Public Broadcasting

May 29, 2012

The station is about to conduct a fund drive next week. So it seems an appropriate time to talk a bit about public broadcasting. I used to teach Mass Communications Law, read deeply into the history of broadcasting, and remember many of the changes. When I was growing up, New York City was the only place in the country where you could receive seven television stations and many radio stations on both AM and FM dials. We even had competing classical music stations! The contrast was stunning when one drove outside the New York metropolitan area. Often there was a single accessible station. So I think it’s a good time to stop and take note of what has happened.

In most countries, government stations have been used for pure PR on behalf of whichever politicians controlled it. The BBC, organized by the grandfather of a good friend of ours, was the rare exception. It too was quite political – except that Lord Reith didn’t like the incumbent government and fought it – giving the BBC the reputation for independence it has to this day. Elsewhere, government funded trash.

The American airwaves had been organized for political purposes here as well. University broadcasters who had dominated the airwaves in the 1920s were systematically driven off the air in favor of private broadcasters, first by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, then by the Federal Radio Commission and finally by the FCC or Federal Communications Commission. Many Americans kept pushing for educational broadcasting. Eventually, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio were the response to that pressure.

When national public broadcasting was first proposed I was leery of it. And I was not alone. Public broadcasting was organized, here, however, with a system of checks and balances. Participants had to be not-for-profit organizations, whether or not affiliated with a university. A large share of the control was placed in the local broadcasters through their ability to buy and air what programs they chose. And advertising was severely limited to what we have come to call underwriting so that broadcasting would be relatively free of commercial influence as well. Even so there have been efforts to control the public broadcasting system for political ends rather than maintain its independence.

I have been delightfully surprised at the result – professional, balanced, penetrating, fair and accurate reporting told in ways we can all understand. Of course I could get the news elsewhere. But not while multitasking – driving, eating, or getting dressed. I’d have to stop, look and read. I couldn’t get the news as easily or as pleasantly. I enjoy and admire the people who bring us the news and interviews, both on national programs and those which originate right here in Albany.

I do not have a crystal ball. I do not know how all the new forms of communication will affect public radio and who will come out on top. But I know from working in many cities that we have a jewel in this one, a station that has the admiration of people who run public radio stations in much larger places, and it shows in the programming we have. Indeed it shows in the programming that WAMC has maintained in spite of budget cuts. Public radio in general and WAMC in particular are jewels, well worth supporting and protecting.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, May 29, 2012.


Outdated Legal Doctrines

May 22, 2012

The law of contract, based on the consent of the parties, and the law of torts, based on our obligations when no agreement covers what happened, are fundamental to American law. There is only one problem. Both fields are hopelessly out of date. Read the rest of this entry »


Can we Learn from the Euro Zone?

May 15, 2012

Sometimes it’s easier to see the problems abroad than it is at home. And that may be true of the Euro zone. As we all know, there have been a series of agreements bailing out Greece on the condition that Greece make very large cuts in its own budget. And it hasn’t worked. Why not? Shouldn’t cutting back have rejuvenated the Greek economy? Read the rest of this entry »


What students need from higher education?

May 10, 2012

Students are choosing where to go to college. A college education is expensive but too many graduates come out of college without a skill set. What do they need from higher education?

Some students go through specialized programs and learn specific skills they can use – engineering, accounting, pharmacy, for example, are all undergraduate majors. And college gives students an opportunity to figure out which field of endeavor they will be willing and able to do well. But the information conveyed in specific majors may be much less helpful for careers that are not in that field.

Students can obtain a core that would work in a wide expanse of positions available to college grads – many even in the arts. I’ll add a couple of comments on what would help for future lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »


What’s Wrong with Spying?

May 1, 2012

The AP recently revealed a spying operation by the New York City police on Muslims and Muslim institutions. What should we think about that? Read the rest of this entry »


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