Friday, September 18, 2009

Argentina, Regulating Broadcasters, Grupo Clarin, Ted Turner, 800-Pound Gorillas, and Freedom of Speech

I've said it before: Things aren't simple.1

Take a piece of legislation in Argentina today, for example. It passed one of the Argentinian legislature's houses by a wide margin: but lawmakers who didn't approve walked out, refusing to vote; some say they'll fight the bill in court.

It's "a controversial media law that spells out media ownership rules and calls for the creation of a regulatory agency." (CNN)

What's so controversial about that? Don't companies appreciate being regulated? Don't people enjoy having limits placed on what they are, and aren't, allowed to own? That's getting into a whole different topic: and this isn't, as I've said before, a political blog.

The stated goals of this bill sound appealing. Naturally enough.
"...The goal of the so-called Audio-Visual Communication law is to regulate television and radio broadcasters and increase competition in the media industry, according to a draft of the bill.

"Opponents say it targets media critical of the current government and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, especially the media giant Grupo Clarin...."

"...Among the changes proposed in the bill, a company that owns a cable business would not be allowed to own any over-the-air broadcast channels. Also, the owner of a cable company would be allowed to have only one channel on that system...."

Regulation: I Don't Have to Like it

I'm no huge fan of regulation, but I recognize that it's necessary. Sometimes. We have to decide which side of the road to drive on, the continental power grid wouldn't work if generating stations weren't kept strictly in sync.2

Radio and television broadcasting regulation makes sense too, I think. If each station were free to broadcast on any frequency or any power level, whoever could afford the most powerful transmitter would dominate any frequencies that station chose to transmit on.

Reasonable Controls, Freedom of Speech, and 800-Pound Gorillas

I don't know enough about the situation in Argentina to have an opinion about the proposed Audio-Visual Communication law. Grupo Clarin sounds a bit like Turner Enterprises, here in America and Canada. I've no objection to Ted Turner' Turner Enterprises running:
  • CNN (Cable News Network) / HLN (Headline News)
  • TBS (Turner Broadcasting System)
  • TNT (Turner Network Television)
  • TCM (Turner Classic Movies)
  • Cartoon Network
  • Adult Swim
  • Boomerang
  • Toonami
But then, there are well upwards of 300,000,000 people living in America alone - and even Ted Turner hasn't monopolized the traditional news and entertainment media here. Argentina has almost 41,000,000 people, about an eighth the size of America's population: My guess is that Grupo Clarin could be a lot bigger in Argentina than Turner Enterprises is in America, in terms of market share and influence.

Maybe Argentina's government needs to regulate its 800-pound media gorilla, to keep it from sitting on everybody else.

On the other hand, maybe Argentina's president doesn't like criticism - who does? - and decided to 'protect the masses' from 'divisive opinions.'
"...In my youth, some conservatives complained that there 'oughta be a law' against criticizing the government. I understand the feeling: but I know too much about places where criticizing the government is, in fact if not in theory, illegal...."
(June 16, 2009)

Censorship of Information Media: It Can't Happen Here?

America has a history, and a reputation, for having 'divisive' discussions. I don't particularly like squabbles, but I'd rather allow 'divisive' opinions to be heard, than live in a country where everybody said how much they like Dear Leader and his policies. (June 16, 2009)

Not everybody likes that sort of freedom.

Back when the Web was young, some conservative Christians were appalled by the rampant pornography. To hear them talk, you'd think "WWW" stood for "Wicked, Wicked Web." Some compassionate liberals were deeply hurt by "hate speech" spreading uncontrolled across cyberspace.

I don't approve of pornography or hateful screeds either, myself.
"...But when some socially conservative Christian organizations joined forces with liberal political action groups, I got concerned. They both wanted the government to do something about about people putting bad things on the Web. One of the odd couples was the Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority.i.

"We didn't (quite) get a federal agency in charge of deciding who could put information on the Internet, and who could view it, thank God. But it could have happened. A great many people were very upset.

"So upset that, in my opinion, they weren't thinking about the consequences of what they wanted...."
(March 9, 2008)

Traditional Gatekeepers, Freedom of Speech, Censorship, and the Information Age

I think we're living in a time of major changes: not just in what people say to each other, but how we communicate. We've been through something like this before:
  • 360 BC Writing threatens to
    • "...produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it..."
    • Create "...a show of wisdom without the reality..."
    (Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (August 23, 2009))
  • 1455 AD Movable type
    • Allows mass production of documents
    • Threatens the livelihood of scribes
    • 1517: Materially assisted the rapid spread of divisive opinions
Ironically, we probably wouldn't know about Socrates' grave concerns about the deleterious effects of writing on the mind, if his opinions hadn't been written down and preserved over the millennia.

Civilization made it through the development of movable type, and I think we'll weather Information Age technologies, too.

But, if the past is any indication, it's not going to be smooth sailing.

Traditional gatekeepers: the editors, publishers, teachers, and entertainers have, for generations, had more-or-less tight control over what 'the masses' were allowed to know. And, just as importantly, how we're were supposed to feel about what we're shown.

That was then, this is now. Argentina's president may be trying to stop dissent by putting a muzzle on one of the traditional information gatekeepers. Even if the Audio-Visual Communication law passes and is enforced, I don't think it'll stop people who don't approve of the president from publishing their opinions.

Argentina has roughly 9,000,000 million Internet users, as of 2007. (CIA World Factbook) That's not #1 in the world, but with about 9/41 Argentinians being connected - about two out of every nine people in the country - something published online has a pretty good chance of reaching many of the country's households: and getting talked about in more.

This isn't the 'good old days.' Traditional information gatekeepers don't have the control they used to. And regulating the old-school journalists and broadcasters isn't as effective a tool for controlling dissent, either.

The Information Age, so far, has made it possible for people who aren't part of the established order to get their views published. When I was growing up, "power to the people" was the rallying cry for a particular philosophical stance. One that looks good on paper.

I don't think the various flavors of collectivism or socialism work in a culture composed of human beings, but the idea of people - even if they didn't go to the right school or belong to the right clubs - having the power to influence a government makes sense.

Widespread, relatively inexpensive Internet access has put the power to publish in the hands of 'the people.' Not everybody, but a much wider swath than before. Today, we're seeing opinions that wouldn't have appeared in The New York Times, on CNN, or in the 'better' west coast papers. It's messy, but that's the way freedom is.

Besides, as a cartoon character said, "knowledge is power, and I like power." 3

Related posts: In the news:
1 I've made a point that situations involving human beings are seldom simple on September 9, 2009, January 11, 2009, December 27, 2008, September 27, 2008 and February 14, 2008, for starters.

2 Remember the blackouts of November 9, 1965 and August 14th, 2003 in the Hudson Bay-Great Lakes-Long Island area?

3 Cobra Bubbles, in a "Lilo and Stitch" episode, if memory serves: or maybe it was the movie.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.