Upon the birth of the technology, television was heralded as the ultimate instrument of democracy. It was, as no other medium, destined to unite us, educate us, and, as a result, improve the quality of actions and decisions of the polity. As the primary source of timely public information, television provides the greatest potential for understanding ourselves, our society, and even the world.
As early as 1964, Marshall McLuhan predicted that television would break down national barriers and transform the world into a global village. By the 1980s, some claim television would become the vehicle of direct democracy ( Naisbitt, 1982, pp. 159-61; Toffler, 1980, pp. 416-32). Today, as notions of freedom and liberty spread throughout Eastern Europe and the Pacific Rim, television serves as the instrument of unification and definition.
We tend to forget that television also serves as an instrument of power and control ( Innis, 1964, 1972), Quite simply, to control television content is to control public perceptions and attitudes. In America, television has become the primary medium and tool of both political campaigning and governing, culminating in the presidency of Ronald Reagan ( Denton, 1988). Can television serve democracy? 1
Without undertaking a philosophical discussion of democracy, one can identify several critical characteristics of a democratic form of government and consider television's impact in light of those features of democracy. The notion of accountability, for example, is essential to the notion of democracy. Because citizens delegate authority to those who