Public Television for Sale: Media, the Market, and the Public Sphere

Public Television for Sale: Media, the Market, and the Public Sphere

Public Television for Sale: Media, the Market, and the Public Sphere

Public Television for Sale: Media, the Market, and the Public Sphere

Excerpt

Since its inception, American television has been organized by the principles of the free market. Although early regulatory statements suggested that television airwaves are a kind of public utility, and although federal government licenses are necessary to operate a broadcast outlet, television in the United States always has been fundamentally a private industry. In this regard, the United States stands in marked contrast to Europe, where television has been perceived as a scarce public resource, too important to be left simply to market forces. By the 1960s, concerns about the relationship between television, the market, and the quality of public life surfaced in the United States. Critics argued that commercial television's reliance on advertiser revenue and its need to attract a mass audience made it structurally incapable of serving the broader cultural, informational, and educational functions of a democratic mass communication system. In this view, the market orientation of American television was seen as its principal constraint. Rather than fundamentally restructuring the commercial television industry, reformers created a new institution, public television, to help fulfill the communication needs of a democratic citizenry.

In this book, I examine that system of public television, now represented by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and local public television stations. When a national public television system was first proposed by the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television in its January 1967 report, it was designed as a uniquely American institution, one that would be supported, but not controlled, by the federal government. The Carnegie Commission argued that the new system had a crucial role to play in a democratic society and urged the federal government to act immediately to establish a national public television entity.

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