(COMMON DREAMS) Victor Pickard, November 25, 2015Â â Taken as a whole, the American media system is atypical. It is a largely commercial system that is offset by weak public alternatives, itâs lightly regulated by public interest protections, and in many sectors itâs dominated by a few corporations. Other countriesâ media systems may face one or two of these structural problems, but rarely all three. This âAmerican exceptionalismâ was not inevitable or natural; it was vigorously contested. The system that Americans have inherited resulted from specific policy battles, with commercial interests and values triumphing over others. Much of this system crystallised during a period of fierce red-baiting in the United States, when even light regulations were attacked for being âsocialistic.â Keeping this power arrangement intact today is a âcorporate libertarianâ ideology, in which the rights of media corporations are privileged over those of everyone else.
Corporate libertarianism is particularly corrosive for the future of public media. Public models are founded on the assumption that an entirely market-driven media system cannot address all of democratic societyâs communicative needs. In many ways, public media serve as a protection against systemic âmarket failure,â a concept largely absent from American policy discourse. They operate according to a particular vision of the press, one that assesses a media systemâs value by how it benefits all of society rather than how it serves individual freedoms, private property rights, and profits for a relative few.
To support public media we would do well to first historicise and then deconstruct corporate libertarianism. While this essay is US-focused, it may offer important implications for the future of public media like the BBC. The US stands as a cautionary tale for what happens when a system is dominated by market values with few public options.