thumbnail of Ethic for broadcasting; Crisis in communication: Introduction
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The very men who produce these programmes don't listen wouldn't listen don't particularly want their families listen to a good deal of what they put on the air I've heard them say so themselves. But they figure that they're doing it for some great unwashed crowd someplace out there. With whom they have no real communion and for whom they have very little respect. Now where television has come upon dark days is where the businessman is triumphant. Where there is no showmanship no flared no excitement no glamour no theatricality. We either hang together or we hang separately. As a culture looking for the love villain of the piece is already a distortion of one's point of view. The point as you say the finger of scorn at the broadcast. This doesn't solve the problem. The problem is an endemic social cultural problem. It is always assume that when you talk about crookedness corruption greed
issues pressure groups we are talking about somebody else. I guess the answer to that is for people to examine them themselves and their own motivations and their own actions and see if maybe the shoe doesn't fit them. Those voices belong to Mike Wallace TV personality David Susskind and program producer Charles educator and David Brinkley news broadcaster. It was supposed. To be a moment. This is perfect 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 and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters program
one crisis in communication. And now here is your host John Campos. At present a few radio and TV network executives an advertising account man have the job of determining what you and 100 million other Americans will see and hear every night in your homes. The Federal Communications Commission composed of seven political appointees is charged with policing a billion dollar industry earmarked public interest. Why then why rig TV quizzes payola and FTC investigations of false advertising the rule last year. Who will determine an ethic for future broadcast programming. The FCC claims to have no authority over the network's advertising agencies claim to have no responsibility. The network executives claim to have no opportunity. The public claims to have no voice. Yet this is now and will continue to be one of the biggest issues of public morality in the 1960s.
If the answer to this dilemma in radio and television ethics could be found if the present sickness in this sensitive area in our American communications system could be analyzed and answer to society's deeper arrows might be discovered. The problems in broadcasting are only a symptom of a much larger problem in our society today. The payola revelations here have triggered consequences that go far beyond phony practices in radio and television. They give rise to some very basic questions. These basic questions were asked of men who make broadcasting their business educators broadcasters law makers advertising men and critics both public and private. These men were interviewed in their own surroundings their homes their offices their places of business even in transit at an airport not in the sterile confines of a radio studio. Consequently the background noise as you will hear are actually those of New York Washington Chicago and Detroit.
And it is the first program we introduce the problem and the various areas that are to be investigated in the remainder of the series. The specific questions deal with the broadcaster the audience the advertiser the lawmaker and finally the critic. One of the questions you might have in mind is when did this begin. Is this a 961 problem or is this a problem that began at the dawn of broadcasting. Before August of 1900 there was no such word as television radio broadcasting as we experience it in a 20th century began as a scientific hobby in a barn in east Pittsburgh in the spring of nine hundred twenty. It was not until the 1940s that television was widely available. But radio and television always a part of the public domain were destined to become a continuous and integrity part of the daily home life of maturing nation. They are in the words of Gilbert Saudis not quite so inalienable as life and
liberty but essential to the pursuit of happiness. Since radio and TV are primarily entertainment mediums one of their criteria is that of serving the public interest. However from the very beginning there has been no clear definition of what we mean by public interest. As far back as 1922 Herbert Hoover them the secretary of commerce stated with respect to radio it is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service for news for entertainment for education and for vital commercial purposes to be drowned in advertising chatter. Here then was the first of many clarion call is to suggest that advertising was making some serious inroads into what was otherwise a public medium. In some instances you might say. The problem grew like Topsy and has continued to mushroom through the years. If this is the case what then was the Federal
control aspect in this regard. We asked Dr Walter Emory of Michigan State University this question. Well John it's a long story and we don't have time to go into the details but suffice to say this started back in 1927 when the radio lacked the first radio Act was adopted by Congress during those early years. As you know there was a great deal of chaos in the ether as it was called and the public demanded that there be some kind of regulation to bring order out of this chaos. And so Congress adopted the radioactive nineteen twenty seven and established a Federal Radio commission on how one of the problems that Congress had in connection with the adoption of this original act was determining just how far the government should go in the field of programming. And there were
differences of opinion expressed in Congress there were those who felt like that the government should not have any power. There were others who felt like that the quality of programming at that time was not satisfactory and that the government ought to step in and establish some standards of what actually happened was a kind of a compromise a section 9 of the original radio act prohibited censorship at the same time there are other there were other provisions in the radio act which indicated that the Federal Radio commission did have the authority and the responsibility to determine whether stations that operated in the public interest and the implication there was that the radio commission would have to consider programming then in 1934 when the Federal Communications Commission was established
this difference of opinion was again expressed in Congress and there was a great deal of debate in Congress as to how far the FCC should go or what actually happened was that Section 9 of the radioactive 27 was transferred to the Communications Act and it became Section 326. Well since the FCC was established in 1934 there has been this continuing debate in and out of Congress as to just what power the FCC has. Well the extent of the exercise of power over programming has depended a great deal upon the type of leadership some of ministrations have construed the statute in such a way that they have taken quite a bit of responsibility.
