What if the public hates public affairs?

What if the public hates public affairs?
: I dread Sunday mornings because TV and radio are filled with alleged “public affairs” programming, which is really just dutiful crap meant to appease bureaucrats and pressure groups. There are racial and ethnic segments that are essentially insulting to their apparent audiences (if the story is worth doing, then do it in prime time; don’t ghettoize it here). There are political round-tables that make me want to crawl under the nearest table and fall asleep (and you wonder why people don’t vote). And there are interviews with nut jobs pushing some nut view (just to stop them from bugging the newsroom, no doubt). I can’t stand any of it. Public affairs programming has absolutely no value to me as a member of said public.

But there are forever pushes for more of it: programming by quota.

The Washington Times (of all publications) reports on a study by the “Alliance for Better Campaigns” [beware "alliances" for they are the folks who fill Sunday morning with snoozes] arguing there’s too little public-affairs programming:

Broadcasters have relegated local public-affairs programming to the very bottom of the heap

  • http://ari.typepad.com Steve Rhodes

    That ignores the reality that stations make money because they use the public airwaves and lots of people still don’t have cable or access to the internet (and most tv stations have horrible websites).
    It is possible to produce good public affairs programs, and it is even easier to produce good documentaries, something local stations and commercial broadcasters have basically abandoned (if only CBS would devote some of the profits they’ve made from Survivor & Big Brother to reviving CBS Reports).
    And if they were promoted well (including using email newsletters & a good interactive website).
    The lack of good public affairs programming is felt here in San Francisco where there is almost no tv coverage of an election in a week for Mayor, DA and a bunch of initiatives.
    With the Recall, we’ve seen that local tv can cover campaigns when they want to (and the candidates for Mayor & DA collectively are much more entertaining than Arnold). The fires in Southern California are a big story, but at least a few minutes could have been taken away from flame footage to cover who might be running the city for the next four years.

  • Jay Gilbert

    Just as annoying as the Sunday morning news shows (Calvin Trillin calls them “The Sabbath Gasbags”) are the commercials that run during them.
    They consist almost entirely of (a) Riefenstahl-like feel-good brand imaging for large companies (G.E., ADM, Financial companies, etc.) with interchangeable fade-ins and outs of happy families and contented workers, all feeling wonderful thanks to some fuzzily-defined goodness provided by the sponsor; and (b) ads for prescription drugs, using basically the same techniques.
    I noticed years ago that the hard questions about issues these companies raise in American life are never addressed within these programs.

  • Jakob

    There’s always the “off” button. It seems like a shame to dread one day of the week because you don’t like the TV programming. If I did that, I’d dread waking up every morning.

  • http://floyd.best.vwh.net/weblog/blogger.html Floyd McWilliams

    I’ve never understood how “stations make money because they use the public airwaves and lots of people still don’t have cable or access to the internet” implies “broadcasters must give up some portion of their air time to make a small slice of the public happy.”
    The “public” airwaves are not a scarce resource. The infrastructure to broadcast radio and television were developed privately. Furthermore only about 15% of television viewers receive their signals through rabbit ears.
    But even if the “public airwaves” were some sort of scarce resource, then broadcasters should be charged money to rent or buy frequencies. Where do people get off telling the broadcasters what kind of shows they can produce?
    And spare me the stuff about “It is possible to produce good public affairs programs.” It is possible to produce good adaptations of my twenty favorite novels, but I can’t imagine trying to force ABC or whoever to produce them because some of their photons passed over my house.

  • http://ari.typepad.com Steve Rhodes

    It used to be a requirement that stations run a certain ammount of public affairs programs to get the piece of paper which allows them to broadcast on their channel.
    And it is a federal agency that tells Disney that KGO is Ch. 7 & KGO AM is 780 & KSFO is 580, Viacom that KPIX is Ch. 5 and the frequencies for a bunch of radio stations, and keeps the microradio stations that would do real local programs off the air to keep them from interfering even though they really wouldn’t.
    Then we had Reagan and Bush and now all that is required to renew is a postcard. Because of the protest over new FCC ownership rules, Powell is making noises about the importance of localism and this may finally change.
    Yes, the companies should be charged more and there should be a tax and every media merger and all that money should go into a fund for public media. But don’t hold your breathe.
    But even if that happened, there should still be public affairs requirements. If there were more and better public affairs programs we might have more than a samll slice of the public voting.
    We happen to live in a democracy where it is important that people have access to information about local issues. And most people still get that information from television.
    And while there are a few good local cable news channels like NY1, there are not enough. BayTV which was never very good (with the exception of running old KRON presents documentaries from a time when local stations regularly produced good docs) didn’t last very long.
    So tonight, less than a week before the election on a day when there were two debates (broadcast on 2 different NPR stations), there was no coverage on the 11 pm news on KGO which just ended.

  • http://floyd.best.vwh.net/weblog/blogger.html Floyd McWilliams

    “And it is a federal agency that tells Disney that KGO is Ch. 7 & KGO AM is 780 & KSFO is 580, Viacom that KPIX is Ch. 5 and the frequencies for a bunch of radio stations, and keeps the microradio stations that would do real local programs off the air to keep them from interfering even though they really wouldn’t.”
    Sure. And it is a local agency that records that I own a certain parcel of land, and prevents others from occupying it. I pay taxes to support the protection of my property. So do Disney and Viacom.
    “Then we had Reagan and Bush and now all that is required to renew is a postcard.”
    Good. I’m glad to see that the government has little leverage over the media. Freedom of the press and all that.
    “We happen to live in a democracy where it is important that people have access to information about local issues. And most people still get that information from television.”
    Why do you expect to get good local issue coverage by forcing broascasters to create programs that they wouldn’t produce if they had a free choice?