Critics of the proposed Comcast and NBC Universal joint venture have been making the argument that such an arrangement, between a large distributor of video programming and other content and a large content provider, would dampen our ability to fully participate in our great democracy.
I agree that the public should remain suspect of the media and its influence on our ability to keep government accountable. The traditional and major news sources also spend too much time being duplicative. ABC gives me the same old information that CBS gives me. I mean, how many times do I have to hear that the captain of the Enterprise got busted or that John Boehner is a cry baby. The information they provide does not appear very diverse.
And yes, there are a small number of large news organizations that appear to have a lock on the voices being heard on the airwaves. The alphabet soup includes CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CNBC, and Bloomberg.
But even with an apparent dearth of news outlets, am I ready to throw in the towel on democracy? Of course not.
There is no lack of information. There is a dearth of citizen accountability for going after information. We choose and find excuses for being spoon-fed. If we can’t get the news and a Katie Couric smile in 24 minutes, we move on to Facebook and end up spending more than 24 minutes on-line. Between the libraries of our state universities and our public libraries, we have access to lots of information about how our government runs.
With the information that we glean from alternative sources, we can resort to the tried and true methods of message transmission, letter writing, phone calls, and personal visits, to influence the policy decisions of our representatives. The hang-up that critics like Free Press have is really not with democracy. It’s with the use of one medium, namely the Internet, by content providers.
The Internet is sexy, and gets sexier with every new app, blog, and social media network that gets its hooks into it. It’s the fear of “gatekeepers” like Comcast relegating these content providers to the back of the bus and forcing them to pay to play that has critics scared. They could care less about our ability to impact our representative government as long as the pipes on the Internet are clear enough to allow them to send out their messages.
In an information society with access to probably too much information, the real threat to democracy is not whether Comcast will allow me to go to Color of Change’s website. It’s whether Americans will take the time to pursue good information, no matter the source of the content or distribution, and use it.