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Prior Knowledge

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

proposals for media reform

The following is an overview of the concluding chapter of Robert McChesney's "Rich Media, Poor Democracy". It lists (often in heavy paraphrase) his suggestions for media reform.

Robert McChesney's main concern is democratic control over the main institutions of the country. He takes democracy to require something like equal influence over political affairs by the citizenry. This, in turn, requires that the citizenry has access to a wide range of well-formed political positions on core issues and to a rigorous accounting of the activities of political and economic powers. He contends that the current media system in the US fails these functions. Systematic reasons why it fails can be found in my previous post - "Mass Media". The proposed media reforms have the aim of giving people easy access to a wider range of political positions and to a rigorous accounting of the activities of political and economic powers.

McChesney takes the main problems to be the ownership structure of the mass media, their profit motivation and their reliance on advertising and suggests the following changes to the media system of the US. He suggests the following ways

(1) build non-profit and non-commercial media with the help of funding from labor unions and progressive foundations. The government can help by, say, providing tax write-offs for donations to non-profit news media and by offering low cost mailing for small non-profit and non-advertising media (a service already extended to the profit oriented media).

(2) the government must establish non-commercial and non-profit public radio and TV. These should be established at various strata - national networks, local stations, public access TV, independent community radio, low power radio and TV for every community. Unlike the major current forms of public broadcasting in the US, these must not generate revenue through advertising or through grants from corporations or individuals. The funding for such public broadcsating is to be through taxation. Some problems to address include the worry that this system might degenerate into a bureaucracy unaccountable to popular desires or that it may become subordinate to censorship by a political authority. McChesney suggests that a system operating at varous levels (national, local, community access) will be more open to public desires and will also set up enough competing voices so as to mitigate fears of political censorship.

(3) Increase regulation. The FCC (federal communications commission) is set up to allow dialog between the public and those with broadcasting licenses. However, the desires of advertisers and the media corporations are rarely challenged (this would partly be due to lobbying by the media industry, which is not balanced by wealthy, well-organised and powerful lobbying for the cause of public interests). Currently, US broadcasters can buy their way out of their public service requirements. To get past the issue of government officials being swayed by media lobbies, McChesney suggests that perhaps licenses should only be for 18-20 hours per day leaving the rest of the time for public service. This public service time should be directed towards children's programs and news and control over the relevant programming should be in the hands of artists, educators and journalists. The funding would come from taxing the broadcasters and advertisers. McChesney also suggests some free time for political candidates, perhaps in combination with a ban on political advertisements.

(4) anti-trust activity, ie, the breaking up of monopolies and oligopolies and ensuring that there is a relatively low percentage of market share beyond which no corporation can step. The primary goal of anti-trust work should not be understood in terms of consumer welfare (defined in terms of product price and quality), but in terms of the role that the concentration of wealth plays in undermining democratic government.

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  • Thanks for the helpful summaries, Sagar. (I turned your URLs into hyperlinks, for sake of convenience.)

    I wonder what role the internet might play here? The freely accessible publishing platform provided by blogs etc. might help overcome at least the first two 'filters' identified in your previous post.

    In general, I think a more "bottom-up" approach is preferable, where we empower local communities to create their own media (e.g. amateur directors can upload their movies to Google Video to share with others), rather than having central government try to impose solutions (e.g. regulations, public broadcasting) from above.

    12/28/2005 09:28:00 PM  

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