A proposal for democratic media
December 9, 2008
The term “censorship” describes the act of suppressing certain ideas by those who control some distribution channels. Despite regular attempts by interested parties to limit the term to describe very restricted or extreme cases of suppression of ideas, the term is usually, and very reasonably, understood to cover any attempt at reducing the circulation of an idea, by any person or organization. The negative view, which most of the population, as well as official ideology, take of censorship therefore encompasses any such activity. According to this view, the desirable media system is democratic – i.e., one which allows all people an equal opportunity at presenting their ideas and having them considered by others.
The implicit universal rejection of censorship notwithstanding, much of the communication patterns that dominate Western society are inherently censoring activities. The members of the elite group that influences (to varying degrees) the content of wide circulation media – publishers, broadcasters, advertisers, editors and reporters – routinely make decisions that amount to suppressing some communications, containing certain ideas, in favor of other communications, containing different ideas. Those decisions, although usually purporting to reflect only objective accepted standards, are in reality almost completely subjective. They therefore reflect the ideas and biases of the very select and atypical group of people who make them.
Because the ability to command attention translates to political power, a society that relies on undemocratic systems of communication is necessarily undemocratic – that is, such a society distributes political power unevenly. This situation must therefore be amended, if the society is ever to become a democracy.
I wish to suggest a path toward comprehensive democratization of media. The guiding principles of such a solution would be:
- The resulting system should be truly democratic – that is, it should not merely transfer censoring power from one elite to another, or merely distribute censoring power within a somewhat expanded elite group.
- The system should support democratic control over a wide variety of media and content forms – print, electronic, periodicals, books, opinion, news, investigative reporting, entertainment, etc. – while providing high quality content through and within each of these forms.
The crux of proposed system can be stated as follows:
Using public funds, “media sections” (TV and radio channels, newspapers, book publishers, etc.) are created and sustained. The media sections are controlled by citizen-editor boards, a role that would rotate within the entire population. Each citizen-editor board has a budget and complete control over a section – i.e., over a certain part of the public media – in the same way that present-day editors and media outlet owners have today.
In future posts I wish to analyze and articulate this idea.