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February 9, 2007

The Media Does Not Act In The Public Interest

-- by Dave Johnson

Before 1987 the government required that our broadcast frequencies be used in the public interest. Broadcasters were required to present a diversity of information and opinion. This was because it was understood that it was essential to democracy that the public receive diverse ideas and information.

In 1987 the Reagan administration removed the requirement that our broadcast frequencies be used in the public interest. They said that “the market” (a few people with lots of money) rather than the public (the public) should decide the best way to use this public (public) asset.

No longer required to act in the public interest, the media immediately ceased acting in the public interest. Instead they, of course, began to advance the profit interests of the corporatocracy, exactly as was predicted back when the requirements that the broadcast media act in the public interest were imposed. That is what "the market" means. The market serves the market's interests, not the public's.

The results are obvious - we no longer hear the ideas of, for example, labor leaders. (For just one example out of hundreds of examples.) We do not see comprehensive, informative, investigative documentaries on the problems facing society. We do not hear news that harms the interests of advertisers - or media companies and the companies that own them. (When was the last time you heard about the benefits of being a union member on a TV show? What percentage of broadcast time is used for commercial entertainment purposes rather than informative or educational topics?)

People who complain about "the media" and expect them to be impartial, neutral, informative and/or objective and balanced - or otherwise act in the public interest - do not understand the difference between required to act in the public interest and not required to act in the public interest. If you require them to, and enforce that, they will occasionally act in the public interest. If you do not, they will not -- and expecting them to is entirely misunderstanding the conflict between the requirements of "the market" and democracy.

This has been an episode of medium-length answers to simple questions.

Posted by Dave Johnson at February 9, 2007 9:43 AM

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Comments

"Some say the public interest is merely what interests the public. I disagree."

- FCC Commissioner Newton Minow, 1961

Posted by: Charles at February 9, 2007 10:52 AM

I never heard of Newton Minow before, but obviously he was an arrogant jackass.

The media should and do act in the interest of those who pay their bills. Nothing wrong with that.

If you say, "Yeah but, the government owns the airwaves and so the government should be allowed to regulate what goes over them." I say you're right, sort of. The government does have the right to dictate how its assets should be used. However, to prevent the busybodies in Washington DC from controlling your television programming (James Dobson, Pat Roberson, and those types would get their say too) the solution is obvious. The government should sell the airwaves and television and radio should come under full First Amendment privileges just as the internet and the press already have.

Problem solved. Liberal whining about "fairness doctrine" may now cease.

Posted by: jaymuntz [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 9, 2007 4:32 PM

Yeah - Right... the busy bodies in Washington aren't in control of what news I see on TV...

Posted by: Kita Kazoo at February 21, 2007 4:59 PM

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