thumbnail of Ethic for broadcasting; Lawmaker of the art, part 2
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
I do not accept the idea that the present overall programming is aimed accurately of the public taste. We have no group that makes any attempt to enunciate standards or goals for broadcasting. As I look over this galaxy I am shocked at the curious absence of academic people. To put it bluntly the people whose business it is to think about questions of taste of questions of morality or questions of ordinary judgement even but at least it will mean that the licensee is required as a minimum to put some time into broadly informing the community on questions that really relates to its survival and not entirely on the question of which deodorant is more effective or. How many guns are needed to shoot down Jack Black in his troops. Regulation is just a penny wise pound foolish way of seeking improvement.
Those voices belong to Newton Minow Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Proxmire United States senator Dr. Edward Rosenheim educator Philip Hart United States senator and Dr. Frank Stanton broadcaster. This is ethics for broadcasting a series of 13 documentary radio programs compiled from interviews with men who make broadcasting their business. This series is produced under a grant from the National Educational Television Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters program nine. The law maker of the art part 2 and now here is your host John Campbell. The lawmaker traditionally has not concern himself with things artistic a Latin
proverb says when it comes to matters of taste there is no dispute because individuals all have their own aesthetic criteria. The broadcast media cannot be blamed for the problems which beset them. You cannot blame radio and television as such for programme content any more than you can blame the printing press for what appears in print. If you dislike something in printed form you turn it over close the book turn the page whatever and it is out of sight. The problem in broadcasting though is that that which you may not like is focused directly at you. You may turn to another outlet but in most instances you will find a carbon copy. So what is the answer. Turn the set off. But no this is unheard of by those of us who suffer from tele morphia. What would we do without this. As it has been phrased chewing gum for the eyes someone must be concerned with this problem of content and the aesthetic sense. In fact three someones a lawmaker the broadcaster and finally you the listener. On this program we here suggested what can be done by the law maker of the art.
William Proxmire United States senator from Wisconsin answers a question concerned with legislation as we ask do you feel Senator Proxmire that the present legislation is ample to handle the problem. You know not by any means I feel very strongly that we should go a great deal farther than we have. I feel for example that one step that I would like to take my legislation would be to establish a commission of outstanding American citizens. This is a proposal that was that was originally made I think in 1051 by Senator Bennett was supported by Senators Brecker and so on stall and Senator hunt. At that time. It was quite a bit of enthusiasm for it but since then it sort of dwindled and died. But I think that this kind of a group of outstanding Americans could do a lot to call attention to the television content in the radio content as it were. We have in the country because this is the kind of thing it is extremely
hard to evaluate on any sort of objective basis. And if you if you have people who have the confidence and the trust of the American people I think it's going to mean that we're going to be moving in a constructive in the same time and a realistic way. Well let's talk a moment about these outstanding Americans. This commission would this be subordinate to the FCC take the place of the FCC or what. Well I think it would fill a yawning gaping vacuum. We have no group that makes any attempt to enunciate standards or goals for broadcasting. The FCC says is as it has been so often said this is beyond their competence beyond their or their right or duty. And Congress discordant voices speak up and call for this or that. But there is no authoritative group that has the confidence in that. It has been vested with by Congress with responsibility for setting forth our broadcasting goals.
