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The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes
 3030394026, 9783030394028

Table of contents :
Chapter 1: Public Access in Decline
The Limits of Technological Determinism
Technology and Social Construction
Chapter 2: The Frankfurt School and Its Aftermath
An Excursus on the Frankfurt School
The Limits of the Frankfurt School’s Analysis
The Political: Horkheimer to Habermas
The Public Sphere in Habermas and Beyond
Critics of the Public Sphere
Habermasian Revisions
Civil Society
Participatory Democracy
Chapter 3: Public Interest Standards from Radio to Public Television
The Rise of Radio and Telecommunication and Public Interest
The Regulatory Context
Broadcast Regulation
Radio Publics: Democratic Potentials?
Democratizing Media
From Pacifica to PBS: The Rise of Public Interest Media and Civil Society
The Critique of the Network Model
From the Wasteland to the Promised Land
Network Television and the Portrayal of American Life
Chapter 4: The Emergence of Public Access Television
Access to Democracy
Public Access Begins
Participatory Democracy or the Technological Sublime?
Shimmering Blue Skies: The Promise of Technology
Participatory Policymaking in the Formation of Public Access
Funding Issues
Access Cleavages: Cracks in the Foundation
Legal Problems
Precarious Foundations
Access Success and Challenges
Local Programming Success
Governmental Access
Socially Engaged Media
Wayne’s World: Changing Conceptions of Public Access
Who Watches Public Access?
Chapter 5: Neoliberalism: The Decline of Public Obligation
The Rise of a New Orthodoxy
A New Consensus?
Delayed Crises: Streeck’s Analyses
Political Thought in Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism and the Entrepreneurial Self
The Contradictions of Neoliberalism
The Colonization of the Lifeworld
The Decline of Public Interest Obligations
Cloudy Horizon’s for Blue Skies
ALEC and Cable Franchising
Channel Slamming
Relaxing Ownership Rules
Market Failures
Speech Rights in Neoliberalism
Is Censorship Necessary
The Halleck Case and the Challenges to the Public Forum Conception of Access
The Aftermath of Halleck
Neoliberal Deregulation Extended: The Communications Act of 1996 and Beyond
The Privatization of Public Space
Public Sphere in Neoliberalism
The Public Sphere. Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector
Putting It All Together: Depoliticization
Chapter 6: Access Under Attack: Some Examples from the Field
Artificial Austerity
Austerity and Access
Access Closing or Service Reduction
Fragile Franchises
Narratives of Decline
Censorship of Public Access: Political and Cultural
Professional Associations
The Information Needs of Communities?
Chapter 7: Looking Through the Wrong End of the Telescope: Internet Democracy vs. Public Access
Cybernetic Utopians: Romancing the Computers
The Consequences of Esoteric Community
Social Theorists and the Internet
Radical Democracy on the Internet
The Debate over Radical Media Are Social Media “Community Media”
The Internet and the Social Context
Can Social Media Serve as a Public Sphere?
Political Economy of the Internet from Public to Private
Facebook: Privacy and Publicity
Data Collection and Privacy
All the (Fake) News that Fits
How Emancipatory Are Social Movements? The Occupy Movement as a Case Study of Internet Activism?
Proprietary Publics?
Facebook and Twitter Pages as Public Forums?
YouTube and Social Media vs. (Public) Television: Public Forum
The Need for a General Public Sphere
General Publics Revisited
Chapter 8: A Future for Public Access?
Author Index
Subject Index

Citation preview

The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes Brian Caterino

The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes

Brian Caterino

The Decline of Public Access and Neo-­Liberal Media Regimes

Brian Caterino Rochester, NY, USA

ISBN 978-3-030-39402-8    ISBN 978-3-030-39403-5 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: gettyimages / oxygen Cover design: eStudioCalamar This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


1 Public Access in Decline  1 The Limits of Technological Determinism   3 Technology and Social Construction   4 Bibliography  13 2 The Frankfurt School and Its Aftermath 15 An Excursus on the Frankfurt School  16 The Limits of the Frankfurt School’s Analysis  19 The Political: Horkheimer to Habermas  22 The Public Sphere in Habermas and Beyond  23 Critics of the Public Sphere  26 Habermasian Revisions  28 Civil Society  31 Participatory Democracy  36 Bibliography  41 3 Public Interest Standards from Radio to Public Television 45 The Rise of Radio and Telecommunication and Public Interest  45 The Regulatory Context  49 Broadcast Regulation  51 Radio Publics: Democratic Potentials?  54 Democratizing Media  59 From Pacifica to PBS: The Rise of Public Interest Media and Civil Society  61 v



The Critique of the Network Model  65 From the Wasteland to the Promised Land  67 Network Television and the Portrayal of American Life  68 Bibliography  73 4 The Emergence of Public Access Television 77 Access to Democracy  77 Public Access Begins  78 Participatory Democracy or the Technological Sublime?  79 Shimmering Blue Skies: The Promise of Technology  82 Participatory Policymaking in the Formation of Public Access  84 Funding Issues  87 Access Cleavages: Cracks in the Foundation  88 Legal Problems  89 Precarious Foundations  92 Access Success and Challenges  93 Local Programming Success  94 Governmental Access  95 Socially Engaged Media  96 Wayne’s World: Changing Conceptions of Public Access 100 Who Watches Public Access? 105 Conclusions 106 Bibliography 111 5 Neoliberalism: The Decline of Public Obligation115 Neoliberalism 116 The Rise of a New Orthodoxy 118 A New Consensus? 122 Delayed Crises: Streeck’s Analyses 123 Political Thought in Neoliberalism 124 Neoliberalism and the Entrepreneurial Self 126 The Contradictions of Neoliberalism 128 The Colonization of the Lifeworld 130 The Decline of Public Interest Obligations 130 Cloudy Horizon’s for Blue Skies 135 ALEC and Cable Franchising 137 Channel Slamming 138 Relaxing Ownership Rules 140



Market Failures 144 Speech Rights in Neoliberalism 148 Is Censorship Necessary 150 The Halleck Case and the Challenges to the Public Forum Conception of Access 152 The Aftermath of Halleck 153 Neoliberal Deregulation Extended: The Communications Act of 1996 and Beyond 154 The Privatization of Public Space 157 Public Sphere in Neoliberalism 158 The Public Sphere. Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector 160 Putting It All Together: Depoliticization 164 Bibliography 172 6 Access Under Attack: Some Examples from the Field179 Artificial Austerity 179 Austerity and Access 182 Access Closing or Service Reduction 186 Fragile Franchises 190 Narratives of Decline 191 Censorship of Public Access: Political and Cultural 192 Professional Associations 196 The Information Needs of Communities? 200 Bibliography 206 7 Looking Through the Wrong End of the Telescope: Internet Democracy vs. Public Access211 Cybernetic Utopians: Romancing the Computers 213 The Consequences of Esoteric Community 217 Social Theorists and the Internet 219 Radical Democracy on the Internet 222 The Debate over Radical Media Are Social Media “Community Media” 225 The Internet and the Social Context 228 Can Social Media Serve as a Public Sphere? 233 Political Economy of the Internet from Public to Private 234 Facebook: Privacy and Publicity 237 Data Collection and Privacy 238



All the (Fake) News that Fits 239 How Emancipatory Are Social Movements? The Occupy Movement as a Case Study of Internet Activism? 241 Proprietary Publics? 242 Facebook and Twitter Pages as Public Forums? 246 YouTube and Social Media vs. (Public) Television: Public Forum  248 The Need for a General Public Sphere 250 General Publics Revisited 253 Bibliography 258 8 A Future for Public Access?261 Author Index267 Subject Index273


Public Access in Decline

Public access television has been described as “the most interesting and controversial experiment in democratic control of the media” in US history (Kellner),1 as America’s Electronic Soapbox (Linder),2 and an electronic public space (Aufderheide).3 For others, however, it has not always been as successful. One critic held that “there has been a schism between the promise of access, and its actual implementation and reception” (Fuller).4 It has had some major successes but has been the subject of disdain for its poor-quality amateur programs as parodied in the fictional version of Wayne’s World. Bill Kirkpatrick observed in 2001 that the media largely portray access “as a forum for social deviants, murderers, sociopaths, and losers.”5 Reservations and shortcomings aside, it no doubt represents the greatest achievement of popular democratic initiatives within the mass media. It became one of the foremost expressions of the idea that media are public property and that broadcasting and cablecasting entail public obligations to empower citizens. At its best, public access television created a participatory public space in which those who lacked the resources to enter the commercial market were given voice, views not heard in broadcast media were aired, and critical discussion of public issues was facilitated. It has not always lived up to its promise, but there have been many significant achievements. Yet these achievements are under siege: public access television in the United States has undergone a severe decline. The number of stations and the amount of funding has decreased. A recent study by the Buske Group © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




and The Alliance for Community Democracy comparing funding between 2005 and 2010 found that in “over 100 communities from 14 states, PEG centers have become endangered or closed down entirely. Forty-five channels in California alone have been closed, twelve in Los Angeles.”6 Other centers have faced serious cuts, with an average funding drop of 40% annually.7 Many long-time operators who have built successful public access operations have been terminated and the operation of access channels has been limited. Others have had service shut down altogether. One prevalent argument in policy discussions and municipal deliberations views the decline of public access as an inevitable consequence of the evolution of technology. For these critics, public access has been rendered obsolete by the rise of Internet technologies. Videos can be posted on YouTube, Facebook, or other social media instead of public access television. The ease of making and disseminating videos for these media means, according to these critics, that public access is no longer needed. The abundance of Internet outlets means that opportunities for free expression are available without public access. For technological optimists, this decline is not a bad thing. It results from the changes in public and mass media brought about by the Internet. The optimist believes that technology is an unreserved good: new media technologies spread democracy in their wake. The Internet public is the most democratic one found thus far.8 Digital technology extends the capacity to be a media content provider to anyone with an Internet connection and high-speed broadband. The rapid and expanding flow of information will give all a chance to participate. Some radical and progressive theorists see the Internet as creating new publics or superseding the standard idea of a public altogether.9 This optimism is often based on a utopian vision of the power of technology. Historian Fred Turner has shown how Stuart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, and his associates created a vision of a cybernetic utopian community based on a view of the “globe as a single, interlinked pattern of information.” Brand wrote his Whole Earth Catalog against the backdrop of a world threatened by nuclear destruction; in that context, his countercultural vision of a networked society driven by small-scale technology provided a deeply comforting alternative vision of a unified world for those affected by the cold war and the Vietnam conflict.10 However, by the later 1980s and beyond, the cybernetic utopia became closely linked to neoliberal libertarians, who, while they shared an anti-state philosophy, rejected most of Brand’s countercultural ideas.



Skeptics, however, contest this utopian vision of the Internet. They point to the fact that the Internet and social networks have become a source of information overload and a home for trolls, flamers, and ranters: conditions that do not encourage reasoned discussion. For these critics, the current generation, which has grown up on the Internet, is largely ignorant of history, civics, geography, and even math skills. Internet culture fosters the creation of isolated individuals who lack creative spark.11 For others like Ben Agger, the Internet encourages emotional oversharing and inappropriate self-disclosure. Users “divulge more of their inner feelings, opinions, and sexuality than they would in person or even over the phone.”12 He thinks oversharing blurs the boundaries between public and private and reproduces pathologies of the self that create unhappiness. Rather than create ties between others, such revelations damage the capacities for genuine ties. Others note that the commercial character of Internet social media limits the free speech of participants. The ability of Internet providers to gather information poses a serious threat to privacy and free speech. The late political theorist and social critic, Benjamin Barber, suggested a more balanced assessment.13 He wanted to avoid the Scylla of unjustified utopian optimism and the Charybdis of dystopian pessimism. Barber proposed a Jeffersonian vision of the relation of technology and society. Technologies, especially technologies of communication, need to be embedded in strong democratic institutions that develop capacities for citizens to be full participants in democratic processes. Barber, however, is skeptical of the possibilities of realizing his strong democratic vision in today’s American society.

The Limits of Technological Determinism Assertions about the inherent possibilities of new technology invoke the theory of technological determinism. This is the view that technological developments and the technological structure of media are the main drivers of sociohistorical development. In its strongest form it holds that technology is an autonomous, independent force that shapes social life. The uses of technology are largely determined by the inner structure of technology itself and not the social relations in which it is embedded. Technological progress initiates a unidirectional process of change which determines social life. Social institutions must adapt to the imperatives of technology. Technology is an emancipatory power that creates



freedom by changing our relationship to nature and promoting democracy. There are other less rigorous versions of the determinist position usually called soft determinism. These allow for a certain amount of social influence. They think that technology is still the central determining force, but that social forces have some sway in the outcomes of technology. Neither of these forms of determinism, however, provides an adequate understanding of the relation between technology and society. Technology is not prior to, nor independent of, society but is a social product shaped by social forces in important ways. The adoption of innovative technologies is only effective when accompanied by changes in institutions and social relations and even modes of production.14 There is no direct or automatic link between technological development and increasing democratization or social freedom. David Noble, in his work America by Design, showed that the linkage of technology and advanced capitalism as a system of social production was based not just on technology, but on social/ political elements of production which were initiated by new work relations and included expertise in social relations.15 Social change, as Louis Coser reminded us many years ago, is a matter of conflict and struggle.16 Similarly, the use of technologies can be the result of contested relations between social groups or the interests of dominant social groups. For example, the rise of modern media from the newspaper to the telegraph, to the radio, to the Internet was shaped by important social groups such as the rising commercial classes who required information on trading (newspapers); industries like railroads and others that needed long-­distance communication (telegraph); military needs for communication with ships (radio) and distant troops; and finally the need for information exchange during the cold war (the early Internet). Later these technologies took different shapes as they were further entwined in social life.17 Technological developments are guided by the ways that power can be contested in society.18

Technology and Social Construction Social Constructionism provides an important alternative approach to understanding technologies. In the hands of its most skilled practitioners, it is not a purely subjectivist conception. The world exists independent of will and consciousness in the form of the physical world and the world of other people, but the way we know it and make sense of it is a social process.19 Our knowledge of the world is not a matter of an individual knower



who singularly encounters the world but is constituted through intersubjective processes of mutual understanding. This jointly constructed social world is the source of knowledge of truth and normative validity as well as that of cultural interpretations. These consensual forms of understanding, however, are not just theoretical but practical. We regulate and coordinate social action through these socially constructed forms of knowledge. Thus, we understand technologies through the way we understand the world around us and the conflicting forces and frames of meaning we employ. Social Construction of Science (SCOT) theorists argue for the indeterminacy of technological changes in society.20 The importance of a technology or a medium of communication must also be interpreted and regulated through social action. What makes something better or superior relies on criteria that are not simply technological, but social or political as well. Even the design of technologies can have social elements. Users, as well as producers, can have an impact. There were, for example, two types of bicycles that developed independently: the high two-wheeler with one very high wheel and one small one, and the symmetrical bike with two identical wheels which fought for dominance. While the high-wheeler was built for speed, the symmetrical bike provided greater safety. The symmetrical-­wheeled bicycle became the dominant model not because of technological superiority but because of its social usefulness.21 A similar example in media was the adoption of VHS rather than BETA as the standard form of videotape. BETA was technically superior, but VHS won the day due to market considerations. VHS was cheaper and more widely available. JVC, which developed VHS tape, licensed it widely and was able to gather an overwhelming market share. Max Weber took a more pessimistic view of technological change theory and stresses the forces of power that influence and direct these interpretations of reality. As is well known, Weber proposed two types of action: purposive-rational and value-rational. The former is a rationality of calculation: it seeks to find efficient and rational means to ends. The latter is found in the structures of meaning and significance that actors give for social action. While Weber stressed the importance of value-rationality in social explanation, he also held that in the newly emerging advanced capitalism, technological rationality, because of its central role in factory production, had taken the leading role in social development as well. It tended to eliminate or displace value-rational action and created a one-­dimensional world an iron cage devoid of human values and goals. Technical progress



has led not to the expansion of democratic values but to a one-sided rationalization of social life.  The  imperatives of  domination and control  of nature and other humans leads to a dystopian world of instrumental reason in which means supplant ends. This was not, however, the result of technological determinism but the linkage of technology with the social and economic power of capitalism. The critique of technological rationality by Weber and the Frankfurt School which will be discussed in the next chapter exposed the weak spot in the optimistic version of technological determinism. In equating the rise of technology with democracy it conflated the realms of technological and normative rationality. But these spheres have a relative independence. Normative social action is constituted through forms of communicative action based on mutual understanding, not in the success of efficient means–ends calculations. Norms that find their origins in social interaction have to regulate interaction. The thesis of one-dimensionality, as I will argue in the next chapter, was too all-encompassing, however. Andrew Feenberg has put forward a notion of democratic rationalization in order to account for the democratic possibilities of technology without recourse to determinism.22 In his view, we must organize social relations of technology in a manner that emphasizes the participation and representation of all. In the place of determinism, Feenberg proposes a theory of indeterminism; the selection, employment, development, and dissemination of technologies take place in the context of social and political norms, institutions, and actors. Technologies are embedded in systems of meaning and have to be interpreted by social actors within their frames of reference. However, the social significance of technologies is not given in advance but is discovered in the mutual understanding of participants and relations of social power and authority in which they are implicated. Governments, corporate interests, citizen groups, and ordinary citizens can all be involved in the process. New technologies of communication, then, may open possibilities for increasing the scope of communication, but they do not determine whether they will be democratically organized. Critical social theories use the insights of social construction theories in the service of emancipatory social theory. They hope to practically affect social processes through reflection and understanding social formations and identifying unnecessary sources of power and domination that impede the practice of freedom. Thus, critical theory often develops diagnoses of social conditions and ideologies that are sources of exploitation and



domination. These are generally linked to political economic processes, but, as we have seen in the work of Weber and Habermas, not exclusively so. They cannot be seen just as material forces, of which ideas are an accompaniment. The “material” structure of society is itself a social construction. As historical economists like Polanyi have told us, there is no natural economic form. In this way critical theory, unlike interpretive theories like social construction, is also a practically oriented theory. Reflections on the pathologies of society are meant to generate individual insight which reorients action in an emancipatory direction. In this work, I am less concerned with the technological capacities and design of technologies, as with the normative justifications and social purposes to which they have been put and the structures of social power in which norms have been contested and the social institutions which support a more democratic public life. The history of information technologies in the industrial era, especially in the twentieth century, points to a different pattern than those identified by technological optimists: while proponents stress the emancipatory power of recent technologies, a repetitive pattern can be identified. An initial period of anarchic freedom in technological development is always followed by a corporate seizure of control that centralizes authority over modern technologies and limits the development of a democratic public sphere. We can see this process already at work in new Internet media. The original idea of the Internet as a noncommercial zone has been displaced by commercial interests. Privately owned Internet and social media providers hold power over what appears on most social media.23 I think that the utopian vision of the Internet (itself a social construction of meaning) in its current form is greatly exaggerated. The Internet, like other recent technologies, certainly does increase the scope of interpersonal contact across physical distance and exchange of information, yet it may not increase reasoned discussion and debate or be a force of democratization. There is no necessary connection between the two. It has not created an open noncommercial public forum free of interference. It certainly has not yet eclipsed television as the dominant media as some critics claim. For the poor and the elderly, Internet connectivity and mastery are not always accessible or possible. The technological determinist/utopian argument does not provide a sufficient explanation of the decline of public access television, nor does it take notice of the social context of the political/economic forces in which technologies are situated in the era of neoliberal capitalism. We need a



critical theory of the media to analyze it. I argue that the primary threat to public access is not the Internet or the evolution of an innovative technology that supersedes television, but neoliberal policies that seek to reduce the public obligations of broadcast and telecommunications media, and to issues of media consolidation. Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) channels were intended to provide an alternative public sphere in corporate capitalist societies. They were meant to correct problems created by a network television system that made many in the public invisible. This achievement was, however, established on a precarious foundation. The existence of PEG channels rested on a tenuous coalition of cable operators looking to get a foothold and media activists who sought greater democratic participation in the media. When court decisions rejected mandated public access channels, they became only an optional feature in cable systems. Funding and other support has often been insufficient. Starting from a position of institutional weakness and vulnerability, when changes in the political and legal context instituted by neoliberalism occurred, access was open to attack.24 These changes threatened the ability of public access to operate as an alternative or oppositional public sphere. Waning commitment to the public obligations of broadcasters had a major effect on the democratic character of the media and limited political participation in public life. Thus, in contrast to those who regard internal factors as leading to a gap between ideals and reality, I think the more crucial factors are external. Public access advocates have not always made the nature of this threat explicit. While Sue Buske of the aforementioned Buske Group notes that the biggest threat to public access is the emergence of statewide franchises which have bypassed the well-established local franchise agreements and have led to the elimination and underfunding of access centers,25 she fails to put this insight into the political/economic context. In contrast, the national and statewide franchise movement is tied to the neoliberal attempt to reformulate and deregulate media policy. This neoliberal political economic constellation rose to prominence before the Internet; however, its consequences for public media are only now becoming fully apparent. More than just an economic outlook that had led to “deregulation” and concentration of media power, neoliberalism seeks to forcibly dismantle the social and cultural achievements of the Keynesian welfare state that accepted public goods and social rights and to centralize power, depoliticizing much of the populace. Neoliberal communications policy is implicitly and sometimes explicitly opposed to the maintenance of a lively public



space. These changes have worked to contain democratic initiatives and blunt demands for greater participation by a large mass of citizens. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s to the present, the neoliberal outlook has become prevalent in all sectors of government and society. While this insight is not unique, it still needs to be emphasized given the strong influence of technological optimism, both by policymakers and even some progressives. Thus, while there have been statewide and national attempts to restrict or eliminate access channels, neoliberal impulses also exist on the local level. Local restrictions such as decreased funding, elimination of public access in favor of governmental access, and firing of longtime access operators have become common. The impact of neoliberalism has been studied from the point of view of deregulation in the American context, but the decline of public service broadcasting has been somewhat more a topic of British and European discussions, where the role of public media such as the BBC is more prevalent.26 I argue, however, that the US system is an exemplar in the way that public access (despite its origins in Canada) was established as a popular democratic public space and in the aggressive way in which deregulation of the media has been pursued to eliminate public obligations by neoliberals. In the United States, deregulation of the media has taken root even more firmly with strong bipartisan support from the actions of the Reagan administration, to the Communications Act of 1996 during the Clinton administration and beyond. Even though it was already less burdened than in the European context, American corporations have been eager to reduce and often eliminate public service obligations. I want to look at the struggle to establish public obligations for media culminating in the creation of public access, as an example of an attempt to create participatory democratic media. I will examine the interpretations of the public and public interest that were employed from the beginnings of radio and television regulation and how they were challenged, changed, and then revised again in the neoliberal era. After this introduction, I provide some basic theoretical moorings in Chap. 2. My aim here is not to provide a comprehensive critical theory of media but one that is more pragmatic. I hope to introduce some basic notions used in my approach. In contrast to the influential agreement of the first generation of the Frankfurt school, I will argue that advanced capitalism did not eliminate all crisis potentials or create an all-­encompassing mass culture. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss the development of public interest obligations behind the rise of public access. My account is intended, on



the one hand, to correct optimistic or determinist arguments about the employment of communications technology, but also to show that democratic influences were at work which contested corporate dominance, on the other. Chapter 3 traces the development (or lack of development) of public obligations in radio and television in America and the establishment of the network system in line with the interests of corporate capitalism. Yet the development of this system was not unopposed. It encountered significant opposition to corporate dominance that continued into the 1970s, resulting in the establishment of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and PEG channels. In Chap. 4, I discuss the tensions in the foundation of PEG channels. Access was established through a coalition of cable operators and citizens groups. The former and sometimes the latter held a “blue skies” outlook: the notion that the new cable systems would provide an abundance of channels to encompass both for-profit and public interests. This optimism was short-lived, but the establishment of PEG channels continued to grow quickly for the next decade and more. I discuss the participatory democratic outlook of public access channels as well as the challenges of Wayne’s world model and evaluate its achievements. The rise of neoliberalism, I argue, was meant to mute the socioeconomic conflicts that arose at the end of the Keynesian era. Chapter 5 argues that neoliberalism impacts public media in several important ways. The decline of public interest obligations has led to a de-emphasis by cable companies in the role of public access. Once large cable conglomerates became essentially monopolies in most coverage areas, they had little use for the public access channels they had supported in the past. Media concentration and deregulation have allowed large cable corporations to bypass established procedures and engineer changes in the relationship between cable companies, municipalities, and citizens. Deregulation meant changes in the philosophies of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): the waning commitment to the public obligations of broadcasters meant less funding and less visibility for public media. Changes in the regulation of nonprofits lead them to seek strategies that stress profit-making operations and administrative and managerial philosophies that were result driven and instrumental, rather than maintain a commitment to social rights and citizen’s participation. I think taken together these elements create a political economic and legal environment that shrinks the role of public media. It is the desiccation of the public sphere rather than the rise of Internet social media which is the primary culprit in the decline of public access. Chapter 6 discusses some of the



attacks on public access channels in the later 1990s and in the twenty-first century in the context of neoliberal pressures. Chapter 7 focuses on the nature of Internet public spheres and the status of theses as public forums. Like the previous media innovations, proponents of digital communications technology employed a utopian ideology of emancipatory  virtual communications. Ironically this was linked to the idea of the free-floating individual of neoliberal thought. However, the commercial character of social media, and the segregated nature of Internet groups, belies the notion that digital communication in its current form produces anything like a true democratic public sphere. It is more a feature of rationalization and reification of communicative action than free interaction.

Notes 1. Douglas Kellner, Television and the Crisis of Democracy, Boulder: Westview Press 1990. 2. Laura Linder, Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox, New York Prager 1999. 3. Patricia Aufderheide, The Daily Planet: A Critic on the Capitalist Culture Beat, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 2000. 4. Linda Fuller, Community Television in the United States: A Sourcebook on Public Educational and Governmental Access, Westport: Greenwood Press 1994. 5. Bill Kirkpatrick, “Rethinking ‘Access’ Cultural Barriers to Public Access Television,” Community Media Review vol 25 no 2 2002: 20–23. 6. The Buske Group, Analysis of Recent Peg Access Center Closures, Funding Cutbacks and Related Threats, Prepared for Alliance for Communications Democracy April 8, 2011. 7. Lindsey Sanders. “Cracking the Case of Disappearing Public Access Channels,” the save the news blog blog/11/05/11/cracking-case-disappearing-public-access-channels. 8. For example, see Timothy Kirkhope. “How the Internet Is Changing Democracy,” The Independent December 12, 2012 A view of the Internet as an example of critical theorists’ conception of the public sphere is Antje Gimmler. “Deliberative Democracy, the Public Sphere and the Internet.” Philosophy and Social Criticism vol 27 no 4 2001: 21–39. 9. See, for example, Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture Volume I 2nd Edition, ­Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell 2009 as the articles by John Keane and Jodi Dean discussed later.



10. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2006, introduction. 11. Robert McChesney,  Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, New York: The New Press 2013. For a brief discussion of Samuel Morse’s view of the public uses of the telegraph (he wanted it to be owned by the government to avoid commercialization) in the nineteenth century, see Ralph Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, Thousand Oaks: Sage 1996: 12–13. 12. Ben Aggerm Oversharing: Presentations of the Self in the Internet Age Routledge 2012: xi. 13. Benjamin Barber “Pangloss, Pandora or Jefferson? Three Scenarios for the Future of Technology and Strong Democracy,” in Robert Hassan and Julien Thomas eds., The New Media Theory Reader Berkshire: Open University Press 2006: 188–202. 14. See Christopher Lasch, Forward to David Noble, America by Design: Science Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism, New York: Oxford University Press 1977. 15. David Noble, America by Design: Science Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism, New York: Oxford University Press 1977. 16. Louis Coser, “Social Conflict and the Theory of Social Change,” The British Journal of Sociology vol 8 no 3 September 1957: 197–207. Also see Coser The Functions of Social Conflict New York: Free Press 1956. 17. See, for example, Raymond Williams’ discussion of technological determinism and the social conditions of technology in Television: Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Routledge 203, chapter 1. 18. Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form. 19. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge, New York: Anchor 1966. 20. Wiebe E.  Bijker Thomas P.  Hughes and Trevor Pinch, The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press 1987. 21. Andrew Feenberg, “Democratic Rationalization: Technology Power and Freedom,” in David M. Kaplan ed. Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield 2004: 209–222. 22. Feenberg, “Democratic Rationalization”. 23. While the FCC under Obama upheld a version of net neutrality, which guarantees equal access and equal speeds to all users, the new FCC commissioner appointed by Trump, Ajit Pai, rescinded that order effectively killing net neutrality for now. 24. The notion of weak institutions has been used by Latin American scholars like Guillermo O’Donnell to describe the weakness in democracies in the region; I adapt it here. See Steven Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo,



“Building Institutions on Weak Foundations: Lessons from Latin America,” WeakFoundationLessonsfromLatinAmericaLevitskyMurillo.pdf. 25. Jeff Delong, “Support, Funding Dry up for Community Access TV” USA Today November 4, 2010 nation/2010-11-04-accesstv04_ST_N.htm. 26. Colin Leys, “The Public Sphere and the Media: Market Supremacy versus Democracy”, Socialist Register 1999: 314–335. John Keane, The Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Polity 1991. Michael Tracy, Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1998.

Bibliography Agger, Ben. 2012. Oversharing: Presentations of the Self in the Internet Age. Routledge. Aufderheide, Patricia. 2000. The Daily Planet: A Critic on the Capitalist Culture Beat. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Barber, Benjamin. 2006. Pangloss, Pandora or Jefferson? Three Scenarios for the Future of Technology and Strong Democracy. In The New Media Theory Reader, ed. Robert Hassan and Julien Thomas, 188–202. Berkshire: Open University Press. Berger, Peter, and Thomas Luckmann. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Anchor. Bijker, Wiebe E., Thomas P.  Hughes, and Trevor Pinch. 1987. The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Castells, Manuel. 2009. The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture Volume I. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. Coser, Louis. 1956. The Functions of Social Conflict. New York: Free Press. ———. September 1957. Social Conflict and the Theory of Social Change. The British Journal of Sociology 8 (3): 197–207. Delong, Jeff. 2010. Support, Funding Dry up for Community Access TV. USA Today, November 4. nation/2010-11-04-accesstv04_ST_N.htm. Engelman, Ralph. 1996. Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, 12–13. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Feenberg, Andrew. 2004. Democratic Rationalization: Technology Power and Freedom. In Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David M.  Kaplan, 209–222. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. Fuller, Linda. 1994. Community Television in the United States: A Sourcebook on Public Educational and Governmental Access. Westport: Greenwood Press. Gimmler, Antje. 2001. Deliberative Democracy, the Public Sphere and the Internet. Philosophy and Social Criticism 27 (4): 21–39.



Habermas, Jurgen. 1971. Science and Technology as Ideology. In Toward a Rational Society, 81–122. Boston: Beacon Press. ———. 1981. Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols, especially Book 1 Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Boston: Beacon Press. Keane, John. 1991. The Media and Democracy. Malden, MA: Polity Press. Kellner, Douglas. 1990. Television and the Crisis of Democracy. Boulder: Westview Press. Kirkhope, Timothy. 2012. How the Internet Is Changing Democracy. The Independent, December 12. Kirkpatrick, Bill. 2002. Rethinking ‘Access’ Cultural Barriers to Public Access Television. Community Media Review 25 (2): 20–23. Lasch, Christopher. 1977. Forward to David Noble. In America by Design: Science Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism. New  York: Oxford University Press. Levitsky, Steven, and María Victoria Murillo. Building Institutions on Weak Foundations: Lessons from Latin America. filemanager/BuildingInstitutionsonWeakFoundationLessonsfromLatinAmerica LevitskyMurillo.pdf. Leys, Colin. 1999. The Public Sphere and the Media: Market Supremacy Versus Democracy. Socialist Register: 314–335. Linder, Laura. 1999. Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox. New York: Prager. McChesney, Robert W. 2013. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York: The New Press. Noble, David. 1977. America by Design: Science Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press. Sanders, Lindsey. Cracking the Case of Disappearing Public Access Channels. The Save the News Blog. cracking-case-disappearing-public-access-channels. Spigel, Lynn, and Michael Curtin, eds. 1997. The Revolution Wasn’t Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict. Routledge. The Buske Group. 2011. Analysis of Recent Peg Access Center Closures, Funding Cutbacks and Related Threats. Prepared for Alliance for Communications Democracy, April 8. Tracy, Michael. 1998. Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Turner, Fred. 2006. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Williams, Raymond. 2001. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Routledge.


The Frankfurt School and Its Aftermath

In this chapter, I look at some theoretical concepts and frameworks that have been important to the discussion of public access. My aim is not to provide a comprehensive account of these issues, which would require a separate book, but to highlight and introduce certain themes that play an important role in the analyses in this book. I begin with a brief discussion of the first generation of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, primarily Horkheimer and Adorno, whose analysis of the role of mass media and the culture industry had a significant impact on media theories. While acknowledging the power of this analysis I also emphasize its limits. The Frankfurt theorists exaggerated the sociocultural closure of advanced industrial societies to the critical use of the media. Thus, their theory is ill-equipped to analyze developments in public media. I then examine some critical perspectives on their work. After introducing the work of Habermas as a critical alternative to the first-generation theorists, I briefly discuss notions crucial to his work: the public sphere, civil society, and participatory democracy. These conceptions have become central to contemporary discussions of democracy but have important implications for the discussion of public media access. Habermas’ notion of the public sphere has been controversial, and I discuss both the controversy and Habermas’ emendations to his concept. Public access is meant to be a contribution to the public sphere and to bring elements of participatory democracy to the sphere of mass media. These conceptions both reinforce and rely on the notion of a © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




democratically organized civil society, in which the power of ordinary individuals to organize their own lives independent of the state, and to form relations of solidarity are important. The notion of civil society has undergone a revival since the 1960s. Contemporary analysts have looked to the strength of civil society as a bulwark of democratic culture. Much turns, however, on the way civil society is understood. Is it primarily economic in form or a realm of solidarity and trust? Along with the political public sphere, a strong civil society indicates active participation in the life of society on the part of engaged citizens, as opposed to weak associational ties whereby passive and even alienated individuals are manipulated by the state or corporate media. The creation of a more democratic civil society divides a number of important theorists.

An Excursus on the Frankfurt School For Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer the transition from liberal democratic, free-market capitalism to late capitalism resulted in the creation of an administered society in which the locus of power had shifted from the socioeconomic to the political. The political processes of planning and rational administration supplanted the market as a means of coordinating and steering social action. However, this transformation weakened the power of the working class and radical or revolutionary protest.1 In this reading of late capitalism, state planning had successfully neutralized the crisis tendencies of capitalism and the chances for working-class movements. While state coordination was to a considerable extent political control over the economy, there was also a social and cultural element. The independent active bourgeois individual of early capitalism was replaced with a passive consumer of media images in late capitalism. As the state and corporate order merged the state itself became an agent of socialization and control. For the Frankfurt theorists, an independent civil society that mediated between the state and private life had largely disappeared. Herbert Marcuse noted in the early 1930s that the critical and rationalist culture of bourgeois society, in which free discussion was the norm, had been largely attenuated. Anticipating some of Habermas’ argument, he claims: As the economic organization of society is built upon the free competition of private economic subjects, in other words, on the unity of opposites and



the unification of the dissimilar, so the search for truth is founded on open self-expression, free dialogue, and convincing and being convinced through argument—at root, that is, on contradicting and criticizing one’s opponent.2

The Frankfurt theorists saw a latent power for a critical understanding of society in the early bourgeois period that was being eradicated in advanced capitalism. The mass media, however, also play a crucial role as agents of social control. Horkheimer and Adorno were among the first analysts to emphasize the role that media were playing in socialization. In their view, mass media were a force used for the deception of the masses. Film, radio, television, and movies all created and reinforced a restricted form of popular culture that promoted consumption and a privatized lifestyle.3 Thus, mass media and the culture industry were central to socializing the mass of people to acquiescence through the creation of a consumption-based ideology compatible with advanced capitalism. Manufactured images and messages created conformity and stifled thinking. The happy consumer was not likely to rebel. Mass culture eliminated the division between state and (civil) society. In this process, the working class had become an object, a product of the state and the culture industry and not an active subject of consciousness. In short, consciousness was reified by the culture industry. Horkheimer and Adorno saw no democratic potential in mass media. The only value of the individual is as a commodity—or at best a consumer who can be sold a product. Even when we think we are acting independently, we are deceiving ourselves and reinforcing the norms we claim to reject. Cultural productions, including movies, TV, and music which seem to present alternatives, end up reinforcing the conforming norms of the culture industry according to this analysis. High culture, which is being eliminated, represented for Horkheimer and Adorno the only sphere that was partly immunized from the capitalist economy. It represented a judgement by bourgeois society on its own limits. In the view of critical theorists, once the relationship between civil society and the state has been transformed by a bureaucratic/administrative state, it acts like a total state. It is unaccountable to the public and integrates all aspects of culture into a whole without room for dissent. The emancipatory potential of social movements (primarily the workers’ movement) evaporates. The only remnant of an emancipatory sphere is a narrowly defined high culture possessed by a few.



In the 1940s Horkheimer and Adorno extended the critique of late capitalism to the philosophical concept of reason itself. Reason was self-­ liquidating and had lost its value as a standard of truth. In late capitalist society, reason had become entirely instrumental, concerned with means and not ends; it is now a purely subjective conception of reason. It puts strict limits on the critical reflexivity of subjects in an advanced capitalist society.4 The creation of reflexivity—the ability of social actors to make sense of and critically understand their actions in terms of their own goals—is lost. “Man” according to Horkheimer, “has lost the power to conceive a world different from that in which he lives.”5 Adorno goes on to argue later that the notions of the good life which are important to reflection are replaced by images of conformity. The only realm left open to critical reflection is art. Art was the repository of these feelings and of a sphere separate from bourgeois rationality that contained these images of a better life (and free humanity), images that had been lost in advanced industrial society. Because of its isolation art can no longer communicate with everyday life and the everyday losses of its power of resistance. All that works of art can do is to address the abandonment of the idea that a real community exists. In this way, they are “monuments of a solitary and despairing life that finds no bridge to any other or to its own consciousness.” The reifying of modern forms of art such as those found in the new mass communications media of radio, television, and film did not provide a means of countering the closure of reason as other forms of arts had earlier done.6 Adorno took a tack which varied slightly from Horkheimer’s. He felt that the changes in late capitalism, including the tendency toward political control of the economy, did not eliminate the centrality of the commodity form. He did, however, argue that the commodity form had changed. Like Lukacs (who borrowed from Weber) he stressed the centrality of reification, the notion that the commodity form had extended beyond the economy to become the all-encompassing form of social reproduction that treated subjects like fungible objects. Thus, it extended the scope of reification in late capitalist society. Adorno argued that the commodity form itself changes the culture industry. It becomes detached from any use value whatsoever and becomes pure exchange value. Its only value lies in its marketability. For this reason, Adorno was critical of the popular or even didactic art that Bertolt Brecht’s work championed (though he admitted it was better than the products of the culture industry). Art that engaged in education or participation by the audience, including Brecht’s idea of two-way radio



communication, and art that addressed popular culture was not true art. Popular art had to be faithful to the rules of ordinary communication, which were already reified. Adorno followed Kant in holding that genuine art was formal and autonomous but relativized that autonomy in a Hegelian and Marxian framework that stressed its embeddedness in the social world. Still, because it has little purpose or value in everyday life it retains a value lost in mass culture. Autonomous art, however, communicated only indirectly and had to embrace incomprehensibility. It was only in this way that it could escape an all-encompassing totality. To be sure, neither Horkheimer nor Adorno blamed individuals for their loyalty to mass culture. It was a society that failed to create possibilities for true freedom and self-realization.

The Limits of the Frankfurt School’s Analysis The analysis of the first generation of the Frankfurt School had a major influence on our understanding of the new mass media. It rejected the easy technological optimism or the equation of instrumental reason with progress and freedom, and those who thought that new media would issue in a wave of democracy. There is little doubt that the creation of a culture industry that manipulates consciousness and directly and indirectly induces conformity and limits expression has had significant effects on political and social consciousness.7 Because the film and television industry controlled both production and distribution of its product  giving them the power to control the market and the message and making them powerful instruments of social control. Still, the influence of the Frankfurt School’s analysis was not always salutary. It exaggerates the closure of the culture industry and mass culture to penetration by critical perspectives. Cultural domination was not as all-encompassing and one-dimensional as Frankfurt theorists claim. Because of their still residual attachment to traditional Marxism, they held that only one type of social movement had radical significance: a proletarian one. For this reason, the Frankfurt analysis overestimated the enclosure of social life in late capitalism. Even from the standpoint of their own analysis, however, the analysis of the total replacement of use-value by exchange seems flawed. Forms of mass communication, while they simplify and channel communication, do not replace it entirely with nonconsensual forms of social coordination. Media still rely on modes of communication to coordinate action and build consensual (mutual) understanding and thus are



dependent on the accountability of participants. They do not completely reify forms of action. While mass communication can be hierarchical and its centralizing power can give it the ability to affect and shape conforming behavior, the expansion of the scope of communication created by mass media is the condition for the development of public spheres across virtual communities.8 Media like television while dominant are not monolithic. Not only were networks (and now cable and Internet telecommunications services) subject to competing interests and pressures, programs themselves which aim at finding an audience at least since the late 1960s have not reinforced conformist values. Most importantly, individuals and subcultures may interpret media messages differently than intended. To the extent that social actors remain within the framework of communicative action they retain the capacity to reflexively understand media messages as attempts to control domination and manipulation and thus to oppose or at least deflect messages.9 The overextension of the Dialectic of Enlightenment’s analysis of the theoretical basis of reflexivity also has bearings on the theory of culture and society the first-generation Frankfurt School employs. John Thomson, for example, argues that the Frankfurt School conception of a totally administered society overestimated the socially integrative power of the mass media and more generally of late capitalism. The new media can have conflicting effects, not only extending possibilities for control but also extending the scope and character of individual subjectivity through understanding and communication across space and time.10 Thompson corrects a one-sided version of the Frankfurt School theory.11 Similarly, Douglas Kellner criticizes the one-sidedness of the analysis of the culture industry’s analysis of popular culture: Adorno’s model of the culture industry does not allow for the heterogeneity of popular culture and contradictory effects, instead straight jacketing media culture in the form or reification and commodification, as signs of the total triumph of capital, and the total reification of experience. To be sure, much popular culture lends itself precisely to Adorno’s categories and critique, … other examples resist this and require a more complex approach to cultural interpretation and critique.12

Later theories of art and culture have taken a more nuanced position on this issue. Pierre Bourdieu, for example, argues that symbolic goods are



twofold: they contain both a cultural and a commercial value. While commercial and consumer culture can have a decided impact on the production of symbolic goods the cultural value cannot be completely absorbed in the consumer value. While he recognizes the manipulative power of the culture industry, Stuart Hall still sees an independent role for popular culture that is not simply a product of the dominant ideology and can contain sites for resistance or opposition to the culture industry. Actors can reflexively understand the images they are presented by the media and can create their own cultural products. Much of contemporary literature and art rejects a hard and fast distinction between high and popular or low (or mass) culture; nor is popular culture necessarily debased but appeals instead to the needs and desires of specific groups in social, cultural, and economic strata.13 A generation after Horkheimer and Adorno, Jurgen Habermas spoke of a legitimation crisis in late capitalist societies. He started from the assumption that democratic societies in late capitalism still raised questions of justice that Horkheimer and Adorno said were repressed. Frankfurt theories too easily elided the difference between the welfare states and authoritarian ones. The welfare states adopted versions of social democracy and some commitments to equality and fairness against unfettered capitalism. Late capitalist societies, or at least democratic capitalist ones, were not capable of providing the legitimacy promised by its democratic commitments to justice and participation. The relation between democratic justice and capitalism could not be fully reconciled or eliminated. Thus, the welfare state compromise often failed to live up to its promises of freedom and equality and generated protest and opposition that was not easily contained. Mass culture did not effectively channel all dissatisfaction into privatized apolitical channels. Some elements of popular culture even opposed it. This is especially apparent when it comes to struggles over the democratic character of media. The legitimacy of a corporate-­ dominated system of media has been called into question since its inception. The early Frankfurt theorists also overestimated the capture of subjectivity in late capitalism and rested their arguments on the almost complete reification of the capacities of subjects and the potential reflexivity of subjects. Many social roles even in democratic capitalism require what Habermas and others call a post-traditional identity.14 While advanced capitalism cultivates mass loyalty and conformity, it also cultivates individuals with more advanced moral sentiments and reflexive capacities. All



participants must have a certain amount of reflexive understanding to be participants in modern society. Anthony Giddens has called this the reflexive monitoring of action. Participants know what they do in the processes of doing it.15 Critics of the early Frankfurt school media theory like John Fiske have similarly argued that Frankfurt theorists have underestimated the resistance and independence inherent in popular culture. We should look at the way the audience takes up the meanings the media provide and not just the messages themselves and thus the cultural significance they find. Participants are not simply willing dupes or passive recipients of meaning on whom a false consciousness can be imposed. They are active interpreters who take up the social world and engage in the construction or reproduction of meaning. They can grasp and criticize the images that corporate mass media fabricate. Fiske’s position is important because it finds reflexivity and critical power in the everyday activity of subjects. Of course, this does not deny that reflexivity can be constricted or that subjects; self-interpretation cannot be mistaken or that subjects cannot be deceived in their interpretations. Nor does it necessarily exclude questions of power. It is not so much a case of rejecting ideas of false consciousness or ideology out of hand but looking at the ways that structures of power, domination, and oppression work by limiting our interpretive capacities and thus have an influence on interpretation.16

The Political: Horkheimer to Habermas The earlier Frankfurt School analysis has often been criticized for its “democratic theoretical deficit.”17 Starting from a modified version of Marxism they still tended, especially in Horkheimer’s early work, to see the political realm as one that was generated entirely by class conflict. Here politics was a type of antagonistic conflict that would disappear in a postcapitalist society. When Horkheimer did later speak of the primacy of the political in advanced capitalism, it acted as a kind of depoliticization that muted class conflict. While they certainly understood the source of the crises of advanced capitalism, Frankfurt theorists failed to formulate an adequate conception of politics that could address conflicts and crises specific to advanced capitalism. Jurgen Habermas’ work addressed the political deficit in the first generation of the Frankfurt school and developed a notion of politics that had a relative independence from the economic sphere. Where Horkheimer



tended to see politics like Marx as the clash of antagonistic class interests, which was derived from economic structure, Habermas drew on republican and liberal thought to identify a distinctive realm of public deliberation within the emerging bourgeois society in which participants could not only debate the issues of the time but critically challenge authority. Here civil society is not simply derived from economic structure but is partly independent of it. While Habermas certainly sees politics as involving strategic power in the clash of interests and administrative power, he also sees the central element of the political as necessarily including the communicative power created when subjects act in concert. In modern societies, the nature of institutions began to take new forms. The state was not all-encompassing, governing all elements of life. Elements of social life became separated from direct state control and became the exclusive domain of individuals. The state was contrasted with a sphere of private life, civil society, which consisted of private economic activity and family life, clubs, and associations. The new notions of natural rights provided backing for the view that all were endowed with reason and freedom. These rights guaranteed freedom of speech, conscience (primarily religious), and association. Thus, political authority did not stem from god or nature and was not absolute. It had to be legally delimited and justified by reason. In this context, Habermas argues, a new conception of the public came into being that underlies modern conceptions of democracy. It is a source of sovereignty not a function of the economy. The state was open to diverse forces and not just the expression of the ruling class. For the medieval world, the public was the body of the king and nobles who performed their roles before the people, not on their behalf. The public sphere which allowed for democratic criticism of authority came into being with the rise of commercial culture. It became the medium through which private citizens communicated their needs to the government and, conversely, they became the source of legitimation for the government. The new notions of popular sovereignty found their way into the formation of the public sphere.

The Public Sphere in Habermas and Beyond The public sphere is an idea closely linked to democratic participation and self-governance. For Habermas, the public sphere comes into being whenever private individuals gather to act in a public manner to consider



matters of general concern. A public sphere also had to operate by certain general rules, roughly defined by the bourgeois notion of rights including freedom of assembly and association, as well as freedom of speech. The latter implies the ability to express or publish opinions formed in discussion. All individuals (in theory at least) had to be free to participate equally without regard to social position or status. Thus, the kind of deliberation involved in the public sphere is distinct. Political authority derives from the public and its demand for publicity and accountability of state actions. The public sphere served a mediating function. Questions of social life, formerly the realm of private life, became the center of political concern. Information about commerce was needed for the emerging bourgeoisie and the state bureaucracy. New print media of communications were central to this, at first as merchants’ newsletters and later as political journals. As the influence of the church and other institutions declined in public power, social cleavages emerged between the state and commercial interests. State policy on taxation, economic development, military activities, and war were of central interest to the social life of commercial society. Citizens (initially just members of the bourgeois class) began to evaluate and critically assess these policies and laws. These activities became focal points of public realms. Given these conditions, news expanded its scope. News was no longer a matter of interest to those immediately affected by an event but became the subject of general interest. The social networks of the merchant and commercial classes were growing beyond a local scope and integrated into regional and national networks linked by these common concerns. Luke Goode connects this analysis to the work of Benedict Anderson, who speaks of the construction of communities of fate or imagined communities. These communities often found themselves at odds with (at first) the absolutist state and the church. But they also represented the emergence of a rising social class.18 This analysis is a good example of how technological developments in the media are not determinate but interact with social and political structures to create new forms of social interaction. Habermas postulated the formation of a political public in the seventeenth century whose influence peaked in the nineteenth century. As is well known, Habermas found the beginnings of the public sphere in the coffeehouses and the clubs where the bourgeois merchants met and discussed issues of concern. Discussants wanted to use the critical power of reason to dismantle the pretenses of the power of the state and the church, to dissolve the secrecy entailed by these forms of authority. The economic



and political interests of the bourgeois public were opposed to that of the absolutist state and their success also depended on the new forms of science and reason that flourished in the early enlightenment. The public sphere was in most respects oppositional. It represented society against the state. The early bourgeoisie viewed itself as ideologically as the universal class and as the mediator for all humanity. As a commercial class, it was doubly suited for this task. Habermas suggested that the new institutions and new media made it possible for citizens to form and shape public opinion. Reasoned debate over political affairs allowed them to generate an informed consensus or at least a set of considered judgments. It was not simply a register of the feeling of the public. The reasons relevant to the political public had to concern the public good rather than self-interest or the interests of commerce. Nor did engaged members of the public sphere wish to become administrators of the law. The process of deliberation and discussion was meant to refine opinion through mutual criticism. Ideas that didn’t withstand criticism were discarded. The resulting considered public opinion was formulated to expose government decisions and processes to critical scrutiny and publicity. It brought to the fore questions of the legitimacy of governmental actions. As newspapers evolved, they became not just sources of information but fora for public debate. In his early work such as Structural Transformation, Habermas followed the first-generation Frankfurt School in holding that the public realm declined in late capitalism. The rise of industrial capitalism changed the conditions which had generated the public sphere. Large corporate-­ owned media that formed and shaped public opinion began to erase the distinction between state and society that was central to democratic theory. Public opinion here no longer meant a reasoned consensus based on public deliberation, but a mere immediacy, a set of feelings created by media power. While an expansion of the franchise took place in the nineteenth century, Habermas argued that mere voting replaces deliberation. Public opinion seems to mean the interests of groups involved in corporate governance. The idea of a general interest embodied in deliberations is lost. Here Habermas spoke of the re-feudalization of social order.19 These developments are reinforced by the institutions of the welfare state. While corporate capitalism created a consumer society, the welfare state tended to create clients rather than citizens. Habermas’ earlier historical account of the public sphere in the twentieth century, like that of



Horkheimer and Adorno, did not tell the whole story. He was to challenge this pessimistic account in his later works.

