TV And The Community

the controversies in the press and in political parties about whether we need a third channel and whether alterations are necessary to the structure of either the BBC or ITV or both have all, directly or by implication, revealed a variety of attitudes towards the basic question: in what manner should television (and other media) communicate with its audience? There are in fact four main attitudes towards communication, and it may be useful at the outset to define and comment upon them.

(a) Authoritarian: Here communications media are seen essentially as part of the whole machinery by which a minority governs a particular society. The media are a channel for the instructions and ideas of the ruling group and they exclude, as a matter of policy, alternative instructions and ideas. Monopoly of the means of communication is a necessary part of this kind of political system, and is supported by censorship and by prosecutions of sources unfavourable to those in power.

(b) Paternalistic: This may adequately be defined as an authoritarian system with a conscience. Whereas the first system justifies its monopolistic position by claiming, quite simply, its right to rule, the paternalistic system defends the same position in terms of the need to educate and enlighten. Such a system will use censorship but will commonly excuse itself on the grounds that certain groups or individuals need to be protected, as a public duty, against certain kinds of ideas or art. As a matter of policy, this kind of system undertakes the regular inculcation of certain values and habits and tastes which it wishes to extend to the society as a whole. Usually it will regard criticism of such values as, at best, muddle-headed and, at worst, as a kind of moral insurrection against a tried and trusted “way of life”. While the authoritarian sees himself as everybody’s natural ruler, the paternalist likes to see himself as everybody’s father—and for this role there cannot be any real competition. Naturally, his conception of his duty as everybody’s father imposes a high seriousness, responsibility and even reverence towards his work.