Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Flip Side of the Coin - Broadcast Media's Interest in the Status Quo

As we free-minded and independent-spirited folks fight to make American democracy more representative of America, it is easy to focus exclusively on the rich interests that give and the politicians that take. There is a third leg, however, supporting the lofty political perch that rich interests enjoy in this country - broadcast media.

As Eliza Newlin Carney reports in the National Journal, some folks in D.C. are tackling the problem of big money in politics by focusing on broadcast media's role in driving up the cost of campaigns.

In return for their free use of the public's airwaves, broadcasters have a legal obligation to act in the public interest. In the last few decades however, national and local broadcasters have provided less coverage of political campaigns and less opportunities for candidates to appear and debate the issues, all the while raking in more and more revenue from political advertising.

As broadcasters provide less coverage and make more money, the demand for political ad time has skyrocketed, sending the price of ads in the weeks leading up to elections through the roof. A report by the Alliance for Better Campaigns showed that of the $480 million raised by 2004 presidential candidates John Kerry and George Bush prior to receiving public funding, $200 million was spent on tv ads. Another study has shown that since 1972, the networks' coverage of political conventions has decreased 90%, while their ad revenue has increased 4000%.

We've all seen political ads in this day and age - is that the form we want our political discourse to take? Instead of a serious discussion of this country's problems and possible solutions, we want something cooked up by Madison Avenue's finest?

The efforts underway in D.C. would help curtail this vicious upward spiral of prices and force broadcasters to fulfill their obligation to the American public. One bill would require broadcasters to charge the lowest ad rate available in a given year for all political ads. Other legislation being discussed would require broadcasters to provide more public forums for candidates to appear and debate the issues.

Media isn't the only culprit here - candidates should embrace the opportunity to appear and discuss and debate their positions on the issues, not run and hide behind thirty second soundbites and pr flacks sent out to do their dirty work. Rich folks need to realize that their wealth does not merit them a greater say in democracy, despite their designer interpretations of the First Amendment.

By tackling both the supply and demand side of big money in politics, the rest of us just may get our rightful seat at the table of American democracy yet.

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