Critics of the Public Sphere Habermas limited the public sphere to its bourgeois origins and character. Though it claimed to have a universal scope in which participation was open to all regardless of status, in practice it was restricted to property-­ owning males of the day. Others like women, people of color, and working classes were not seen as sufficiently rational. Thus, for critics, the model of the public sphere, despite its republican elements, remains closely linked to the ideals of the liberal state. Only a small group comprised the true addressors and addresses of the bourgeois public. Subsequent analysts have tried to correct this. Some see the origin of the public sphere not exclusively in the coffeehouses but earlier in the development of scientific, religious, and literary publics in the early modern era. Here a literate public arose which showed that its members were capable of discussion and reasoning about these areas.20 Zaret argued that the pamphleteers of sixteenth-­ century England were important in the rise of oppositional social movements like the Levelers. These were not primarily bourgeois movements.21 Feminist critics have also pointed to the exclusionary nature of the bourgeois public sphere. Not only did it devalue the female-led salons of France, but it also neglected the contributions of female-led groups to the public sphere. The bourgeois public was also based on the explicit assumptions that only men could grasp the universal.22 Others have stressed the public forming roles of working-class groups in the nineteenth century. Habermas, as he admitted, drew a too narrow history of the forms that publicness can take or its embeddedness in a strictly liberal model.23 For some critics, the debate over the public sphere challenged the very notion of the universality of public discussion. These considerations emerged in the criticism by Fraser and others about the exclusionary character of the bourgeois public sphere. Critics (though perhaps not Fraser) have taken these criticisms to mean that the universal application of the model of a single public sphere must be challenged. Habermas’ theory of the public did not in her view help us understand the limits of “actually existing democracies.” His account fails to consider how a one-sided notion of qualified participants lacked the ability to suspend inequalities and status differentials in potential participants in discourse and reinforced



them. It excluded women, people of color and unpropertied males, among others. Rather than a deficiency to be remedied by a more inclusive public, however, Fraser suggested that the proper approach is to stress the role of counter-publics or subaltern publics which represent the identities and interests of excluded groups.24 Only this plurality of publics guarantees what she calls participatory parity among contesting groups. The idea of a unified public sphere has a monolithic character. It relies on a collective notion of the public good on which there is a consensus. But such a monolithic character leaves out all those who don’t share that notion. With this latter claim, however, the flaw in Fraser’s critique becomes apparent. No doubt Fraser’s depiction of the limits of existing publics is accurate. However, the notion of a unified public sphere does not require agreement in advance upon a singular notion of the good; nor does a conception of justice require such an agreement. Notions of the good and right are developed in interaction and discussion. The core idea of the public is one of an intersubjective notion of mutual understanding that cannot be encompassed by the specific form of the bourgeois public. Habermas’ conception of the political is not based entirely on the idea of the bourgeois public. It is the more general idea that the political, at least in democratic societies, must have a basis in the communicative power of subjects who deliberate and act. Habermas came to use this in Arendt’s sense. That is, the will to act politically is an intersubjective will that authorizes action and makes it legitimate. While political action is not always communicative and uses strategic power as well, the latter is not by itself enough. Those who follow Fraser’s criticism and see plural public spheres as needed to balance interests subordinate the generative and transformation power of communicative action to more strategic considerations. If the Habermasian idea of the public sphere or any formulation is measured by its actually existing situation, then this suggests that the possibilities for publicness or the generation of communicative power of any formation is given in its actually existing social constellation. It leads to a static version of the publics constituted by competing power interests and not mutual understanding. Normative ideas like freedom and equality, however, are not exhausted by their current usages or applications. They contain possibilities for more emancipated forms of social life and can afford critical perspectives on current practices. The very criticism of Habermas’ depictions seems to employ the same ideals that he employs in his analysis. The core of his argument is



not rooted in the particular character of the bourgeois public sphere but the notion of publicity. It is this general notion of publics created through mutual understanding that has to be employed to create wider publics in which subaltern discourses can become part of larger discourses. To effect large-scale social change, subaltern and counter-discourses have to make claims about justice and equity that can appeal to all. These claims also invoke notions of solidarity, more specifically solidarity between strangers. We have to operate with a certain amount of trust to include all in discourse. Critics also take the limited version of the public sphere as evidence that the communication model is incapable of theorizing about domination. This objection is usually based on the idea that public discourse in Habermas’ view is power-free and excludes domination. It assumes that consensus is a pure form of abstract understanding independent of practice. However, communicative action is practical and generates its own form of communicative power through mutual understanding. Every act of will entails the use of power. We can speak of domination and oppression, when through strategic control of power and resources one party can impede or inhibit the generation of mutual understanding, or when coordination is shifted to instrumental imperatives of money and power. Structures of domination limit the communicative power of subjects to create and direct their own activity. Habermasian Revisions After the publication of The Public Sphere, Habermas’ position changed in important ways. He no longer accepted the Frankfurt School version of late capitalism and formulated a broader version of the crises of late capitalism. The latter recognizes the legitimation crises mentioned earlier that were occurring as the civil rights and protest movements arose in the 1960s. He came to see protest potentials in late capitalism as generating conflicts that we neglected by earlier theorists—though not by Marcuse. Thus the limited notion of the role of media and of challenges to the system by social movements needed a more nuanced account. Grasping the potential of these movements, both as historical antecedents of the current potentials in the present meant revising his notion of the public sphere. As is well known, Habermas revised his view of the primacy of the bourgeois public sphere. In light of criticisms of historians and feminist theorists, Habermas acknowledged that although the idea of the public sphere meant to be universal, the bourgeois public sphere



excluded some from its conception of a universal discourse.25 The exclusion of women especially was indicative of a deeper problem. It could not be solved by simply expanding the scope of the public sphere; this exclusion was central to its constitution. A wider notion of the public had to be considered which includes solidarity and care. Just like equality and fairness these are conditions of public deliberation and understanding. We have to accept the other as a partner in discourse, and employ principles of mutual respect that were in some way violated by the bourgeois public. These ideas were inherent in Hegelian inspired notions of intersubjectivity but not brought out until a later point in Habermas’ work. This alternative allows accounts of alternate or even counter-publics that sought to influence public opinion in distinctive ways. Sometimes they appealed more to personal and partial perspectives that may not have fit easily into bourgeois assumptions. Nonetheless, they played important roles in the public discussions of the time. In Between Facts and Norms, Habermas offers some further modifications of his idea of the public realm. In contrast to more rigorous formal deliberation models of parliaments, academic discourse or intellectual journals, Habermas incorporated informal processes of accountability found in the everyday lifeworld. He introduced the notion of “wild publics” to describe these informal structures of the social world.26 His notion belies the common understanding of his theory of communicative action as modeled after polite civil (in the pejorative sense) academic discourses. Wild publics are open anarchic spaces in which conflict and dissensus are common. It is part of the everyday lifeworld in which social actors’ experience of norms that have lost binding force, of social needs that remain unmet, or the development of new needs that have not yet been recognized, begins to be expressed and articulated. Wild publics more easily accommodate forces of dissensus and disagreement, they can be confrontational, disobedient, and unruly. Our experience of dissonance and dissatisfaction is articulated on these informal levels long before they become formally articulated in discourse. Thus, it serves as an early warning system of social issues and of the breakdown of social solidarities or social institutions. These wild publics can include the existence of all kinds of counter-­ publics, subcultures, and subaltern groups. Of course they are not just spheres where problems bubble to the surface sources; they can be areas for the generation of creative expression, providing ways in which those not in power develop capacities and secure identities They can institute alternative ways of being human, as well as fostering new forms of



self-understanding. Because of their crucial role in the repair of social life and creation of new alternatives, wild publics should be given leeway and not be highly regulated. It is only out of the unruly character of wild publics that creative ideas and solutions can be found. For Habermas, the processes of public debate and deliberation are ways of refining and making more explicit the issues raised or created in the more anarchic elements of public life. In short, we must see the problems that lead to more formal deliberations, as based in the lifeworld of subjects as the end products of processes of refinement and collective experience, not as its origin. Free communication and communications media are central to this process of making issues salient. In the last century, newspapers and other print journalism such as “serious” magazines often brought issues into light to a broader public. Documentary films and television, even popular music and alternative literary forms (think of counterculture comic books), sometimes raised these issues, too. But they become most fully effective when they can enter into broader and more formal discussions about norms and values. This view broke away from the early view of the Frankfurt School which saw liberalism simply as an instrument of capital.27 The new media of communication extended symbolic and communicative power to the rising middle class. It redefined public authority as constrained through legally defined spheres of authority. These considerations are important for this work because, as should become apparent, public access relies on a notion of the public influenced by both Habermas and his critics. It partakes not only of formal discursive processes but informal ones as well. It can be a civil or a wild public, raising issues in a variety of ways. Some of its more outrageous programming might be seen in examples of an anarchic public but still one that tries to make people aware of social issues. As a counter-public, access opposes much of the politics of dominant culture. In that sense, it is a critique of the current forms of public life. Protest can be central to access in the public sphere. It aims to bring the subaltern and the excluded into public discourse. Nor does it rely on an overly “rationalist” form of expression. One might see a narrative that helps us to understand the lifeworld experience of an excluded group or the way that domination and subordination affects the lives of its members, or we might see an interview or a play. We see programs that advocate changes, not just impartial discussion. Expressive forms can be just as important as classical discourse. Moreover, such programs act as counter-publics in which individuals bear witness to



injustices and seek to generate solidarities. While this cannot be fully explicated in the space of this essay, Habermas’ later work on the inclusion of the other creates room for broader notions of solidarity, identity, and inclusion of difference which were downplayed in his earlier work.28

Civil Society The emergence of an independent civil society was also important for the rise of modern democratic ideas. Civil society denoted a sphere of social self-organization, a social body capable of regulating its affairs independently of the state. The definition of civil society was refined over time. In its earlier version it included the realms independent of the state, including the economy, religion, private education, media like newspapers, and clubs, associations, and groups that are organized by ordinary citizens. The institutions and practices of civil society were meant to be voluntary; they did not rest on ascriptive status—you belong because of your choice. Similarly, leaving a voluntary group does not affect your legal status. In the contemporary world, the notion of civil society has been extended to include groups like nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and even social movements. Civil society was the source of independent sociality and association, as well as of social solidarities. Neither the state nor the church is any longer a total agent of socialization. Civil society took over the task of generating social bonds, morality, solidarity political community including civic virtues. In earlier formulations, civil society was simply the form the political community took in a well-governed polity. Aristotle certainly equated community almost exclusively with the political community and the creation of civic virtue, and this tendency continued up to the early modern period. Thomas Hobbes was still  representative  of the earlier view  though he rejected Aristotle’s notion of civic virtue. For Hobbes civil society was a creation of the state. Locke can be seen as a transitional figure who still saw civil society as political but acknowledged its independent origin and pre-­political association. He linked this pre-political sociality to consent. However, Montesquieu and the Scottish philosophers were the most responsible for developing the modern idea of civil society.29 Civil society came to represent an independent sphere of the economy, private religion, as well as clubs and social groups that were constituted by members. For the Scottish philosophers, humans were naturally sociable and formed associations independent of state influence. In this reading, civil society came to mean the culture of a nation or people that were not part of the



political-administrative state. Public spheres are based in civil society. The notion of democracy requires a well-functioning civil society. One of the major divisions in the early conceptions of civil society concerns the role of the market in creating social bonds. The Scottish Enlightenment philosophers generally saw the capitalist market as a civilizing force. The rise of trade and commerce was a force for international peace and social harmony. Capitalism (along with the Protestant ethic) promoted self-­discipline and individual responsibility. Rousseau, Hegel, and later nineteenth-­century thinkers took a different direction. They equated the market with forms of self-interest that were opposed to the creation of social bonds. Hegel especially wanted to balance market distortions with social relations. He saw the state as a central agent in preserving civil society. He raised questions of social and political power to the fore. The self-organizing power of the market system itself generates inequalities and impoverishment, which limit the freedom of all and sometimes impede or even destroy the social solidarities created in other institutions of civil society. These power asymmetries at the least must be corrected or even replaced with other more humane ways of life. One strain of this thought sought to use the power of the state to counter the material and social inequalities of the market and to protect solidarity-producing elements and freedom-­creating capacities. The market according to these views fails to provide any source of collective identity and solidarity. The Marxist tradition and other radical approaches represent a tendency which reduced civil society to an instrument of capitalist domination. For Marx, of course, civil society was a realm of egoistic action that was little more than a reflection and derivation of the capitalist market economy. Marx did not provide any space for independent development of associational or moral bonds. Much of this tendency in radical analysis continued until the latter part of the twentieth century. There were to be surely some who employed a broader analysis. Marxist Antonio Gramsci stressed the role of culture in securing consent for oppressive policies. Consent was not a matter of force alone. However, consent was a double-edged sword. While acknowledging the role of civil society in creating a hegemonic ideology that supported the capitalist market, Gramsci understood that the consensual nature of institutions of civil society allowed a certain amount of dissent and contestation. Within the Frankfurt School tradition, Herbert Marcuse also came to identify oppositional forces that lie outside of the traditional working class. While he,



too, acknowledged the power of advanced industrial societies to integrate dissent and pacify the working class, he thought that others who were marginalized—women, people of color, students, and the colonized— could act as catalysts for radical change. Conservatives, however, took up notions of civil society as a source of fellow feeling attachments and norms which promote social cohesion. Civil society educates individuals in the virtues, especially the virtues of citizenship. Conservatives followed a more Burkean reading of the sources of civil society. However, in the view of conservatives like Burke, these social and cultural practices were not the result of rational calculation or cognition on the part of subjects; rather, they evolved implicitly or tacitly as the result of social interaction; habit and custom, not reason, was the source of civil society. Interest in civil society has been revived in the post-1968 atmosphere, which has sought to reinvigorate and revive the critical theory tradition. For the critically oriented theorist at least, the renewed interest in civil society had a practical basis. Critical theorists were interested, first, in the resistance and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and later in the Solidarity movement in Poland, each of which in very different contexts (one in normally democratic Western societies, the other in the state socialist environment) arose in and through civil society. Influenced by Habermas’ work Jean Cohen criticized Marx’s conception of civil society for its limited view which rendered it incapable of recognizing the independent role of social, political, legal, and cultural forces in social life.30 In the interim, several works by John Keane, Andrew Arato and Jean Cohen, Adam Seligman, Jeffrey Alexander, and others have attempted to revive the notion of civil society as an important element of critical democratic theories.31 From a more neoconservative viewpoint, Robert Putnam has also brought questions of the role of civil society to the fore.32 The primary conception of civil society in contemporary analyses is one that sees it as constituted by voluntary associations such as churches, clubs, political associations and parties, cultural associations, non-state media, and social movements which are extra-parliamentary and not associated with parties. The economy (and the state) is excluded. The power of economic and administrative imperatives to impact civil society becomes central. From this perspective of most contemporary theorists, however, the neoconservative diagnosis of the pathologies of civil society is inadequate. It attributes causal power to the  outcome of the selfish or self-centered



behavior of modernist culture and to oppositional intellectuals who break the bonds of solidarity needed for civil society. These theories conflate the effects of the capitalist economy with causes in economic relations. This critique also applies to the well-known analysis of Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone. He attributes the decline in voluntary associations to the result of cultural decline. He denies that economic changes which make participation more difficult have a role in this decline. Besides employing a narrow conception of civil society which excludes political associations and restricts itself to private relations between persons, Putnam’s analysis leaves out questions of power in civil society. Nor does he have room for questions of public deliberation in civil society. As he sees it, civil society is closer to private life, in which groups and clubs are sources of attachment but not public involvement. If, however, we consider forms of opinion formation, no matter how formal they are, to be elements of civil society, then we must look at how forms of organization including forms of domination have an impact, either enhancing or inhibiting formal discourse and more informal processes of mutual understanding. Not all elements of society have a political element, but many do, leading theorists of civil society like John Keane to stress elements of civil society that relate to the desire to expand civil liberties and social equity (and social rights), and to the need to democratize society. Keane has a point in that in societies like Eastern Europe under Soviet control, it is the very existence of civil society which had to be suppressed. However, Keane sees the market as a part of civil society and thus while recognizing the negative effects of markets, he does not see the pathologies of marketization and colonization as the negation of civil society through nonnormative, noncommunicative coordination. Civil Society and the State are distinct but interdependent spheres in which power “is subject to monitoring compromise and agreement.” Democracy is a compromise between the idea of a totally self-organized society in which government would be abolished (such as the Marxian idea of the abolition of the state) and with it the unwanted extension of state power into the public sphere. This conception does not, however, say much about the communicative power through which opinions become topics of deliberation over norms or policies and translate discontent into social issues. What we are left with is the idea of global civil society reining in state power. Keane, of course, admits these powers of deliberation but his idea of compromise and reflexive monitoring does not provide an adequate conception of these



communicative processes While it is no doubt true that large-scale modern societies cannot completely do without the state or some forms of representative democracy, we can look at the way that public deliberation and nonparliamentary social and cultural movements can supplement representative democracy, bringing greater participation in all spheres of society.33 The problem is more apparent in Keane’s later conception of global civil society.34 It consists of globally established nonprofits, NGOs, and other groups which provide similar global governance of civil society independent of national governments. It is a set of voluntary self-organized groups that force governments to deal with problems of violence and justice and establish peaceful order. One of the generative sources of this global civil society is what he calls turbo-capitalism or the fast capitalism of neoliberalism, The spread of turbo-capitalism goes hand in hand with global civil society and one cannot conceive of one without the other. Rather than seeing turbo-capitalism as rapacious and profit-­hungry, he sees these corporations as relatively benign. “No business, global business included, can properly function as business unless it draws upon and nurtures the non-market environment of civil society in which it is more or less embedded.” This seems to be a hopelessly naive vision of the pathologies of neoliberalism. Arato and Cohen see the notion of civil society as a sphere that stands between the market and the state without trying to eliminate either one. However, they, like Habermas, see the possibility that the market and the state can be forces of colonizing and reifying social relations by removing them from normative or consensual control. Civil society is then the site of political conflict over the nature of democracy and its protection from and expansion against the forces of colonization.35 Social movements are central to this process, both those from the left and the right. More than simple compromise or monitoring, they create new forms of democratic participation or in the case of reactionary movements, they oppose its expansion and defend traditional lifeworld values in the face of rationalization. Social movements however, cannot be a simple defense of society against the state or a simple defense of the liberal state. The latter would not, as noted earlier, address the domination inherent in defending liberal democratic societies and extend itself to a defense of democracy. It entails new repertoires of action and new forms of self-understanding that can be the result of challenging the structures of domination and seeking more democratic ways of life.



Jeffrey Alexander similarly sees civil society as separate from the state and the economy but gives the matter a more cultural sociological twist. Normative considerations predominate. Civil society is the sphere in which struggles for justice and solidarity take place. Though not exclusively, Alexander stresses the socially integrative and inclusionary potential of civil society to create a universalistic moral understanding. To some extent, Alexander shares the desire for recovering the emancipatory potentials of civil society, but his focus is on the centrality of solidarity in social order. Individuals are not self-interested or consumed with power, but also seek mutual relations with others; these feelings are what Alexander refers to as solidarity.36 It is a shared belief about the existence and significance of common membership. Alexander’s theory contributes to our understanding of social movements in civil society by taking it beyond theories of power and resource mobilization on the one hand, and identity or even civic virtue-based theories to stress its role as a civic translator on the other.37 Like the pragmatist theory of Mills (and Habermas’ notion of wild publics), social movements have to reinterpret the meaning and significance of civil society in the light of the problems and conflicts that members face. They are new ways of representing the relations of selves and others. Social movements, while they make moral claims, are also dramaturgical in the sense that Irving Goffman used the term. They are performances meant to dramatize conflicts and struggles and, in that way (sometimes by bearing witness), provide concrete measures of attachment and commitment that appeal to others. Movements are successful when they alter the representational order. Certainly, Alexander’s emphasis on solidarity is important, but I think that his overemphasis on culture leaves out the effects of power on civil society. We need to combine his stress on solidarity and justice, with a critical diagnosis of the effects of domination on the very solidarity that he sees as central. As Axel Honneth noted, Alexander wants to segment off his normative analysis from an objectivist analysis of social movements, and thus is unable to connect his normative theory to critical analysis.38

Participatory Democracy The impetus for public and community access services came from several sources, but an important one was the idea of participatory democracy developed by the New Left in the early 1960s. The manifesto of the new



left, the Port Huron Statement, takes up Arnold Kaufman’s proposal for a participatory democracy.39 Kaufman was influenced by John Dewey and C. Wright Mills’ vision of the development of genuine publics. To put the matter briefly, Kaufman and the new left thinkers developed a vision of democratic government that rejected the (democratic) elitism of the time in favor of a broadly based involvement of all citizens that encompassed all the institutions of public life. They rejected the values of a consumer society. They were less concerned with the contest between the two political parties but rather in the creation of a democratic community in which public life would flourish: We would replace power rooted in possession, privilege, or circumstance by power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason, and creativity. As a social system, we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation, governed by two central aims: that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life; that society is organized to encourage independence in men and provide the media for their common participation.40

Sometime later in 1984, Benjamin Barber formulated an influential notion of participatory democracy. For Barber, participatory democracy is a form of self-governance which creates political community and “strong democracy.” Like Kaufman, he opposed liberal and representative democracy, which he viewed as government by experts and elites. Strong democracy, through participation, creates informed and active citizens who play a role in creating policy and are more fully engaged in civic life. Strong democracy (Barber’s term for participatory democracy) required that citizens not only participate in agenda-setting and deliberation about norms and policies but also stressed the existential dimension of participation— the ability of individuals to bear witness to their own frustration and troubles and express dissent. Participation also creates solidarity and mutuality through the effort to create a “we” that is, a common will to act. Democracy here is not external to subjects; it is an element in the formation of a larger subjectivity. In so doing, it transforms passive and dependent private individuals of mass and elite liberal democracies into true citizens.41 The notion of participatory democracy is important because it combines the democratic ideals both of a public sphere and of a democratic civil society in a vision of radical democratic politics. It elaborates the



guiding notion of a self-organized society through the participants’ perspective on the questions of how democracy ought to be organized. They raise the questions of political power more forcefully than some versions of democratic reform. Democratic property involves some elements of democratic control of work and ownership. This includes public control of media. Some analysts, however, have argued that the notion of participatory democracy is too demanding to be fully realized in large-scale urban societies. On the one hand, participatory democracies run up against problems of scale: How much participation is possible in a large-scale society without some degree of representative institutions? The needs of efficient administration may require, according to some, curbs on full participation in all government administrative problems. While these issues are relevant, they often tend to be used to reject notions of participatory democracy in its entirety and neglect the alternatives of existing representative democracy–reflected power constellations that limit the possibilities of self-­ governance. Some theorists of civil society like Arato and Cohen, while accepting large-scale democratization, want to preserve a role for the state; Benjamin Barber who has formulated a more expansive notion of participation also sees the state’s role in protecting civil society. Basic civil and social rights need to be secured by such authorities. But these are not incompatible aims. The challenge of participatory democracy ought to be to expand the scope of citizen participation to the maximum extent possible and challenge the ownership structure of media and corporations to enhance public interest. Barber and the New Left also stress the dramaturgical nature of participatory democracy, as a form of bearing witness and showing commitment. In this, they are also in agreement with elements of Alexander’s analysis. This too has a place in a theory of media democracy. Part of the idea of public life and public media entails a performative perspective.

Notes 1. For Horkheimer’s analysis of state capitalism, see both “The Authoritarian State,” and “The End of Reason”, in Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt. The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, New  York: Continuum 1982: 95–117 and 26–48.



2. Herbert Marcuse, “The Struggle Against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State,” in Negations: Essays in Critical Theory Boston: Beacon Press 1968: 1–30; 11. 3. Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, New York: Seabury Press 1969, especially “The Culture Industry”. 4. Horkheimer’s clearest formulation of this position is found in Eclipse of Reason, New York: Seabury 1974; also see Dialectic of Enlightenment. 5. Max Horkheimer, “Art and Mass Culture,” in Critical Theory: Selected Essays New York: Continuum 1972: 278. 6. Horkheimer “Art and Mass Culture” 279. 7. Among many analyses of this phenomenon, see Herbert Schiller, Culture Inc: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression, New  York: Oxford University Press 1990. 8. Jurgen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action vol 2 Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1985: 390. 9. Douglas Kellner, Television and the Crisis of Democracy, Boulder: Westview 1990. Also see Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtin eds., The Revolution Wasn’t Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict, Routledge 1997. 10. See John Thompson, The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1995. 11. John Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1991: 97, 110. 12. Douglas Kellner, “T.W. Adorno and the Dialectics of Mass Culture,” p. 15 accessed at 13. See, for example, Pierre Bourdieu, “The Market in Symbolic Goods,” in Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, New  York: Columbia University Press 1984: 3; Stuart Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing the ‘Popular,” in John Storey ed. Popular Culture: A Reader, Pearson/ Prentice Hall 1998; Herbert Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture 2nd ed., New York: Basic Books 1999. 14. Jurgen Habermas, “Moral Development and Ego Identity,” in Communication and the Evolution of Society, Boston: Beacon University Press, 1976: chapter 2 69–94. 15. Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990. Also see The Constitution of Society: Outlines of the Theory of Structuration, Berkeley: University of California Press 1986. 16. John Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture, London: Routledge 1989: especially chapter 2. 17. See William Scheuerman, Between the Norm and the Exception: The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law, Cambridge: MIT Press 1997c.



18. Luke Goode, Jurgen Habermas: Democracy and the Public Sphere, New York: Pluto Press 2005. 19. Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Cambridge: MIT Press 1991. 20. David Zaret, “Religion, Science, and Printing in the Public Spheres in Seventeenth-Century England,” in Craig Calhoun ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1992: 212–235. 21. Zaret, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2000. 22. Mary P.  Ryan, “Gender and Public Access: Women’s Politics,” in Craig Calhoun ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1992: 259–288; Mary P. Ryan, Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City During the Nineteenth Century, Berkeley: University of California Press 1997; Joan Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution, Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1988. 23. Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” in Craig Calhoun ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1992: 109–142. 24. Nancy Fraser op cit. 25. Jurgen Habermas, “Further Reflections on the Public Sphere,” in Craig Calhoun ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere, Cambridge: MIT Press 1993: 421–459. 26. Jurgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, Cambridge: MIT Press 1996. 27. Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Cambridge: MIT Press 1991. 28. Jurgen Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other, Cambridge: MIT Press 1998. In our work Critical Theory Democracy and the Challenge of Neo-Liberalism, Toronto: University of Toronto Press 2019. Phillip Hansen and I develop some of these alternative elements in critical theories of democracy. 29. On the history of the concept, see John Erenburg, Civil Society: A Critical History, New York: NYU Press 1999. 30. Jean Cohen, Class and Civil Society: The Limits of Marxian Critical Theory, Amherst MA: University of Massachusetts Press 1982. 31. See, for example, John Keane, Democracy and Civil Society, London: Verso 1988; Andrew Arato and Jean Cohen, Civil Society and Political Theory, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1994; Adam Seligman, The Idea of Civil Society, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1995; Jeffrey Alexander, The Civil Sphere, New York: Oxford 2006.



32. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, New York: Simon & Simon 2001. 33. John Keane, Democracy and Civil Society, London: Verso 1988. 34. John Keane, Global Civil Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003. 35. Andrew Arato and Jean Cohen, Civil Society and Political Theory, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1994. 36. Jeffrey Alexander, The Civil Sphere, New York: Oxford 2006: 3. 37. Alexander, The Civil Sphere: 213ff. 38. Axel Honneth, “Civil Society as Democratic Battleground: Comments on Jeffrey Alexander’s The Civil Sphere,” in Peter Kivisto and Giuseppe Sciortino eds., Solidarity, Justice, and Incorporation: Thinking Through The Civil Sphere, New York: Oxford University Press 2015: 81–94. 39. Arnold Kaufman, The Radical Liberal: New Man in American Politics, Atherton 1968. 40. Students for a Democratic Society, The Port Huron Statement, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr 2004. 41. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age, Berkeley: University of California Press 1984: 181ff.

Bibliography Adorno, Theodore, and Max Horkheimer. 1969. The Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Seabury Press. Alexander, Jeffrey. 2006. The Civil Sphere. New York: Oxford. Arato, Andrew, and Jean Cohen. 1994. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Barber, Benjamin. 1984. Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age. Berkeley: University of California Press. Benjamin, Jessica. 1977. The End of Internalization: Adorno’s Social Psychology. Telos 32: 42–64. Bordieu, Pierre. 1984. The Market in Symbolic Goods. In Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, 112–142. New  York: Columbia University Press. Calhoun, Craig, ed. 1992. Habermas and the Public Sphere. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Cohen, Jean. 1982. Class and Civil Society: The Limits of Marxian Critical Theory. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. Eley, Geoff. 1992. Nations, Publics, and Political Cultures: Placing Habermas in the Nineteenth Century. In Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, 289–339. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Ehrenburg, John. 1999. Civil Society: A Critical History. New York: NYU Press. Fiske, John. 1989. Understanding Popular Culture. London: Routledge.



Fraser, Nancy. 1992. Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. In Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, 109–142. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Gans, Herbert. 1999. Popular Culture and High Culture. 2nd ed. New  York: Basic Books. Giddens, Anthony. 1986. The Constitution of Society: Outlines of the Theory of Structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press. ———. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Goode, Luke. 2005. Jurgen Habermas: Democracy and the Public Sphere. New York: Pluto Press. Habermas, Jurgen. 1976.: chapter 2. Moral Development and Ego Identity. In Communication and the Evolution of Society, 69–94. Boston: Beacon University Press. ———. 1985. Theory of Communicative Action Vol 2 Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ———. 1991. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge: MIT Press. ———. 1993. Further Reflections on the Public Sphere. In Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, 421–459. Cambridge: MIT Press. ———. 1996. Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. Cambridge: MIT Press. ———. 1998. The Inclusion of the Other. Cambridge: MIT Press. Hall, Stuart. 1998. Notes on Deconstructing the ‘Popular’. In Popular Culture: A Reader, ed. John Storey, 442–453. Pearson/Prentice Hall. Horkheimer, Max. 1972. Art and Mass Culture. In Critical Theory: Selected Essays, 273–290. New York: Continuum. ———. 1974. The Eclipse of Reason. New York: Continuum. ———. 1982a. The Authoritarian State. In The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt, 95–117. New York: Continuum. ———. 1982b. The End of Reason. In The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt, 26–48. New York: Continuum. Kaufman, Arnold. 1968. The Radical Liberal: New Man in American Politics. Atherton. Keane, John. 1988. Democracy and Civil Society. London: Verso. ———. 2003. Global Civil Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kellner, Douglas. T.W. Adorno and the Dialectics of Mass Culture, p. 15. Accessed at Landes, Joan. 1988. Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Marcuse, Herbert. 1968. The Struggle Against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State. In Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, 1–30. Boston: Beacon Press.



Negt, Oscar, and Alexander Kluge. 2016. Public Sphere and Experience: Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Spheres. Verso. Putnam, Robert. 2001. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Simon. Ryan, Mary P. 1992. Gender and Public Access: Women’s Politics. In Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, 259–288. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ———. 1997. Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City During the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press. Schiller, Herbert. 1990. Culture Inc: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression. New York: Oxford University Press. Scheuerman, William. 1997. Between the Norm and the Exception: The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law. Cambridge: MIT Press. Seligman, Adam. 1995. The Idea of Civil Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Students for a Democratic Society. 2004. The Port Huron Statement. Chicago: Charles H Kerr. Thompson, John. 1991. Ideology and Modern Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ———. 1995. The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Zaret, David. 1992. Religion, Science, and Printing in the Public Spheres in Seventeenth-Century England. In Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ———. 2000. Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Public Interest Standards from Radio to Public Television

In this chapter, I will be concerned with conflict over public interest standards in American media from the beginnings of radio to the formation of public television. I will trace the history of debates about the public character of media versus its control by commercial forces, culminating in the activism of the 1960s in which public broadcasting and PEG requirements were founded. The new forces that arose in the 1960s brought about questions of citizen participation in the public sphere and the role of civil society to the fore. These considerations were also shaped by the new zones of social conflict in the protest era.

