THE BLOG

Is Anybody There? Does Anybody Care?

08/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

During the 1960's and 1970's I was a middle management executive at CBS. In mid 1970, through a combination of weird circumstances I ended up in a private meeting with Dr. Frank Stanton, the President of CBS, concerning the effect of distributing CBS News outside of the U.S.A. From that meeting I learned that while he cared about business he deeply cared about our country.

Back then, CBS was controlled by Bill Paley, ABC by Leonard Goldenson and NBC by David Sarnoff. Of the three, CBS was the most independent organization and was prepared to "take on" the Nixon presidency to a greater degree than the other networks. The Feds believed that they were the "good guys" and could do no wrong in pursuit of the "evil Communist Empire".

In 1969 at the request of one of the Corporate executives I met with two men representing a purportedly "do good" organization. When I asked the executive who they were he laughed and responded that they were probably CIA and that they wanted to keep CBS from selling the CBS documentaries that were critical of government activities to overseas television stations. When I would not cooperate with them they accused me of being part of the Communist conspiracy. My conclusion at the time was that the Feds were scared of the broadcast networks and their willingness to be critical of the actions of the incumbent administration.

Forty years later the Networks are all controlled by gigantic companies, who for the most part do business with the Federal government and would not be critical of the Federal government in any meaningful way.

It was nearly two years ago that I asked NBC's Ben Silverman why NBC, a division of G.E., a major government supplier, had not dedicated a single hour on their TV schedule about our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His reply was something about money and disrupting his broadcast schedule. "What price honor and responsibility?"

In Broadcasting "honor and responsibility" are apparently sadly reserved for dinner parties, interviews and Congressional hearings.

Broadcasters by law are committed to act in the " public interest, convenience and necessity." No one can dispute that the term "public interest, convenience and necessity" is vague and subject to contemporary political forces. Broadcasters when asked about their commitment to these issues in order to retain their licenses say that these requirements are outdated because there is now cable and the internet, much of which they also own.

Notwithstanding this, the phrase remains the regulatory cornerstone of telecommunications policy in the United States. Broadcasters state that the problems facing the networks are economic and that they should not need to fulfill these obligations. I say that these obligations are in the regulations and should be fulfilled.

The media giants need the Feds in order to get bigger and stretch the anti-trust laws. Naturally because of this and the fact that they also are involved with the government on other levels, they are reluctant to antagonize them in any way.

The public needs the broadcast networks to inform them and to keep the Feds honest. Had Bush faced a CBS run by Bill Paley and reported by Walter Cronkite would he so quickly have rushed into war and so cavalierly violated our Constitution? I think not.

Having the broadcast media controlled by a politically motivated FCC was and is a mistake. And it will ever be thus.

Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?

These are words spoken in the play and movie 1776.