American Attorney and Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
But those were not the two words [vast wasteland] I intended to be remembered. The two words I wanted to endure were public interest. To me that meant, as it still means, that we should constantly ask: What can communications do for our country? For the common good? For the American people?
My objective at the convention was to tell broadcasters that the FCC would enforce the law?s requirement that they serve the public interest in return for their free and exclusive use of the publicly owned airwaves. Too much existing programming, I said, was little more than ?a procession of game shows violence, sadism, murder, Western bad men, Western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons.? Television, I said, was too often a ?vast wasteland.?
What would he like to see in the next 50 years? I believe we should commit to six goals in the next 50 years. Our first must be to expand freedom, in order to strengthen editorial independence in news and information? Our second commitment should be to use new communications technologies to improve and extend the benefits of education at all levels, preschool through postgraduate? Our third commitment should be to use new technologies to improve and extend the reach of our health-care system? Fourth, the nation?s communications infrastructure for public safety and local and national security is a dangerous disgrace? Fifth, we need to give greater support to public radio and public television. Both have been starved for funds for decades, and yet in many communities they are essential sources of local news and information?particularly public radio, which is relatively inexpensive to produce and distribute and is a valuable source of professionally reported news for millions of Americans? Finally and critically, if over-the-air television is to survive as a licensed service operating in the public interest, we must make better use of it in our politics?
I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air . . . and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a great wasteland.
Children will watch anything, and when a broadcaster uses crime and violence and other shoddy devices to monopolize a child's attention, it's worse than taking candy from a baby. It is taking precious time from the process of growing up.
Ours has been called the jet age, the atomic age, the space age. It is also, I submit, the television age. And just as history will decide whether the leaders of today’s world employed the atom to destroy the world or rebuild it for mankind’s benefit, so will history decide whether today’s broadcasters employed their powerful voice to enrich the people or debase them.