The Rise of Radio and Telecommunication and Public Interest The immediate genesis of public access was a result of the social turmoil of the 1960s and its pervasive criticism of the vacuity of broadcast television. For many advocates, public access represented the creation of an alternative or counter-public sphere in which issues not aired in the media would finally see the light of day.1 Many early proponents of public access saw themselves creating citizen journalism and content, distinct from the commercial dominance of ideas found in the corporate media. However, the origin of the demand for a public media independent of commercial control stems from long-standing activism on the part of religious, educational, and community groups who argued that some if not all the airwaves © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




should be reserved for nonprofit purposes. The idea of a noncommercial media public sphere is prior to the origination of commercial broadcast radio in the 1920s and found in the first amateur radio broadcasters. While there is little doubt that telecommunications in the United States developed primarily along commercial lines, its development was not as monolithic as the authors of the Dialectic of Enlightenment believed. It is a contested history in which the public obligations and character of mass media have been hotly debated. The commercial character of broadcast media was not a matter of consensus accepted smoothly by all, but of fundamental disagreement. Robert McChesney notes that the status quo “only came into existence between 1927 and 1930; prior to those years few if any imagined US broadcasting would assume the traits it quickly adopted.”2 Before and during this period a broad opposition to commercialization arose in favor of a system that included nonprofit and noncommercial interests. The opponents of a commercial system hoped to create a noncommercial public sphere in which educational and informational (and even religious) programming would be available to the public. The earliest adopters of the radio were Ham operators who had a grassroots philosophy opposed to bureaucracy and centralization.3 They thought of themselves as an anarchistic democratic group of users, self-­ organized and self-regulating. As amateurs fascinated by the possibilities of the new inventions, they experimented with homemade technologies and made important contributions to the development of the radio. They established a two-way network of users who took an active rather than a passive role. Before World War I, there were tens of thousands of Ham operators. They were prominently featured in the media of the time. Amateur wireless operators were celebrated as popular heroes who were expanding access to modern technology. By 1910, amateurs vastly outnumbered commercial and military stations and often had better homemade technology than the larger operators. Echoing the earlier debates over the telegraph, the Ham movement revived the idea of a universal communication system. By 1912 Ham operators dominated the radio bandwidth and their numbers grew exponentially. While around 300 operators were in service in 1913, over 13,000 operated in 1917. Military and shipping interests complained of interference, leading to the first radio act of 1912, which separated bandwidth for different uses and required licenses to broadcast. Thousands of licenses were issued, mainly to colleges and religious groups who had been experimenting with new technologies and their possibilities



for long-distance communication.4 Still, audiences were quite limited due to the need for receivers. Amateur Ham operators increasingly came into conflict with the naval use of the radio and were banned from the airwaves when the United States entered World War I in 1917. They were, however, heavily recruited by the armed forces to man the new radio technology.5 There were some like Lee Deforest, who conceived of running the radio on market principles. Deforest, however, also saw the radio as a way of bringing culture such as opera to those who could not afford to get tickets or were unable to see it live. Guglielmo Marconi also looked toward the commercial use of the radio on a more extensive scale than Deforest. Neither Deforest nor Marconi, however, conceived of commercial advertising as the medium of commercial radio. They sold or leased equipment and operators to business and government. The post–World War I period was characterized by a conflict between commercial interests and amateur radio enthusiasts with a popular democratic outlook. After the end of the war, a new company, Radio Corporation of America (RCA), was established to buy out American Marconi creating  a virtual monopoly on wireless radio equipment. Its establishment was strongly influenced by political and security concerns; the federal government wanted to maintain American control of powerful communication technologies. Here, however, commercial interests were limited to marketing equipment. After the war, the government rejected the Navy’s desire to retain control of the radio and returned it to the public. Noncommercial users reestablished a significant role. The main barrier to expansion was the availability of vacuum tubes which was solved by the commercial sale of tubes by RCA in 1921. Radio sales boomed: listening to the radio at night became a national pastime for a large group of Americans. The number of licensed broadcasters also grew rapidly again. In the next years, amateur radio broadcasting exploded. Thousands of individuals transmitted radio signals over short and long distances. In the early 1920s the radio was, like Ham radio, a grassroots movement. Operators broadcast concerts, popular music like jazz, sports, political speeches and election results, political commentary, and a wide variety of programming. Pioneers like Frank Conrad transmitted classical music and classical concerts in Pittsburg. As a result, amateur radio broadcasters established a listening public well before commercial radio took advantage of it.6



By the mid-1920s frequencies were more tightly regulated and amateur broadcasts declined. Several court cases had challenged federal authority over licensing, most significantly the Zenith radio case of 1926, in which a radio station was broadcasting on unauthorized frequency, denied the federal government’s ability to impose broadcasting requirements. As a result, the 1927 Radio Act establishing the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), the precursor to the FCC, was passed. It was meant to extend federal authority over broadcasting and provide order to what some saw as a chaotic situation, so that the scarce bandwidth could be allocated fairly. It required the first-time licensees to prove they operated in public interest. As political influence and the desire for profit increased, grassroots radio produced by amateurs was replaced with a more formal structure. Still, for a time, the radio remained largely a nonprofit enterprise. The majority of stations were run by educational institutions or religious groups who recognized the vast potential of the new mass media to educate and inform the public. They wanted the radio to be a force in extending the scope of democratic participation and  creating more informed citizens. Radio should act as a democratic public sphere. The first commercial stations were run by specific businesses like a newspaper or store with the idea of promoting their own business. Paid advertising was rarely used. Commercial parties saw the radio as a promotional adjunct to a business, not as an independent source of profit. Although WEAF, established in 1922, is considered the first radio station to run on advertising, commercial radio was not generally seen as viable until the late 1920s. Major radio networks like NBC and CBS were not established until 1926 and 1927. Once these networks discovered the viability of commercial sponsorship, however, the modern system of commercial broadcasting began to get a foothold. Commercial use of radio despite its slow start became a vital part of the rise of consumer culture in the United States. In the wake of World War I, rising affluence and new manufacturing advances such as the assembly line made cheap consumer goods readily available. The end of the progressive era and the rise of the “roaring twenties” resulted in a society more concerned with modern lifestyles and cultural sophistication that focused on the individual more than the expansion of social justice. While advertising first began in newspapers, radio soon became a primary vehicle for the promotion of consumer culture. As productive capacities grew, advertising became more important as a mode of creating desire for consumer goods. The problems posed by the overcapacity of manufacturing led to the



planned obsolescence of goods and required the creation of a constant desire for new goods. The acquisition of consumer goods was associated with personal happiness and fulfillment, not simply usefulness. In more affluent conditions, consumption for its own sake became the norm. The connection between the new consumer culture and the kind of mass society described by critical theorists should become clear. A culture focused on personal happiness, a consumer lifestyle, and private life displaces the more radical motivations of the working classes to oppose exploitation. Of course, the Frankfurt School critique extended to the character of regulation and control of the economy, but that is another part of the story.

The Regulatory Context The administrative (national) state with its expanded regulatory powers arose to meet the problems and side effects caused by the expansion of capitalism as the US economy transformed from a local and agricultural economy to an industrial one. The instabilities of the “anarchistic” free market were just as much a barrier as a vehicle to greater economic development. The purely economic rationality of the free market was proving to be irrational with regard to industrial development. This was especially true with infrastructure: railroad construction suffered from an excessive competition which led to bankruptcies and became a draw on limited state resources. Yet infrastructure was crucial to the growth of a national industrial economy. Thus, government action was needed to guarantee the conditions for growth and accumulation. States were the first involved in providing public investments, later the national government became the primary vehicle. The new theories of regulation drew on the older common law tradition, which recognized a class of common or public goods. Certain goods or services which had a vital nature were considered common because they were necessary for commerce. New forms of national state regulation drew on these ideas and applied them in the context of a growing national economy. There were some industries, like transportation, banking, and later communications to list only a few, that were necessary for economic growth. The notion of railroads as a common carrier, for example, drew on the idea that railroads had to provide reasonably priced and universal service to customers without discrimination.



Common carriers were often granted a privileged status. In exchange for exclusive charters and public subsidies, they had to agree to build needed infrastructure and provide service in a universal nondiscriminatory way. The latter conditions, while they were conceived in an economic context, also raised claims for fundamental equity and implicitly social justice. Later common carrier status was extended to areas like telecommunications where inexpensive basic telephone service was provided to all geographic areas, even if unprofitable. The costs of this were subsidized by long-distance services. Airlines too were required to serve unprofitable small routes to achieve the goal of universal service. The idea that the airwaves were public property to be used for public benefit was another realm in which equity claims were raised. These ideas could have been used to promote nonprofit broadcasting.7 For the new administrators, the ideas of regulation also drew on norms of professionalization and scientific conduct. Administration was to be based on the idea of detached scientific and expert analysis of social life and not, for example, on the self-interest of the entrepreneur who wanted to maximize personal gain or the political loyalty of other government officials. The administrator used his scientific expertise to steer markets for maximum rationality and efficiency. Sometimes this meant allowing larger concentrations or “natural monopolies” in some sectors of industry. Still, equity claims were seen primarily through the lens of economic growth, social justice claims were relegated to the background. Regulatory agencies and congressional laws were focused on the need for a well-­ functioning economy, and as such on the needs of producers more than the needs of consumers. Avoiding market crashes, bank failures, destructive competition, and the needs of a strong infrastructure were the prime motivations. The industry also faced widespread labor problems and social disorganization endemic to nineteenth-century industrial capitalism. Thus, the reforms entailed by state regulation were not necessarily opposed by all businesses—especially by larger economic interests that feared excessive competition. Early regulation sought to establish the basic rules and conditions for a rational and stable economy that would promote progress through national commerce. The second stage of regulation developed during the new deal era. Individual sectors of the economy that were destabilized by the depression were regulated. Far from being involuntary, industries often looked to the federal government to right the situation. Price controls were introduced and entry to the industry was often regulated. This was, of course, clear in



the assignment of broadcast frequencies in radio communications but operated in other industries like trucking in which the routes a company would run were administratively allocated. Industry cartels were formed, and a kind of corporate industrial government suggested ironically by Hoover, was instituted. These informal forms of governance included labor, government, and corporate groups that informally decided policies. As Horowitz puts it, “[r]egulation substituted administrative rationality and informal political decision making for market rationality.”8 While such measures were certainly aimed at stabilizing corporate capitalism, new deal policies did promote elements of social democracy. Labor was granted full and equal rights in bargaining, and early programs like the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) held out the promise of a more cooperative and collectivist democratic economy. The effect of these more democratic visions can be seen in the media reform movements of the 1940s. Still, the administrative and corporate visions were dominant.

Broadcast Regulation One of the significant issues shaping the modern broadcast system was the notion of the scarcity of broadcast frequencies. Without a system of regulating the use of frequencies, it was argued, broadcast signals were subject to interference. This argument carried the day even though earlier amateurs had worked out informal self-regulating ways of sharing time. The original radio act passed in 1912 gave authority to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to issue Broadcast Licenses, but in 1926 a federal court ruled this unconstitutional. In response, Congress created the FRC to issue licenses. Then Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, often spoke as if he opposed the use of advertising on radio and even seemed to favor some noncommercial use. Hoover famously said that the airwaves were public property and in 1921 stated that “[i]t [radio] must now be considered as a great agency of public service,” but his notion did not lead to a strong public interest standard and in the end asked private interests to serve the public good. In practice, his policies favored commercial interests as the stewards of public trust. The problem as noted shortly was Hoover’s corporatist notion of the associative state, which as Dempsey and Gruver argue caused a “passive drift” toward commercialization.9 Influenced by the earlier failure of a public telegraph system the commission saw a private and commercial system as the bulwark of freedom. Echoing later neoliberal arguments, they held that nonprofit and



educational broadcasters were biased. In contrast, commercial broadcasters constrained by the market would respond more effectively to public demands. Hoover and his supporters believed that corporations would be responsible representatives of the public, while a democratically constituted public without constraint would be unruly and would tend to socialism. Nonprofit advocates pointed out that commercial interests whose aim was to make a profit would not likely represent public interests but instead represent the interests of their owners and would avoid controversial issues. Even before the inception of the FCC in 1934, then, the airwaves had been considered public property. Because of the scarcity of broadcast frequencies, radio and television industries were established as a quasi-­ monopoly, sometimes referred to as a natural monopoly that required regulation “in the public interest necessity and convenience”—a notoriously vague phrase open to myriad interpretations—as well as a system for allocating channels. There were, however, some elements of the nineteenth-­ century notion of the public. Frequencies were not owned by private interests; they were assigned licenses based on serving the public good. Assignees of these frequencies were required to somehow serve that public good. However, the notion of the public good often employed was more compatible with corporate capitalism than with social democracy. Expanding commercial interests and generating profit was recast as a public good. It de-emphasized the amateur and nonprofit broadcasting interests. The ambiguity left lots of room for conflating the interests of commercial broadcasters with the public interest. Working largely outside the public purview and isolated from public debate, the FRC allocated 37 of the 40 available clear channel (nationwide) frequencies to the major networks fostering the rise of nationwide commercial networks. The other frequencies were to be shared by broadcasters including those with noncommercial interests. This arraignment put nonprofits at a severe disadvantage. Given only the leftovers, and with difficulties getting funding, nonprofit broadcasting declined rapidly from 96 stations in 1927 to 31 in 1931. Noncommercial stations were assigned the least desirable frequencies, were forced to share time with commercial broadcasters, and had to invest in expensive equipment. The evening hours needed for noncommercial extension courses were not available. Most noncommercial broadcasters were forced to close down. This arrangement stemmed from Hoover’s corporatist view of society.10 In line with corporate capitalism, Hoover felt that the age of rugged individualism was over and had to be replaced by an associational view of



society. While Hoover was no doubt an opponent of regulation, he also thought that to make capitalism work and parry the challenge of socialism, capitalism had to change. He identified three functional units of society: the corporations, labor, and the public, which was represented by the government. Hoover sought a “harmonious” relation between the three spheres. This corporate conception of society conditioned his understanding of public interest. He did not see the public as constituted by an independent realm of discussion and opinion formation (i.e. a public sphere) that sought to articulate the needs of society and the general interest. As noted earlier, an uncontrolled public was unruly. It was simply one component of a functional whole that was to be balanced with other interests and was fully compatible with and promoting capitalist growth. This corporate liberal idea of the public interest, prevalent in business circles of the time, decisively shaped commission proceedings. Still, the matter of public broadcasting on the radio spectrum was not settled. Nonprofit broadcasters continued to lobby for policies that would reserve part of the broadcast spectrum for nonprofits. They had attempted to pass legislation reserving 15% of licenses for nonprofit educational and religious use at the tail end of the Hoover administration. Buoyed by the prospects for reform of a Roosevelt presidency they renewed their efforts.11 A broadcast reform movement arose that first lobbied network radio to provide time for educational programming with little success. Later an omnibus group interested in noncommercial radio formed the National Committee on Education by Radio. They vehemently opposed the commercialization of the airwaves on the grounds of, among others, its powerful effect on shaping public opinion. They supported the introduction of the Wagner–Hatfield act, which was deliberated at the inception of the FCC in 1934. It proposed the dissolution of existing licenses and establishing a system where 25% of desirable frequencies were reserved for noncommercial purposes. Commercial interests, especially the increasingly powerful advertising agencies, vehemently opposed the bill. The bill failed to pass, and the FCC solidified the commercial network broadcasting system as the dominant form of broadcasting in America. By 1937, William Paley, president of the CBS network, could state with self-confidence that anyone who opposes the commercial system of broadcasting attacks democracy itself.12 The commercial system then did not emerge out of the workings of the market, but the government instituted the distribution of licenses. It was buttressed by the corporatist outlook of Hoover. The owners of these



licenses were able to accumulate great wealth via the use of public property. While the proponents of a commercial broadcasting system relied heavily on the ideological principles of an unfettered or self-regulated market system, this broadcasting system, as Thomas Streeter has noted, was hardly a free market system and it hardly developed through a purely market logic.13 The quasi-monopoly system of licensing was in some ways parallel to the oligopolistic structure of corporate capitalism. The creation of a commercial broadcasting system was shaped by the corporatist outlook of the time and was heavily dependent on government activity for the establishment and maintenance of the conditions of successful accumulation.14 At the end of the first phase of media regulation, citizen groups lacked enough power to establish democratic media. However, they were not definitively defeated; nor was the conflict between the FCC media corporations and activists settled. Media activism continued into the 1940s until they got a boost from foundations in the 1950s. Dissenters had difficulty raising the issues in terms that effectively challenged the commercial market systems. Media owners continued to claim that the marketplace of ideas, unlimited by government regulation, was to guarantee free speech and a vital public sphere.

Radio Publics: Democratic Potentials? The movement for public, noncommercial radio was influenced by the kind of ideas put forward by John Dewey and other pragmatists, who in contrast to liberal views formulated a social democratic notion of public life. Dewey even weighed in on the public character of the radio, calling it “the most powerful instrument of social education the world has ever seen.” This included the power both to mislead and to enlighten. For Dewey, the question of whether the radio was to be used to serve the public interest was one of the major questions of the time. Dewey claimed that using this technology for the public good and protecting free speech was not structurally possible if broadcasting was under “concentrated capitalist control.”15 This idea of a public media as the lynchpin of a public sphere was compatible with Dewey’s notion of a great community.16 The public was a communicative sphere that was brought into existence when people came together to deliberate over public problems and issues, and in the process formed more inclusive communities. Local communities, thus, must enter



the larger world to address the issues that are taken up by nations and even international groups. The new media of radio with its ability to extend the scope of knowing and being of citizens was to be a crucial feature of this enlarged community. Proponents of noncommercial radio were no doubt informed by the ideals of the progressive era, such as those articulated by Dewey, which sought a more active role for the government in serving the public interest. Certainly, the later views of Dewey moved from liberal social democracy toward democratic socialism in which public property played a role. He was also critical of old-style heroic individualism; his version was both developmental and social. The individual is formed through social interaction and relies on a democratic community to realize her or his potentials. Thus, he was a precursor of the importance of both the public sphere and, in a sense, of civil society. His view of social reform was based on a new form of social concern like the settlement houses of the early twentieth century that sought to create spaces for discussion on issues and expansion of communities to include the subaltern. Dewey’s conception of the public, because it did not rest on a notion of the free marketplace of ideas, drew on participatory and discursive conceptions of the public that could be used to oppose the marketplace model. The radio system that developed after 1926 and flourished throughout the 1930s was based on commercial networks driven by advertising revenues. Radio became the dominant media of communication and entertainment. The large radio cabinet was at the center of family life in most households. At first NBC and CBS and in 1934 the smaller Mutual Network dominated radio programming. Like today’s TV networks they operated by offering shows to affiliates.17 Daytime radio broadcast a few morning variety shows but was dominated by soap operas. The evening schedule (like today’s prime time) had a few dramas and serials but primarily ran comedy/variety shows often with Vaudeville stars or comics who had worked the Borscht Belt like Bob Hope and featured musical guests. Later in the 1930s, shows began to feature appearances by Hollywood Stars. These shows were decidedly unpolitical and, if not conservative, conformist in orientation. However, the situation was not entirely monolithic. Elements of radio did raise public awareness and education. Media scholar Michael C. Keith concurs with the idea that radio at first had a certain amount of democratic potential, even if weakly expressed. Its power to inform and to mobilize, however, became apparent when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the new medium during the



great depression in a series of Fireside Chats to rally support for his New Deal economic recovery program. Radio was a popular medium through which the President could directly address the public and bypass congress to mobilize support. During the Munich crisis of 1938, radio began to be an important source of news and reporting on looming war events. Later during the war, radio and the use of foreign correspondents proved a powerful force to galvanize war support. Still, the mass media of the 1930s, including not just radio but film, rarely (with some important exceptions) portrayed the dire economic and social conditions of most Americans in the depression era. Films were largely escapist and portrayed the lives of the better-off segments of society. Even the gangsters wore the best clothes and spent time with the upper classes. Anything that smacked of political content had to be implicit, not explicit, as were the expressions of sexuality and cultural rebellion. One exception to this commercial suppression of dissent was the creation of the Federal Arts and Federal Theater projects. An arm of the Work Progress Administration (WPA), these projects sought to provide relief to visual artists, musicians, and performers. However, it became culturally significant because it addresses populations underserved by arts in the past. It brought visual arts and sculptures to public buildings throughout the country. The theater project took productions out of Broadway and into schools, Libraries, parking lots, and regional theaters and brought free theater to many who had never seen live theater before. It produced “adult” theater with experimental methods and controversial themes. These programs created a noncommercial public space in which many artists were freed of commercial restrictions and developed artistic innovations. These projects were based on popular conceptions of art. The initiatives of the theater project found its way into radio through Orson Welles, an alumni of the theater project and had formed his own Mercury Theater troupe who showed the power that radio had on popular imagination. In the late 1930s, Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, caused a nationwide panic over the belief that aliens had invaded the earth.18 Welles’ broadcast was among those developed in what was called sustaining programs: shows that had no sponsors and were run on off-­ hours in summer or against highly rated shows. Sometimes these sustaining shows, or fillers, provided opportunities for experimentation and occasionally quality shows that went beyond the unusual standard entertainment-­oriented shows. Welles meant his famous show to be a criticism of the mass media and their authoritarian tendencies. He thought,



however, that radio could be used to create a more populist version of mass culture. In most respects, however, it remained an outlier. As earlier advocates had suggested, radio promoted the further formation of national culture, national identity, and publics—even if they were mass publics. Individuals could be linked well beyond their local horizons and participate, if passively, in a national public. While the formation of a more inclusive national culture did have some potential as a general public, many critics thought this homogenizing tendency was not a good thing. American culture was becoming standardized and leveled in processes of mass production and consumer culture and increasingly centralized through regulatory authorities and other bureaucracies.19 Authority was impersonal and difficult to hold accountable. For Theodore Adorno, who was involved in a series of studies on radio in the late 1930s, radio was creating a mass culture with no redeeming characteristics. He doubted there were any emancipatory potentialities in the medium. Radio itself could provide no remedies to the problems of mass society; rather, it was the vehicle through which mass culture was disseminated and which reduced the individual to a cog in the machinery of late capitalist society. Radio only debased culture, communication, and true individuality. Popular music in contrast to serious music played on radio was standardized and mechanical in its basic structures and lacked a compositional structure in which a meaningful whole could be created.20 Popular music rested in a pseudo individuality that mirrored the pseudo individualism of mass culture. Radio could also provide a platform for “agitators” who had an antidemocratic and authoritarian bent, another phenomena studied by the Frankfurt School theorists.21 Chief among these was Father Coughlin, who ran programming first on networks but later on regional networks. His message became increasingly strident and paranoid during the early years of the Roosevelt presidency. Agitators appealed to the unconscious fears and insecurities of those suffering under the depression but had no real solutions. In many respects, Adorno was right; despite a few instances of quality programming, media like radio and later the emerging media of television created mass publics and not democratic ones. Not only was the sheer scope of the listening and later viewing public increased, leaving more traditional forms of face-to-face interaction behind, but the ability of individuals to initiate and respond to concerns was also limited. C. Wright Mills’ analysis of the rise of mass publics, which in many ways parallels



Jurgen Habermas’ later work, identified four dimensions of mass society: the limited set of individuals in the society who can legitimately give opinions (i.e. the media) as opposed to those who receive messages; the lack of ability to respond to an opinion without the possibility of reprisal; the ability to influence the formation of public policy; and the lack of independence of the public from institutional control. In all these areas, Mills argues, mass society falls short of being a true public.22 Mills argued that advanced industrial societies were dominated by an economic, military, and political elite that also had control of the major media. They could manipulate consent and create large-scale indifference and alienation rooted in a sense of powerlessness.23 Like the earlier Frankfurt theorists, Mills saw little chance of effective opposition and dissent—at least until his final work on the new left cited earlier. The mass media tended to circumscribe the scope of legitimate opinion, ruling out perspectives that are too critical of the status quo. The nature of advertising meant also that advertisers were hesitant to sponsor programs with controversial opinions for fear of alienating potential buyers. The media publics created by radio were decidedly one-sided with little or no chance of response. They tended to limit the independence of the mass public through forms of information control. While the networks at first reluctantly developed news services, some, especially CBS, had quality journalists and reporters. Still, beyond reporting, commercial radio fell far short of providing a satisfactory notion of civic education or engagement with the central issues of the day, or fostering debate that would facilitate the development of self-­ organizing, self-regulating media communities such as those that emerged in the days of amateur radio. Thus, while the FCC implicitly acknowledged a broader obligation in its notions of licensing in the public interest, in practice it rejected the progressive ideas of active participation in the media that the nonprofits desired. It did little to enforce any public obligations. It did not encourage the creation of rules that would actively intervene in setting programming priorities. The only check on licenses was the threat of nonrenewal. The latter, however, was empty since few if any stations ever had their licenses renewed. The most glaring error, however, was the inability of the FCC to adopt regulations appropriate for the real functioning of a network system. Focusing on the individual station ignored the fact that stations were mainly affiliates of larger networks and the latter had to be more heavily regulated by public interest considerations if democratic media publics were to develop.



Mills’ ideas point in the direction of a participatory notion of the democratic public. It was not only important that the media speak to the public, to inform and examine salient public issues in a way that stimulates public debate, but also that it enable the public to have a say and respond to the messages the media portrayed. A true public would also be able to imitate discussion of issues and even media content. While Mills agreed with much of the Frankfurt School’s analysis of mass culture, and the culture industry, with its conformist orientation, he did not share their understanding of late capitalist culture as completely closed to reflection. Mills did believe that the labor movement and the working class no longer generated a revolutionary subjectivity (if they ever had) but did not draw the conclusion that subjectivity was completely closed off or that ordinary communication was no more than domination. He followed in the pragmatic tradition of Dewey and Mead. At the end of his life, he saw a movement of intellectuals and students and the third world. Mills anticipated what was later to become the theory of participatory democracy that was a key idea for the new left.24 This was the direction taken in the following decades. Though not always directly influenced by Mills’ ideas of democratic and participatory media, after a period of dormancy the concept once again arose in the postwar era.

Democratizing Media Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the corporate model of media dominated American broadcasting, but opposition remained. Under the influence of a renewed or second new deal, there was interest in trust-busting and media reform. Victor Pickard identifies a second critical period in the early to mid-1940s in which political elites, progressive policy  makers, grassroots groups, and citizens critical of the commercial dominance of media worked to change the model of private ownership in the direction of “media democracy.” Recalling Gramsci, he claims this marks a critical juncture in American media. Alternate media trajectories were still available that were not tied to a pure market system.25 Pickard argues that reformers proposed a social-democratic conception of media which was meant to institute their vision. In his reading, applying social democracy to the media means that the media’s public service obligations are more important than its function as a commodity. The social benefits of media trump a property-based view of individual rights. It “assesses a media systems value by how it benefits all of society rather than



how it serves individual freedoms, private property rights and profits for a relative few.”26 These groups shared a more expansive view of the rights of free speech granted in the first amendment. They imply a positive right to information, not simply freedom for information (associated with classical negative freedom), and stress the collective rights of the public to know against the individual rights of media producers. The progressive interpretation of the media in the 1940s was exemplified according to Pickard in five distinct events: (1) the 1943 FCC ruling against the monopoly power of the NBC networks; (2) the Supreme Court 1945 antitrust ruling against the Associated Press; (3) the 1946 Blue Book, which mandated public service responsibilities; (4) the 1947 Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press; (5) and the 1949 Fairness Doctrine.27 Certainly, some of these initiatives were significant. As Pickard notes, the first assertion of FCC policy in “the public interest” was the breakup of the NBC networks in 1943. NBC, which had two major radio networks NBC Red and NBC Blue, had to divest itself of the latter, which eventually became ABC radio, due to its excessive market power. This was seen at the time as the work of one of FDR’s trustbusters. It did not, however, lead to any large-scale change in media oligarchy. Responding to a persistent criticism of the inadequacy of commercial broadcasting, the Progressive chairman of the FCC in the 1940s James Lawrence Fry undertook to codify some of the elements of the obligations of broadcasters to the public in a paper that came to be called the Blue Book. Asserting the right of the FCC to regulate public interest obligations it argued that many radio stations had neglected localism and local programming. Since radio stations were making record profits it was difficult to accept the rationale of the radio stations that claimed they couldn’t afford programming. In contrast, the report held that license renewal ought to depend on fulfilling such obligations. They declared that live local programming needs to be promoted along with a greater discussion of controversial and public issues: support for “unsustainable” programming, which could not get advertisers but was significant, and avoidance of excessive advertising. However, the Blue Book found strong opposition among large broadcast interests and became caught up in the red scare hysteria of the late 1940s and 1950s, as well as an increasingly conservative congress. The commissioners were accused of being communists and procensorship. No station has ever had its license denied for public interest violations the commission defined.



