Wed Jan 30th, 2008 at 07:54:36 AM EST
A common theme in the various discussion on this site is that it's important for the left to have alternative ideas ready and waiting, so that when the moment comes it can be seized. Every so often a discussion of possible policy solutions to the diverse ills of the modern world comes up, but it seems as if it would be a topic worthy of more regular attention.
So, I thought maybe I'd try and help get things started with an idea of my own. Should this provoke an intriguing discussion, I may post more, and make it a series of sorts. Feel free to join in the fun with your own policy ideas!
This entry tackles the problem (at least, I think it's a problem!) of advertising, and proposed a rather radical step - its complete abolition.
It's not called "Insane Policy Ideas" for nothing!
Problem - Advertising is a pernicious force in modern society, with little redeeming value. It contributes to the unsustainable culture of consumption, warps the design process to emphasize visual style over function, encourages competition based on marketing savvy and image rather than quality or usefulness, fosters material envy and greed, and fosters insane aspirations. Yet, advertising is more or less the entire source of funding for large swaths of the culture industry. Without advertising, most radio, television, and periodicals would wither and die.
What to do?
UPDATE - Just to be clear, this discussion is about broadcast media, radio and television, not print media and the internet. Those are different mediums with different problems.
Many countries already use government tax dollars to either fully fund, or to at least subsidize, radio and TV.
In the US, this is not terribly significant. Some localities support a public access or government channel, to show meetings and deliberations and hearings and whatnot, and to allow citizens to say more or less whatever they want on television.
There is PBS, a cable television network that gets an ever dwindling portion of its funding from government sources. There is also NPR, a radio network largely but not exclusively operated out of universities, that also receives a dwindling portion of its funding from the government. Both rely at least in part on begging to survive. Both pitch their programming towards the more culturally sophisticated/pretentious snob set, and are heavy on traditional high culture and world culture. They also have news that, while not perfect, is substantially better than that available in any other broadcast venue. In both systems, much of the programming is produced by the largest and richest of the local stations, and is picked up by other stations in the network according to local authorities in charge of the member stations.
C-SPAN, the family of networks that televise the US House and Senate, is a non-profit company originally founded by and funded by the cable networks.
Everything else, to the best of my knowledge, is run by private companies and supported in large part by advertising.
NOTE - I don't know enough about how other countries subsidize their culture industries to say anything intelligent, but I suspect there are people here who do. Please, speak up! How does the system work in your country, what are its strengths and weaknesses as you see them, and how do you think it could be improved?
PBS and NPR are not in the same business as the private networks and cable channels. They don't produce sitcoms or dramas and whatnot with the sole goal of attracting the biggest possible audience, but rather, they try to produce programs according to a particular notion of good and useful programming that will be interesting and informative to the viewers. That is, programming decisions are at least in some small way ideologically driven, in a way that is distinctly different from the private networks. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it is important to note.
Whether anyone reading this post is fond of mass-market radio and television or not, many people are, and it is safe to say that it would be missed should it disappear. I think it is also safe to say that replacing the diverse private media with any sort of state media system, no matter how decentralized or independent, would not be a satisfactory solution. There is a certain dynamic to the competition between private media companies that, I think, is impossible to replicate via state media.
I am not saying that state-sponsored or supported media outlets are useless, just that they are not the solution for everything. Their role, and ways to reform the currently existing entities, is a different discussion.
I also think that the diverse ecology of the private broadcast media is something that is worth preserving. Maybe some people disagree on this point. It's worthy of discussion.
So, what to do?
My idea is as follows.
- Abolish all commercial advertisements over the public airwaves. This may be unconstitutional in the US, as advertisement has been ruled a form of free speech, but so what.
- Establish a government-fund to support broadcast media. Money from the fund is to be doled out to the various media outlets entirely according to the number of viewers they are able to draw, on a program by program basis.
The way I see it, this would more or less replicate the system of incentives and rewards that drives programming decisions by private companies in the current ad-supported model, minus the foul and pernicious effect of advertising on both programming decisions and upon the populace subjected to the advertising.
This is not a solution to the ideological biases perpetuated by corporate media consolidation. That is a different problem with a completely different set of solutions.
The major flaws I see with this plan would be its great expense, government censorship at the funding stage, and the fact that it would destroy whole sectors of the economy.
Other than that, what's wrong with this idea? Do you have a better one for dealing with this problem?