This week in class we had a really engaging class about the state of public media in the United States versus the state of public media in European countries. Professor Cohen said something that really resonated with me: in Europe, any journalism student would be vying for a public media reporting job after graduation. In the United States, we are competing for corporate media jobs and vey few, if any, list public media on their list. Why?
We watched a BBC interview of Prime Minister Tony Blair before the US/British invasion of Iraq, in which BBC anchor Jeremy Paxton aggressively questions the PM and also the audience of British citizens do the same. On multiple occasions, they interrupt, correct and poke fun at the PM, without fear or shame. Most of the students in the class watched with mixed laughter and horror. They have never lived in the UK and haven’t been exposed to the way journalists (and everyone else) demands answers from their government. As Americans, we have been conditioned to accept our politicians cheery-picking the shows they appear on, the questions they answer ad the people they speak to. For crying out loud, we even let politicians create the rules under which they debate. In the UK this would be unheard of, thanks to well-funded and protectively funded public media. One of my favorite shows to watch when I was living in London was the weekly “Question Time” on BBC, where members of Parliament interrogate the Prime Minister on live television. In the UK, these tough questions would not make British journalism students laugh and look on in horror, like we did. They would take then in stride, as they should — as we would if we had stronger public media.
I also really enjoyed our discussion of children’s public media in the United States. Professor Cohen told a story about his eldest daughter watching public access television as a child but still being bombarded with corporate commercials that sold things like sugary cereals that promote an unhealthy diet. I think he is right to demand a safe place on TV for American children. Our public broadcasting should be that place. When I was living in Spain, I was amazed to find their public access children’s channel while flipping channels in a hotel one weekend trip to Granada. The TV shows were educational cartoons that promoted healthy living. And there were no commercials — only PSAs about doing good in your community, recycling, voting and other positive messages. I hadn’t even considered how important something like that would be until I was faced with it, right there in my hotel room.