Guest Column: The need for media reform

Thomas Jefferson said that there is nothing more important in a representative democracy than a well-informed citizenry. Where do we find ourselves today—is the media doing its job of keeping Americans informed on the issues of the day? Let’s take a look at what has happened to the media in the last generation.

The Fairness Doctrine, which had been established in 1949 by the FCC to ensure fairness in news reporting on radio, was scuttled in 1987, by the Reagan administration. To obtain an operating license, the Doctrine had required broadcasters to offer some balancing views when airing controversial issues. Also, by 1987 Rush Limbaugh had begun to broadcast his one-sided view of what is important for Americans to believe.

Beginning about this same time, the FCC began to allow more and more consolidations in the media industry, as well as the right of a media company to operate an increased number of radio stations, newspapers, and TV channels in a single market. So now, the six or so media giants control at least 75 percent of the media market in the U.S. Since they are more interested in making money than in presenting unbiased news to the general public, and since investigative reporting is costly, we are beset by a system that is dumbing down the news that we do receive.

Citizens need to get involved in a national debate over who owns the air waves. If we, the people, own them, then we should be able to have some input as to what goes out on the air waves. We should be able to ask why we have to be exposed to so much advertising. We should be insisting that radio and TV do a better job of informing Americans on the crucial issues of the day.

PBS and NPR do a reasonably good job of presenting unbiased news. But even on these publicly-funded networks, there is a tremendous amount of pressure by many conservatives to air their version of the truth. Congress has just recently passed a measure to prevent cutting $100 million from the funding of public broadcasting. Since it comes closer than any other media outlet to presenting fair and balanced news, it seems that Congress should be looking for ways to allocate more money, not less, for this valued service it provides to the American people.

A solution to part of the problem that we face with public broadcasting would be to levy a 5 percent tax on all commercial TV and radio advertising. This added financial support would enable public broadcasting to really present a fair and balanced view of the news. It would also get rid of the endless fund-raisers that disrupt the regular program schedule several times a year. If there would be any excess funds from this tax, it could be used to finance early childhood education, or helping to eradicate poverty in the United States, or some other socially desirable goal.

Rudy Hazucha is the Seniors affiliate of Rockford Progressive Meet-up and a Rockford resident.

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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