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 itI'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 GorillasI 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
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 AgeI 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..."
- 1455 AD Movable type
- Allows mass production of documents
- Threatens the livelihood of scribes
- 1517: Materially assisted the rapid spread of divisive opinions
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
- "What is an Information Gatekeeper?"
(August 14, 2009)
- "Somali-Americans in Minnesota: According to The New York Times"
(July 12, 2009)
- "Somalia, Minnesota, Traditional Journalism, and Unpleasant Realities"
(July 1, 2009)
- "Neda Agha Soltan, Iran, Cell Phone Cameras, and the Information Age"
(June 23, 2009)
- "Iran, YouTube, Twitter, Technology and the Human Spirit"
(June 19, 2009)
- "North Korea, American Journalists, the Internet, and Power to the People"
(June 16, 2009)
- "Tiananmen Square 20th Anniversary: A Losing Battle for Traditional Information Gatekeepers"
(June 3, 2009)
- "Tiananmen Square Commemoration in Hong Kong: No Tanks"
(June 5, 2009)
- "Tiananmen Square Commemoration in Hong Kong: No Tanks"
- "Castro, Cuba, Guevara, Traditional Gatekeepers, and the Information Age"
(January 30, 2009)
- "William Felkner vs. College Conformity: Traditional Information Gatekeepers Face Another Challenge"
(December 16, 2008)
- "The New York Times, Insularity, and Assumptions"
(October 21, 2008)
- "DC Gun Ban, Online Censorship, Individual Rights, and Power to the People"
(June 27, 2008)
- "Odd Allies: Opposition to Waterboarding and Web Censorship"
(March 9, 2008)
- "Blocking Services as Censorship: Who Decides What's Naughty or Nice?"
(December 21, 2007)
- "Argentina media bill advances"
CNN (September 18, 2009)
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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