While the FCC attempted to bring the idea of public interest into the discussion, the only real concession to any idea of public interest was the fairness doctrine. It imposed the obligation on broadcasters to provide a certain amount of time to discuss important public issues and to include different sides of an issue. It also allowed candidates equal time. While the fairness doctrine did lead to some useful network of public affairs programming, it did not on the whole lead to an open and extensive discussion of public issues or provide the response to public demand that its proponents claimed. It hardly provided a public forum for the discussion of critical issues or the education of the public. Sometimes it impeded programming out of fear and caution. While Pickard establishes that there was a significant reform movement in the 1940s and continuing media activism, and significant for that reason alone, the activism often was initiated from above. Thus, I am skeptical of Pickard’s claim that they represented a Gramscian-style critical juncture in American broadcasting. The latter requires a turning point or radical challenge that establishes a new arrangement or realignment of forces. While such a realignment culminates in the communications act of 1934, and in the challenges to the media system that lead to public broadcasting and PEG channels, along with other changes in media production, it is hard to see a realignment in the 1940s. Among the most important of these, which Pickard fails to mention, is the declining impetus of New Deal reforms by the end of the 1930s. Liberals had lost dominance in Congress by the end of the decade, and the impetus for legislative and regulatory change was diminished. The broadcasting system maintained a commitment to a corporate capitalist version of broadcasting. The effect of these attempts to employ public interest standards was very limited. For example, I think that there is little evidence that the fairness doctrine made a radical change in broadcasting; nor did the breakup of NBC fundamentally change the broadcasting system. Nothing fundamental changed until the 1950s and the impetus for reform did not at first come from what might be called social democratic impulses until a later stage in the process.

From Pacifica to PBS: The Rise of Public Interest Media and Civil Society The next major step in the development of public broadcasting did not come until the late 1940s, with the foundation of Pacifica radio in 1949. While limited to the then-new FM band, Pacifica aimed to use radio to create a new form of public participation. The days of street meetings and



pamphlets had passed. In its place was to be a model of a subscriber-based noncommercial radio that informed and enlightened the public. Pacifica pursued media democracy largely through the space of civil society. Outside of licensing it did not receive government funding or commercial advertising. It did not aim at fulfilling a public obligation of a large conglomerate or other institutions. Thus, it fit less in the model of social democracy in which government protection of the public existed but of a self-organizing voluntary public within the institutions of civil society. Today we would call it a social movement. It relied on membership and donations to sustain its operations. Thus, it endeavored to institute some elements of popular and participatory democracy. Still, it did not institute any interactions between listeners and operators. In its earliest days, Pacifica, founded by conscientious objectors to World War II, was largely concerned with cultural programming. It featured programs by beat poets like Kerouac, Ginsburg, Ferlinghetti, and others, movie critics, and popular philosophers like Alan Watts, with political commentary taking a secondary role. Pacifica prefigured the new types of social conflicts that were more fully realized in the protest era. In the later 1950s, it moved more into news and public affairs with some notable documentaries on civil rights and an early program on gay rights. By the 1960s, it had become an important voice for the antiwar movement and other social movements.28 It became part of the alternative cultural public sphere, which presaged the cultural transformations of the 1960s. Pacifica was certainly not without its challenges both internally and externally. In the anticommunist climate of the 1950s, its willingness to allow members of the communist party to speak on the station led to threats over the renewal of its license and charges of subversion. This despite the fact it had a broad variety of perspectives during this period. In its second phase, it certainly had its share of internal conflicts regarding the direction of the station. Internal critics felt that Pacifica, by then a network of stations, did not give enough space to gender issues and third-­ world issues. These were accommodated but many saw Pacifica more as an agglomeration of individual interests than as a unified group. They were more attached to their own shows and less to Pacifica as a whole. Still, as Downing argues, it had a largely democratic decision-making process. Staff were paid equally and had input into decisions. However, since the late 1990s, Pacifica has been rife with internecine struggles and management issues that have undercut democratic participation and threatened its long-term viability.29



The success of Pacifica was part of a resurgence, albeit a small one, in noncommercial broadcasting in the 1950s. Thus, it seems to contradict Adorno’s thesis on the essentially conformist character of radio. Still, as the reform movements of the 1940s had largely died out, educational groups had shown little interest in the new media of television after the failure to obtain an allocation of noncommercial radio franchises. Supported by major foundations the movement for noncommercial television began to emerge and gained greater legitimacy in the 1950s. However, this alliance with the power of large corporate foundations came at a price. In the case of the development of public educational television system, the impetus was not popular democratic but elite-driven.30 It, in fact, represented the policies of the “eastern establishment” that Nixon so despised.31 From 1950 onward renewed national leadership in groups like the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) led to new reform initiatives. NAEB began to lobby the FCC to set aside television channels for educational broadcasting. The leadership of this movement was not grassroots or popular democratic. It was foundation-driven. These groups were the creation of the Ford Foundation. The availability of new television frequencies played an important role in the emergence of the educational television movement. There were not enough frequencies available in the VHF spectrum to accommodate educational channels, but the new UHF spectrum, which was reserved for military purposes during the war, became available. This opened a spectrum of over 60 additional channels for broadcast use. Pressure from public interest groups saw some successes in the assignment of educational licensing for television and radio stations. In 1950, WOI-TV, the first television station owned by an educational institution, was launched, and in 1952 the FCC reserved 242 channels for noncommercial educational stations. Of these, 80 were VHF channels and the rest were UHF. For technical reasons, most of the early educational channels were VHF. In part, this was because of the reception problems with UHF channels. In the 1950s, few televisions had UHF tuners and those that did were not of excellent quality. In addition, the shorter wavelength of UHF signals led not only to a more limited range of reception but also to a poorer signal quality. The first UHF channels were largely a stopgap measure. Many of the early UHF channels went out of business shortly after the operation, but they laid the foundation for what was later to become the PBS system.



The relatively new medium of television provided a new opportunity to challenge the commercial system of broadcasting. The educational broadcasters revived the language of the public interest that had been largely missing since the debates over noncommercial radio at the inception of the FCC. Often drawing from a Deweyan perspective, they argued for the democratic potential of the media to educate and inform the public, and also for increased commitment from the FCC to provide resources based on the public character of the airwaves. It was, however, largely an argument made in terms of educational television rather than noncommercial television in general. It was often interested in providing “quality” and cultural programming to edify the public and lift the level of programming rather than to provide popular democratic participation. Advocates looked to provide educational services like courses and lectures including extension courses for distance learning over the air and expanded broadcast of arts and cultural programming. It aimed to produce a limited cultural public sphere administered through more elite interests. A study by Dallas Smythe and Peter Horton was commissioned to illustrate the lack of public interest programming on commercial television. They found that less than 1% of programs were devoted to children’s educational programming and almost none to fine arts or graphic arts. There was only one program sponsored by an educational institution. There were no programs for special needs populations or for general or distance education. The news was restricted to half hour a day and did not cover local issues well.32 While this work was useful and influential, its focus was limited to education and culture and had little to say about control of the media by its users. The progressive element of the movement for public broadcasting rested on the idea that public broadcasting was to provide public affairs broadcasting and diversity not found on network TV. It recognized that the market system of commercial media did not, in fact, provide the kind of public interest programming that it promised. However, since it was largely driven by foundation money, primarily the Ford and Carnegie Foundations, these foundations set the ideological agenda for the emerging public broadcasting system. While they wanted more informational programming, they did not see the public in the role of content creators. This was not necessarily the best procedure for creating a popular democratic media. The values they promoted were mainstream liberal and elitist. In fact, the involvement of the Ford and Carnegie Foundations represented a paradoxical foundation for public broadcasting. Both foundations



rested on ideas of a third force, a nonprofit sector that would mediate between popular democracy and industrial capitalism. The third sector was to promote social harmony and bring together the rich and the poor. These foundations then were committed to a form of moderate liberal social reform, though they did address pressing issues when they arose.33 Nonprofits like libraries, museums and educational institutions were the instruments of protestant ethic–tinged good works of the elect.34 A fledgling network National Educational Television (NET) was founded in the 1950s and as it expanded it developed some public affairs, primarily it’s signature show NET journal, which was well received, and produced critical documentaries on the issues of the time such as race and poverty. However, affiliates in more conservative parts of the country chafed at the critical nature of these programs. It’s signal achievement, however, was in children’s programming. The program Sesame Street began on NET in 1969. The Ford Foundation provided most of the original funding for the initial stages of the development of PBS, which could be independent of government. One of their ideas was to fund public television through the creation of an innovative national satellite network controlled by PBS which would generate revenue. This idea was rejected by the major networks. Long-term sustained funding remained a problem for PBS.  The Carnegie Foundation took up the slack after Ford Funding ceased. It continued for a time; the so-called foundation phase of PBS, however, soon ended. It sought to put the new service more directly under government supervision and direction.35

The Critique of the Network Model Television had quickly supplemented radio both in its total audience and as the preferred medium for advertisers. It became the symbol of the “affluent society” which in the wake of the postwar boom created a generation of consumers wealthier than any before. The first wave of consumer culture had been short-circuited by the depression, but the post–World War II period was one of unprecedented consumer growth. At first, television simply took over old radio shows and formats but the replacement of live shows by taped ones and the move of production from New York to California led to the ubiquitous sitcom, cowboy shows, and police dramas that became its stock in trade. These shows with their bland affirmative view of the nuclear family and black-and-white moral dramas sold the goods to consumers.



Perhaps even more than radio, television shows presented a homogenized and sanitized view of American life, one that certainly reinforced the tendencies of a one-dimensional mass culture that the Frankfurt theorists identified. It was also politically timid, and, despite a few high points such as Edward R. Murrow’s courageous opposition to McCarthyism, largely reinforced the cold war ideology of the time. By the 1960s, however, the commercial media were subject to a withering critique from within the mainstream. Television’s content remained almost untouched by the conflicts of the time36: civil rights, poverty, riots, the Vietnam War, and protest movements had not been well covered. For many, this lacuna exposed the limits of network media. The media had been cheerleaders for the Vietnam War (just as they later functioned as cheerleaders for the war in Iraq) until they were forced to show otherwise and radically underserved the information needs and concerns of minority communities. Television entertainment was generally meant for distraction and featured sanitized images of America like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver. In former FCC chairman Newton Minnow’s words, television was a vast wasteland filled with seemingly unreflective entertainment programming. It was largely passive.37 Newton Minnow’s 1961 speech Television and the Public Interest, from which his famous phrase is taken, was more than just a critique of vapid network fare, it was a powerful argument for public interest obligation of broadcasters. The early years of the Kennedy administration saw the greatest resurgence in regulatory reform since the great depression and his speech reinforced and expanded the renewed focus on public interest raised by educational broadcasters. While Minnow accepted the commercial broadcasting system and its market principles, he did not think that all broadcasting should follow a market logic, nor did he accept the postulate of consumer sovereignty  to which network programmers appealed. He argued that the ratings system not only appealed to the lowest common denominator, but it reflected only the type of programming provided to people, not always their informed preferences. In addition, however, he argued for a nontrivial interpretation of the notion of broadcasters as public trustees, recognizing the crucial importance that television had come to play in the lives of Americans. Broadcasters, Minnow argued, must devote a significant amount of time to educational children’s programming and to educating and informing the public to promote active citizenship. The FCC commissioner said he would pledge to do everything he could to encourage educational programming. Minnow’s speech provided the



most activist view of the trustee function of broadcasters ever formulated by an FCC commissioner, yet it fell short of calling for a participatory public sphere. The latter would not become a concern until the political conflicts of the 1960s reached a head. Minnow played a key role in brokering the deal to purchase an independent New Jersey television station on channel 13 and convert it to an educational TV station WNET. This was not simply another acquisition. WNET became the flagship station for the early attempts to develop a national educational broadcasting network, and central to the foundation of PBS in 1967.

From the Wasteland to the Promised Land For many critics like Minnow, network television resembled the image of the culture industry analyzed by Adorno and Horkheimer. Network entertainment did not attempt to create active democratic citizens or redeem the promise of television to inform and enlighten viewers. It reinforced the democratic elitism in which mass participation and political activism were discouraged, and working classes were the source of authoritarian attitudes. No doubt some element of this rising criticism was related to the critique of mass culture I have mentioned, which reached its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s, Both conservatives and radicals decried a culture that had become based in media production of images and messages but for different reasons. For conservatives, the fear was of the unkempt masses themselves, whose lowbrow tastes detached from traditional cultures, threatened to overrun high culture, while those on the left such as the Frankfurt School saw the problem as the system of commercialized cultural production that manipulated consciousness. Typical of this discourse was the work of critic Dwight MacDonald, who was politically radical but culturally conservative. He looked down on what mass culture and he himself called midcult. He saw the rise of industrial society much like Weber as undermining the traditional community of the past. The result of this change was a mass society of alienated individuals which, adopting David Riesman’s characterization, he called the “lonely crowd,” a group of other-directed individuals who had lost the inner-directed autonomy of individuals of the high capitalist period.38 The mass culture that emerged from this alienated condition was standardized and homogenized. It substituted kitsch and lowbrow, sometimes sexually vulgar, works for genuine



art. Mass media as represented by middle-brow publications like Life Magazine reduced culture to a formula and the massive power of mass culture posed a real threat to traditional high culture. There was, however, another source of protest which drew on the cultural critique of Adorno and others but rejected its one-dimensional analysis for a more radical cultural theory. Where even the cultural Marxists like the Frankfurt School saw social conflicts as primarily economic in origin, the new left despite some of its Marxian roots saw culture and hence civil society as zones of conflict. They sought greater participation, self-­ realization, equal human rights, and pursued environmental and quality-­ of-­life issues as well as cultural liberalization. These were different than questions of distribution which characterized much welfare state politics.

Network Television and the Portrayal of American Life Certainly, network television programming reflected a narrow lowbrow vision of the American landscape. Sitcoms mostly featured the white middle-­ class nuclear family. Men were the breadwinners and women stayed at home taking care of the children. When working-class families were featured, the man was usually portrayed as an impulse-driven buffoon even if a lovable one. Minorities were rarely seen and certainly not in starring roles. One of the dominant modes of drama the Western seemed to provide is a black-and-white view of the world. There was insufficient coverage of social problems. The failure to adequately cover the conflicts over the Vietnam War and racial problems were also major concerns. The 1967 report of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, Public Television, A Program for Action, Report and Recommendations of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television,39 was a major influence in creating a national network of public broadcasting and educational networks—what later became PBS. Certainly, it reflected these new zones of conflict. The commission was highly critical of media coverage of civil unrest, especially in minority communities. The report acknowledged the lack of opportunity for minorities to air their views in the media as one of many social conditions that contributed to social unrest in cities. Minorities had virtually no ownership of major media outlets. The report concluded that “a well-financed and well-­directed educational television system, substantially larger and far more pervasive and



effective than that which now exists in the United States, must be brought into being if the full needs of the American public are to be served.” It recommended the creation of The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would receive government funds and facilitate the creation of a national network of public broadcasters. A Presidential Task Force on Communications Policy in 1968 called upon the telecommunications industry to provide “those who had been denied access a means to express themselves.”40 It also suggested the possible use of cable television in this way to quell urban unrest. While minorities were virtually invisible on network television, the problems with network television went further. It extended to questions of localism in broadcasting. Many local communities and local groups found themselves excluded from commercial outlets. They could not afford to create network programming; nor had they access to the resources needed to produce programming. The cost of entry into network broadcasting was extremely high. Buying a network would have been almost impossible, and the costs of producing shows, even if possible, was beyond the means of all but the wealthiest. Government action was needed to remedy this problem. What is of note in this argument is the tacit connection to the constitution of civil society in the argument. Not only public visibility but the integrity of the community is invoked. It employs the language of alienation and fragmentation of the community which was current on the left. The powers of government to regulate communications was to extend addressing the community-destroying effects of industrial capitalism. Of course this was not intended in a radical way, to truly empower the community, but to mollify and quell disorder and restore morality to civil life. But this was to be surely consistent with the social engineering outlook of the Kennedy and later Johnson administrations. The first response was over-the-air public interest programming represented by PBS. Despite its appeal to mainstream liberal values, the establishment and maintenance of a public broadcasting system were hampered by a funding structure that left PBS too open to political interference. In addition to the satellite network, one of the early ideas for funding was to put a tax on television sets, as was done in Great Britain, but this idea never saw the light of day. After the end of foundation funding, financing was supplied through government appropriation each year. Of course, this immediately became a problem. By 1972, PBS had already had funding



cut by Nixon and faced conservative attacks on its so-called liberal biases. Funding cuts and political interference from congress led to a crisis that only improved when Ford and Carter were in office. With insufficient funding and political pressures, PBS became dependent on funding by corporate groups and timid in its programming choices.41 Over time, PBS has been subject to several funding crises and political attacks that have limited its viability as a vehicle for a true public sphere. It lacked the independence to take a bolder action to fulfill its mandate. The constant need for user contributions distracted it from its mission. Thus, its mission of providing public affairs programming and reflecting the diversity of American society was only partly realized.42 Here, as I note later regarding public access, the congress created a weak institution (though not as weak as PEG channels) which left it open to manipulation. By the time of the Reagan Administration, PBS was under further attack and began to rely even more than in the past on underwriting largely provided by corporations (the corporate stage). While it still presented public affairs programming, it became a subject of corporate capture. Major corporations like oil companies that were under public criticism for their activities found they could curry public favor by underwriting highbrow cultural programming like Masterpiece Theatre, and at least partially deflect criticism. While these programs were popular with a segment of the US audience and were often of better quality than network dramas, they hardly promoted a greater understanding of democracy or much thinking about critical issues. Although PBS retained some public affairs programming, it did not reflect the diversity of unheard-of views it was meant to develop. Shows like the MacNeil Lehrer report (now PBS News Hour) were known to favor Washington insiders even more exclusively than the commercial network shows and to exclude the diverse movements in American society.43 Public broadcasting remained an elite-driven institution, dedicated to “quality” television. The second response was tailored to the emerging cable TV industry and the changing technologies of TV production, but it promised a more popular democratic alternative. The site of this second challenge was cable television. After an initial period of government limitation and restriction of the cable industry, the situation changed, and the expansion of cable television began.



Notes 1. For the notion of counter-publics, see Michael Warmer, Publics and Counter Publics, New York: Zone Books 2005. 2. Robert McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media and Democracy: The Battle for the control of US Broadcasting, 1927–1935. New  York: Oxford 1993: 252l; Thomas Streeter, Selling the Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1996, disagrees with McChesney’s assessment. He thinks that the prior regulatory regimes for the telephone and railroad set the stage for the corporatist model. 3. Ralph Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, Thousand Oaks: Sage 1996: 12. 4. Eric Barnouw, A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933 vol 1, New York: Oxford 19. 5. Susan Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting: 1899–1922, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1989. 6. Susan Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, pp. 299–303. 7. For this and the discussion in the next several paragraphs, see Robert Britt Horowitz, The Irony of Regulatory Reform: The Deregulation of American Telecommunications, New York: Oxford 1989: 65–76. 8. Horowitz, The Irony of Regulatory Reform: 73. 9. John Mark Dempsey and Eric Gruver, “‘The Public Interest Must Dominate’: Herbert Hoover and the Public Interest, Convenience, and Necessity,” Journal of Radio & Audio Media vol 19 no 1 2012: 96–109; John Mark Dempsey and Eric Gruver, “The American System”: Herbert Hoover, the Associative State, and Broadcast Commercialism,” Presidential Quarterly Studies vol 39 2 June 2009: 226–244; Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History: 19. 10. For the Following on Hoover, see Thomas Streeter, Selling the Air A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1996: 41–45. Streeter draws on the analyses of Hoover’s version of corporate capitalism by William Appleton Williams. The Contours of American History, Brooklyn, NY: Verso 2011. 11. Eric Barnouw, A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933 vol 1, New York: Oxford op.cit. 12. See McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of US Broadcasting, chapters 3 and 4 for an account of the debates over the character of radio. 13. Thomas Streeter, Selling the Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1996.



14. Streeter, op.cit. 15. Cited in McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times, New edition New York: New Press 2015. 16. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, Swallow Press: 1954 17. Programming on the Networks is well documented in Eric Barnouw The Golden Web: A History of Broadcasting in the United States vol 2 1933–53 New York: Oxford University Press 1968. 18. See Michael C. Keith, “Writing About Radio: A Survey of Cultural Studies on Radio in Radio Cultures,” in Radio Cultures: The Sound Medium in American Life, New York: Peter Lang 2008: 305.b. For a discussion of the use of radio in World War II, see Gerd Horton, Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda During WWII, Berkeley: University of California Press 2002. 19. See Bruce Lenthall, Radio’s America: The Great Depression and the Rise of Mass Culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2007. 20. Adorno, “On Popular Music,” in Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, New York: Institute of Social Research 1941: IX 17–48. 21. Leo Lowenthal and Norman Guterman, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator, New York: Harper 1949. 22. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, New York: Oxford University Press 2000: 302–303. 23. The Power Elite op.cit. 24. C. Wright Mills’ “Letter to the New Left,” is considered one of the founding documents of the movement in New Left Review No. 5 September– October 1960. Accessed at humanism/mills-c-wright/letter-new-left.htm. For a useful discussion that traces Mills’ trajectory toward the New Left, see Daniel Geary, Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought, Berkeley: University of California Press 2009. 25. Victor Pickard, America’s Battle for Media Democracy; The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform, New  York: Cambridge University Press 2015. 26. Pickard, America’s Battle for Media Democracy 4. 27. Pickard, America’s Battle for Media Democracy 7. 28. Engelman, Public Radio and Television chapter 5 for an account. 29. John D.H.  Downing, “KPFA, Berkeley and Radio Free Berkeley,” in Downing ed. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements, Thousand Oaks: Sage 2001: 325–344. 30. For an account of these movements, see Robert J. Blakely, To Serve the Public Interest: Educational Broadcasting in the United States, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 1979.



31. For the influence of the Eastern establishment, see Blakely, To Serve the Public Interest, but also Engelman, Public Radio and Television chapter 6 32. Blakely, To Serve the Public Interest 21–22. 33. G William Domhoff, “The Ford Foundation in the Inner City: Forging an Alliance with Neighborhood Activists,” https://whorulesamerica.ucsc. edu/local/ford_foundation.html. 34. Engerman, Public Radio and Television 141. 35. Blakely, To Serve the Public Interest, Chapter 4 provides an account. 36. Kellner, Television and the Crisis of Democracy, 41ff. 37. Newton Minnow, “Television and the Public Interest,” accessed at http:// -%20Television%20and%20the%20Public%20Interest.pdf. 38. Dwight Macdonald, Masskult and Midkult: Essays Against the American Grain, New York: New York Review Books 2011 also see David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character rev ed., New Haven: Yale 2001. Although he did not, in the end, endorse the Frankfurt School’s critique of culture, Riesman’s debt and his connections to the Frankfurt School were direct. He was both an analysand and student of Erich Fromm. Riesman to be sure did not take his critique in the radical direction of the Frankfurt School. 39. James R. Killian et al., Public Television, A Program for Action, Report and Recommendations of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, Basic Books 1967. 40. Andrew Blau, “The Promise of Access,” The Independent April 1992: 22–26. 41. See, for example, David Barsamian, The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting: Creating Alternative Media, Boston: South End Press 2001; James Ledbetter, Made Possible By … The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States, London: Verso 1998. 42. See Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America, especially chap. 10 for a discussion of the further decline of PBS under Reagan, Alternative programming became oppositional programming. 43. FAIR, “All the Usual Suspects: MacNeil/Lehrer and Nightline,” May 27, 1990 summary accessed at

Bibliography Adorno, Theodor. 1941. On Popular Music. In Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, vol. IX, 17–48. New York: Institute of Social Research. Barnouw, Eric. 1966. A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford.



———. 1968. The Golden Web: A History of Broadcasting in the United States vol 2 1933–53. New York: Oxford University Press. Barsamian, David. 2001. The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting: Creating Alternative Media. Boston: South End Press. Blakely, Robert J. 1979. To Serve the Public Interest: Educational Broadcasting in the United States. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. Blau, Andrew. 1992. The Promise of Access. The Independent, April, pp. 22–26. Dempsey, John Mark, and Eric Gruver. June 2009. “The American System”: Herbert Hoover, the Associative State, and Broadcast Commercialism. Presidential Quarterly Studies 39 (2): 226–244. ———. 2012. ‘The Public Interest Must Dominate’: Herbert Hoover and the Public Interest, Convenience, and Necessity. Journal of Radio & Audio Media 19 (1): 96–109. Dewey, John. 1954. The Public and Its Problems. Swallow Press. Domhoff, G. William. The Ford Foundation in the Inner City: Forging an Alliance with Neighborhood Activists. foundation.html. Douglas, Susan. 1989. Inventing American Broadcasting: 1899–1922. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Downing, John D.H. 2001. KPFA, Berkeley and Radio Free Berkeley. In Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements, ed. Downing, 325–344. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Engelman, Ralph. 1996. Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History. Thousand Oaks: Sage. FAIR. 1990. All the Usual Suspects: MacNeil/Lehrer and Nightline, May 27. Summary accessed at Geary, Daniel. 2009. Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press. Horowitz, Robert Britt. 1989. The Irony of Regulatory Reform: The Deregulation of American Telecommunications. New York: Oxford. Horton, Gerd. 2002. Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda During WWII. Berkeley: University of California Press. Keith, Michael C. 2008. Writing About Radio: A Survey of Cultural Studies on Radio in Radio Cultures. In Radio Cultures: The Sound Medium in American Life, 305–320. New York: Peter Lang. Kellner, Douglas. 1990. Television and the Crisis of Democracy, 41ff. Boulder: Westview Press. Killian, James R., et al. 1967. Public Television, A Program for Action, Report and Recommendations of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television. Basic Books.



Ledbetter, James. 1998. Made Possible By … The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States. London: Verso. Lenthall, Bruce. 2007. Radio’s America: The Great Depression and the Rise of Mass Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lowenthal, Leo, and Norman Guterman. 1949. Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator. New York: Harper. Macdonald, Dwight. 2011. Masskult and Midkult: Essays Against the American Grain. New York: New York Review Books. McChesney, Robert. 1993. Telecommunications, Mass Media and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of US Broadcasting, 1927–1935. New York: Oxford. ———. 2015. Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times. New ed. New York: New Press. Mills, C.  Wright. 1960. “Letter to the New Left” Is Considered One of the Founding Documents of the Movement in New Left Review No. 5, September– October. ———. 2000. The Power Elite, 302–303. New York: Oxford University Press. Minnow, Newton. Television and the Public Interest. and%20the%20Public%20Interest.pdf. Pickard, Victor. 2015. America’s Battle for Media Democracy; The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform. New  York: Cambridge University Press. Riesman, David. 2001. The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. rev ed. New Haven: Yale. Streeter, Thomas. 1996. Selling the Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Warner, Michael. 2005. Publics and Counter Publics. New York: Zone Books. Williams, William Appleton. 2011. The Contours of American History. Brooklyn, NY: Verso.


