Monday, February 13, 2012

TV and Responsibility

Newton Minow’s speech “Television and the Public Interest” (65) is a speech that some may argue could hold just as true today as it did in 1961.  Minow, who was giving his first address as the new chairman of the FCC, said that in his position he had two main concerns for TV broadcasters – their health and their product.  In regards to the health of the TV industry, they were doing well in 1961 – making a profit during a recession.  However, Minow argued that their product was worrisome.

Minow described the majority of TV programming as a “vast wasteland” (p. 467).  He listed examples of the hours of programming that was filled with game shows, violence, formula comedies… In his speech he worked to encourage broadcasters to show more concern for “public interest.”  He defined public interest not as what the public wanted, but as what the public needed – healthy television.  I appreciated his parody of Churchill’s famous line; Minow said, “Never have so few owed so much to so many” (p. 467).  He meant that while entertainment (the programming he considered to be a part of the wasteland) might make a profit, broadcasters had a responsibility to provide programming that would mentally stimulate or inform the public.

Looking at TV programming today, there still seems to be the same general mix of programs on network stations – audiences can find local and national news on their TVs but there are also hours of formulaic comedies, violent programming, reality shows, etc.  However, people now also have access to cable television – they have the option of watching even more channels, some that entertain and some that stimulate and inform.  Because the public can how choose to cable channels that are healthier for the mind (Discovery, The History Channel, etc.), does this take away any power from Minow’s stance? Is there still any validity to his position?  Regardless of the time period (1961 or now), should TV broadcasters have ever had a responsibility for what programs they aired in regards to their health for viewers? Or, should viewers simply be personally accountable for their own TV consumption?

No comments:

Post a Comment