Boycott crappy news programs

Posted on 2010-11-11 20:23

When I canceled cable TV earlier this year everyone told me that the kids would stage a revolt. Happily, that didn't happen, and in fact the opposite did. The house is generally quieter and calmer without the background din from a TV set left on at all hours even when there was no-one in the room to watch it. Those few programs they enjoy are mostly available over the internet anyway, and played this way (on demand) we can make sure homework and practicing are done first - there's no deadline other than bedtime. I thought I'd really miss the news, but I find I read the news online more (and the sheer breadth and depth of what is available online is mind boggling) and I tune in to the news on the radio anyway. One thing that has become more obvious without TV is how crappy TV news has become...

Because my news consumption is now, of necessity, slowed down I find I am spared what is perhaps the most egregious vice of these programs - the lack of journalistic integrity (which has been trumped by an unnecessary requirement of immediacy). Television reporters are tasked with being the first to break any story and the more sensational the better so that a constant drumbeat of panic and urgency can be broadcast for as long as possible. If something is "breaking news" there is a greater chance you'll keep your eyes glued while they break away for a quick word from their sponsors. Since time will eventually allow real reporters to gather information and sort through the sources more thoroughly, these shows are actually set up to immediately repeat any rumour or speculation, without any requirement for checking into the facts first. A great example is the recent "missile launch" off the California coast. Pentagon spokesmen didn't offer an official explanation for 24 hours while they reviewed the photos with experts and checked records and logs, but that didn't stop nearly every news program from announcing that there had indeed been a missile launch all on one pilots speculation. Since it took nearly a day for me to get around to reading about it, by then the missile theory had already been debunked - but for an entire day the public was fed misinformation and speculation. That is not journalism and its a terrible way to inform the public about current events.

News is unlike entertainment programming. The purpose of news is to inform the public about current events so that the we can act more effectively as good citizens in our democracy armed with this knowledge. As Americans we hate the propaganda machines and state run media of the old Nazi and Communist regimes of Europe and we like to think our system is better and more fair.

News outlets generate profit through advertising and if their programming creates a sense of urgency and panic which increases the number of eye-balls on screen they will continue to create it. The sorry state of modern news broadcasting (on both TV and radio) is entirely due to the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine by President Reagan in 1987.

Currently, however, there is no required balance of controversial issues as mandated by the fairness doctrine. The public relies instead on the judgment of broadcast journalists and its own reasoning ability to sort out one-sided or distorted coverage of an issue.

It should be pretty obvious that most so-called news outlets (I include all of them on cable TV) have abused the privilege. Since we The People license our airwaves to these broadcasters, they are effectively, PUBLIC TRUSTEES and need to be held to account for what they are broadcasting over them. While I've argued for a reinstating of some kind of Fairness Doctrine in the past, I'd settle for a legal requirement that outright lies and misinformation bring mandatory fines upon broadcast companies. This might slow them down a little so that they actually do some of the investigative reporting we used to expect from our news reporters.