Monday, September 26, 2011

Public Good and Diversity As Populism?

The Federal Communications Act of 1928 established the airways as a public good that would be regulated by a government body (the FCC) with the mandate of ensuring broadcasters’ content served public interest, convenience and necessity. More than three quarters of a century later, the FCC and the same antiquated mandate are still regulating the airways. Though the P.I.C.A.N mandate has evolved and expanded moderately over the years, to favor and sentimentally adopt the notions of diversity and localism, I believe the FCC has failed to create a broadcasting environment that favors diversity, public interest, and necessity. Today broadcasting culture seems to be entrenched in a cycle of innovation-imitation-oversaturation, which leads to uniformed content options for viewers. How many times a day could you flip through your TV and find a doctor, crime, or law comedy and or drama? The answer is A LOT! So who is to blame for this gross lack of diversity in broadcasting content? The FCC is the regulating body charged with protecting our airways for the public good, but they are not a true enforcement agency. I believe the tough answer to this question is us, the viewers. We subscribed and supported this industries business culture of “open market” self-regulation, which allowed them to change the meaning of “serving the public good” to populism. In other words, the open market culture of broadcasting leads to an interpretation of public good, as that which serves the needs of the most people. Its funny how the content that serves the majority is the same content that brings in the most revenue, and comprises the majority of broadcast television.

The reason the tone of this post thus far has been slightly agitated and backhanded, is because I truly believe in the power of television to influence culture and viewers world view, and it scares me to think of effect uniform populist content has on individuals of disenfranchised gender, race, ethnic, and religious groups. While I do not personally have an idea or strategy for inversing the diversity of broadcast television, I do have a few thoughts on how I would like diversity to be infused into TV content. I believe prime time television could and should incorporate at least an hour of “alternative content” that specifically targets certain underrepresented groups. I also think it would be interesting to see what would happen to content if broadcasters were required to broadcast commercial free once a week on primetime. Whether or not either of these solutions would change the current path of uniform television content remains to be seen. What I do know is that until broadcasters wallets or licenses are challenged by someone.

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