Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Warning from Britain: Don’t let the elite squelch the voices of the people

Posted by sanityinjection on September 9, 2008

Great peace in the Telegraph today by American expatriate Janet Daley. Having lived in the UK for 40 years, Daley contrasts the political atmosphere of America with that of Britain and finds the latter wanting:

This is important because there is no shortage of persons among the American Left who believe, and sometimes even state out loud, that Europe and the ways Europeans do things are better than America and the way we do things. They bemoan that we are not more like our European cousins, with their high unemployment, high-tax supported welfare states. Daley’s article argues the opposite – that more than two centuries after the American Revolution, we are still at the forefront of freedom ahead of Europeans. 

In particular, Daley references British legislation which regulates the content of British news and opinion programmes:

“In Britain, television and radio are heavily regulated in their content: in their news and current affairs coverage broadcasting organisations are required by law to be officially neutral and “balanced”, which effectively means that they must all subscribe to the premises of what constitutes acceptable mainstream opinion (as determined by the “enlightened few”).”

The American analogue of this is the push for expanded regulations to mandate “equal time” and “fairness in broadcasting”, being sponsored by – you guessed it – the American Left. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for objectivity in news reporting, but that doesn’t mean that media outlets can’t take a political stance. The Left misses the point: that the problem is not that we have biased journalism, but that our journalists hypocritically pretend to espouse objectivity when they are not objective at all, disguising and denying their biases.

“Fairness in broadcasting” isn’t just making sure that media outlets give differing candidates an equal opportunity to be heard during an election contest. That is a good thing, and our laws already require it to some degree. Fox News, for example, may lean to the right, but they have to allow Barack Obama’s campaign to buy commercial time on their network, for example. Rather, the proposed expanded law would bring “legislated equality of outcome” to the airwaves. For every right-wing radio talk show, there would have to be an equal left-wing radio talk show – despite the fact that left-wing talk radio has so far proven to be economically non-viable. (For the Left, the only non-viable thing that doesn’t deserve to be protected by the government is a fetus.)

Let me give a more concrete example. Near where I live there is a radio station that broadcasts almost totally in Portuguese. That format was the decision of the station’s ownership group which pays the federal government for the right to broadcast on that frequency. They can choose whatever format they want, and they chose one they thought would appeal to the area’s Portuguese and Brazilian communities. To the majority of residents here, who don’t speak Portuguese and whose interest in Brazilian music begins and ends with “Mas Que Nada”, the station is useless. But not to the Portuguese-speaking minority, especially the community businesses which support the station heavily with their advertising (presumably to their ultimate profit.)

However, under an expanded “fairness in broadcasting” law, another minority group – say Native Americans, to take a random example – could complain that the government is favoring the Portuguese community by licensing a Portuguese station and not a Native American one. (Never mind that the Native Americans have just as much right to purchase a station and do what they want with it – in fact there *is* a Native American station in Connecticut.) The law would then require the Portuguese station to provide some programming in the appropriate Native American language. Of course, every other group would quickly make the same complaint, and the Portuguese radio station would soon become a Portuguese/Native American/Hindi/Swahili/every other group station. The Portuguese advertisers could no longer be sure of their audience, and would pull out, not to be replaced in sufficient numbers by businesses from the other communities. So eventually, the station would run out of money and be sold to someone who would turn it into a music or news format just like every other station on the dial. Instead of empowering minority voices, the law would ultimately have acted to suppress them.


2 Responses to “Warning from Britain: Don’t let the elite squelch the voices of the people”

  1. tubby said

    It may seem like elitism, but I think I still side with the Brits on this. I think balanced, unbiased reporting is something to be admired, and I think the British have devised a decent formula for maintaining this. The BBC News is the paragon of international news, if you ask me. Is it a slippery slope? Maybe. I don’t know much about this fairness in broadcasting law you bring up, and it sounds pretty ridiculous the way you describe it. However, I would expect any reasonably well-thought-out version of the final law to distinguish between political content and actual delivery format. In your example, I think the latter is what is at stake, and the law in its final form shouldn’t find in favor of any Native American complaint.

    I’m also interested in hearing your stance on government involvement in funding (or not funding) public broadcasting that doesn’t suit its policies. If I had to choose between the two, I would much rather my government regulate balanced reporting than indirectly impose its policies on publicly funded programming.

  2. sanityinjection said

    Just to be clear, I chose Native Americans as a totally hypothetical example. I’m not aware of any real life complaints by that group in this area.

    I agree that objective news reporting is a worthy goal. However, if you talk to Brits, they will tell you that BBC has some very definite biases, for example on the issue of climate change. I don’t think they are any worse than our major news networks here in America, though.

    My stance on publicly funded broadcasting is simple: Eliminate it altogether. This is not because I find no value in the programs produced by public radio and television – on the contrary, some of them are among the finest I’ve ever seen or heard. However, despite its taxpayer funding, PBS/NPR still raise millions from their individual and corporate sponsors (who among us hasn’t endured a PBS pledge drive?) If we find public broadcasting programs of value, we should be willing to fund them totally with voluntary contributions (I have contributed, and if public funding were withdrawn, I’d contribute more.) The federal government has many important functions to fulfill. Adding one more to the wide variety of TV and radio channels out there isn’t one of them.

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