The political positions of the American broadcast networks form a central topic of any debate about the U.S. media. The debate is intensifying in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election next year in which all sides are already quite well defined in an atmosphere of rising invective and recriminations from the right and the left.
The sharpest line between right and left puts the Fox network of Rupert Murdoch's News International on one side and MSNBC, an arm of the National Broadcasting Co., on the other. Fox is widely criticized for representing conservative views as epitomized by talk shows hosted by disputatious right-wing figures eager to criticize President Barack Obama and his policies on the budget, taxes, medical care and jobs ? just about all the core issues. MSNBC has gained a reputation for leftist and liberal views in news and commentary that often seems diametrically opposed to those of Fox. CNN, the original Cable News Network, remains in the middle, a moderate voice, while HLN, Headline News, blares out sensational headlines, often crime, gossip and scandal.
These networks have risen to prominence in the past 20 years or so with the success of cable television and the appetite of viewers for 24 hour news. Fox and MSNBC have been controversial. Fox has by far the most viewers not just because of its political viewpoint but also as a result of skillful quick flashes, updates and insights that overcome the dullness and repetition that afflicts non-stop news. Anyone who's been stuck in a hotel room for a day or two knows just how boring are repetitions of the same news and features.
24-hour cable news networks have clearly filled a void left by the refusal of the three major national U.S. networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, to move their major evening news programs from early evening, 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m., to the prime time slots filled by top-rated action dramas. The main news everywhere else in the world, whether from a communist or democratic or capitalist country, is at around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., but these networks, despite their enormous resources, refuse to sacrifice viewers at prime time when the most people can see it. The result is that a high percentage of their viewers are elderly, beyond retirement age, as indicated by the numbers of commercials for medical problems while most people are still at work or commuting to home. Still, these networks still present extremely well produced and articulated news and features, though sometimes accused of a politically correct liberal bias.
Quite aside from these networks, a host of others have arisen, ranging from Bloomberg Financial to the Weather Channel to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Bloomberg might claim to be non-political, but its existence affirms the capitalist system that it serves. CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, is regarded as another antidote to the liberalism of the traditional networks.
But there's more. The most respected network of all, when it comes to news, may well be PBS, the Public Broadcasting System, that presents programs from dozens of public broadcasting stations and has its own highly informative news hour. PBS may not have the resources of the other networks but Is heard as a voice of reason in the midst of a cacophony of opinion and sensationalism that dominates other networks. And extreme news junkies can also turn to C-Span with its wall-to-wall coverage of congressional hearings, seminars, conventions and public events that give the chance to listen hours to events that the other networks would cover in minutes.
Quite aside from TV broadcasts, radio networks deluge millions of listeners with "the latest and greatest" especially during "drive time" when commuters have no choice but to turn on their car radios. They might turn to NPR, the semi-government, semi-private, non-profit network that tries mightily to maintain objectivity. Or they could go to the talk stations where loudmouths shout out their views on just about everything. CBS News broadcasts network news on the hour and half hour, with bulletins in between, on stations reaching every metropolitan center.
Periodically, critics call for legislation or regulations to tone down one view or another, to control the tenor if not the flow of words. Controls on news, however, would not only favor one side or the other but also destroy the creativity that makes this plethora of news so exciting. The right to broadcast from such a wide spectrum is guaranteed in a democratic system. The result is not perfect, but in an imperfect world all sides need be heard. The alternative would be dictatorship and suppression of the majority by a minority of like-minded bullies.(Future Korea Weekly)
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