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The First Amendment and a free people weekly examination of civil liberties in the media in the 1970s produced by WGBH radio Boston in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University. The host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Rubin. I'm delighted to have as my guest today Dr. Ann sold a who is who has a home base in San Francisco. Dr. salty cuz a book from Prager that has just hit the boards and it's called electronic democracy. I saw the manuscript of it some four five months ago and thought it was an outstanding treatise on some of the crucial and controversial issues involving the use of. Television you know our democracy just a little about Ansaldo. She is a graduate of the Sorbonne with a Ph.D. there and she was a student of RAM on our own. Her dissertation was on de Gaulle's use of television as an instrument of power. She's
also a graduate of the University of California Wayne State University in the University of Detroit. All of these cases with honors she's held the Woodrow Wilson fellowship and has published mightily I may say on these subjects in numerous journals. And Saul Dick let me ask you the first question. As a leading question in electronic democracy your new book you feel that there are certain very disturbing elements of the use of television involving the use of television in our society. And you put them in several categories. What are those categories. Well the overall framework for those categories is the movement of the press influencing the government to actually use a governmental function. And the examples that I discuss the gatekeeping
privileges which traditionally are political rather than journalistic. It is the network executives who decide whether or not the president will have access to the public. It is the journalists and the editors editors in radio and television who set the national agenda each day which in turn tends to politicize people and influence the political values that they choose to emphasize. The media particularly television has restructured the whole political process by personalizing power and restructuring the election procedure is weakening the political parties and conventions and all of these things are done as a spillover effect of television dominating the communication the political communications in the country.
Also it concerns me that television is a de facto part of the decision making process in the government. There is no politician or statesman who would make a an important. Political decision without factoring in the impact that this will have on the public and the media. And of course a key point is that the media has made elections very expensive in this country which raises a whole pail of snakes about. Whether democracy is to become a rich person's game or not. There are arguments for and against that but basically those are the categories under the general. Rubric of television exercising governmental power. And my concern comes from the fact that there is very little real accountability of this governmental power and that's incompatible
with democracy in America. I got a feeling that we're not from what you say we're not for the television cloak sometimes on certain days we would discover that the emperor mainly government has no clothes or has very little political accountability. Little with political accountability now just to back up a little bit. I know that you're a critic of what happened in the Nixon administration. And you had some of the things one or two of the things you said perhaps need a little pair of cohesion. How how wrong was Agnew always Agnew right for the wrong reasons when he said some of these things you know. Sixty nine in the morning in his famous attack upon their leaders the small band who determine what we see on television. Yes. Well I think it's always difficult to answer that excellent question in the context of Agnew because Agnew connotes negative thoughts from the masses.
Let me say I presume that when I asked a question since I have read you try to infer that there would be no one I could talk to who would be more antagonistic to that kind of chauvinist or authoritarian approach. Yes given that that Agnew is not our favorite person in recent history then how do you answer the question. I don't answer the same way I would have even if we didn't go through all those qualifications I think you hit upon points that are very important and I think that it is a function of people who think in today's society to recognize. Truth quote unquote wherever it is found whether it is found on a pile of manure or whether to sprout and try and some gorgeous. Well what church. The fact of the matter is for whatever reasons and Agnew was attacking the media where they are actually vulnerable they do exercise enormous power they are highly centralized decision making is
certainly had at that time was a function of the predominantly men who were middle class white and in the media. It was not the place where you find representative Americans. Tell me you you have had some correspondence with network executives on this point and obviously the most sensitive was the reaction of the hierarchy of the big three networks to your criticisms. Well I remember distinctly interviewing one of the vice presidents of news at CBS who is no longer there. And. For. His criticism of me was that I as an outsider couldn't possibly comprehend the complexity of the networks he said all you social scientists who come in here and wander around for a few months a few days you do a couple hundred interviews or what have you and you go away and you think you understand and you know you've really got to be a professional. So I said I certainly can appreciate your