I would say that the present administration of the FCC does recognize that the commission has some authority. But all through the years there has been a concern on the part of the public regarding broadcast media and their effects upon our culture and upon our thinking. And of course broadcast media touch the lives of the American people so closely. David Susskind TV program producer has been an ardent critic of television. He like all of those interviewed was asked what good he thought would come out of the present investigations of radio and television. Well yes I think good will come of it. And I think good has come of it if only for the spotlight has been turned on television which is needed a spotlight for a long time. Well when you say it's needed for a long time do you think this is 25 years too late. No I think it's
about eight or 10 years late. Well then you would be speaking primarily with relevance to television. Oh it's almost completely relevant to television. Television would not has been operated as a kind of private club for a long time you know. Where are broadcasting corporations network officials who have been running it is a private business it's certainly that but it also has an aspect of a public utility about it. The airwaves belong to the American people. Their lease to stations through the FCC and the FCC regulations and enforcement provisions have not really applied with any kind of intelligent regularity or continuity and I think this investigation has first pointed out the ills of broadcasting in DV. And secondly has pointed to some remedial possibilities you know. And that's why it's valuable. Charles Slepian chairman of the communications program at New York University thought differently
when asked if any good would come out of the investigations. Now I don't because frankly I think. That the calling of these hearings by the commission. Was disingenuous. My impression is that the commission is not seriously interested in coming to grips with this problem. It's frightened as others are frightened by the state of affairs that has arisen and in effect wants to talk time out until. The dust has settled and we all revert to type. But I think it's a product of the times I think in a certain crude sense it's a publicist and I don't think many of the newspapers who made broadcasting the the villain of the piece again were anything but disingenuous. The press hasn't cleans cuts. The whole payola story is not confined to broadcasting this is a standard practice in business that everybody knows about.
This is endemic in our society. But because of a VanDoren problem broadcasting have. A floodlight to publicity on it. Here was another scandal publisher Jim Wise This builds interest this makes for more headlines so we go after this one. Among the items that the Federal Communications Commission is charged with protecting is to see that broadcasting is carried on in such a way as to serve the public interest convenience or necessity. The first of these terms public interest almost defies definition. Here is Mr. statement's answer first the question What would you say is serving the public interest. In broadcasting in broadcasting. Serving the public interest in broadcasting for me means honoring a basic principle. Related to the public interest. Namely. The use of this medium. To provide for each and all of us the widest conceivable range of experience.
Exposure to everything that broadcasting can bring to us in terms of knowledge insight issues of considerations that bear upon our individual growth and awareness. This is not a public interest means the exposure of all and sundry to such a wide variety of experiences as same's us from going through life parochial minded like a horse with blinkers on and confined in our vision. And to that extent unaware of the issues of life and death that face us. And the issue of life and death does indeed faces today as I said in my testimony before the commission in that atomic energy he has produced. State of affairs that has never existed in human history before. The simple fact that there is not a human being on this earth today who can claim a life expectancy with any certainty or assurance beyond the intake of a thousand breaths which is the time it takes for a ballistic missile fired from
point x to reach point y anywhere on this earth. Total extermination is in the cards these days. Now under a circumstance of that kind the the DIC the degree of the exercise of responsibility in areas of communication is raised to a point of such significance as to be an issue of life and death. We cannot in this age afford to be parochial ignorant stupid unaware. The ordinary citizen pursuing his daily round is confined in his life in his experiences. He can't go he can't travel around the world he can't get first hand experience. The world has to be brought to his doorstep. If he is going to be a self-conscious aware responsible individual and a voter David Susskind answer is not unlike Mr Simmons when asked who do you think is serving the public. In broadcasting to. I think it means essentially balance public interest in
broadcasting would be in awareness and that would be translated into action of the diverse nature of the American community. It would take cognizance of the need of entertainment information instruction and education. It would recognise that there's a classical musical taste that there is a broad comedy taste that there's a taste for public affairs and information on the issues of our day. It would recognize a responsibility to children to give them something that's good for them something that would acquaint them for example with the classics of our history and the classics of our literature. It would do something of an educational nature. I think essentially the public interest in programming could be quoted best with the word balanced programming and that we've had practically no I came up with a triumvirate here of controllers we have businessmen who are running broadcasting we have shown
