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February 22, 2007


The thing that made humans the dominant species on earth is the opposable thumb. We can GRASP things.

Our television system is designed to poison our rational minds. It is 99.7% privately financed.

We need a real public TV system funded at about 20% of the private system. It would allow us to GRASP concepts -like the treason of using a forgery to start a war.

Expensive? It woulda saved about a trillion dollars & a half million lives.

You have correctly spotted the problem, of course.

Bureaucratic routines are fate.

Journalists do the type of job that they do because it IS their job, and because of the demands of getting ahead in their institution.

Your proposal is not all that is needed, in my view, but I think it is helpful.

Many helpful proposals is the general approach we need.

Good start.

"Ah!" in an awakened tone, exclaims Co-operation, who can see the right thing when lucid intervals occur, "I suppose you mean the scheme which the co-operative printers of Manchester have lately adopted-that of giving 5 per cent to loan capital, because it is withdrawable, and 7.5 per cent to share capital, because it is not withdrawable, and dividing the remainder of the profits in three equal proportions, one to shareholders, one to workpeople, and one to the customer-is something like what you have in your mind."

"Yes." exclaims the pertinacious consumer, "that looks a little nearer the right thing. That scheme does recognise the consumer, and co-operation will find that it will pay to recognise that querulous creature. But printers were always in advance of mankind. All the cleverness of the world passes through their hands into type; and if wisdom is not born with them, they catch it from their copy."

Logic of Co-operation. G.J. Holyoake 1873 Co-operative Printing Society 1873

I think there may be two separate but intersecting issues here.

One is about ownership, and whether the programming answers to a plutocracy of shareholders or to a democracy of listeners (who are hectored by weekly pledge drives and have some influence on programming by voting with their dollars).

The second is about programming control, and what fraction of content is produced locally compared to centrally. (I am thinking mostly about radio here, but I think it extends easily to tv & press.)

The two are largely interrelated but there is still some wiggle room between them. For example, I don't have such strong objection to privately-controlled media if all of its content is produced locally. I think by its very nature it will tend to reflect the ideas of its audience.

This issue extends beyond the political to the realm of public safety and national security. Last month the NYT magazine ran a piece on central control of radio

In the early morning of Jan. 18, 2002, a Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed just outside Minot, N.D., spilling roughly 240,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia into a woodsy neighborhood on the outskirts of town. The resulting toxic cloud grew to some five miles long, two and a half miles wide and 350 feet high, enveloping the homes of approximately 15,000 people. Confused and afraid, thousands of Minot residents turned on their radios to get public warnings and instructions on how to stay safe.

Yet no such information was available. Minot's six nonreligious commercial stations, all of which were owned and operated by the nation's largest radio company, Clear Channel Communications, were broadcasting prerecorded programs engineered in remote studios. Police dispatchers couldn't reach anyone in Clear Channel's local offices: the town's new emergency-communications system failed to automatically issue an alert, and no one answered the phones at the stations. What ensued was horrific: as one man died and hundreds became ill from inhaling the poisonous gas, the airwaves were filled with canned music and smooth-talking D.J.'s.

Here the problem was not just the corporate control -- I have no doubt that locally-operated private stations would still have given over airtime for the emergency -- but the centralized, non-local nature of the programming that grew out of corporate efficiency.

I think trying to convert national media to public ownership is somewhat more daunting than the very hopeful efforts being made by local groups to develop strong, community-based alternatives. For example I learned recently of Prometheus Radio which is trying to push for more local low-power FM stations.

The power of locally produced and distributed media has become apparent in the blogging world, and I think it would be nice to extend that more effectively to radio, TV, and press. Most communities have public access TV stations but the content is terrible. Perhaps with increased media consolidation & public frustration with centrally-produced media, there will be a greater motivation to produce higher-quality content for the public stations that already exist. A system for helping to foster this, perhaps something grown out of the blog activist community, might be worthwhile.

Pacifica can be atrociously self-referential, but those of us who have access to it need to try to keep it.

here in nyc we have WBAI which is part of the pacifica network, and is my radio station of choice although they get pretty far far out there sometimes. I like not only the content but the style, it feels local with real voices not "radio" people and a little -- well, a lot -- unprofessional, which makes it feel more authentic.

They also were the only way I could have listened to things like the Alito & Roberts confirmation hearings, which I found a really valuable resource. I may be alone in this, but I wish C-SPAN had a radio station.

I wanted to make another point from somewhat ancient history, we did, at one time, eliminate vertical integration in media, as a result of a mid-1940's Supreme Court Decision that found it an unlawful monoply for the Hollywood Studios to own and control parts of the distribution system. The Studios were forced to sell off their first run theatres and the film distribution channels. This (as well as TV which was just arriving as this decision came down) opened the way for Independent Production, and it eliminated the old closed studio system, where actors, writers, etc, were "owned" by the Studios. The simple fact that vertical integration was once broken up in the Motion Picture Industry because it was an unlawful monoply may be a powerful argument to use in asking Congress to address the need for a better business model.

Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media by Eric Klinenberg gives a pretty good history of these issues, plus some practical ideas on how things can be changed.


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