point of view because this is what you do every day isn't it and putting yourself out as experts interviewing a wide spectrum of people for half an hour and then coming back and writing a lead story as if it were gospel truth. So I can understand the problems that you face. But since you feel that you are quite capable of doing it I will continue to feel that I'm quite capable of doing it also. Is there an alternative and sold it to the small band as you put it. Traditionally of brothers who dominated network programming. What. What suggestion would you make to alter the situation. Well first of all I think there is any luck to pull forth which is already in process and that is technology technology no matter where it comes from has a tendency to result in diversity. And the example that I use in electronic democracy is of all things the vox Volkswagen car which in the early 30s was produced always as the little
black beetle that was totally standard like Surely since you know it came in one size and one color and had a certain set number of functions which never varied. Not too long afterwards however it looked as if that little black beetle had fallen into an artist's palette and then it was found in sea blue and beautiful greens and Easter purple and yellow and you could get it with a sun roofs and white wall tires and I understand now you can have radios installed and so on and so forth and the beginning and end of what I'm trying to say is that technology is going to force diversity on the small group of people who have been holding the reins of broadcasting for many years that's one source the second source that's very important is that democracy in America is alive and well and it is manifesting itself in terms of consumer groups organizing and putting pressures on all sectors of the economy to meet their demands. And one of those groups of consumers
are the listening audiences for radio and television. I think it's exciting as exciting as man's first step on the moon that the PTA and various civic groups were able to come together in 1978 and forced the big boys on the block to sit down with them in Chicago and have them listen to parents protests and to see. Specialist protests about violence and sex on children's television programming and to have it so quickly changed because they threatened a national boycott of the products that are advertised on television and that is what the big boys understand you know do they the big boys understand the nature of the cable television revolution and subquestion under that. Do you see in this march of technology cable and other instruments like it is changing within a relatively short time our present disposition to giant networks limited channels
very limited community access to to reaching out with broadcasting. All right. To answer the first question yes I think definitely they are the big boys on the block understand cable and their understanding expresses itself as power usually does in terms of money. Who is investing in Cable who is investing the satellite's who is investing in these or beams fiber optics all of this advanced research that is going to lead to wide diversity of communications. It is these same big boys on the block there are no slouches when it comes to getting in there and seeing whether they can own operate and control some if not all. The future opportunities for communication. Well if it doesn't mean and sold it that we might have a set of four big networks including the public network. We might have three hundred forty looking alike. If they get their way I doubt very much that we're going to have a Montanus information system and the reason I say that is analogous to the history of print.
While it is true that we have a terrific trend in this country towards concentration of print media print newspapers now is what I'm thinking of it is also true that you can walk down to any local newsstand in a large metropolitan area and you can find magazines which are available to sportsmen and soothsayers and religious leaders and political thinkers and crossword puzzle fanciers and whatever the subculture is to which one belongs there is some kind of organ available in which your ideas can be expressed or where you can find information. And I rather suspect that although the current controllers of our broadcast systems are certainly going to be influential. In the diverse media of the future I really think that when you're talking about two
hundred fifty two two thousand channels information video information there will be opportunities for other people to have their say. I guess what I was thinking of is that I saw a statistic not long ago that there were thousands of radio stations in the United States and 57 important to black groups because that they had some share of ownership or management. Right. OK. But probably 20 years ago that number would have been too although I don't know that it's gone up by 500 percent in the last 10 years. Well what I'm trying to say is that as the as the media moguls try to exercise influence and control over the future technology that will provide a diverse array of information sources for people. The consumer's groups are not standing still. We have we are becoming increasingly accustomed to accommodate consumers radio stations television
stations are devising ways to get information from the public. So these forces will be moving along in parallel lines not necessarily at the same rate or with the same power. But it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the blacks and the Indians and and women and other minority groups having more access as a result of Diverse Communications opportunities. Could I change the subject just a little bit and I'm going to do this twice. All right. The first is for a small answer in terms of time in the second I want to get into these these episodes that you have in the book but not the first. Currently the Federal Communications Commission is thinking of deregulating radio stations and under the assumption that public affairs requirements are not necessary even minimally because the marketplace will act as the good barometer and force them to to give certain news and views and culture and whatnot. I don't believe it. Do you.