Would these individuals be empowered to enforce this. Oh no no no no I think that the the it would be through suggestion. Through calling the attention of the FCC and the Congress to the nature of the broadcasting content and a constant holding up but to the American broadcasting industry the accomplishments or the deficiencies of the systems in Canada and England and France and and abroad generally so that we could recognise what's going on and see what we can do better. But we are not doing what about the present commission rather than your group. Does the FCC have the power now which it refuses to use or doesn't it have the power. Oh the FCC has. Perhaps they have more power than they feel they can possibly use effectively because after all we all know that the airwaves are limited the number frequencies are limited and when the FCC assigns to a broadcaster a particular frequency it gives them a monopoly just as when a
city will give a particular corporation a company the right to operate a utility in a city it gets a monopoly. This is a monopoly whether this this frequency of great value and the FCC has the power flatly to revoke this award. As we know every three years and can do so and can do and should do so on the basis of whether or not the station that has this great power has used it in the public interest. Now the FCC has none of these they say this power is too great if they do it they cause a fantastic loss if they if they revoke a license. But I think that we should find some way some method perhaps a suspension for a period of 30 days possibly refusing to permit the radio station or television station to accept broad commercial advertising for a period of 30 days or so. But some method by which the the public nature of the airwaves can be recognized and can be used to achieve
the content of our television radio which is educational which is cultural which is which is in the public interest an educator is heard next. Dr. Edward Rosenheim associate professor of humanities at the University of Chicago is asked about the FCC. OK you know these men appear to be eminently qualified from the legal point of view or from a technical point of view but there are some cultural deficiencies in the backgrounds of the commissioners. All right I mean let me be quite blunt about it. As I look over the dazzling galaxy of talent which is brought to bear upon the problems of broadcasting in this country whether from the standpoint of the FCC or and I say this quite quite candidly from the standpoint for example of foundations and organizations who were supposed to be concerned with educational broadcasting or indeed at any top level in which policy regarding broadcasting is produced. As I look over this galaxy I am shocked
at the curious absence of academic people. To put it bluntly the people whose business it is to think about questions of taste or questions of morality or questions of ordinary judgement even I I I find this missing I have never been able to understand why at least one member of the Federal Communications Commission shouldn't be appointed simply because he's given a good deal of thought to the kind of philosophic problems which are involved in education which are involved in the humanities which are involved in in the sciences as far as that goes. Before these seem to me to be the fundamental questions and they're not they're not soundbites by law they're not sound by investigations either. Their signs are solid I think by responsible cerebration of which there hasn't been a heck of some of this responsible cerebration is needed to enunciate these principles which might be used as guidelines to define the public interest. Dr Paul B Ricard director of
broadcasting for Wayne State University is asked what does it mean to serve the public interest. But I think quite obviously first of all it means that what you are doing has value to the public. It is a meaningful addition to their normal avenues of communication and obtaining information. I rather felt though this is slightly off the point that it might be wise to put somebody else on the commission rather than merely lawyers and engineers. I think to me the legal point of view is not necessarily the only point of view when you're discussing program content and the ethics of broadcasting. And certainly the engineering viewpoint is not sufficient unto itself. It might be a good notion to put somebody else on other than strictly technical people to deal with a problem of this kind. I'm saying this is not a legal problem and it's not an engineering problem it's a problem it seems to me. Perhaps you ought to have a philosopher on I don't know but it seems to me that purely technical minds are not the kinds of minds it is going to handle this problem.
Award winning author and newspaper man Alan Drury gives his view on the subject as he says. Well again a lot about all I can say is that in a democracy and aroused public opinion is the best solution and the best medicine for things go wrong. Congress can do a certain amount through legislation but it is in the last analysis up of the up to the public. If they are not aroused then that's their hard luck so I say I don't know what we can do to start them up anymore than they are being. We asked the Reverend William Lynch of Georgetown University if the broadcasters themselves could handle the problem to clean up their own houses so to speak. Well I don't know what you mean by self it to clean and buy the face to clean up its own house. First of all I don't think they really have the wish the solid wish to clean up their own house. I don't believe it. They've been given a chance and they refuse the gamble The Gamble have been made. I think they have refused. Now if you talk about very sad ethical problems which I
think are important but also relatively unimportant in the total picture they might tackle these problems through their code although the code has no sanctions the father is trying to have pointed out. Never has exercised sanctions. But I see no indication that they're going to tackle the real problem of quality. Their position constantly is and I get these things in the malice from the president of this in the president that their stand amounts to this fairly. Haven't we done this program and haven't we done that program and they enumerate about 12 programs they've done in the last three months but will they clean up the substance of the junk you know the marginal quality to fill a part United States senator from Michigan was asked what suggestions he had for the future of broadcasting. Where do we go from here. First the Harris committee may or may not have started a line of inquiry which will result in new federal legislation.
Time alone will answer that. I'm convinced that radio and television will be better because of the Harris activity than if that activity had not occurred. It will mean that that industry which is a relatively new one and has had an enormous growth in recent years will review its own betting. It's much like the inquiry of a committee on which I said into the drug manufacturing business. Some good will result even if no legislation follows next. What kind of legislation if any. I have a hunch but it's only a hunch because I don't sit on the Commerce committees. I have a hunch that we will pass some legislation in the in this or the next session. More clearly assigning a responsibility to the
Federal Communications Commission to ride herd on the licensee perhaps make explicit the minimum time which must be devoted to so-called public service broadcasts. This doesn't mean that the remaining time the uncontrolled time so to speak will improve in quality of programming. But at least it will mean that the licensee is required as a minimum to put some time into broadly informing the community on questions that really relate to its survival and not entirely on the question of which deodorant is more effective or how many guns are needed to shoot down Jack Black in his troops. If we had done if we'd taken the first step namely make
explicit the requirement for public service time and then a few years from now we find that programming the quality of the content of the programming on the free time is is intolerably bad. Then maybe we'll look over and see if there is some way that without imposing government controls beyond tolerance we can improve the quality of the programming. But it seems to me that unless all of us as viewers and consumers of the things that are peddled by radio on television unless all of us have a sense of indignation about the bad programming there isn't too much that Congress the FCC or the broadcaster himself can do about it. So I would hope that all of us will review our bidding. Do we read the best things that are available to us. No.