The Emergence of Public Access Television

Access to Democracy The 1968 presidential task force on communications policy suggested the possibility of community channels on cable TV systems. In 1971, the report of the Sloan Commission on Cable Communications advocated the allocation of public access channels on cable. With the rise of the cable TV industry in the early 1970s, the FCC began to regulate cable and in 1972 it adopted the Commission’s recommendations. This achievement was largely the work of populist FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who worked with cable access pioneer and documentary filmmaker George Stoney. In 1971, Stoney had founded the first public access center in the United States, the Alternative Media Center in New York City. This operation took the lead in providing citizen-produced programming and aided other groups looking to begin public access. The FCC required that the larger cable systems provide three PEG channels—Public, Educational, and Governmental—as well as minimal equipment requirements allowing citizens to produce shows without editorial control. Whereas the formation of PBS was seen more to supplement and correct a commercial system that failed to fulfill its obligations for educational and quality programs, the formation of public access represented the creation of an alternative public sphere. In this chapter, I first trace the immediate developments and policy recommendations that led to the rise of public access. Next, I discuss some of the participatory features of access concerning the blue-­ skies movement and later legal and political issues. As a result of these © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




legal, regulatory, and political conflicts PEG channels were established on precarious foundations. After a discussion of the development and conflicts in access, I offer some critical evaluation of its early achievements. Public Access Begins The rise of public access was closely tied to the fate of cable. The early CATV systems were limited to the rebroadcast of distant signals in areas where broadcast signals did not reach. Later they imported distant independent stations into existing markets. These early systems had limited capacity and were held back by restrictive regulations. In the late 1950s and 1960s, the FCC was concerned that CATV systems interfered with localism—especially those which brought distant stations into existing TV markets. They felt that such stations failed to provide support for discussion of local affairs or advertising support for local merchants. News programs from distant stations didn’t report on local news. Thus, cable systems were restricted to what they could carry and were prohibited from carrying programs that were already shown on local TV. CATV was effectively banned in large cities when, to protect UHF channels, the FCC ruled that distant signals could not be imported into the 100 largest markets. Attitudes toward cable changed in the later 1960s as increased channel capacity opened the possibility of increased local coverage rather than competition with it. In contrast to the scarcity of over-the-air frequencies, the new systems with their expanded capacity promised an abundance of channels and services. This feature seemed to negate the objections of earlier critics. They were no longer retransmitters of distant signals but could be originators of content—namely local content. In 1972, after an earlier attempt at regulation, the FCC lifted regulations on CATV systems in large markets but required the reservations of channels for local programming. Acting with George Stoney, Nicolas Johnson was able to insert language requiring reservation of channels for public governmental and educational channels on cable systems. In 1970, the FCC saw the potential of cable television to promote participation in politics and society. “Cable Television,” according to the 1970 notice of proposed rulemaking, “has the potential to be a vehicle for much-needed community expression.”1 The FCC proposed that there be one channel on all cable systems for community expression and provision to provide means for citizens to program it. Later this requirement was



expanded to three channels: Public, Educational, and Governmental Access. Writing in 1972, Nicolas Johnson saw this in terms of the expansion of the political community, not simply individual expression. He echoed the diagnoses of social critics of the time that there was a pervasive sense of alienation in mass societies, especially in urban central city areas. The media contributed to this widespread alienation because its national orientation bypassed coverage of these communities. Cable systems, Johnson argued, had the capacity to reverse this alienation and promote public interest by providing local programming made by and oriented to the community. Here Johnson endorsed the diagnoses made by groups like the Koerner Commission that one source of the social disorders of the 1960s was the virtual ignorance of the problems of urban areas on the major networks. poor and minority groups were invisible to many Americans and policymakers. As in the rulemaking remarks, Johnson advocated the creation of community channels along with the facilities to produce it.2 The FCC proposals combine elements of the technological optimism of Wired Nation enthusiasts with an emphasis on community involvement and participatory democracy. The latter considerations, however, bring us beyond possessive individualist notions of civil rights based on an individualistic conception of rights as freedom from interference toward the consideration of social and political rights, which require development of capacities. Like Dewey and Mills, these proposals view freedom as realized only in communities. In a democracy, active citizen involvement and participation is a necessity.

Participatory Democracy or the Technological Sublime? The impetus for public access channels drew on experiments in participatory media in Canada and later in New York City. The concept of a participatory democratic community was influential in the ideas of an early pioneer of public access like George Stoney. Inspired by early experiments on an earlier Canadian tradition of documentary filmmaking, he formulated the idea that the new video technologies could break with the concept of the filmmaker as an observer or pure recorder. Videotape recording more than the film was a way of allowing people who were disenfranchised a chance to express their voice. Later in Stoney’s work with the Alternate Media Center at New York University, he was a driving force in setting up



public access in the United States. He developed  the vision of a widely accessible grassroots technology (the video recorder) that would allow people to make their own documentaries and engage in processes of social change. In addition to the political values of communication, Stoney’s work emphasized the elements of bearing witness that Barber identifies with participatory democracy. This might also be thought of as practical commitment, a theme important in New Left discourse of the time. Ideas were important to the extent that individuals were engaged in political and social action. Telling your own story was an existential testimony, a way of using your voice, creating your own identity, and getting recognition for the concerns that trouble you. As C.W. Mills noted participation allows us to turn private troubles into public problems; it thus also works to help set agendas for further debate. In addition to widespread participation, the existential dimensions emphasize solidarity and trust. The solidarity with the stranger is a precondition for a communicative discourse that does not break down into strategic action. As Jeffrey Alexander argued, solidarity and trust are central to a democratically oriented civil society.3 In an authentic self-presentation, a claim is made to us that the other who is often a stranger is worthy of recognition. Thus, early activists linked the public sphere of civil society and community. They saw their project in terms compatible with the progressive’s idea of the public. A democratic media public was a sphere in which the power of initiative was given to the public to create its own programming and to counter the power of the large media corporations. Separate from the major sources of power, both governmental and corporate, it was also an agent of change. Individual citizens could be information and opinion providers. They were not seen simply as forums for isolated individual expression. The emergence of portable video camera recorders and other equipment made it possible for ordinary citizens to use media to record and produce programming. The idea that portable recorders had the potential for changing society was widespread, reaching the highest-level public officials and decision-makers. Lyndon Johnson had an early portapak although he used it mostly for practicing speeches. More significantly, FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson had one and had worked with access pioneers like George Stoney. For some, then, public access TV promised to be an experiment in the creation of popular democracy in the media.



Independent producers were no longer to be the passive recipients of media messages. Access advocates, however, did not adopt a determinist outlook. The importance of a portable camcorder was not just in its low-tech features but in its social use. It allowed for direct use of video independent of a technical expert or producer. Video could be edited in-camera and made by the individual.4 In this respect, it had different practical implications, according to radical activists than other low-tech products, such as the Kodak Brownie camera, which remained a consumer good that did not change the power relations between producers and consumers. The social/political use of the camcorder allowed for a more transformative aim. Activists meant to dismantle the relation between producer and consumer that characterized the reception of mass media in late capitalist societies, and change elements of practical life. As Dee Dee Halleck noted, [w]hen a videotape incites action in the real world, the audience and the producers merge. The insistence on praxis rather than a specific technology implies a different structure of production and allows one to pose the project as a “counter representation” and affirmation of identity. This changes the production/consumption relation.5

Access channels were to be available to the public on a first-come-first-­ served basis. Its content was not regulated by municipalities, state or federal government, or the cable company. The latter was supposed to provide facilities for cablecast and later equipment and training. Citizen-produced programming, while no doubt sought to be viewed, aimed at enabling expression and democratic participation, not ratings. Independent of market choice, the popularity of a program was not the main point. A program viewed only by a small audience could still have a real significance. A provision for popular democratic programming on cable, if not over the air, represented the zenith of media activists’ power. The original advocates of public access saw their role as oppositional. Their notion was closer to the idea of a counter-public than an extension of any existing (limited) public sphere. They were inspired by the movements of the 1960s and by ideas of citizen journalism, and participatory democracy, public access, and community television were part of counter-­ publics that empowered citizens to tell their own stories. This difference distinguished public access from public broadcasting systems. The latter was a nationally based centralized system that became increasingly



dependent on corporate foundations. In contrast, public access was a decentralized direct and diverse means of communication open to ordinary citizens. Activists saw this as necessarily opposed to corporate control.6

Shimmering Blue Skies: The Promise of Technology While some saw the promise of cable systems in participatory democratic terms others revived the notion of a technological utopia associated with earlier technologies. Groups as diverse as the Rand Corporation, the ADA, as well as 1970s’ futurist, conservative, and libertarian technocrats and technological optimists, supported the idea that cable channels would provide an abundance of communicative spaces to fit the needs of society. Well before the advent of the Internet, they developed the notion of a connected society. They employed the rhetoric of “blue skies” as a quasi-­ utopian vision of the potentials of the new cable technology (one which was in fact not new but simply expanded its capacity). The expansion of channel capacity was to combine with the satellite technology in order to provide a variety of information services. Programming was not to be restricted by the network format of 30 to 60 minutes. Programs would be free to run for as long or as little as needed. Works like Ralph Lee Smith’s Wired Nation articulated a vision of cable television as an “electronic highway” that had the potential to transform social life.7 The blue-skies vision postulated a “ubiquitous, flexible interacting communications system capable of providing news, information, entertainment, and all manner of social services.”8 Going beyond the idea of a public sphere and often bypassing it, these groups argued in a millennialist fashion that modern technology (which was not new) would lead to social harmony, decentralized community, and even ecological balance. In the blue-skies vision cable was an autonomous technology, that is, one in which technology emerged in society but also transcended it: “an autonomous entity that had simply appeared on the scene as the result of scientific and technical research.”9 An autonomous technology, once established, grows without a specific human intention or plan. While some were critical of autonomous technology as an indication of technology spun out of control, in blue-skies discourse it had a positive connotation. These ideas along with those of conservatives who thought that cable TV’s abundance would open competition and increase services were part of the rough consensus that pressed for community and public access channels. This coalition, however, was not to prove very stable.



Ideas of technological utopias that would create social harmony go farther back in American culture. Leo Marx in his groundbreaking work The Machine in the Garden identified a “rhetoric of the technological sublime,” that is, “an intoxicated feeling of unlimited possibility” arising from the belief that machines, and more generally technology, are the motors of human progress.10 Like the technological utopians of our era, the rhetoric of the technological sublime was quasi-religious. It ignored the relation of technology to social and political forces and the sometimes-negative consequences of technology and modernity. It posited a harmony between machines and nature. Here, however, reform of civil society through political or social struggle is replaced by almost automatic creation of social harmony by technology. Such ideas found their way not only into writers and policymakers but into some of the activists in the early public access movement. A technologically savvy group of filmmakers who wanted to use the medium for a radical democratic cultural revolution and radical cultural change were influenced by the theories of Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, and New Journalism rather than participatory democracy. While in some respects, they agreed with the idea of participatory ideals of Stoney, for example, they saw their work in videography embodying a participants’ perspective and not that of the objective disinterested journalist or broadcast reporter, but  they were more interested in experimenting with the new media of videotape to create new visual effects and to change the nature of information. Following McLuhan, they saw political problems caused less by the clash of interests than by communication breakdowns that were generational. The solution was not political, then, but cultural. It required the extension of the unifying power of electronic technologies to everyone.11 They too had a utopian vision of the new information society. In the face of the domination of commercial media, they aimed to create an alternative sphere of low-cost decentralized media made by citizens for their own purposes. They were children of the new left but rejected those who were anti-technology. They were less interested in political reform than in the cultural revolution aided by new media technologies. While these two tendencies could coexist for a time, they ultimately took divergent paths. The cultural radicals were unwilling to engage in the sustained political action needed to create a public, instead of relying on the automatic workings of technological change.12



The third crucial factor in the rise of access was the emergence of a new wave of regulatory reform. Most commentators locate three waves of regulatory activism; I briefly discussed the first two earlier. The 1960s saw a third wave of regulatory activity. Among these were the movements which saw the establishment of both public television and PEG channels. Unlike earlier regulatory reform movements that clearly focused on the industrial and productive side of the economy, the new regulatory agencies focused on the rights of consumers. It often contained an implicit critique of the corporate nature of earlier agencies which had been captured by the interests meant to be regulated. It had a decidedly anti-corporate if not anti-­ capitalist force. Pollution regulations, for example, focused on the negative effects or externalities of industrial production, which threated the ecology as well as the health of individuals. Ralph Nader’s exposé on the safety, or lack of it, in automobiles prompted consumer protection laws. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring called attention to the destructive ecological effects of pesticides like DDT. All of these extended the existing notions of the public interest. It was no longer seen as coextensive with business interests. Consumers and consumer groups which were previously excluded from acting against corporations that damaged their health and safety were now allowed to do so. They were granted standing they lacked in the past. There was certainly another irony in this third wave of reform. It was often rooted in a critique of instrumental reason that emphasized the limits of bureaucratic rationality. It stressed democratic input and participation over administrative rationality.13 Thus, the arguments made over decades by advocates of noncommercial use of media, which had either been rejected or that found limited support, found a more positive reception in the new conception of regulatory reform. Thus, they were able to effect reforms unachievable in earlier eras.

Participatory Policymaking in the Formation of Public Access Since they used the public right of way like public utilities, cable system operators had to negotiate with municipalities to run cable lines. These local franchising agreements were to be the basis for funding PEG channels. Cable companies and municipalities were required to assess the needs of the community. As a result of this process, local citizens were given the ability to play a vital role in determining what services and even channels



the cable companies were to provide. This led to participatory planning processes not found in other licensing processes such as regular TV or radio stations. This acknowledgment was a true step forward in democratizing media. Since its establishment, the FCC made communications policies in a top-­ down fashion. Because frequencies were considered a scarce resource the FCC took the view that they alone were given the authority to decide how these frequencies were to be rationed and on what terms. It was difficult to lose a license, normally once allocated they remained in the same hands until the stations holding the licensees were sold. Even though the public character of the airwaves was recognized the public did not have input into the license renewal process. Until 1966 the public even lacked the standing to challenge licenses. Thus, the introduction of participatory planning, if primarily at the local level, marked a progress. It was a form of policymaking from below, not from above. Whether by design or not, the FCC guideline fostered a form of local assessment in the design of access channels that also made room for citizen participation in policymaking. The cable company and the municipality were required to engage the community to determine what kinds of channels and services were to be provided. Often local advisory groups were able to be part of the negotiations with cable companies. They were early examples of grassroots or participatory decision-making. It illustrates one aspect of an active public: the ability to set agendas for policy discussions. The city of Madison, Wisconsin, provided one of the most significant instances of this participatory policy but also revealed the tension in the process that was to persist in later years. When it came to translating the promise of abundance and the sometimes-utopian discourse of “blue skies” into practice, the attempt created a genuine democratic public sphere in the cable universe, and faced complexities. Several citizen groups were an important part of the process that set the terms of cable company franchises in Madison, Wisconsin. As Kirkpatrick14 points out in his study of Madison, there were three major citizen groups involved in the process: one stemming from a university-educated elite culture that stressed quality programming in the manner of PBS; a second that represented a more community group–based outlook which stressed on citizen programs; a third wanted more autonomy from central government control. The first group, Better Television for Madison, saw access as a means of strengthening democracy and community but looked to do it in an “orderly and responsible way.” Programming would be, if not



regulated, supervised. They shared some of the concerns of the cable company and business elites that there might be inappropriate programming on public access. The second group, the Citizens Cable Council (CCC), came to represent over a hundred community-oriented grassroots groups and lobbied for community benefits like connections to schools and libraries. Rather than present a unified front these two groups clashed over the basic goals and directions of access. Conflicts extended to process as well as substance. The professional class membership of Better Television for Madison was more comfortable with the legal/bureaucratic discourse of the cable company and the municipalities. The CCC was decidedly uncomfortable with this discourse, which favored the cable company and did not promote citizen involvement. Despite the commitment to assess the community needs, much of the discussion was channeled into these bureaucratic procedures. Thus, it didn’t take full advantage of the participatory elements of the assessment process. Citizen groups also ran into conflicts with the cable company. Cable operators did not want to relinquish control over programming and required all programmers to submit their programs in advance and wanted to screen them for content. This impulse persisted even though the FCC assured cable companies they would not be responsible for any content. The cable company like others in the same situation invoked and revoked blue-skies discourse, strategically depending on the needs of the situation. In each of these proposals, the municipality would still run access, and this meant that administrative control of the channel was an issue. Yet, the Madison agreement did form a template of sorts for other access channels. It included studio space and equipment from the cable company. This provided an independent infrastructure for public access that had only existed in a few areas but was to become common in the future. The studio was to be run by the third citizens’ group, an alliance of independent video producers called the Madison Community Access Center. It did not, however, provide a secure source of funding. The city traded off the 5% franchise fee for a one-time grant of equipment. The studio was to be run on donations. However, once the franchise was bid out and the existing company was the only bidder, the offer was decidedly reduced. Without the threat of competition, cable companies had little incentive to provide resources. The negotiation process, while successful in this limited area, showed some of the cleavages that would plague access. Citizen groups were not always unified. This gave the cable company a wedge to disrupt



participatory planning and win concessions from the city including, in this case, the lack of a continuing franchise fee to the municipality. Nor was it always the case that groups would support the idea of popular democratic media when it threatened to involve elements of an unruly or anarchic (wild) public. Some still wanted a gatekeeper function. The cable company in Madison did not welcome citizen participation and used bureaucratic rules to limit its role. Thus, the utopian hopes of the first days of access proved difficult to attain. In Kirkpatrick’s interpretation of the Madison experience, it was the negative dystopian factors that became central to the decision. The development of access was constrained by fears that undesirable programming would predominate; hence the screening process. Despite an amount of agenda-setting power given to community groups, it was still limited by citizen divisions and the bureaucratic governmental discourse in which it was placed. Although the Madison negotiation was a limited success, it fell far short of the ideal. By the mid-­1970s the utopian enthusiasm of a few years earlier had died and been replaced not just by fear but by a different business model.

Funding Issues The previous example illustrates a key weakness in public access practice: funding. To flourish, access channels need a continuing secure source of funding for facilities, equipment, staff to operate and program access channels, and to aid in producing videos. The original idea of access included the notion that facilities, operating funds, and equipment for public access are provided by cable companies. The franchise fee was to be the vehicle for a secure and dedicated funding source for public access. However, like PBS, funding was not established on a secure foundation. Megan Mullen observed that the FCC never required the structural changes in the cable industry such as either increasing competition or providing secure funding for community television.15 Thus, when the courts ruled that the FCC could not require mandatory access channels, public access became a voluntary service which municipalities could negotiate with the cable companies. The status of the franchise fee was changed as well. In many cases, the franchise fees went directly into the general revenues of the municipalities. It was often used to lower tax rates and to ease fiscal difficulties that should have been addressed in other ways. PEG channels often received only a small portion of these fees or even none.



The lack of secure funding thus has been one of the major problems facing public access over the years. As Laura Linder notes, “[t]his common shortcoming has had the effect of destabilizing the movement for public access television in many cities across the nation.”16 Similarly, Linda Fuller notes that “the battle of the budget has been unrelenting.”17 Funding sources for public access outside of the franchise fee are limited. Since PEG channels are considered social change organizations they do not attract or even qualify for foundation support. They get only 1% of foundation grants.18 The grants that were given to some at the early formative stages of access no longer exist. The major outside sources for funding were program underwriting and access center memberships. Sometimes fundraising drives have been undertaken but are not as extensive or as successful as PBS. Access centers are generally understaffed, and fundraising takes the time needed for other activities, and they do not have the visibility of other organizations.

Access Cleavages: Cracks in the Foundation In addition to the tensions between more elitist and popular democratic factions, there were tensions between those who had a more policy-­ oriented and elite view of access and those with more populist sensibilities. These were not the only cleavages found in the early discourse of access. Kevin Howley’s study of the development of access in New  York City found a cleavage not just between elites and populists, but between a more popular democratic faction and those who took a more avant-garde view based in aesthetic radicalism. This was in line with a set of approaches to technology I outlined earlier.19 The latter group was more interested in using media as a form of artistic experimentalism in some ways parallel to the experimentalism in new cinema, and in novels and literary form going on at the time. These aesthetic movements (sometimes gathered under the umbrella term postmodernism) challenged the distinction between high culture and popular culture. They were largely white middle-class educated countercultural activists, though, unlike some on the left, they were enamored of the innovative technology. On the one side of this dispute were proponents of guerilla video and were often concerned with making a documentary or experimental film for an audience. On the other side were advocates like George Stoney who saw the work of access less as a cultural or aesthetic revolution and more as a form of participatory media that gave people the means to produce their own videotapes and to let



people tell their stories. These aims were not always incompatible, but they did represent divergent paths for public access. Both wanted to use the new media for a more expansive view or communication that bypassed commercial television.20

Legal Problems From its inception, however, the legal status of public access was contested. In 1972 the FCC had mandated that all cable systems in the top 100 markets operate three channels for public, educational, and governmental programming. In 1976 it was extended to mandate that every cable system above 3500 subscribers should reserve four channels and that the cable systems had to provide facilities and equipment for public use. At the root of these decisions was the idea that cable systems were common carriers, that is, operators of services like railroad, bus, and airplane transportation, or telephone and public utilities. Common carriers are those that in exchange for a license or charter to operate must allow all persons access to their services. As common carrier cable companies had to allow all citizens access to their services, this was an important distinction for public access channels. Cable companies, which often had embraced public access channels as a good thing, changed their minds quickly as the economic circumstances of cable television changed. The startup costs in dense urban areas were much higher than those in less populated ones, due to the costs of laying cable. Because of this cost, the original mom-and-pop owners of cable were replaced by larger multiple-system owners (MSOs). This trend was already apparent by the end of the 1970s. In 1980, 75% of cable systems were owned by these MSOs, a trend that continues to the present when a few large companies control most cable systems.21 Fortunately, public access had already been established in many areas of the country, due to the strange and temporary alliance between public access advocates and cable companies. In the early days of cable, entry into municipal markets was competitive and companies often enticed local municipal leaders to enter municipal markets with promises of facilities, equipment, and funding for public access centers. Access channels provided a kind of value-added for struggling cable companies. They offered something new not found on broadcast television and drew subscribers and viewers. The so-called blue-skies movement mentioned earlier had promised a communicative abundance that would have room for many nonprofit



public-oriented and educational interests. But economic conditions quickly ended the blue-skies movement as small local companies were not able to compete. In addition, the competition for cable and the threat of an overbuild decreased and MSOs had a monopoly over service in most areas. The new MSOs quickly challenged FCC requirements in court. By the end of the 1970s, not only the economic climate but even the regulatory climate had changed. Two decisions involving a company called Midwest Video show the changes in court philosophy on public access and the nature of cable in the 1970s. In the United States v Midwest Video in 1972, the court upheld the requirement for local origination channels. By the time of the 1979 case FCC vs Midwest Video, the court, claiming that the FCC had overreached its authority, moved to overrule the stipulation that cable systems were mandated to provide access channels. They argued that cable operators were not common carriers (the court held that the original 1934 communications act explicitly denied that broadcasters were common carriers) but like newspapers they were private persons. The requirement to carry public access channels violated the free speech rights of these operators.22 This was a major blow to the cause of public access. Nonetheless, since it was well established in many communities, access did not disappear. Even at the close of the 1970s, agreements continued to be negotiated, sometimes on favorable terms. In the city of Rochester near me, a franchise agreement was negotiated that provided equipment and facilities. It was still important to include funding for access as an incentive to reach a new franchise agreement. After activists lobbied for several years, the status of public access was recognized albeit in a limited form in the 1984 communications act. The 1984 act was decidedly a compromise between industry interests and public interest advocates. As part of the law, public access channels (including public, educational, and governmental channels) were not mandated for all cable systems but could be required as part of the franchise agreement between a municipality and a cable company. While such a requirement may have been intended to protect public access, by making it voluntary, it allowed municipalities to opt out of providing access channels and keep the franchise fee that they receive from cable companies. Nor did the 1984 act provide any necessary provision for funding. Local municipalities could allocate anything they wished for access operations and cable operators were not mandated to provide equipment.



On balance, the cable company were the winners in the 1984 act. Once a cable company was well established and had a monopoly in an area, it no longer was feasible for other companies to enter that area to compete. Operating from a position of strength, cable companies often refused to provide facilities and equipment to municipalities. The 1984 act did nothing to challenge this reality. Thus, it fell short of providing strong protection for PEG channels. There was some small additional benefit of the agreement. The 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act eliminated the rationale for content restrictions on public access. Cable operators and, by implication, governments were prohibited from exercising editorial control over access programming but were also absolved of any liability or responsibility for access content. Congressional discussions leading to the bill also took a step to establish the idea that public access channels served as a public forum recognized in law. In a now well-known passage, it stated that [p]ublic access channels are often the video equivalent of the speaker’s soapbox or the electronic parallel of the printed leaflet. They provide groups and individuals who generally have not had access to the electronic media with the opportunity to become sources of information in the electronic marketplace of ideas23

The notion of access as a public forum, however, was not explicitly stated by the laws passed by Congress and, as a result, was immediately challenged. In one notable case involving a public access program made by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and run in Kansas City, this led to the removal of the entire public access channel by the city council in 1988.24 Many in the minority community tried to argue that this was not a free speech issue but stated that the KKK was a terrorist group while others took a more traditional free speech approach arguing that the best way to oppose the Klan was to expose and confront the Klan in a public forum. Ultimately the city relented and restored the access channel when faced with a lawsuit from the KKK. Supreme court cases upholding the right of flag burning and advisory court memoranda on access meant the notion of access as a public forum was upheld.25 The controversy over control of access programming, however, was not settled. By the passage of the 1992 communications act, the public forum character of access became cloudy. While the 1984 communications act banned censorship, the 1992 communications act restored the ability of the cable companies to review and ban



programming from cable and leased access.26 Once again the cable companies served an editorial function.27 It was only with the Denver v FCC case in 1996 that a more definite if not final ruling on censorship was established. The question of regulation in the first instance is a mark of the continuing tension in public access philosophy, as seen in the Madison public access discussions. Is access essentially part of an edifying discourse that serves more liberal elite interests, or a more popular democratic forum which may be less refined, unruly, and more politically challenging? In the former, programming needed to be supervised and surveilled to keep out the unruly, whereas the second view envisions a less regulated public forum where community and solidarity and the voices of the underrepresented are emphasized. The elitist position tacitly endorsed by officials and sometimes cable companies not only makes the public forum character of access restricted, it leads to the question of what community and for whom access is intended.

Precarious Foundations The two Midwest video cases removed the institutional guarantees of public access and made its legal status perilous. While the 1984 communications act created a voluntary right of localities to stipulate access channels in their franchise agreement, it left the status of access  in a vulnerable position. As one analysis notes, “Public Access Television exists through the precarious arrangement of a contractual compromise between the private profit-seeking cable companies and local municipalities often aligned with non-profit organizations. Since the 1980s public access centers have been dramatically compromised.”28 Laura Stein also recognized its precarious aspects. Not only was access dependent on the approval of local political leaders, but its legal status also remained unclear. It required local support and grassroots organizations.29 As political winds changed, such centers were in a weaker legal position and became easy targets for well-­ funded cable companies and increasingly conservative municipalities. The uneasy alliance and uncertain legal situation of public access make its situation akin to that of what students of comparative politics call weak institutions. This concept is used by scholars of politics in Latin America such as Guillermo O Donnell to describe democracies that are not robust. We can adapt some of these ideas to look at the intuitional nature of public access. Weak institutions are neither stable nor durable. They constantly



change an uncertain rule and have little enforcement when rules are violated. Steven Levitsky and Maria Victoria Murillo define weak institutions in this way. “By weak institutional environment, we mean a context in which (1) enforcement of the rules is low, or there exists broad de facto discretion with respect to their application; and (2) institutional durability is low, in that formal rules change repeatedly, rarely surviving fluctuations in power and preference distributions. Because actors in such a context are often uncertain about whether rule violations will trigger sanctions, and because they are less likely to view unstable rules as legitimate (or “taken for granted”) their incentives for compliance with formal rules are weaker. The result is high uncertainty and short time horizons, as actors cannot reliably use formal rules to guide their expectations about others’ behavior.”30 Certainly, there is one sense in which these criteria apply to access centers. Depending on franchise agreements and the amount of funding and other support, they give the municipalities and cable companies the de facto power of discretion noted earlier. Nor were and are the rules of public access very stable; they have been constantly changing as political-­ economic forces change. Thus, access operations and members of the public don’t often know what to expect from access; among other factors, these are part of the context in which the institutions of public access are challenge and lose support and legitimacy. Public access success, then rested less on a secure recognition of the public obligations of the media or on secure legal regulations, both of which would have given it greater institutional stability, but on the fact that it had a significant amount of popular support and in many cases strong and committed organization. After becoming established in many communities before the Midwest video ruling and the subsequent 1984 communications act, access channels did not disappear but continued to gain strength at least through most of the 1980s. However, its vulnerability made it open to later attacks.

