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Television: Is It a "Force" for Good Politically?
I know that not every person in the world has a television, but a very large proportion of the population sees televisions programs several times a week. In most “materially developed” countries, the average person watches TV for several hours every day. This average tends to be increased due to the aged and infirm viewing for more hours than active working adults. Often, the motivation for watching is boredom and weariness. Just sitting in front of the TV takes less effort than finding and reading a book. Much of the printed media is devoted to telling people about television and the people who earn a living from it. Television has become the dominant media form in most materially-developed nations, but is this a good thing? The internet challenges this dominance by its availability to so many inputs and because it offers a semblance of interaction between viewer and the input provider. The money made from TV advertising enables those proving programs to distort the “market” in such things as sports and entertainment. They are able to pay far higher fees to sports clubs and to individual actors as compared to smaller clubs and theatres who rely on ticket sales only.
Television is a must have, for some people, who lack the ability to be involved in more individually creative activities. The lack of ability may be because of poverty or laziness, and there are a few thousand options between these two extremes. The published audience ratings for individual shows, which as far as I understand, do not include numbers for people who record a show and watch it later, are taken very seriously by the media, the advertisers, and politicians. This measurement of audience is a huge factor in considering the political impact of television on voters. There is no exact measure of every person watching. Audience measurement is an estimate based on a selected sample. Statistically a very small sample when compared to the total possible audience. Much that is written about television and its output is opinion masked as fact. Much of what is displayed on TV is also opinion masquerading as fact, especially when involving politics. In Britain, we have the British Broadcasting Corporation, which is publicly funded through a compulsory license to watch, and was intended to be politically neutral and primarily expected to be an educational medium. Years have gone by since it was founded, and since it was the only available television output, times have changed, and so has the BBC. It does still devote a small section of the total “airtime” over its many channels to educational programs, and it does still cling to the claim of being politically neutral. In fact, just about all television output is much like most of the advertising that usually pays for it; that is, a distorted, very biased, and selective version of a truth. For example, “reality shows” that are not reality at all. How could they be, with cameras, sound microphones, technicians, specialist lighting etc. all present during the filming? This is to ignore the ability to jump from location to location in an instant and to move forward hours in a split second. All this added to the sometimes obviously scripted and rehearsed vocal responses of the actors make it obvious this is a “show.” It is not real. Yet there are people who avidly watch and believe they are seeing reality. These people have a right to vote and a consideration of the ability to distinguish fact from fiction has to be a factor in “political” consequences.
The basic question of "is television a force for good?" has to be judged by ignoring all entertainment aspects, including sport and reality shows. These need to be ignored because the merit of any entertainment is an opinion, not a verifiable fact. I personally like soccer and motor racing, but there are many who do not share by enthusiasm and so would “mark” any TV about these sports, far lower than I will. To Judge if TV is a force for good we have to ask, are the informative and educational possibilities of such a far reaching and ubiquitous medium being realised? Are people gaining truth and knowledge, or are they being misled and turned into mindless puppets? There is a famous quote attributed to Lenin, that religion is the opium of the people. The modern version would have to be that television is the opiate of choice for the majority. The problem with answering this main question is that even the value of the rare, genuinely open, and unbiased factual program is still a matter of opinion. Some of the stuff showing astrophysics in an understandable language is wonderful to me, but those who enjoy “reality” shows will not see any merit in science programmes.
So the answer to the main question has to be; depends who you ask. Not very satisfactory, but still accurate. The main concern with TV is that it has the opportunity to feed political bias and misrepresentation to countless millions of voters. Maybe in every nation there should be a “government channel” and an “opposition channel” where political views were aired and the audience clearly told in advance of the political views being promulgated, it would at least bring honesty to the situation and allow viewers to look at both channels knowing which side they are on. How popular these would be, what sort of viewing figures they could achieve, is anyone's guess. At present, television is a tool—an expensive tool—in politics. But it is open to abuse by distortion and has a huge ability to mislead voters. So much politically biased output is disguised as fact-based entertainment. Having dedicated political channels where the bias is clearly stated, would be a help, but only if the present misleading stuff is eliminated.