I think the marketplace is a very good mechanism for giving people what it is that they want. But I'm not altogether sure that this is the right stage in our historical process in the history of communications development for the government to be backing out. The government does have certain responsibilities to the public one of which is to enforce the First Amendment which is a freedom not only to hear but to be heard and the whole problem of access is something that the broadcast industry does not have a good record good track record on. And there's nothing in the past to indicate that their behavior will change in the future. They have done so in the past only if they have been prompted by the government sometimes prompted quite hard to pay attention to the public to strip to the public interest. So we need to have federal government continue in some capacity to exercise and
motivation for the industry which seems to lack that motivation itself. If the industry can truly demonstrate that it will give air time at reasonable hours not at 3:00 in the morning when no one is listening. We will give access to a wide variety of people. Fine but there has to be demonstrated before the safeguards for the citizens can be removed and it's the government's function to provide the safeguards. Very good. I'm not a good San Francisco Bay sailor like you so I don't know whether I'm tacking or hauling on the next one going to leeward or windward but I'm certainly switching the sail in regard to one of the episodes that you have in your book on the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973 where the American Indian Movement was put under tremendous publicity bombardment as it tried to make its point by seizing part of that reservation. What were some of your conclusions about the media role
there. I thought that was an exciting example of things that have been happening in the United States with respect to the impact of television on the American political process. Now my book when I say political process people very often think of elections my book sidesteps elections altogether because we have a vast library of literature on this already and another one in the making. When I say political process I mean that in between elections there's all kinds of political events that are occurring. OK so having said that. The analysis of electronic democracy. As I approach it hangs on for pigs authority order community and credibility in the government. As we all know anyone who has power has to be very careful of their credibility
that is the keystone for everything else. So I wanted to know during those 10 weeks when the American Indian Movement controlled Wounded Knee and had nightly coverage on television and radio and daily coverage in the print what was happening to the government's exercise authority what was happening to the sense of community among Indians throughout the nation who were geographically separated from their brothers at Wounded Knee. What was happening to government credibility and. It seems to me that the because of the presence of the mass media particularly the presence of television the government the federal government was exercising its authority with extreme caution. As one representative one of the decision makers for the government said to me they would have liked to have got in and clean the whole thing out and got it off the air and out of
the public eye as quickly as possible. But the Indians had really been too smart for the government they had chose and wounded me as a symbolic site of the previous massacre and the government decision makers decided they would not have another. A massacre or another. Symbol symbol. That. Would be anti democratic they were particularly sensitive to this because of the kinds of imagery which had come out of the Vietnam War when people saw you know dead bodies and officers standing over those dead dead bodies with a smoking gun they didn't want that so they wanted to go slow their approach the way they chose to exercise their authority was in an ordered fashion to give the impression of being benevolent understanding great white fathers who were going to let these poor
misguided Indians weary the nation but the nation didn't get weary the Indians were very clever in their use of the media choice of symbols. If anything they established an enormous. An enormous community among a national audience both Indian and non-Indian. And. The they did a very good job of damaging government credibility with respect to how the Indians in America are treated. So that's the kind of analysis that I came up with there. I was told in India not long ago by many journalists that the. Indira Gandhi emergency was wonderful for India in one way and that is it alerted the press to what could happen and to what my. And should be fought against in the future. Was the Nixon administration in effect a great educational process. Even though that's not a grammatical way of putting it for the American people.
Well I think that it was I would put it in the context of Watergate being a national civics lesson and you had all kinds of people who were watching Watergate. You know they were schoolchildren and people who normally are not interested in politics it was probably the first time that many people ever considered the U.S. Constitution and probably the first time in many years that the rest of us consider the Constitution quite that way. And it was almost like a Shakespearean tragedy here was this man with a tragic flaw he couldn't tell the truth and and and respect his country's constitution and the system caught up with him democracy actually worked. And as many foreigners have said to me Well you know we too listened with great interest to the Watergate proceedings and although we may have beautifully worded constitutions you have a constitution that was tried and came through that trial.
