or outright removed because I do not agree with how things are going for many folks in the Apopka community. Now, if only I could get the folks in the affected community to stand up and be vocal, things would get moving; but I digress. And just when the dust had settled from my opinion piece from two weeks ago, where I expressed my disappointment with Apopka’s lack of participation in a diverse community event, I read what took place at the last City Commission Meeting and like Michael Corleone in The Godfather III, or Rocky in the poorly written Balboa, I felt myself being pulled right back into the fray. Without rehashing all of the events that led to several Apopka citizens being pitted against the Mayor and the Apopka Historical Society, let me just say that the community’s sentiment is that the current administration has no room to criticize that previous administration. That is especially true because there is a feeling that things are the same, except that now there are more efforts to control and squelch any position that does not line up with the government’s position.
Believe me when I say nothing pains me more than my having to speak out against the Apopka Community Redevelopment Agency’s poor budgeting decisions in ignoring the needs of the underserved areas within its boundaries. Folks cannot imagine the heartburn I get every time I have to point out the disparate treatment of Apopka residents, or when I feel it necessary to question whether a candidate running for City Commission Seat #1 will give “South Apopka” the attention it requires and deserves.
Honestly, I wish I could write glowing reports about all the great things taking place in Apopka for all Apopkans, and how opportunities abound for all. I wish I could, but I cannot. Instead, I am left applauding development — on one side of Apopka. I am left complimenting the coming together of residents and government to implement change — on one side of Apopka. I am left congratulating the administration on the success of one music festival that used $400,000.00 to appeal to one segment of Apopka’s citizenry – while another segment was ignored and left with not a single dime of support by the City.
Despite what folks may think of me, I am a very optimistic, glass-half-full type of guy. I desperately seek and want things to come together for all Apopkans. But until there is a move to focus on the people’s issues rather than one’s personal feelings and not wanting to work with others who don’t drink the Kool-Aid, things will continue to go awry. And further attempts will be made to suppress the thoughts of the masses via the “state-run” media in what some may call, but surely not I, the United Republic of Apopka — in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.