them as yourself preparing the programs and we have a legal mandate like the Federal Communications trying to control what it is that is going on. Is there a common meeting ground with these three. Yes I think there is. To begin with I think the television programming requires a kind of exquisite combination of business instinct and show business flair. You need showmanship and business judgment. How is the be set. Broadcasting at the moment. In my view is the emergence into a dominant position of the business man and the fading away of the showman. Businessman have been running the networks and business men run advertising agencies for the most part. There are notable exceptions most of formative BBDO is one of them. And businessman run the sponsors sponsors you
know big business. Now where television has come upon dark days is where the businessman is triumphant where there is no showmanship no flair no excitement no glamour no theatricality. There is no theatricality and no showmanship in 38 Westerns. There is no showmanship in 28 private eye shows. There is practically no showman in the inane showmanship in the inane comedy situation comedies and certainly no showmanship in the price is right and gets my way who is your mother and all of that. Serving the public interest as has been suggested by these two men would in a sense mean in some instances broadcasting controversy or programs. Mike Wallace television personality and called by some Inquisitor or par excellence is for not just controversial programs. You see it seems to me when I if I can come back to the lowest common denominator for a minute why do these men. And women but mostly men in charge of broadcasting
try to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Because their purpose in broadcasting is not broadcasting per se but the selling of goods per se and they realize that they can reach the largest audience by a lower common denominator of programming in other words they are using broadcasting as a device to sell goods. And they take it out of the realm of the merchandising and into the Rock realm of the informing an entertaining on its own level. Then will get better programming. The very man who produced these programs don't listen wouldn't listen don't particularly want their families listened to a good deal of what they put on the air I've heard them say so themselves. But they figure that they're doing it for some great unwashed crowd someplace out there. With whom they have no real communion and for whom they have very little respect. At this point it appears that the broadcaster is faced with some sort of dilemma. We go back to David Susskind and ask what you think is the answer. Catering to the public trying to reach most of the people most of the time making a fast
buck. Yes all of that plus the play it safe psychology carbon copies being safer and easier to live with and innovation and experimentation. Well have we arrived at what we might call formula television. Obviously. Look at the word television set in the night. If you can buy that. And you see formula television coming at you by the real you. Well as a program producer and I get to hear what controllers are you affected by. I'm affected by the kind of sick appetite of the buyer. Essentially the network and or the advertising agency to repeat successful formula is already in existence. When I come in with something new fresh different and exciting I am listening to a certain minimal courtesy and then I'm and then I'm asked Haven't you got something like Father Knows Best. Could you create a kind of a gun somewhat with a switch. How about a wagon train that would really be
kind of in a tent somewhere. And I always say No I'm afraid I couldn't do that what about the show we've been discussing. You say well it's too well. Too chancy. You know really much to charity Let us not forget the listening public the audience for the ARG various polls were conducted to gauge public opinion about the discoveries made by the Federal Communications Commission and the Harris Subcommittee on legislative oversight. The results were most interesting if not alarming. David Brinkley National Broadcasting Company network news caster sums up what was found to be the general consensus of opinion. The most distressing thing about the VanDoren exposure was a reaction to the VanDoren exposure. Area far too many people thought well there is nothing wrong with it he was making money. Wasn't he in there for it was all right. I don't know how to stop that I wish I wish to God I did. I don't mean I don't know how I can stop it I mean I don't know how it can be stopped by anybody. I just don't know the answer to that would be
on me. But it is intensely distressing. I hope that by exposing some of tolerating wrongdoing it might cause people to look at some of their own and other feel as if we have to be they. No not a scapegoat if we have to be the catalyst and that's all right. I think maybe it might be a fine public service for us to do that we'd rather somebody else did it. Well is it a problem that everybody thinks that everyone else is wrong accusing fingers were pointed but they've met with other accusing fingers. I suspect so I get I think in 1948 when Harry Truman ran for president he kept making speeches about the special interests and people said all that wonderful hair and give him hell and everybody thought the special interest interests were somebody else never realizing he was talking about them. That is farm groups labor groups business groups. It is always assume and when you talk about crookedness corruption greed
