Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Love The Public, Hate The People

On July 14, Lee Bollinger (president of Columbia University) penned a piece for the WSJ that essentially called for a government bailout of journalism:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today's rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China's CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar's Al Jazeera. The U.S. government's international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters. The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let's demonstrate great journalism's essential role in a free and dynamic society.

Yes, if only America had its own version of Al Jazeera and the BBC, then our media would be just grand. In yesterday's edition of the Journal, several letters from readers appeared flaying Bollinger's dubious proposal as unnecessary and potentially harmful to freedom.

Today, a letter on the matter from public media mogul Bill Kling (the Rupert Murdoch of the public airwaves) was published. Not surprisingly, Kling echoed the call for more dough and power for his already vast empire:

There has never been a more important time for public media to live up to its full potential. While newspapers throughout the country are weakening, and in some cases disappearing, partisan broadcast and Web media outlets are building profitable businesses through the distribution of often distorted and even misleading information. Media-driven public discontent, single-issue politics and even veiled threats make it increasingly impossible for our national leaders to address our country's most pressing problems.

Now is the time to create a more robust, independently governed public media system in the U.S. With increased investments from the federal government, the philanthropic community, and from hundreds of thousands of members and donors throughout the country, America can create a powerful independent public media and ensure the ongoing strength of the Fourth Estate in the digital age.

It's almost amusing to see people decrying the collapse of the supposedly objective outlets that have dominated the media landscape for the last fifty years and telling us that the only solution is for the government to become even more involved in funding new outlets that will return us to that wonderful era of media objectivity. The reality is that what bothers Bollinger and Kling far more than the alleged demise of the media's "objectivity" is the actual demise of the media's exclusivity. They long for the days when only a select few voices (their peers) were able to provide the news and views that would educate and enlighten the masses.

Now that those days are long gone and we've moved into a time of wide open media access, they look to the government to restore the proper order. It's just another example that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, at its core being a progressive means trusting the government more than the people and wanting power distributed thusly.