THE BLOG
07/10/2006 08:30 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Money Makes the World Go


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The public interest, convenience, and necessity language was first used in the 1927 Radio Act, and it has been amended to accommodate subsequent technologies, such as television and cable, and political considerations that were present at a particular moment.

The electromagnetic spectrum is a limited resource belonging to the public, and should continue to be operated in the public interest. Broadcasters are not happy about this, and believe that they have created an asset that does not owe it's origins to their use of spectrum space.
Broadcasting is now operated on the "marketplace" model. Now how do you suppose that happened?

It was proclaimed by "guess who" that the commercial telecommunications industry "...could provide many voices", eliminating the previous justification for government regulation. Under this model the public interest is defined by a broadcaster's commercial success, and could be indicative of the public's acceptance of it.

The interpretation of the "public interest, convenience and necessity" is, and has ALWAYS controlled by political and economic forces.

Notwithstanding its ambiguity, this phrase remains the regulatory cornerstone of telecommunications policy in the United States.

There should be no doubt that "big business" and "big government" get to make up all of the interpretations of the rules to in order to carry out their unstated goals. How would it look to the public if the broadcasters went around saying that they are in broadcasting to make money, and as much money as possible?

In my not too humble opinion, America COULD be informed by its four broadcast networks, because, if it isn't reported by a network, "it didn't happen." This of course is not completely true. When you are able to reach almost 100% of the population, and do in fact reach significant portions of it a good deal of the time, it is certainly close to the truth.

A case in point that seems to involve the silence of all media delivery systems is the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" I will excerpt most of my friend Reese Schoenfelds (the founding President of CNNs) article pertaining to the issue.

"This weekend I saw a documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? It is one long news story, a very important news story, and a story I'd never known before. Neither had my wife, my children or a major environmentalist who had served as a deputy administrator of the EPA ...

I still think of myself as having some knowledge of important news stories...

In brief the documentary demonstrates the birth and death of an automobile that promised enormous benefits - cleaner air and perhaps an end to dependence on Mid East oil. The people on camera include people who designed the car, people who marketed the car, people who sold it, people who invented the batteries that made it work and a dozen or so people, who leased it, drove it and loved it. The documentary interviews GM (the company that made the car) spokesmen, GM PR people, GM executives and even a former GM Director. As the title indicates, the film ends with all the cars destroyed. And by then it's pretty clear who killed the car and it wasn't just General Motors. I'm not going to give any details since I think you should see the film and see for yourself.

I hadn't seen any of those people interviewed on broadcast or cable news. It's likely some of them were, at least locally, but I'd never seen them and neither had anyone else I talked to. None of us had ever known of the issue.

I am doubly outraged; first, by the automobile companies, gas companies and regulatory authorities who helped murder the electric car, and just as much by the news companies who failed to cover the story or report upon the issues surrounding it. I recognize that the documentary is one-sided and probably distorts some issues in favor of the car. If the mainstream media had reported the story, we might have come to a different conclusion. But it did not and so the sense of outrage persists.

I have a question: who killed the electric car story? I do not believe that newspapers, magazines or television avoided the story just because GM is one of the largest advertisers in America. Even though GM is regularly the second or third largest advertiser on CNN, I do not believe that that's the reason CNN didn't cover it. When I ran CNN our stories came from the bottom up. Bureaus were ordered to find and produce the most interesting stories in their area every day. If the LA bureau chief did not start covering the electric car story as it developed he would have been replaced.

CNN's current news flow is top down; stories are determined by editors and producers in New York or Atlanta and the bureaus respond to those orders. So, unless the story makes The New York Times, the Washington Post or the AP day book, it is unlikely to be covered and their news looks like everybody else's.

Who killed the electric car is the kind of story CNN was designed to cover: a story of enormous importance overlooked by everyone else, a running story that went on over five years which needed constant updating, a story that could make people tune in and a story that could make a reporter's career. (Witness Lou Dobbs and the immigration story.

It is rare that a single story perfectly illustrates a very complex issue. Global warming, the price of oil and great visuals rarely coalesce. When they do, grab the story. That wins Pulitzers, Peabody's and increases ratings. CNN please note..."

I agree with Reese, but what happened to CBS, ABC, NBC, or the Fox news departments? Could it possibly be that their non or under reporting this story was caused by policies promulgated by their owners, The General Electric Company, News Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, and CBS/Viacom? In recent years, these broadcasters have, in my opinion, been motivated by becoming as big and as profitable as they can possibly be. They can simply avoid issues and editorials that might just somehow annoy the administration and the FCC. Produce and broadcast documentaries? That would entail risks and might upset some advertisers and "god forbid" make less money then by broadcasting another mindless reality show that bears no relationship to reality.

There was an AP wire service report filed on April 9, 03 stating that GM had "pulled the plug" on the electric car. A big story left uncovered in any significant way by the broadcast media.

Bring back, or enforce, public interest, convenience, and necessity! Why my friends might ask? My answer is "because it is the right thing to do, and might just be good for America."