Access Success and Challenges Despite the legal issues regarding the status of PEG and public access channels, they did take hold in many areas. A 1998 summary by the FCC estimated that there were up to 5000 PEG channels in the United States. Still, the same paper noted that less than 20% of cable systems had PEG



channels and as might be imagined access channels were primarily located in the Northeast, the West Coast, and the upper Midwest areas. Access provided significant programming for the communities it served, providing an average of 20,000 hours of locally produced programming a week according to the Alliance for Community Media, and upwards of 2.5 million hours of programming yearly. This was more programming than all broadcast channels combined at the time (mid-1990s). It also served an estimated 375,000 local groups that put programming on these channels. Whatever the criticisms of its quality, and in spite of its limited distribution, public access still must be seen at this time as a considerable success. As Fuller notes in her in-depth look at PEG operations in the United States, Community Television as had been outlined here, especially in the form of PEG access, offers invaluable resources both by and for the localities it serves. … Public access allows individuals and groups, according to their own interests … and governmental access helps keep the citizenry in touch with their locally elected officials. Emphasis is on the word “access” which except for community television is practically a media nonentity.31

Local Programming Success There have been several areas in which PEG channels have made notable contributions. One important area of success has been in the hyperlocal functions of access. Local involvement has been a significant element in gaining recognition and support for public access programming. It can provide microlocal programming to audiences, and coverage of local events. Early in the history of public access, one analyst noted how something as basic as a school concert or sports event could be important for those in a locality. The very elements of production that would not appeal to a commercial broadcaster, such as pauses, mistakes, and completeness, can be appealing to local viewers.32 Many events ranging from a chamber of commerce meeting to a local neighborhood association to a group of political activists can be cablecast on access channels and active membership in the access channel can raise local issues where there is no other forum. Another early example of this success was found in Vineland, New Jersey. In 1978 it was estimated that one quarter of the whole town population of 7200 had appeared on the access channel in different presentations. Sports, especially high school football, was popular, and the station



had up to 30 volunteers working on local election covers, but many other programs including schools’ churches and local agencies created programs.33 Even when these programs reach a small audience (not always the case in access programs) their value cannot be measured only by popular reach but by the significance of the programming. Programs that bring out critical issues or promote free speech are important to viewers and creators. Although, as I note, localism has its limits, it does have the virtue of making members of the municipal area visible to themselves, and thus part of public culture. It can promote cooperation and increase participation in public affairs and events and strengthen civil society. Often it also provides sources of information, both governmental and nongovernmental, that are not available either in newspapers or on radio. Even something as simple as a community bulletin board can serve as a source of information about both municipal governments and community groups.

Governmental Access While less directly linked to participatory democracy, governmental access channels have come to play an important role in the support of PEG channels. Many governmental access channels run town board, school board, and other municipal meetings—sometimes live, other times on a tape delay. They give viewers who may not always have a chance to attend meetings the ability to keep informed and monitor public affairs. Meetings are run (or are supposed to be run) uncensored and complete. As newspapers shrink in staff and coverage, local meetings of some municipalities are not even covered in the paper. In my area, for example, the town I live in with a population of almost 100,000 has no regular reporter assigned to the meetings. Thus, residents often feel alienated from the workings of local governments. Town meetings broadcasts are very popular and often municipal residents organize watch parties to gather and discuss meetings. Often playback on governmental access increases participation in public meetings when citizens learn about significant or controversial policies. Governmental channels run debates between candidates and sometimes public affairs programming. Often local, state, or federal officeholders give periodic reports on government business. They become problematic when municipal officials fund governmental access channels exclusively at the expense of public access channels or use government channels as a kind of campaign organ when incumbent



officials feature themselves in vanity videos at the expense of others. Unfortunately, as I will show, this trend has increased. Municipal officials often bristle at criticism or interviewers who ask difficult questions, and this has become a significant source of conflict. They use governmental access as a mode of restricting free speech and an open public sphere rather than as a means of building a civic community. Governmental access has served as an important source of emergency and public safety information. Police departments, fire departments, and other public safety institutions can provide important public information and promote public health issues. Access can provide vital information in emergencies that are no longer found on regular channels. A good example of this function was the discovery of asbestos in the water supply in Upstate New York in the 1970s. Public access channels provided the only coverage of these issues. In La Plata County Colorado, which received local channels from distant Albuquerque, New Mexico, public access channels were the only way to impart local emergency information in crises. In my own local area, access channels that stayed open provided vital local information during the major 1991 Ice Storm. It has also served unrepresented populations through foreign language programming, health-care programming, and programming for many other groups in running the gamut from the chamber of commerce to activist groups. And many access operations provide training and media education for residents.

Socially Engaged Media The most important element of access remains its ability to produce socially relevant programming. The originators of public access saw it as a means of promoting democratic participation and social activism. Many public access participants still see it as its primary goal. While this hasn’t always been the case, public access has a long history of promoting socially engaged media programs. These programs play an important role in fostering community support and can serve as a bridge to civil society groups and individuals. It can empower or initiate social action. Public access can provide a space for the voices of marginalized groups that are not represented in commercial media. Minorities, groups like the elderly and disabled, and youth are all among those who have found public access to be a congenial forum for telling their stories.34 By telling their own stories marginalized groups not only give minorities a sense of power



and their own communities but make them and their history and their problems visible to the public. Troubles become public problems open to debate and discussion in the public sphere. One example was a talk show Access MidMichigan out of Midlands, Michigan, which was a monthly call-in show that was created by the center for independent living groups that served adults and youth with disabilities. The show worked to counter the widespread misrepresentation of the disabled as helpless, or inactive. Another show created by an African American couple from Chicago helped trace the history of the migration from the South to Chicago, thus adding to our notion of history. Stories told in this way are often more effective than lecturing in bringing these issues to the attention of the general public. Latinos, more recent immigrants, and other groups have been the subject of outreach programs by several access operations. Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) has used a series of grants to provide video production instruction and assistance to underrepresented groups, including Chinese workers, Dominican mothers, and Irish American LGBT groups. Similarly, the Chicago Access Network served Cambridge Community TV to also train groups to create videos. Other notable programming included a program from Olelo public access in Hawaii. Senior citizen programming also found a place on many public access channels. Sometimes such programs just feature seniors; others are written and produced by seniors. There are numerous other examples, but overall these illustrate the way access channels have fulfilled their mandate. A second way that public access has been socially engaged has been in connecting to elements of the nonprofit sector and grassroots groups. This is another way of strengthening the role of civil society in democratic culture. These might include efforts at volunteer recruitment, advocacy, public education, community organizing, and direct service. Many access channels have carried out formal and informal outreach programs to nonprofits; Chicago public access network was especially active in this aspect. With its extensive resources, it was able to organize and involve groups in production including over 2000 nonprofit groups to program on public access. While few areas have the resources of Chicago, similar efforts found success. In Palo Alto, a program trained 45 nonprofit groups in creating and producing public access programs. The third way that public access has been effective as a media for socially engaged programming is to raise and promote discussion on public issues and on programs that highlight political issues and advocate social



transformation. These most clearly illustrate the idea of access as a public sphere in which crucial public issues can be deliberated. The fair and clean energy coalition of Oregon video For People or For-Profit probed issues of electricity deregulation, and the Denver program No Hablo English Only addressed immigrant politics of language in the context of the English-only movement. Laura Stein has pointed out that socially engaged programming has a built-in tension between the localist focus of much public access service and engagement with the larger community of viewers and citizens. Localism, while it is advantageous in some regards, such as governmental meeting public safety the needs of nonprofits and the recognition of the plurality of the community, does not have the scope needed to create influence on national affairs. Since most important policy decisions are made at the national level, Stein argues, socially engaged programming or more precisely the type she terms radical media need a broader platform.35 As an alternative information source, some public access channels have attempted to expand the scope of access in the ways Stein suggested. Some like the show Labor Beat have sought to distribute programs nationally through a network of public access channels. Produced by a Chicago area collective it has created and distributed Labor Beat, which as the name suggests airs shows on labor issues since 1983. Working on a low budget they produced shows on current issues with fast turnover. The pioneering efforts of producers at Austin public access created the series Alternate views. This show, which produced news stories, interviews, and commentary on contemporary events, often international in nature, had a nationwide distribution. It later led to the development of satellite distribution of similar shows on the Deep Dish and Paper Tiger TV networks. Deep Dish, for example, still views itself as a radical grassroots alternative to mainstream TV: Deep Dish TV aspires to build and maintain a statewide and national network of people and grassroots organizations committed to using television and the Internet as outlets for creative and independent video that addresses issues and perspectives inadequately represented by corporate media. Our goal is to strengthen and increase the visibility of movements for social and economic justice in the U.S. and around the world.36

Deep Dish produced a wide variety of programs on US imperialism and the third world, on contemporary social problems, as well as interview



programs by commentators like David Barsamian. It often gathered shows from public access channels and organized them thematically. Recent series include programs on climate change activism, on the myth of post racial democracy, and highlights of the annual left forum; it has certainly kept the spirit of access alive. Paper Tiger has also continued up to the present day. Free Speech TV is another channel available on Dish Network and Direct TV satellite services, and its programs are run on close to 200 community channels across the country, as well as thousands of radio stations. While Free Speech TV runs documentaries and series that often originate on public access, its flagship program Democracy Now hosted by Amy Goodman presents an alternative view of the news from a more progressive perspective, often including world news that no longer features on network TV or cable news channels. More recently, Free Speech has picked up radio shows that were the remnants of progressive radio like Stephanie Miller, Bill Press, and Thom Hartmann. Significantly, each of these services are found on satellite and are no longer based in public access—although Democracy Now does run on several public access channels and Deep Dish programs are distributed either via satellite or playable media to many access channels. They often draw, however, on resources developed by public access. We might consider these groups as forming generating media movements within civil society that aim to participate in and create alternate public spheres that are connected to but independent of operating PEG channels for debate of issues. However, these alternative  public spheres can be fragile and tenuous. The main issues with maintaining these collectives involve finances and burnout. As with all forms of strong participatory democracy, participation can be costly in terms of time and commitment. Sometimes this is not sustainable in the light of continuing struggles. Activists like Dee Dee Halleck have written on the dangers of such extended commitment without adequate support and financing. This has implications as well for the operation of public access channels. Stein has also noted the toll of organizing. Volunteer work is rewarding, but there is a limit to the time individuals have available and the frustration they can tolerate. There is the need to establish a more secure and continuing structure for these movements, which in some ways seems contradictory. For example, the Indymedia movement sees itself as a leaderless



decentralized movement like the Occupy movement, in which decisions were made by a council of all. Like most collective endeavors public access channels need a dedicated staff, hopefully a paid staff, and a strong backing of volunteers. The most successful stations have active managers. Others, where management is part-time, or less dedicated, are weaker. For example, in my area some local towns have municipal-controlled PEG channels in which the administrator works for the town or local school district in another job. Maintaining an active public sphere, especially under conditions of fragile institutional structure, can be difficult. Because of its structure, however, the operation of PEG channels cannot be modeled entirely on a social movement or on the charismatic leadership or group cohesion. It also relies, however tenuously, on institutional support. Local support and state-level rules and requirements can help or hinder the success of access. For example, the state of Vermont, has one of the most extensive institutional support systems for public access including a statewide association and a stronger requirement for studios and support. How then could public access over time maintain its insurgent character. What was the nature of its impact on the public? Did it serve less as an insurgent counter-public with distinctive values that contest political order than a noncommercial supplement to the commercial mass public which may conflict with the standards of the commercial mass public but not necessarily challenge it?

Wayne’s World: Changing Conceptions of Public Access Given the rise of the neoliberal philosophy at the end of the 1970s, the activist vision of access began to decline as did the alliance between public access and the cable companies. Technological optimism waned too. The notion of communicative abundance did not lead to a variety of informational and educational and public interest programming but to the proliferation of commercial channels that resembled the old network one, often using the same programs. The public was still for the most part excluded.37 While PEG channels were still growing and flourishing in many areas, they were subject to contradictory forces. The cultural climate had changed considerably too. The image of the hippie or politically conscious activist was replaced by the yuppie, the selfish wealth-seeking young urban



professional. The rich became more prominent on TV and in films. The socially activist films of the protest era were replaced by more formulaic ones. They were less concerned with exploring the political and cultural themes raised by the protest movements, not only of radicals but of the working classes, and cultural changes of the 1960s and 1970s. Certainly there was some emphasis on “quality programming” in the face of increasing competition but instead of socially relevant programming, network opted for a pluralism that sought niche audiences and network branding to combat the growing threat of cable and loss of audiences. While they featured more diverse characters, it was less a matter of confronting social change than the anxiety that audiences felt over multiculturalism and social fragmentation. Network programs reflected and intensified this fragmentation through the pursuit of the well-off largely white audiences advertisers coveted. Even the (at the time) upstart FOX network abandoned the brown and black audiences they used to get into the market once they were well established.38 In short, minority status was turned into a commodity. Viewing was increasingly individualized and Reagan-era Top Gun revived militarism and hierarchical authority, and the teen movies of John Hughes extolled the values of Reagan conservatism. While public access remained a place for socially engaged media, the idea of insurgent media declined, and a competing model developed which often became the public face of access in the media—one that exhibited a more traditional vision of an individualized sphere of free speech. The Wayne’s World version of public access coexisted with the participatory model. In the Wayne’s World image and often in the popular imagination, public access became more of a vehicle for private expression and entertainment. As several public access shows, notably Mystery Science Fiction 3000, made it to the mainstream, it was sometimes seen as a training ground for entry into the mainstream. Instead of community-­ building, it became assimilated into the American dream. It was a way for the little guy making it big. But more often it was a new wasteland of useless programs. When media portrays access as a place for vanity production based on personal interests, the element of political community-building or as a voice for the voiceless is erased from this sanitized picture. The increasing amount of seemingly frivolous programming created an identity crisis for public access. Was public access becoming domesticated and promoting an individualistic rather than an insurgent outlook and the kind of vanity production parodied in Wayne’s World? Whether this perception was true or not the idea that access was irrelevant became



widespread in the mass media. Sometimes access shows seemed rudimentary and ill-informed, leading some to see public access as a comic relief featuring crackpots and amateurish productions. The scope of public access was contested. Critics, even sympathetic ones, have questioned the effectiveness of public access centers in promoting widespread participation. They don’t think that access has lived up to its promise; oftentimes citizens could be intimidated about appearing on a TV program and many have little knowledge or interest in production techniques. Thus, they remain a passive audience. Such critics lament over the possibility of attracting and keeping audiences watching. Because of these limits, Linda Fuller argues, cable access operations are prone to capture by those voices that are the loudest or the most motivated. This can be a problem if interest isn’t widespread.39 In 2006, Hans Klein presented a more wide-ranging critique of public access. He contended that “after thirty years there is little convincing evidence that public access has affected communities in the manner and to the degree that early proponents anticipated.”40In contrast, he cites the effect of the talk radio, which has played in his view a key role in ideological shifts. While Klein raises some important points that I will return to shortly, his crucial argument that PEG channels’ political influence can be compared to the power of right-wing media to effect ideology seem specious. First, the media power of networks like FOX and radio conglomerates like Clear Channel is exponentially greater than all public access channels combined. Conglomerates were able to place shows like Rush Limbaugh in hundreds of major markets without concern for ratings in the short run to establish these shows. They could absorb losses to win a foothold. Even more significant, however, is the fact that the rise of hate radio and FOX news was facilitated by deregulations in US media policy, and it is that change which enabled conglomerates to both gain larger market power and the ability to propagandize without any right of response. The advent of the Wayne’s World model was the subject of debate in the access community as well as in the public. Access founder George Stoney felt that the new emphasis on individualized programming aimed at entertainment discarded the promise of public access to provide a political voice to the voiceless in favor of a more trivial notion of free expression and entertainment.41 Whatever the virtues of promoting individual self-­ expression, neither contributes to a public forum or creates solidarity with strangers. Others have defended such programming which, even if poorly



produced and executed, empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds. If access proponents have overly grand expectations from programming, they risk discouraging those who may learn over time to make more sophisticated programming.42 The concerns over the character of public access programming reflect some of the institutional weakness of the public built into access rules and structures. Given robust funding and a strong institutional setting, including active support and promotion by cable companies and municipalities public access could have accommodated many kinds of programming. Many often did so. But the institutional weakness of access was certainly a factor in the rise of less relevant programming. Fewer resources mean less visibility and a decline in initiative. These problems take us back to the question of the public-creating character of access channels. They question whether they can or should strive to provide a public sphere in the sense of Dewey, Habermas, or Barber. Certainly the “original intent” of the access provisions concerned increasing the visibility of communities that were missing on network television and promoting localism. While there certainly is value to free expression and the empowering of individual self-expression, and it has a place on access, it is not sufficient. Nor will it build or sustain widespread support for public access. It’s not a matter simply of the amateur quality of some production but a public value. What public is being addressed by this programming and what community does it create? A public still should be able to create communities, be they political or aesthetic, that can enter into the wider public. To stay relevant public access must remain a socially relevant media. Controversial topics and programs need to have a significant place on public access channels. It is part of its role as a counter-public to present ideas that might not have a current audience but need a hearing. Certainly, at the beginning of public access, there was a desire for such programming to counter the vacuity of network programming and the paucity of alternative views. As Patricia Aufderheide noted, controversial programming functions as a “valuable service for immediate communities of reference but it also expands the public sphere, by expanding the public discussion debate and awareness of community issues and cultural realities.”43 We can again use the idea of a wild public here. Controversial shows are like warning systems for political and cultural conflicts which we need to help refine and bring to wider awareness. Access needs to cultivate a broader public awareness of the need for controversial programming.



Controversial programs with explicit content like Robin Bird need protection. This is even truer in an era in which many of the major social movements are conservative ones. However, access and its supports have to raise consciousness about the importance of controversial programming which is still not seen in most mainstream TV. It cannot simply be justified in terms of the free speech of individuals but in terms of expanding community awareness that avoids political and cultural closure. Often public access channels lack the resources to make their case or aren’t afforded opportunities to expand on their mission in public media like newspapers or radio, TV, and cable. We could interpret some controversial access programs (not all to be sure) as forms of cultural theater aiming at transformation—that is, as a kind of programming that disrupts the normal cultural flow along the lines of aesthetic revolt. As formulated by Michael Bakhtin, the notion of the carnivalesque can refer to activities that subvert dominant styles and assumptions through humor and disorder. Bakhtin looks back to medieval festivals in which lesser priests performed burlesques of sacred rituals.44 In one sense, shows with sexual content like Robin Bird and others could take on a carnivalesque character. They are offensive to some and seen as obscene not just because of sexual content, but because they offend accepted norms about sexual conduct. Do we want to censor such unruly content? However, a variety of odd shows like the painter who does paintings while running on a treadmill could be burlesque, making fun of the pretentions of serious art. In this way, some forms of what seem to be individual expression might be social satire and mockery of conformist social norms. Thus, it could be sharing with the insurgent model an urge to provide an alternative public where these sensibilities could be expressed. I would like to read the notion of the carnivalesque as consistent with Habermas’ later notion of a wild public. It represents a less formally structured social space in which conventions can be challenged and needs can be articulated. Of course, the problem with the traditional notion of the festival is that it acts more like a temporary safety valve for a repressive social order. The notion of the transgressive needs to be integrated into a political argument for unmet social needs. There no doubt ought to be room in public access for the satirical and the comic. Access can create alternate cultural publics, not always in line with the mainstream cultures (as Pacifica did perhaps less satirically). Certainly, in the 1960s, such sensibilities were brought into demonstrations in street theater and even in the everyday life of those in the



counterculture. Such public theater has largely disappeared in the current climate. Nonetheless, it would be a stretch to include all the forms of more individualized expression that were prevalent in the later years of access. Of course, the larger problems public access faced came from other sources. The most significant problem was funding as noted earlier. Lacking a dedicated source of funding access, they can become captured not just by the special interests that Fuller ruminates over but by governmental or local business interests. Dependent on governments for funding, access operators and centers have often become less adventurous and hesitant to take risks. They discourage programming that might be critical of local authorities or limit controversial topics. Especially where government entities administer access channels, they may control the appointment staff and leadership that are not attuned to the formation of counter-publics or even public spheres of discussion; in such cases, access channels can be more attuned to the needs of governmental officials producing programs for the municipality rather than cultivating the public.

Who Watches Public Access? Despite these criticisms, public access programming certainly had an audience. Patricia Aufderheide’s research suggested that up to 47% of viewers watched public access channels and at least 25% watched weekly. Over 50% said it was part of their decision to subscribe to cable. Kellner estimates that Alternative Views had a regular audience of 20,000 viewers and independent surveys of viewers estimated that there was a vast audience for access with about 80% potential viewers aware of it and about 50% who watched it.45 These figures, which are now several decades old, were predicated on the FCC-required placement of public access channels on the lowest tier of channels. Cable customers could surf the first few channels and stop at access channels when they saw something interesting. Fuller reports that in 1984 in the town of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, 75% of those surveyed felt that public access had made a difference in their lives and 94% were familiar with access, while 45% were regular viewers. In this area, there was extensive participation in public access by members of the community. In a 1988 survey, 78% of viewers were aware of community access channels and 54% watched it.46 A report by American Community Television further challenges the idea that access channels are unwatched. They point out that access channels consistently get 1%–2% of the cable audience. This compares favorably with many “popular” cable channels



which in an era of fragmented audiences are successful while getting less than 3% of viewers.47 While there may have been areas in which access channels did not have as much impact throughout the country during these years, through the 1980s and into the 1990s access had a significant audience in many areas and impacted viewers in important ways. Recent studies seem to indicate that where it is offered public access television is still relevant. In a 2013 article, Chen, Funk, Strabbaur, and Spence conclude, based on survey data in Austin, Texas, that public access television remains relevant for underprivileged populations, especially racial minorities and less educated people. Online media do not reduce the importance of cablecasting public access content to residents.48

Relating their analysis to questions of civil society they also conclude that public access viewers have higher levels of social capital and thus are more likely to have a denser network of social bonds, trust, and solidarity.

Conclusions Public access channels have produced an impressive amount of programming under constrained circumstances. A good deal of this programming has been socially significant and some of these programs have reached national distribution. Other programs have had relevance for local communities. There has also been a good deal of fluff, however, far less than commercial programmers. Still, some of the criticisms of Klein and others have a point. PEG channels, especially public access, may have driven debate on local issues but have had decidedly less direct impact on  larger public issues. Though access has addressed many important and controversial issues it hasn’t promoted a greater understanding of the need for controversial programming that transcends the bounds of access. Moreover, despite the importance of Deep Dish and other initiatives, it has not created a national forum for debate but it has made an impact on more mainstream debates. The groups that have sought national as Stein noted have limited resources and initiative. In its formative period public access did have a face in the media and strong defenders in government and among policymakers. In the present situation, it is under threat of demise. Why has it had limited success in the goal of instituting popular democracy in the media?



It is tempting to consider this problem in terms of internal factors. Fuller, thinks that the organization of access channels can become dominated by a few. Klein in a related criticism thinks that access channels have become video clubs, not community centers. He thinks the emphasis is on production for video enthusiasts who care little for political speech or reaching out to an audience. He attributes a pervasive conservativism (not political) to access operators that inhibits technological innovation. I think Klein exaggerates the difficulties of working with camcorders which were ubiquitous in the 1980s and the early 1990s and with the in-group nature of cable access channels. However, technology can no doubt be off-­ putting for some. He is closer to the mark when he notes that the vulnerability of access to funding cuts leads some to become cautious in running controversial programs. Many would like to expand technological access but lack funding. These considerations, however, lead us to examine the interaction between internal constraints and external ones. For example, when access operators discourage controversial programs out of fear of funding loss this internal decision is based on external constraints, and not on the inherent qualities of the organization or participants. Similarly, when Klein and others complain about the inaccessibility of access programs due to difficulties in getting program schedules in the newspaper or on cable program guides, this is not under the control of the PEG station operator. Understanding problems thus requires an analysis of accounts for the environment in which PEG and public access operated. While public access is not purely a social movement, some elements of its analysis are relevant to its trajectory. Sawyers and Meyer’s analysis of the women’s movement in the 1980s suggests that in difficult times, social movements may use strategies of abeyance or suspension to defend and maintain the achievements of the movement while they may not in a position to effect policy decisions. This detachment from an activist stance can lead to fragmentation and, paradoxically, both to marginalization and cooptation. While the former means that the more insurgent voices are pushed to the side and marginalized, the latter means that reform aims are limited in order to pursue goals that can be achieved without structural reform. They argue that protest becomes depoliticized to the extent that protest becomes expressive and not connected to any direct political goals.49 To some extent, this analysis can be applied to PEG operations. Public access channels have adopted strategies of abeyance to maintain the essentials of public access in a policy environment that has become



increasingly hostile to its expansion. Certainly, access has tried to expand its scope but has faced a hostile environment. While some have tried to retain a more insurgent vision, others have attempted to adapt to changing social and political constraints. Its problems stem, however, less from movement fragmentation than from loss of political influence and weak institutional structure. This environment is largely the result of a new set of political-economic conditions, generally called neoliberalism, which stresses deregulation and financialization, and colonizes elements of civil society and public culture. Just as technological determinism fails as an explanatory theory of public media development, so the identification of internal factors is insufficient as a complete explanation of the decline of public access. Whatever the flaws of individual operations, the influence of the political-economic environment is the dominant factor.