Do we insist the television be as good as we as consumers can influence a broadcaster to make it no. Until we as individuals do something about it don't look to the Congress to come up with miracles. Karnad garrisoned director of broadcasting for the University of Michigan suggests a different approach to program evaluation as we ask what can the FCC do in terms of controlling program content or should it not control program content. I believe that it should have supervisory control over. Broadcasting material as well as the technical side. The recent suggestion of an informal review of the performance of the station by means of essays summaries rather than the statistical summaries is an excellent one I believe. Robert Bartley FCC commissioner is asked why the FCC is apparently unwilling to deal with matters of taste.
I suppose my main reason is that no people two people agree on what is or what satisfies their concept of good taste. We all have slightly varying views on that. Well does the commission propose to make any inroads in terms of defining programme content. No not when you make it is specific is that the blue book issued by the FCC in 1906 has suggested some general areas for trying to arrive at a balanced programme. Well the blue book itself has some very excellent guidelines and. The guidelines themselves I think are not under too much attack the attack against the blue book was its implied attack against commercialism. The implications in the Blue Book in some areas that you couldn't render as public service program if it were commercial. Now it doesn't say that but that has been the interpretation put on it by many people and was
one of the basic reasons why it was so strenuously attacked the blue book. But let's call it the principles set forth in the blue book are still sound. Many have suggested that this is just the case. Might we expect the new version of this document where those ambiguous items are reinterpreted. You may look forward to that. That is one of the things that will come out of this these hearings I'm pretty sure. Dr. Walter Emery Michigan State University professor and practitioner of communication law here evaluates the FCC. There have been 32 members of the Federal Communications Commission since it was created. And I would say with a few exceptions that the qualifications of the man on that commission would measure up pretty well. Now Dr. Swartz of New York University who was formerly general counsel for the Legislative Oversight Committee made a statement shortly
after he left the committee to the effect that. The federal agencies pretty much had been dumping grounds for lame duck congressman. He was quoted in The New York Times as having said that at a Harvard Law meeting. The fact of the matter is only two congressmen have been members of the FCC and there have been some members of the FCC who didn't measure up. But I would say that by and large by and large the present personnel of the commission as well as those who have helped positions in the past have been a capable man. Your discussion suggests that these men are eminently qualified to evaluate the legal and technical aspects of the media. But in discussing program content what can they say as
to matters of taste a concern which transcends the killer cycle and its strength. I think that there have been members of the Federal Communications Commission that have been tremendously interested in the social implications of the mass media have been very much concerned about broadcast media and their effects upon our culture. Of course some commissioners feel that they ought not to be expressing opinions in so far as their official positions are concerned they ought not to venture into the realm of taste. Should there be a more elaborate monitoring system where some of these infractions could be handled more directly. Well in my statement to the FCC I suggested the desirability of making some field studies in cases where there was serious question as to whether stations were operating in the public interest.