And you have every right to be proud of your country and the fact that you can teach that people cannot be above the law and remain in office. So I think that was a thrilling exercise. Democracy in action and I think when you refer to a Shakespearean tragedy did you mean that the president might have the Elsinore. Well. I don't know about that but these. Just so we're just very lucky that he's not living in the White House. Are you are you optimistic that some of your criticisms will lead to a positive attitude by the network executives or are you as you say putting your main faith in the evolution the technological revolution which will force you considerations. Well you know I think that the I think that businessmen and women have to have an open mind if they are going to keep that bottom line in the black.
And one of the realities of the contemporary world is that all large businesses have to become more conscious of social responsibilities we see this occurring in the most unlikely institutions which are now deeply involved in ecology and the social repercussions of their various business policies. I don't see that it's any different in broadcasting. I have a lot of hope for them just because big business is organized. The profit motive and the profit motive very often reflects what is happening in the social system. So they're going to have to listen to these consumer groups that are expressing interest they're going to have to acknowledge that their audiences are changing. They're going to have to. Pay more attention to the political interest groups that want to have better programming. And I think that what they are finding now
for instance is that news is money making. And so we are getting I can't say we're getting better quality news because the news on broadcasting is pretty superficial. But we do at least have something like 60 Minutes we do have ABC counterpart of that. We do have a revival of documentaries and interest in using them as investigative tools. We have very minor cross examination and self examination by the broadcast networks about their role in society. You know they're searching. But here I think is the exciting thing that social scientists like you can come along and help them to see more clearly what their responsibilities are and to show them that their interests are not inevitable for meeting their social responsibilities are not inimitable with with making money. That's the grand illusion that broadcasters are under I think.
Because they have become a class in management class I think you put your finger on something they make an awful lot of money right. They think as managers they don't think necessarily as broadcasters but as leaders of a giant industry and they love to look at their program chart to see what they'll put up against. Happy days. Right. Right. Is there is there or are we going to be dragging some very unhappy people away from those program charts one day. You see we're going to see what you mean when when when change comes we'll be able to adapt or will we need a new generation who will adapt for them. Well I think you always have to have. A large. Grid of programming that's fairly innocuous for people who don't want to be bothered by Public Affairs. But I think the broadcasters have to become more realistic about the fact that there are there are people out there who really do want hard solid news with proper historical background information.
And it's in their interest to provide it and it can be money producing. And if they're not going to provide it well somebody else is going to. That's all Dick you know. You fill me with optimism. And I I find this is very good because underneath your criticisms which are very strong. You see beyond the mountain Martin Luther King said you can see over the mountain and I got the impression that from your researches which you report an electronic democracy you have you have sort of a Thomas small mountain it's not only huge but it's made of glass. And not only do you have to climb it but you can see through it. Well yes I think that television in America has done a lot of wonderful things for democracy it has provided a corridor to power for people who are normally excluded from the political process. Like any institution television it is open to criticism but it has done many fine things and we can build on that. Well I I think I could recommend most highly you or your book what's coming up next in terms of writing in terms of writing
research I've gotten interested in the international aspect of telecommunications and I would like to see what book you do with that. I don't know that democracy is for everybody requires a certain set of infrastructure in literacy and so on. But. I think the exchange of information throughout the world can be very useful. Well I know you've just come back from an international conference on that subject and you don't just talk you do you investigate you observe then you're right on the spot. And speaking for First Amendment and free people and soul Dick I wish you well and you go back to California and it's been an absolute delight having you on the program for this edition printed ribbon. Thank you. You were. The First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties and the media in the 1970s. The program is produced in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University. I w GBH radio Boston which is solely responsible for its content.
The First Amendment
Ann Saldich
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WGBH Educational Foundation
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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