Technological advances and the introduction of cable television, online file sharing and video portals have erased boundaries to the spread of all sorts of content. This has its obvious advantages, like the ease of creating, editing, viewing and sharing files that contain information of use. However, this ease comes with a price—the spread of harmful content.
Adult material that can be accessed easily over the internet by under-age individuals, culturally/ethnically insensitive material that provokes resentment or hatred amongst certain groups of people, or dangerous chemical formulas that land in the hands of potential terrorists are all examples of harmful material, the spread of which has been facilitated greatly by technology in the last couple of decades. Trying to get back some sort of control over this unregulated spread of content is hard, as all sources cannot be checked.
The problem with censoring material is that freedom of speech and expression has to be kept in mind, and standards of violence, nudity and ‘inappropriateness’ are hard to draw. Old regulation guidelines and policies do not work for new tools like mobile phones and computer games. Also, due to globalization it is hard to use national resources to control content located on foreign servers. The government does exercise some control over media with respect to access and rates.
The ways it does so include ownership of media firms by political parties, control of resources which are utilized by the media, taxing on circulation of news and financial incentives designed to direct news and information a certain way. Also, viewer-ship of channels (apart from public access channels) is limited to the people who can afford to pay for subscription. This does allow slight control over what content is viewed at home, but media firms are not happy with the limited control they have over what they can show the public and with special taxes on certain pieces of information and advertisement.
The government is trying to deregulate media access and rates, and exercise more control over what sort of content is out there for the public. Such control comes in the form of mandatory labeling on video and music CDs for age-appropriateness, channel blocking, website tracking and blocking, and ‘net nanny’ programs. However this de-regulation has backfired, especially for the television (cable) sector. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the “first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years”.
(Federal Communications Commission) It lifted government control over subscription rates for cable channels, but left consumers vulnerable to price hikes. Rates skyrocketed soon thereafter and quality of service declined. Provision of more channels did not curb the rise in prices, and competition has also not managed to keep a check on increasing rates. Also, by limiting the number of channels that people can buy, investment into new channels goes down, as people restrict their choices to popular channels.
To fight for viewer-ship then, channels have to resort to attention grabbing broadcasts that lack educational value or quality. The problem with regulation of content is that it is hard to individualize restrictions. It is also necessary to individualize restriction so as not to cause inconvenience to others in their search for information or entertainment, or limit people’s freedom of expression. Where easily accessible adult material is a concern, the onus is on the parents to keep a check on their children; otherwise even government interventions will be useless.
Therefore it is not the responsibility of the government to decide for people who gets to watch what, but to make the viewers aware that they have a choice, and parental guidance can overcome any negative content that is inadvertently viewed. (Singleton, 2008) Thus the best solution is not to have the government regulate media in any way, but to give the consumers choice and power to make their own decisions. This way competition would also be kept alive, and that is necessary for quality and improvement.
Until meaningful competition emerges, the government must still exercise some control over cable charges so as to counteract monopoly of certain channels and ensure survival of public access channels. This is necessary to prevent what happened after the implementation of the 1996 Act. Permanent control is not necessary, only until the time that healthy competition is able to regulate prices by itself. Likewise, provisions in the Act that did not keep in mind the consumers at the receiving end did not do any good, and it must be left to community leaders to define the fine details of access and rates.
‘Reasonable priced leased access’ must be implemented to ensure that independent programmers can utilize channel capacity and generate competition. (U. S. PIRG, 2003) Input and feedback from members of the public is essential so representatives from communities, with no media affiliation or conflict of interests can make suggestions and ensure that no financial mismanagement occurs, which has been observed in these situations.
Now that cable broadband has taken up the internet service providing as well, it is important that restrictions are not present on cable broadband use. Cable providers are known to limit information based on its nature and who is asking for it, because they deem it inappropriate. Such authority should not be given to the cable providers. Empowering the consumers to make their own choices and regulate their own use of the media is the best way to go about it.
References 1. U. S. PIRG, 2003 The failure of cable deregulation: A Blueprint for creating a Competitive, Pro-consumer Cable Television Marketplace http://www. uspirg. org/media-internet/reports/media 2. Singleton, S 2008 No Responsibility without Freedom: Why government should leave media content alone. Independent Women’s Forum www. iwf. org 3. Telecommunications Act of 1996. Federal Communications Commission http://www. fcc. gov/telecom. html