Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Taking the NP out of NPR

David Velleman on Left2Right discusses principles against government funded mass media:

One of the things that has impressed and dismayed me in these discussions threads is the extent to which many people do not regard the government as expressing their will, or even a collective will in which they participate. This perception is inimical to representative self government. And it is inevitably heightened insofar as the government has a distinctive personality, from which some people will inevitably feel alienated. This danger is one of the many reasons for separating church and state, for example. Insofar as the government takes on the personality of a particular faith, some portion of the population will be unable to see it as an extension of themselves, or its actions as expressing a collective will to which they contribute. This reason against giving the state the face of any particular faith is also a reason against giving it the face of any particular anchor man.

Glad to see him join the pro-democracy bandwagon, acknowledging there are important effects on participatory spirit when people aren’t involved.

Of course, apparently NPR only gets 1-2% of it’s funding from federal grants, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a discussion to be had. PBS still exists. Maybe NPR should get more money. Most importantly, Americans – even American liberals – tend to be far too willing to restrict public debate to hypothetical considerations, when there are a wealth of liberal democracies with various social programs we should be happy to use as suggestions and test cases.

I really appreciate the British model of mass media political discourse. Their station-of-record, the BBC, (generally) has a no-nonsense facts approach, and delivers most of the factual information about the world to people. The newspapers are completely biased rags that give their interpretation on this common pool of facts, with no apologies about where they are coming from. This common pool of knowledge means there’s some agreement about the world, and the opportunity for partisan analysis stays in places that acknowledge it. American television stations and newspapers, in contrast, try to pretend they are unbiased but consistently deliver slanted coverage or number of stories. So people watch and read different sources, claim they have the unvarnished truth, and become increasingly polarized without knowing it.

But this ties into larger discussions about where the media of the future is headed, especially as information technology makes limited distribution require government intervention for protecting copyright. Maybe we’ll move towards more government supported mass media. The covertly charitable approach of my friends towards some media (“well I’ll buy the DVD’s when they come out”) makes me think that overtly charitable beg-a-thons are at least superior to that. Maybe sacrificing advances in IT is preferable to collapsing the mass media industry.

Hmmm. I’m uncertain about many of these questions. The government’s mandate to create copyright laws though, via Constitutional stricture, presents even more problems. Why should the Supreme Court define “fair use” instead of our legislature?

Panaceas anyone?


At 2:35 PM, Anonymous little_e- said...

It's funny. I've had the exact same experience with media that my parents have. In fact, they've had more, by dint of being older and having worked in PR.

my dad fucking idolizes wodward and bernstein, and somehow from this he draws notions that the media is some sort of fact-checking anti-government story-digging creature which completely overrides his experience in PR that the media is lazy and will print just about any old shit you give them so long as its got proper spelling and grammar.

*sigh* is it too much to ask that the media be honest?


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