Column: It’s time to take the airwaves back
Now that the election is behind us it is time to think about remedying the poor condition of our nation’s airwaves. The airwaves’ present collective condition help make possible the diametrically opposed views of the condition of our country and its leaders that exist at present, and it is currently possible to predict with some certainty how states’ populations will vote based on what TV and radio stations are available in those states.
But it was not always this way. Not too long ago it was universally accepted that the nation’s airwaves were the property of the people. There were even laws promulgating standards that should be followed. The airwaves could be and were leased to companies for a period of years, and then the licenses to broadcast would be reviewed for fairness and objectivity by the Federal Communications Commission. The Fairness Doctrine had guidelines as to what should/should not and be presented on the nation’s airwaves, and some semblance of balance and objectivity in reporting was sought by the FCC, and by the broadcasters who sought to comply with the guidelines.
Some civil libertarians called that system censorship. But experience has taught us that we need to get back to those standards. The nation’s airwaves continue to be owned by the American people, and not by corporations, notwithstanding the recent U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision that says that corporations are individual citizens with an individual’s rights to free speech. But Citizens United applies to political contributions and not to permanent ownership of the nation’s airwaves. The distinction needs to be re-emphasized, because at present it is extremely difficult to find balanced and objective reporting on the airwaves. The listener/viewer has the opportunity to absorb a great deal of hokum, and not a great deal about much else at present. Aside from the BBC and National Public Radio, the radio dial covers multitudes of big mouths coupled to small minds; and the same applies for TV. And this is bad for the nation’s understanding of how our country is ruled and how and why decisions are made for “the public good.”
What can the individual do about the current state of affairs? What the individual has always had the right to do: call your national representatives, work to get the issue on state, and then national, ballots. We do not have to accept the current state of affairs. We have the right to expect higher standards than we have at present, and we should say so.
Russell Bastedo is a resident of Dublin.