Objectivity is a dead ideaology – except for a price? – Erica Schisler

I’ve just finished reading Chapter 12 of Paul Starr’s, “Creation of the Media” – titled: Coda: the Advent of Media.

Here is my summary:

Starr writes, “The structure of the media, I have been arguing, resulted from constitutive choices at key junctures that affected the long-run path of development of communications. From the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century, these decisions were made in the context of three overarching realities: the primacy of the nation-state, the emergence of liberal constitutionalism, and the expansion of the reading public and other cultural markets. The power of the modern media is a byproduct of decisions mad in the context of these developments as they played out in different societies.”

He goes on to say that national interested guided critical choices about communications and different nations handled it differently.

But he also makes an argument that the ability of media to exert force of their own depended on both their autonomy from state control and their commercial independence.

He also gives some examples about the press coming to play a huge role in politics.

Also communications became a factor in economic growth and military power.

Starr also writes, “The relationship between the commercial media and democracy has always had two sides. Commerce both distorts and enlarges the public sphere: the incentive to attract more readers, listeners, or viewers sometimes produces reckless sensationalism and sometimes engages new groups in public debate”

But the press + money + advertising = Walter Lippmann’s famous “the manufacture of consent”

It’s a conundrum. He quotes Pulitzer, “circulation means advertising, and advertising means money and money means independence”.

Starr also asks some really key questions, “The origins of modern communications had been, in critical respects, liberal and democratic. How, then, had the media developed along lines that were so deeply in tension with those ideals? Could the mass media do the job that democracy classically assigned to the press–or did the commercially driven media and new techniques of mass persuasion so distort public knowledge and degrade public discussion as to make popular self government impossible?”

Unfortunately he doesn’t answer any of those questions.

This seems like an interesting book but this chapter is possibly the last chapter in the book and everything is a little out of context without the first 11 chapters. He moves between the 1600’s to current time, from the Stamp Act to the impact of graphic design on publishing. From monopolies to postal policies to ethnic diversity in movies to how many hours of radio people listened to in the 30’s to the narrowing of ideological diversity to theFrankfurt School critics.

He concludes with, “The market, even when its products are distasteful, is a continual stimulus to innovation outside the market and in reaction to it. In a dynamic sense, markets in liberal societies enrich the public sphere far more than they impoverish it. If, however, all were left to the market–if government had not promoted communications networks, the press, education, and innovation while attempting to check tendencies toward excessive concentrations of power–the public sphere would be poor indeed. Our public life is a hybrid of capitalism and democracy, and we are better off for it, as long as the democratic side is able to keep balance.”

Having only read 1 chapter of a 402 page book it’s hard to comment on his overall comments and conclusions. I would say this however, while I may appreciate some of the decisions that have been made by our government with regards to communications – I would never be so naive as to think it was to balance democracy or was even for the public good – rather I would assume that someone somewhere is benefiting and that capitalism is always the first priority – it demands it – the market demands it. I’m not saying whether I think this is good or bad – I’m just saying that I don’t think we can evaluate decisions properly without assuming there is a monetary benefit to someone – sometimes we may not be able to immediately see it.

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  • Dualtrack  On 13 July 2009 at 11:41 am

    This reminds me of the view posited by Hume in his last essay on democracy and capitalism where he said “The price of boing boing is the eternal freedom of vigilance” or something like that. It mirrors your own view regarding the availability of communications is the present era which is only supplied as a byproduct of the underlying superstructure of the free enterprise capitalist marketplace.

    While reading the dust jacket of a book I saw at a garage sale the other day I was reminded that the idea of freedom cannot be wholly secured through either the working for monetary gain or even methodical trading of goods regardless of the systemic procedures which are supportive of the (boing boing) overt rewards of having enjoined in the available rewards system or even abstaining from participating in the cultural or monetary leitmotif which rose to prominence under the industrialists of the Industrial Age, such as J. Paul Getty or Morgan Family. I really should have bought the book but they wanted $4 for it and that’s way too much for a book at a garage sale, unless it’s signed.

    I will say that I’m a bit perturbed that neither you nor the writer you discuss have examined the British Stationer’s Licensing Act which John Milton railed against in his “Areopagitica” which, we are told, led to the so-called ‘free press’ that is so casually enjoyed in the modern era. But then I haven’t read the book you’re discussing and, to be truthful, I’ve only skimmed over your article but I hope you will consider my points.

    Thank you.

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