Saturday, December 10, 2011

Our Revolution ?

In 1960, Television arrived in the US as the medium of record for politics with the Nixon - Kennedy debate.  This was the era of television controlled by only 3 networks, the era of the "fairness doctrine".  

That doctrine had its roots in the 1930s, when the US government sought to check the political power of the corporations who held absolute power over the TV airwaves. By the 1980s, Cable News had arrived, and the era of deregulation was well under way.  Ronald Regan vetoed an attempt to put that doctrine into law, and we arrived in the current era.

A spectrum of cable news channels convey news as entertainment, which is necessary to grab the attention of ever-shrinking television audiences.  But something has been lost. Another aspect of the fairness doctrine - the idea that media serves the public interest - is all but forgotten today.

Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" described the news media of 1985 as Huxley's "Brave New World" - dazzling its citizens as democracy fell apart.  

News as entertainment has pervaded our culture to the point where we have a generation that doesn't know anything different.  Government policy is not as gripping as campaigns, personalities and gaffes are. But as government continues to grow, we are not served by the information sources we have today. 

Electric media (television and radio) and government (based on print) have never had an easy relationship.  They have been drifting apart each other for 50 years now. There is, however, a natural fit between the print-based western political tradition, and the internet. And politics on the web is still a printed-word based medium. 

I continue to look for ways in which new media (such as the Sunlight Foundation) can shine a light on how we govern ourselves. McLuhan explained how new media can rip through old institutions quickly, and upend them. Certainly we have seen that at plan in the Arab Spring revolutions this year. 

When will our revolution arrive, and what will be the nature of it ? 

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