suspect pressure groups you're talking about somebody else. I guess the answer to that is for people to examine themselves and their own motivations and their own actions and see if maybe the shoe doesn't fit them. We soon return to the question concerning the burden of responsibility and onto who shoulders this falls David Susskind earlier had said that it fell on the broadcasters and the public simultaneously. But the public is apathetic and lethargic and the broadcaster are reticent to take the first step. Consequently leadership must emerge from somewhere. Decisions must be made. President Eisenhower was asked during a press conference to comment on the larger philosophical implications of the problems that beset the broadcasting industry. The president appeared to parry the question. You can sense the seriousness of the situation and soon come to the realisation that this is no mere political football which rests periodically in the lap of a president. The broadcaster or the listener or as Charles puts it that
isn't any one person who is responsible for this. We either hang together all we hang separately as a culture. Looking for the. Love villain of the piece is already a distortion of one's point of view. The point as you say the finger of scorn at the broadcast. This doesn't solve the problem. The problem is an endemic social cultural problem. It is that the degree of the absence of a sense of responsibility throughout culture. From those who need responsibility most namely those who have great power right down to you and me who have seemingly no power but as individuals in this democracy still have or should have a voice. Now comes the crux of the problem. You've heard the proof the responsibility has been placed. Where do we go from here. David Susskind answers as we ask about the subject of this series.
We are dealing here with an ethic for broadcasting and I think you've articulated very well some of your attitudes about this. But what about the future is there going to evolve some kind of a workable ethic for broadcasting where we will do ethical business broadcasting cultural broadcasting educational. I'm tremendously sanguine about the future because I first believe the only direction we have from where we are is up. I'm very happy about the possibility of an Africa for broadcasting because there has been no ethic are you suggesting that we can sink any lower. I'm not suggesting stating categorically we cannot be any lower than we've been. If we get an ethic of any description it will be the first ethic we've had and I think both are inevitable progress in an upward direction. So we can't go downward and the evolving of an ethic since we've never had one before we may get half an ethics of William Proxmire United States senator from Wisconsin also has an answer for the question
concerning ethics for broadcasting and the hope for the future. Well more than a century ago a great French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville. It was a brilliant young man and came to America and wrote a book on America and he said something it seems very simple and very platitudinous but it's very true. And I think particularly Americans should reflect on it now. He said America is great because she is good. And if America ever ceases to be good America will cease to be great. I wonder how good the American people are likely to be if we have a media which panders do low taste which fails to challenge which doesn't have controversy which refuses to stimulate and provoke the American people as it could and as it should. When we compare our media with the media in other countries it's wonderful in some ways it's more
entertaining it's more exciting it's more varied. But in terms of cultural content in terms of moral appeal it is lacking and distinctly lacking. I feel very strongly that we should as I've said before on this program I want to conclude by saying it. I think we should somehow appoint secure the appointment of outstanding Americans who will make it their duty and their responsibility to observe our radio and television and will suggest goals and standards by which American television American radio to which I should say they can aspire. And by which they can achieve the kind of world that we believe America should live up to. If the various communications media are to reflect our culture broadcasting in America doesn't. If we are to believe those who have spoken today how will this problem be answered. Will it be by naive enthusiasm myopic conservatism or will it
be answered by being given a sound appraisal. It would appear that nothing remains but for the broadcaster of the art the audience for the art the lawmaker of the art the advertiser a financier of the art and the critic of the art to pool their resources to move from a plateau of enlightened self-interest to one of mutual cooperation to solve this crisis in communication. You've been listening to crisis in communication. The first 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 Campbell of the Detroit Institute of Technology. Producer for the series is Dr. Mary MQ sak 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
Ethic for broadcasting
Crisis in communication: Introduction
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/500-9s1kmx57).
Episode Description
This program presents an introduction to the series.
Other 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: Brinkley, David
Interviewee: Siepmann, Charles A. (Charles Arthur), 1899-1985
Interviewee: Wallace, Mike, 1918-2012
Interviewee: Emery, Walter B. (Walter Bryan), 1903-1971
Interviewee: Susskind, David, 1920-1987
Producer: Cusack, Marianne
Producing Organization: WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-52-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:24
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; Crisis in communication: Introduction,” 1961-07-13, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 25, 2022,
MLA: “Ethic for broadcasting; Crisis in communication: Introduction.” 1961-07-13. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 25, 2022. <>.
APA: Ethic for broadcasting; Crisis in communication: Introduction. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from