Obviously this would not be possible in all cases but in some. In some communities where the operation of stations has not appeared to be in the public interest I think that the government might very well send some experts into the field who could make objects of studies to find out precisely what stations have done to program in the public interest and to find out precisely what the reactions of the public in that community would be to the service which has been given during the license period. Dr Emery discusses the makeup and size of the commission when he says but I must recognise that the FCC is a bipartisan commission and I think the important thing is to select men who have the competency who know something
about public utilities and who understand the social implications of the mass media and what they mean to our democratic society. And if you can get a top notch man on the commission. And then they can select staff that is capable. It seems to me this is the answer. I feel that with the large industry that the FCC has to regulate it ought to have more employees than it has. Some have put forth the hypothesis that some kind of responsible commission could evolve made up of eminent outwit stick citizens appointed by the government to review and report on radio and television periodically. This was alluded to in a speech made by Frank Stanton president of the Columbia Broadcasting System when he received the advertising gold medal for one thousand fifty nine. His feeling though was that broadcasting was
already reviewed by an abundance of professional critics who well scrutinize this industry. They examine everything from the substance of the programs to the broadcasters private deliberations. In fact he says there is nothing left for a commission to review. Believe me. Suppose on the other hand the hypothetical commission is given real teeth to enforce its standards then we are in the dilemma that dependence on benevolent despots are always involved. There is no way to tell whether they will remain benevolent or whether their successors will be benevolent at all whatever Lippmann spelled this out very plainly in the good society. And his discussion of them in planning social improvements Letterman said. Not only is it impossible for the people to control the planet but what is more the planners must control the people by
a kind of tragic irony. The search for security in a rational society if it seek salvation through political authority ends in the most irrational form of government imaginable in the dictatorship of casual oligarchy. The reformers who are staking their hopes on good despots because they are so eager to plan the future Livan plan that on which our lesser hopes depend. The selection of the despots who are to make society so rational and so secure has to be left to the insecurity of irrational chance. This whole theory of benevolent censorship anticipatory or by way of review is mischievous doctrine. There is no conceivable way that it can be limited in degree or in nature control of what goes out over the airwaves is no more justified than control of what
is distributed by the postal system. The second class mailing privileges is vital to many publications as the airwaves to broadcasters should not be withheld from any magazine because it will not submit its editorial contents to review by a commission. Newspapers should not be required to yield control of editorials and features to a commission because economic facts preclude an unlimited number of papers in the community. Regulation is just the wrong approach to the penny wise pound foolish way of seeking improvement. Penny wise and pound foolish though would be if the broadcaster himself persists in not improving. Do you resort to regulation. The newest of the regulators Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow in a speech before the National Association of Broadcasters recognized that the broadcasters are aware of their problems and that they have tried to solve them.
But I am not convinced that you have tried hard enough. To solve them. I do not accept the idea that the present overall programming is aimed accurately of the public taste. The ratings tell us only that some people have their television sets turned on. And of that number so many are tuned to one channel and so many to another. They don't tell us what the public might watch if they were offered half a dozen additional choices. A rating at best is an indication of how many people saw what you gave them. The FCC has a fine reserve of monitors almost 180 million Americans gathered around 56 million sets. If you want those monitors to be your friends at court it's up to you. Chairman minnow here succinctly states what he feels the broadcasters must do when he says Tell your sponsors to be less concerned with cost per thousand. And more concerned with understanding for millions.
And remind your stockholders that an investment in broadcasting. Is buying a share in public responsibility. How does one invoke this principle of responsibility. This is a concern as we have said which transcends broadcasting to come to grips with the question. The emphasis is increasingly on freedom from prior restraint. Plus clearly defined responsibilities. The FCC at this point should not fashion itself to be a platonic gadfly flitting among the various publics which are their concern seeking from them avenues of approach. They know or should know what is their domain and what is more the sins that are punished more of omission than commission. On the other hand the broadcaster is medicine to push to the limits of his freedom to broadcast in the public interest convenience or necessity. So you have both factions backing off using the play it safe psychology which seems to permeate our times. Our approach would not be to throw all caution to the whims. But somewhere in this land it must be the
guiding light who could lift broadcasting out of this morass of mediocrity. You've been listening to the lawmaker of the art part to the ninth in a series of 13 programs on ethics for broadcasting a radio documentary which is investigating the current broadcasting trends compiled from interviews with men who make broadcasting their business. Your host was Dr. John campus of the Detroit Institute of Technology. Producer for the series is Dr. Marion Kuzak of Michigan State University Oakland. Ethics for broadcasting was produced under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center and is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
Ethic for broadcasting
Lawmaker of the art, part 2
Producing Organization
WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-901zhn0s).
Episode Description
This program, the second of two parts, focuses on the legal aspects of television and its programming.
Series Description
This series presents interviews that center on issues in broadcasting and society.
Broadcast Date
Film and Television
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Host: Cambis, John
Interviewee: Hart, Philip
Interviewee: Stanton, Frank, 1908-2006
Interviewee: Rosenheim, Edward W.
Interviewee: Minow, Newton N., 1926-
Interviewee: Proxmire, William
Producer: Cusack, Marianne
Producing Organization: WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-52-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:04
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Ethic for broadcasting; Lawmaker of the art, part 2,” 1961-10-29, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “Ethic for broadcasting; Lawmaker of the art, part 2.” 1961-10-29. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Ethic for broadcasting; Lawmaker of the art, part 2. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from