Freedom of expression, and open access to media, are as fundamental to the survival of Progress as the sun and rain are to the survival of planet Earth. Yet censorship remains a traditional response of any group that finds itself offended at another’s message or creative indulgence.
The argument that because they serve the “public interest,” media should willingly accept a moral arbiter to decide what will and what will not be disseminated is both uninformed and dangerous. The biggest problem is that nobody will have the opportunity to vote for the people charged with determining what information is left on the cutting room floor. Worse yet, certain lower life forms with an eye on world domination will always find ways to apply this primitive form of babysitting to their own sinister ends.
Because the new communications paradigm calls only for media to get bigger-not better-access to media is more costly. As corporate interests pool their resources to control the most print and broadcast outlets allowable by law, certain news stories will surely be censored. Media is market-driven (that is, it needs an audience), and less “marketable” stories will always be ignored.
For example, only cave dwellers and the cable-TV impaired could have possibly missed NASA’s most recent PR coup, the landing of Voyager on Mars. Don’t believe that CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNBC and all the rest were planning to feature this as a major story from the beginning. The Media spun the Mars story big time because People were interested in it, the same way we are always interested in exploration, at pushing boundaries. It’s the same reason the book Undaunted Courage is on the Best Seller list, and why filmmaker Ken Burns (The Civil War, Baseball) is giving Lewis & Clark his mega-mini-series treatment. Because Lewis & Clark were the baddest explorers ever, and, in the immortal words of Fleetwood Mac, heroes are so hard to find.
Back to NASA. The story you probably haven’t heard much about is that this month, NASA intends to launch 72 pounds of Plutonium 238 into an orbit 300 miles high. An accident during takeoff potentially rain radiation poisoning down on 5 billion people. That’s not something the bean want to see above the fold of their newspapers, or chirping from the mouths of their Stepford TV newsreaders.
How does this affect the consumer? “Shareholder economics” typically drives up costs to advertisers and ultimately to those they are trying to reach with their clever jingles. Not even Nostradamus could have predicted the wide range of social, political, financial and other points of view being filtered by this new business model.
Don’t like gays? Use your media clout to block alternative lifestyle programs that feature information about employment discrimination, HIV and other important issues. Political enemies? It takes a lot of determination for a very few voters to understand that they usually only hear one side of the story.
The rest of us haven’t quite figured it out yet. The Internet has come along at the very moment in history when freedom remains the goal of people all over the world, even those who have been repressed and controlled for hundreds of years. Most of these people live in countries unaffected by common laws and disinterested in any particular culture’s social mores. Any Government that tries to monitor even a fragment of the computer traffic that exists will create a tremendous financial white elephant-funded by voters. It’s as if the costly “war on drugs” hasn’t taught our nation’s leaders a thing about the power of individual choice and the futility of trying to control individual behavior.
It is impossible to put a childproof cap on the hazards of the world, actual or virtual. The Internet makes people cranky because it requires more diligent supervision of minors, and too many parents just don’t want to spend that much time with their kids. The crime of those who would allow any Government to attempt such a pointless task is the abdication of their own responsibility to learn and teach appropriate value judgments to future generations.