Public Broadcasting in Desperate Need of Change

Upon looking at the state of journalism in modern times, it is broadcast journalism that is most at risk. More and more public broadcasters in the United States are relying heavily on corporate money to sustain themselves. And while these networks and stations are desperate for ways to stay afloat and remain viable in the ever-changing journalism landscape, leaning too heavily on corporate money ultimately has its downfalls.

Currently, network TV companies are concentrated under the hands of media conglomerates like Comcast, Walt Disney and CBS. The growing concentration of these companies and networks under corporate hands signifies a grave loss of independence and dependency in all the wrong places.

But it is not simply these ties to corporate money that hinder the growth of broadcast journalism. Just by looking at the content and makeup of broadcast news today, it’s clear that broadcast journalism has fallen by the wayside.

For one, the quality of the content on TV news is not nearly as compelling as it was decades ago. Where broadcasters of the past, like Walter Cronkite and Edward Murrow, consistently discussed news that was of value to the public, broadcasters of today frequently focus on too many minuscule, unimportant tidbits that ultimately serves no use to citizens. Take, for instance, when CNN chose to give airtime to wait for Donald Trump to begin his speech, effectively declining to show Bernie Sanders’ speech that was happening at that same moment. It is this type of executive decision that showcases the lack of care of broadcast news to provide meaningful content to its audiences.

Furthermore, broadcast news sorely misses the mark when it comes to being “neutral,” “fair” and “balanced.” Oftentimes, when news shows seek to debate a particular hot topic, the two pundits on the show only showcase the polar opposites of the debate. There is no nuance, no middle ground or complexity in the arguments being presented. Even more so, the pundits that are invited on the show have clear ties to the political and social establishment, no matter how hard the network tries to cover up this fact. It does a disservice to viewers to only present them with only two sides of the argument, for it effectively takes away other opinions that viewers could learn more about. There are always more than two sides to any argument, yet this is not reflected in mainstream TV news.

In comparison to public broadcasting in other parts of the world, public broadcasting in the United States is heavily representative of the political establishment than its  own citizens. In Britain, for instance, the BBC has regular news shows where public figures are invited on and take questions from British citizens, such as when the BBC’s Jeremy Paxton interviewed British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This type of formatting — establishing a direct link between representatives and the people they serve — bridges the gap between the government and its citizen, and allows politicians to remain accountable for their actions. This starkly contrasts to U.S. public broadcasting, in which politicians have the choice of which network show to appear on, ultimately allowing them to appear on shows where they will be served softball questions. In this, there is no opportunity for the people to ask questions and no sense of accountability or transparency.

This is not the type of public broadcasting made for the people. This is complicit entertainment, made to serve the elites and the powerful.  Here, the core values of journalism — to serve the public and act as a check on the powerful — are lost through this dependency on media conglomerates and connections with the establishment. Broadcast journalism is in desperate need of change, one that forces to journalists to act as the check and balance on powerful institutions and serve the interests of the people.

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