Saturday, February 25, 2006

Using the public airwaves, neglecting the public interest

There are topics that are not discussed on the public airwaves that really ought to be discussed because they involve issues of public concern.

Why do public television and radio broadcasters not include any reporting on the question of whether the levels of pollution and rates of taking of natural resources are consistent with the will of the people? Do most people feel that government allows more pollution and faster depletion of resources than what ought to be the case? Or are regulations too strict? Should we allow for more economic growth by relaxing the limits on environmental impacts caused by industry?

Are these not questions that should be raised by and discussed by broadcasters -- public and commercial -- operating in the public interest? What news organization has ever conducted a survey to discover whether most people feel that carbon dioxide emissions are excessive or whether there is actually too much government restriction of use of fossil fuels?

Would a rational and just society adopt the most efficient and fair method of pollution control and natural resource management -- a fee assessed in proportion to actual environmental impacts caused? A fee (or auction of a limited number of permits) is the most efficient method of control, according to economists. A fee encourages all players to put equal effort toward reducing environmental impacts. Efforts to reduce impacts are directed toward areas where they will bring the greatest benefit. Sharing of fee proceeds with the people at large ensures that such a policy would also be fair. Members of society who are the least-well-off would not be further disadvantaged by this method of control. Instead, they would receive a modest benefit.

Would a truly democratic society adjust pollution fees and natural resource user-fees such that industries would have the necessary incentives to produce only the level of environmental impacts that the largest number of people feel is about right? Or would a democratic society allow levels of pollution or rates of resource depletion to exceed what most people say is acceptable? Clearly, a democratic society must bring public policy into line with what the largest number of people feel is the most appropriate balance between the competing interests, between freedom and control.

What is the responsibility of broadcasters? They hold monopoly licenses to use slices of the people's airwaves. They must decide how the airwaves should be used to promote the public interest. How do they decide this? Where are the surveys that ask the people which uses of the airwaves most effectively promote the public interest?

Imagine that citizens were presented with brief samples of various broadcasts and commercial messages. These random samples of content and messages could be presented in pairs. Citizens could be asked to say which of the two samples represented a better use of the public airwaves. Those broadcasts or messages that were consistently rated highly could be broadcast more widely and more often, while those that were consistently rated as promoting private or commercial interests ahead of the public interest could be broadcast less often or not at all. (Broadcasters could be charged a fee when they use the airwaves to promote private or commercial interests. They would then choose to do less of that. They might receive a stipend when they broadcast in the public interest, so they would do that more. The fee proceeds could go to all the people or could be used to fund the public interest stipend to boadcasters.)

The failure of broadcasters to include any discussion of these kinds of questions in their programming does not serve the public interest at all. Serious problems are festering, while ideas related to their solution remain neglected.

John Champagne


Natural law requires respect of PUBLIC property rights, too

Biodiversity as a Public Good

1 comment:

Kooyanasquatsi said...

The people of this country aren't listening, John. The half that isn't drowning out Earth's cries with iPods is glued to the TV set watching whatever tripe the corporations offer.

This populations operates in a state of suspended thought, where reality is as foreign as those who bear the brunt of supporting ours.

Nature is going to remind mankind about the costs of unrestrained capitalism, and I don't think that we'll realize that it's happening until it's too late.