Public Broadcasting exists to provide access and help educate citizens about important and timely issues in their local area. The social and economic value of the continuous information flow that telecommunications technology provides cannot be overestimated. The government has an important role in promoting and protecting these opportunities for free speech, and should not suppress the wide range of expression in community media. The obligation to serve the public interest is integral to the "trusteeship" model of broadcasting--the philosophical foundation upon which broadcasters are expected to operate. (Zechowski)
Telecommunications and Public Policy
The “public’s right-to-know” about the business of government is a fundamental principal of our democratic government and open society. The Telecommunications act of 1996 was the first update on U.S. telecommunications law in almost 62 years. On February 8, 1996 President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act after an extended campaign of support by the House and Senate. “While touted as a landmark bill updating the sixty-year-old Communications Act for the benefit of U.S. consumers, the T96 Act was created by and for a communications industry dominated by global conglomerates”. (Lloyd)
History has proven that interpretation of the "public interest, convenience and necessity" is subject to prevailing political forces. (Zechowski) As a democratic society, it is our responsibility to address who gets to speak, who has access to knowledge, whose voices are heard, and who or what limit what we can, or cannot speak about. In order to have a communications environment that fosters democratic culture, diversity and civic participation, there needs to be less media consolidation and a shift away from corporate control to one with policies that prioritize community access. (Chester and Larson). According to Chester and Larson, there are ten key priorities to more democratic media, just a few of that list include;
· Calling for less, not more media consolidation, as media conglomerates seek to further consolidate their ownership, it is important for all citizens to join with the watchdog groups who are working to oppose homogenized commercial media as the only option.
· Building community broadband, because the cost of broadband internet access is still out of reach of many households, towns need to create local access wi-fi networks that are available to all.
· Open up the Cable TV monopoly, so that independent programmers and alternative channels can gain access.
The 1996 Act was touted as being a great consumer victory, with a promise of more competition that would lead to better services and lower prices. What the 1996 Act has actually delivered is a great number of additional partnerships and consolidations, along with higher prices for services such as cable and internet.
In our democratic society, we are constantly on the outlook for undue influence by the government on our communications. But we should be equally vigilant to make sure that a handful of powerful people or companies do not dominate our discourse either. Critics of the 1996 act claim "its extensive deregulatory provisions coupled with relaxed restrictions on concentration of media ownership dilute the public responsibility guarantees built into the Communications Act of 1934 and tilt the preference in favor of private market forces". (Messere)
A fundamental shift in the public debate has taken many by surprise in the civil rights community. “This "market" or "laissez-faire" capitalist vision of society holds that the common good is best understood as an unchecked individual pursuit of economic self-interest. This "market" vision has a particularly invidious effect on communications policy where commercial communications interests have long been formidable adversaries, adept at co-opting government and, more important, shaping public opinion”. (Lloyd)
Media is a critical element in achieving equal opportunity and full participation in civic life. Public views of communities, diversity of opinions on the issues, and social causes and their public debates are all part of a healthy democratic society. This means that access to the media by the largest possible scope of broadcasters is crucial to ensuring that diverse viewpoints are presented to the American people, and that all sectors of society are accurately depicted.
Chester and Larson, J. a. (n.d.). Ten Steps to a More Democratic Media. Retrieved from http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=1186
Messere, F (n.d.) U.S. Policy Telecommunications Act of 1996. Retrieved from
Lloyd, M. (n.d.). Communicaitons Policy is a Civil Rights Issue. Retrieved from http://www.comtechreview.org/winter-spring-1998/r981lloy.htm
Zechowski, S. (n.d.). PUBLIC INTEREST, CONVENIENCE AND NECESSITY. Retrieved from http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/P/htmlP/publicintere/publicintere.htm
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