Notes 1. FCC, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking cited in Laura Linder, Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox. New York Prager 1999: 19. 2. On Johnson’s views, see Kenneth L. Kolson, “Broadcasting in the Public Interest: The Legacy of Federal Communication Commissioner Nicholas Johnson,” Administrative Law Review vol 30 no 4 Winter 1978 133–165. 3. Jeffrey Alexander, The Civil Sphere, New York: Oxford 2006. 4. Dee Dee Halleck, Hand Held Visions: The Uses of Community Media, New York Fordham University Press 2001: 147–149. 5. Dee Dee Halleck, Hand Held Visions: The Uses of Community Media: 149. 6. See Ralph Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1996: 219ff. 7. Ralph Lee Smith, Wired Nation. Cable TV: The Electronic Communications Highway, New York: Harper & Row 1972. 8. Patrick R. Parsons, Blue Skies: A History of Cable Television, Philadelphia: Temple University Press 2008. ix. 9. Thomas Streeter, “Blue Skies and Strange Bedfellows: The Discourse of Cable Television,” in Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtin, eds., The Revolution wasn’t Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict, Routledge, 1997, pp. 221–242. 10. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, New  York Oxford 1964 198; also see David Nye, American Technological Sublime, Cambridge MA: MIT Press 1994. 11. Deidre Boyle, Subject to Change: Guerilla Television Revised ed., New York: Oxford: 1997: 31. In contrast, Dee Dee Halleck, another pioneer of video experimentation, is more critical of McLuhan and his ­technological deter-



minism. Dee Dee Halleck, Hand Held Visions: The Uses of Community Media, New York: Fordham University Press 2001. 12. See Halleck, op. cit. esp. p. 16–24. 13. Horowitz, Irony of Regulatory Reform: 76–81. 14. Bill Kirkpatrick, “Bringing Blue Skies Down to Earth: Citizen Policy Making in Negotiations for Cable Television, 1965–1975,” Television and New Media Volume: 13 issue: 4: 307–328. On “vernacular” (participatory) policymaking, see Bill Kirkpatrick. “Vernacular Policymaking and the Cultural Turn in Media Policy Studies.” Communication, Culture, and Critique 6:4 (December 2013), 634–647. For a theoretical perspective, see Frank Fischer. Citizens Experts and the Environment: The Politics of Local Knowledge, Durham Duke University Press, 2000; and Frank Fischer, Democracy and Expertise: Reorienting Policy Inquiry, New  York Oxford 2009. 15. Megan Mullen, Television in a Multichannel Age: a brief history of cable television, Malden MA: Blackwell 2009 99. 16. Laura Linder, Public Access Television: 51. 17. Linda Fuller, Community Television in the United States: 33. 18. Laura Linder, Public Access Television 20. 19. Kevin Howley, “Manhattan Neighborhood Network: Community Access Television and the Public Sphere in the 1990s,” Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 25 no 1 March 2005: 119–138. More generally, see Kevin Howley, Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies, New York: Cambridge University Press 2005. 20. Dee Dee Halleck, Hand Held Visions: 16–24. 21. Michael L.  Meyerson, “The First Amendment and the Cable Television Operator: An Unprotective Shield against Public Access Requirements,” Comm/Ent 4 L.S. 1 1981–2: 5. 22. For a different interpretation more favorable to public access, see Myerson, “The First Amendment” op cit. 23. US congress house Cable Franchise policy 30. 24. For some background, see the Deep Dish film, Spigot for Bigots or Channels for Change, 25. Steve Farnsworth, “Kansas City drops fight to keep Klan off Cable TV,” Chicago Tribune July 17, 1989, http://articles.chicagotribune. com/1989-07-17/news/8902170976_1_ku-klux-klan-cable-accesscable-television. 26. The 1992 act is discussed briefly in Brian Caterino, “Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992,” First Amendment Encyclopedia, and Ron



Packovitz, “The Cable Act of 1992”, DePaul Journal of Art, Technology and Intellectual Property Law vol 3 no 1 1992 26–31. 27. Marjorie Heins, James N. Horwood, Robert T. Perry, and Michael Sitcov, “Panel IV: Censorship of Cable Televisions Leased and Public Access Channels,” Fordham Intellectual Property Media and Entertainment Law Journal 4 issues 3–4 1994.801–846. 28. Robin Anderson and Johnathan Grey, Battleground the media vol 1, Westport: Greenwood Press 2008 399. 29. Laura Stein, “Access Television and Grassroots Political Communication,” in The United States. In J. Downing (with Ford, T.V., Gill, G. and Stein, L.), Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. California: Sage Publications, pp. 299–324. 30. Steven Levitsky and Maria Victoria Murillo, “Building Institutions on Weak Foundations: Lessons from Latin America”: 2. Accessed at https:// 31. Linda Fuller, Community Television in the United States: A Sourcebook on Public Educational and Governmental Access, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994: 178. 32. Richard C.  Kletter, Cable Television: Making Public Access Effective. Prepared for the National Science Foundation Santa Monica: Rand 1973. 33. Mickey Brandt, “Access Profile”. Community Media Review, 1(4) February 1978 p. 5, 13. 34. Paula Manley, “Socially Engaged Public Access Productions: Making the Road by Walking,” learning commons February 2003. 35. Laura Stein, “Access Television and Grassroots Political Communication in The United States.” 36. Deep Dish, Website 37. Megan Mullen, Television in a Multichannel Age: a brief history of cable television. 38. Bambi Haggins and Julia Himberg, “The Multi-Channel Transition Period,” In Aniko Bodroghkozy ed. A Companion to the History of American Broadcasting, (Routledge 2018) 115ff. 39. Fuller, Community Television in the United States: A Sourcebook on Public Educational and Governmental Access, 33. 40. Klein, Hans, Public Access Television: A Radical Critique (August 15, 2006). TPRC 2006. Available at SSRN: abstract=2103709. 41. For George Stoney’s view, see “The essential George Stoney,” Community Media Review 24:2 2001 29–31. 42. See, for example, Donna King and Christopher Mele, “Making Public Access Television: Community Participation, Media Literacy and the



Public Sphere,” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media Fall 1999 603–623, who argue for the importance of including “fringe” programming. Bill Kirkpatrick, “Rethinking ‘Access’ Cultural Barriers to Public Access Television” Community Media Review 2002, also argues against a certain cultural snobbery in the access community. 43. Aufderheide, The Daily Planet; 138. 44. Bakhtin’s notion was developed in Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984; and was further developed in Rabelais and His World, Bloomington: University of Indiana Press 2009. Also see Renate Lachmann, Raoul Eshelman and Marc Davis,  “Bakhtin and Carnival: Culture as Counter-Culture,” Cultural Critique no 11 (Winter, 1988–1989), pp. 115–152. 45. See Patricia Aufderheide, The Daily Planet: A Critic on the Capitalist Culture Beat, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 2000 and Douglas Kellner, Television and the Crisis of Democracy, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990. 46. Linda Fuller, Community Television in the United States: A Sourcebook on Public Educational and Governmental Access, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994:13–15. 47. American Community Television, “Viewership and PEG Access Channels,” and%20peg%20access%20channels.pdf. 48. Wenhong Chen, Marcus Funk, Joseph D. Straubhaar & Jeremiah Spence, “Still Relevant? An Audience Analysis of Public and Government Access Channels,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 57:3, 263–281, accessed October 7, 2019. 49. Traci M Sawyers and David S.  Meyer. “Missed Opportunities: Social Movement Abeyance and Public Policy.” Social Problems, vol 46, no 2, 1999, pp. 187–206.

Bibliography Alexander, Jeffrey. 2006. The Civil Sphere. New York: Oxford University Press. American Community Television Viewership and PEG Access Channels. https:// access%20channels.pdf. Anderson, Robin, and Johnathan Grey. 2008. Battleground the Media. Vol. 1, 399. Westport: Greenwood Press. Aufderheide, Patricia. 2000. The Daily Planet: A Critic on the Capitalist Culture Beat. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.



Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1984. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ———. 2009. Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Boyle, Deidre. 1997. Subject to Change: Guerilla Television, 31. Revised ed. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press. Brandt, Mickey 1978. Access Profile. Community Media Review 1(4): 5, 13. Caterino, Brian. Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992. First Amendment Encyclopedia. Chen, Wenhong, Marcus Funk, Joseph D. Straubhaar, and Jeremiah Spence. 2013. Still Relevant? An Audience Analysis of Public and Government Access Channels. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 57 (3): 263–281. Accessed 7 October 2019. Deep Dish film Spigot for Bigots or Channels for Change. https://vimeopro. com/deepdishtv/spigot-for-bigots-or-channels-for-change-1990/ video/177592805. Deep Dish Website Mission. Engelman, Ralph. 1996. Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Farnsworth, Steve. 1989. Kansas City Drops Fight to Keep Klan Off Cable TV. Chicago Tribune, July 17. news/8902170976_1_ku-klux-klan-cable-access-cable-television. FCC. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Cited in Linder. Public Access Television, 19. Fischer, Frank. 2000. Citizens, Experts and the Environment: The Politics of Local Knowledge. Durham: Duke University Press. ———. 2009. Democracy and Expertise: Reorienting Policy Inquiry. New  York; Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fuller, Linda. 1994. Community Television in the United States: A Sourcebook on Public Educational and Governmental Access. Westport: Greenwood Press. Halleck, Dee Dee. 2001. Hand Held Visions: The Uses of Community Media. New York: Fordham University Press. Heins, Marjorie, James N. Horwood, Robert T. Perry, and Michael Sitcov. 1994. Panel IV: Censorship of Cable Televisions Leased and Public Access. Channels Fordham Intellectual Property Media and Entertainment Law Journal 4 (3–4): 801–846. Horowitz, Robert Britt. 1989. The Irony of Regulatory Reform: The Deregulation of American Telecommunications. New York: Oxford University Press. Howley, Kevin. 2005a. Manhattan Neighborhood Network: Community Access Television and the Public Sphere in the 1990’s. Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television 25 (1): 119–138.



———. 2005b. Community Media: People, Places and Communication Technologies. New York: Cambridge University Press. Kellner, Douglas. 1990. Television and the Crisis of Democracy. Boulder: Westview Press. King, Donna, and Christopher Mele. 1999. Making Public Access Television: Community Participation, Media Literacy and the Public Sphere. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 43 (Fall): 603–623. Kirkpatrick, Bill. 2002. Rethinking ‘Access’ Cultural Barriers to Public Access Television. Community Media Review. ———. 2012. Bringing Blue Skies Down to Earth: Citizen Policy Making in Negotiations for Cable Television, 1965–1975. Television and New Media 13 (4): 307–328. ———. 2013. Vernacular Policymaking and the Cultural Turn in Media Policy Studies. Communication, Culture, and Critique 6 (4): 634–647. Klein, Hans. 2006. Public Access Television: A Radical Critique. TPRC 2006, August 15. Available at SSRN. Kletter, Richard C. 1973. Cable Television: Making Public Access Effective. Prepared for the National Science Foundation Santa Monica: Rand. Kolson, Kenneth L. 1978. Broadcasting in the Public Interest: The Legacy of Federal Communication Commissioner Nicholas Johnson. Administrative Law Review 30 (4, Winter): 133–165. Lachmann, Renate, Raoul Eshelman, and Marc Davis Bakhtin. 1988–1989. Carnival: Culture as Counter-Culture. Cultural Critique 11 (Winter): 115–152. Levitsky, Steven, and Maria Victoria Murillo. 2013. Building Institutions on Weak Foundations: Lessons from Latin America. Journal of Democracy 24 (2): 93–107. Linder, Laura. 1999. Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox. New York: Prager. Manley, Paula. 2003. Socially Engaged Public Access Productions: Making the Road by Walking. Learning Commons, February. Marx, Leo. 1964. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press. Meyerson, Michael L. 1981–1982. The First Amendment and the Cable Television Operator: An Unprotective Shield against Public Access Requirements. Comm/ Ent 4 (1): 1–66. Mullen, Megan. 2009. Television Is a Multichannel Age: A Brief History of Cable Television. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Nye, David. 1994. American Technological Sublime. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Packovitz, Ron. 1992. The Cable Act of 1992. DePaul Journal of Art, Technology and Intellectual Property Law 3 (1): 26–31.



Parsons, Patrick R. 2008. Blue Skies: A History of Cable Television. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Sawyers, Traci M., and David S.  Meyer. 1999. Missed Opportunities: Social Movement Abeyance and Public Policy. Social Problems 46 (2): 187–206. Smith, Ralph Lee. 1972. Wired Nation. Cable TV: The Electronic Communications Highway. New York: Harper and Row. Stein, Laura. Access Television and Grassroots Political Communication in the United States. In Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements, ed. J.  Downing, T.V.  Ford, G.  Gill, and L.  Stein, 299–324. California: Sage Publications. Stoney, George. 2001. The Essential George Stoney. Community Media Review 24 (2): 29–31. Streeter, Thomas. 1997. Blue Skies and Strange Bedfellows: The Discourse of Cable Television. In The Revolution wasn’t Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict, ed. Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtin, 221–242. Routledge. US Congress House Cable Franchise Policy 30.


Neoliberalism: The Decline of Public Obligation

The history of debate over public interest obligations does not support the idea of a one-dimensional culture industry that dominates and suppresses all dissent. A significant commitment to public interest obligations was a major factor in the establishment of the Public Broadcasting System and the establishment of public, educational, and governmental (PEG) channels on cable. PEG channels were part of the extension of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation to the cable industry as it too had to meet some public interest standards. The regulation of radio and television reflected some elements of welfare economics and the Keynesianism of the New Deal. It accepted the need for monopoly over licensing and a large commercial network structure as the best way to disseminate information and programming to the public. Although not applied consistently or thoroughly, broadcasters were to act as trustees of the public interest. The recognition that media served a public interest led to opposition by publics which agitated for changes in regulatory policy to give more channel space to noncommercial broadcasting. This tension between the strains of corporate monopoly control and more social democratic and popular democratic tendencies came to define late Keynesian-­ era media regulation. In the 1960s, social turmoil led to the creation of a revised regulatory regime which recognized at least in part the need for greater citizen participation in media and public noncommercial broadcasting. One could argue that the public sphere of broadcasting was expanded at least to a limited extent. © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




The expansion of cable broadcasting from a limited local operation to a nationwide multichannel system was premised, in part, on the promise that the expansion of channels would provide public interest programming. The Blue Skies Movement promised that the expansion of cable channels would introduce an era of greater localism and of programming that would service a narrower audience than network mass media. Expanded cable would have the potential to provide less profitable, even noncommercial, informational educational and arts programming that would serve underserved audiences. This was part of the rationale for lifting the onerous relations preventing cable  companies from competing with network television. In the era of neoliberalism, this promise never came to fruition. In this chapter I want to focus on the changing political-economic environment that faced public access beginning in the later 1970s— though there were developments in other community media in the latter half of the present era, I do not take this up here. I trace out briefly some of the salient features of neoliberalism which are important to my analysis, stressing how neoliberalism is not simply a return to laissez-faire but requires strong government shaping of the economy. Just as important, it does not, as in classical liberal thought, emphasize the need for an independent public or a strong civil society. Then I trace out the changes in regulation in ownership and in politics which influence the legal environment and civil society.

Neoliberalism While the term “neoliberalism” has had several uses in the post–World War II era, it has come to indicate a political-economic constellation that has become the successor to the Keynesian welfare state in most advanced industrial societies.1 The Keynesian welfare constellation suffered several crises in the early 1970s that led to its demise. One of the first indications of its breakdown was the so-called fiscal crisis of the state identified by James O’Connor.2 The expenditures of the state for its social services, bureaucracy, and government interventions and, in some cases, ownership in industries were overtaking its capacity to generate revenues through taxation. The resulting deficit spending led to an inflationary spiral that slowed growth and created “stagflation.” Second, the neo-corporatist arrangements of the Keynesian era began to fragment. The inclusion of labor, business, and government officials to agree on and manage wages and working conditions, more formal in some



countries and more informal in the US, became problematic. The higher wages and power of labor and government was a causal factor in slow growth and inflation. Looking at the same set of conditions from the standpoint of the social system, critical theorists like Claus Offe and Habermas suggested that welfare capitalism suffered from several crises, in this case an accumulation crisis. The conditions of the welfare state that had yielded secure profits for capitalist interests no longer seemed capable of generating enough profit to warrant new investment. The demands of the welfare state and the conditions of increased competition led to decreased profits. Corporate interests staged a “capital strike.” They did not want to invest until conditions changed.3 Neoliberalism was seen as the “solution” to the crises of welfare state capitalism. Gradually and unevenly, nations rejected the welfare state and its politically constructed class compromise, and replaced it with a social formation which (re) asserted the primacy of the economic steering of the state and the social system.4 The problem with the welfare state, according to neoliberals, was that it distorted the workings of the economy with its interventionist and management policies. Economic growth would only be reestablished by freeing the economy from political chains. Neoliberals sought deregulation, privatization, supposedly a shrinking deficit, increased competition, dismantling of the welfare state and its redistributive economics, monetization, and financialization of spheres of civil society. Neoliberals were opposed to the welfare state not just in practical terms but philosophical ones as well. They opposed what they saw as a threat of socialism not only in economics but in social life. Thus, they sought not just economic but social reform. But unlike the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment who held that the inclination to truck and barter was natural and spontaneous, the state was also to be the instrument of social reform with its vision of the entrepreneurial self. Thus, neoliberalism must be analyzed not just in its economic but political dimensions as well. In the 1940s, looking at the failure of a free market system that resulted in a great depression, Karl Polanyi employed a historical analysis that demonstrated the socially and historically constructed character of capitalism. Free markets weren’t natural or normal. A set of social-cultural and political changes were the prerequisites of its emergence and anchoring. Polanyi’s work provides a critique of the idea of market fundamentalism, idea that there is a single definitive model of the way the economy ought to work. He argues that the economic system changes as societies change.



Analysts of neoliberalism have also come to reject the view that it is a political-economic outlook that harkens back to the classical phase of liberalism though they have used it to justify a socially constructed market fundamentalism.5 It is not a restoration of older liberal values that were superseded by the welfare state like the minimal state, decreased regulation, noninterference in the economy, and individual. Neoliberalism is not just a return to the idea of the watchman state or an unfettered spontaneous market. It combines in the words of one analyst the free economy and the strong state.6 Cerny, for example, notes: Unlike classical liberalism, however, it is not assumed that markets necessarily work in an efficient, spontaneous and automatic—self-regulating—manner unless they are strongly embedded in premarket rules, institutions and politics.7

The market, according to neoliberal theories, did not arise spontaneously but required strong state authority to establish rules to secure free markets. Its reproduction needs continuing and dedicated state support. However, this support also has a political/cultural element. Neoliberals aimed to create a new individual type, an entrepreneurial self, that is an individualist market-oriented subjectivity throughout society to counter the welfare-dependent citizen they saw in the Keynesian constellation. The entrepreneurial self is not the possessive individual of early capitalism, though it sometimes appeals to the image of its virtues. It is a “flexible” subjectivity that must adapt to the conditions of global capitalism and its social dislocation. In the later twentieth century, the state pursued austerity policies and disciplining unruly or undesirable individuals so that they conform to the ideal of the entrepreneurial citizen. Rather than support the public sphere and civil society of the high bourgeois era but works to undermine them.

The Rise of a New Orthodoxy The roots of neoliberalism go back to the 1930s, if not earlier, to the ordoliberals in Germany. Ordoliberals, to be sure, endorsed a minimal welfare state, but, more importantly, saw the role of the state as a positive one, that is, as creating and maintaining markets. They did not arise spontaneously in civil society but had to be deliberately constructed. The ordoliberals took from the crisis of capitalism in the late 1920s and the great depression the idea that the idea of laissez-faire was a theoretical illusion.



The free market was socially irrational. It had led to immiseration and was blind to the problems it created. However, they rejected the “collectivist” solution. The latter, they argued, only made matters worse for the proletariat and created conditions for tyranny. The state played a central role in the process of sustaining capitalism. Not only did it have to create the legal framework for the capitalist economy and the rule of law, it had to create the social and ethical conditions for the sustainability of the market. They called this Vitalpolitik or a politics of Life (something Foucault later called biopolitics). Ethical politics, that is, a state-created version of civil society, was to reign in the collectivist impulses of the massed. Ordoliberals feared the role of the masses and any notion of pure or popular democracy. Democratic impulses had to be limited by law and liberal market principles. The true interests of the worker they thought to lie in sustained accumulation, which leads to financial and social security and a solution to the crisis of unemployment. The proletariat had to be socialized and civilized to take an entrepreneurial standpoint which combines freedom and responsibility. The entrepreneurial society was one of “self-responsible entrepreneurial individuals regardless of social position and economic condition.”8 These conditions were not going to come about through pure economic activity but required political intervention. Market-friendly policies were necessary to maintain the correct conditions. For ordoliberals, unlike the optimistic thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, the market destroyed the civil society that tempered the action of the masses and was responsible for social cohesion. The market based on unbridled competition was asocial. Without a strong hand, it undermines its social foundation. A weak state wasn’t measured by its size but the reach of disciplining authority. Paradoxically, the welfare state, which degraded individuals by wage controls, employment policies, and other social justice measures, was a result of a state that was ruled by the masses and not one that firmly defended liberal rights and the entrepreneurial market. Ordoliberal ideas of the ethical basis of society were, however, rather backward-looking. They stressed family, tradition, and community—sometimes including decentralization and revitalization of rural life. Ordoliberal conceptions of the social market state at least recognized the nineteenth-century critique of the modern market, that is, the sociological insight that unimpeded market created pathologies in civil society. The cultural and social pathologies did not, however, play such a prominent role in neoliberalism. Later in the 1940s, under the leadership of



Frederick von Hayek and others, and a nonuniversity-based group of intellectuals and some businessmen formed the Mont Pelerin Society. This  group developed the main outlines of the neoliberal philosophy. Neoliberals agreed with much of the ordoliberal position. Especially in his social philosophical work of the late 1930s and 1940s, Hayek rejected the idea of pure laissez-faire, as well as socialism, instead of aligning himself with the ordoliberal idea that the economy must be deliberately created by the state. The rules of the competitive order are not natural but socially constructed. He too saw his work not as pure economics but as a social theory which grasped the role of the political. Thus, while Hayek also rejected redistribution and political control of economic processes, he did not reject all planning. However, there is little left of the diagnosis of the ills of civil society, except for the moral critique of the dependent personality. They felt that social pathologies derived not from the market, but its distortion. From the start, neo-liberalism was a political as well as an economic project. It was meant to oppose not just communism, but all forms of socialism and social democracy. Like the ordoliberals. Hayek saw new-deal liberalism along with communism and fascism as profound and imminent threats to human freedom and dignity. The contemporary situation was an existential struggle for the soul. Neoliberals like Hayek thought that the only way to parry this threat was by a return to a free-market economy. The latter was the best way to secure and protect the social fabric. Governments that seek to act deliberately to bring about public goals, inadvertently, in distorting markets and limiting freedom lead to unintended and destructive consequences. They thought too that dependence upon the state degraded the dignity of humans. They were willing to use state power to bring about that change. It sought not just to change the state but to change the soul.9 These concerns are evident in the programmatic statements of the society. The members of the Mont Pelerin society in 1947 did not see the problems facing them as exclusively economic, or even as the need to create a social market economy, they saw it as a civilizational crisis. The central values of civilization are in danger…. The group holds that these developments have been fostered by the growth of a view of history which denies all absolute moral standards and by the growth of theories which question the desirability of the rule of law. It holds further that they have



been fostered by a decline of belief in private property and the competitive market; for without the diffused power and initiative associated with these institutions, it is difficult to imagine a society in which freedom may be effectively preserved.10

The sense of crisis exhibited here is not just a conservative one, concerned with the preservation of absolutes and the sovereignty of rules as far as it serves the interests of private property, but one that has some links to reactionary modernism. They sought nothing less than a counter revolution. Their conservatism was not one associated with traditional Burkean forms. Neoliberalism responds to crisis with an activist form of permanent mobilization using the state as an instrument of change.  Two of the proposals of the original statement of aims illustrates the points about the need for a strong state and reform of society: The preservation of an effective competitive order depends upon a proper legal and institutional framework. The existing framework must be considerably modified to make the operation of competition more efficient and beneficial. The precise character of the legal and institutional framework within which competition will work most effectively and which will supplement the working of competition is an urgent problem on which continued exchange of views is required. The changes in current opinion which are responsible for the general trend toward totalitarianism are not confined to economic doctrines. They are part of a movement of ideas that find expression also, in the field of morals and philosophy and the interpretation of history. Those who wish to resist the encroachments on individual liberty must direct their attention to these wider ideas as well as to those in the strictly economic field.11

The workings of the group were well funded by wealthy business interests, and with this backing, neoliberal ideas made their way into think tanks and some academic departments. Later it migrated in the US to academic centers like Chicago and Virginia and into right-wing think tanks like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Thus, they were well organized and well positioned to intervene in the crisis of the Keynesian Welfare State. Preaching competitive and loosely organized markets as the solution to political and economic woes of the welfare state as well as freedom of enterprise and liberation of the individual from state control, neoliberals argued that they could provide an economic and social alternative to Keynesianism.



A New Consensus? Analysts like Jamie Peck have found the idea of neoliberalism elusive and hard to pin down. He proposes using the notion of neoliberalization, to indicate an uneven process in which neoliberal policies take hold rather than a static notion.12 Whether this is historically true, we can identify some basic features of neoliberalism as an ideal type. These features became widely accepted by liberals and conservatives as necessary elements of a reinvigoration of the economy and society. Neoliberalism held that the economy was the core institution for ordering and organizing the social world. But achieving this requires deliberate policies. Thus, political policies and the state itself ought to help markets to work freely, but, in addition enabling markets to work well, for example, employing pro-competitive regulation. In this it takes the position, that the markets only work efficiently when they are surrounded by pro-­ market politics, Laws, and institutions.13 Neoliberalism adopted supply-side economics, a view that lower taxes and deregulation would solve the problems of lower growth that plagued the end of the Keynesian era, by stimulating investment. Where Keynesians stressed stimulating demand as the remedy to slow growth, supply-siders argued that the growth stimulated by lower taxes would more than make up for the government revenue lost by lower taxes. This proposition has not generally held up to reality. Neoliberal economic policies also hoped to invigorate the economy using “fiscal austerity, market-determined interest and exchange rates, free trade, inward investment deregulation, privatization, market deregulation and a commitment to private property”14 All of these are attempts to transfer power and initiative from governments to private markets. Also, much of the first wave of neoliberal reforms were based on financial innovations.15 This set of reforms shifts accumulation processes from commodity production and trade or manufacture to financial instruments which provide return for investors. Financialization becomes a major force. In addition, transferring power from the government to private industry further increases the ability of large corporate groups to reduce the agenda setting power of oppositional forces.



Delayed Crises: Streeck’s Analyses While recognizing some degree of uneven development, Wolfgang Streeck has analyzed the “delayed” crisis of neo-liberalism that results from the financialization of the economy using a series of successive structural features that have emerged in the wake of the fiscal crisis of welfare state capitalism. He thus shows how features like deregulation, privatization, and financialization work in the broader political-economic context.16 Neoliberals see the problem of fiscal crisis as a problem of excessive democracy that is of democratic demands for redistribution that drives nations to live beyond their means. Thus, we must restrain democratic impulses in order to reestablish fiscal responsibility. However, Streeck finds the cause in the slow growth of economies that cause instabilities and crises in neoliberalism. He sees the economy as the site of distributive conflicts between owners and workers, employers and employees, that are endemic to capitalism. In order to stave off conflicts, those who labor must obtain a certain amount of the collective product in wages, benefits, and social goods, otherwise the incentive to work and the acceptance of the private property system declines. Despite the initial confidence of the neoliberals to solve the problem of slow growth, the problem has persisted, according to Streeck, and this has issued in a series of strategies to address the distributional conflicts. These highlight the structural features of an economy that strains with its own contradictions. Streeck sees the first of these, the problem of the tax state indicating the limits of the state to finance the expenditures needed for social and economic development in advanced capitalist societies and to induce capitalists to provide the wages and social benefits that individuals needed to maintain the standard of living within the limits of a private property economy. This led as we saw to the inflation and stagnation. The second attempt at a solution Streeck calls the debt state. Here as capital and some workers can relocate around the country or around the globe to find more profitable conditions, nations and regions were forced to compete for maintaining or attracting corporations. Tax concessions, which cut into the ability of the state to fund development and services, were problematic because corporations also wanted infrastructure and other social goods which required expenditures, and keeping the social peace required, at least in the short run, retaining some aspects of the welfare state. There was and still is a large growth in public debt during the neoliberal era. When taxes were increased, it tended to be in fees and



consumption taxes that were net tax increases on small and medium earners. The consolidation state arises as a result of the credit squeeze on municipal state and federal governments due to excessive debt. The state cuts expenditure’s rather than increasing revenue in order to retain creditworthiness, mostly cuts in the welfare state including privatization and outsourcing. This often led to a downward spiral. When cuts reestablished stability or even surpluses, taxes are cut leading to another debt spiral. This is often accompanied by the privatization of debt. The loosening of regulation and financialization resulted in the extension of private credit and led to the increase in personal and corporate debt in place of state debt. In Streeck’s analysis, these policies were strategies for deferring or delaying the crisis of the Keynesian state rather than solving the problems of the fiscal insufficiencies of that state. Growth remained slow and uneven, as inequality increased and the fiscal means of addressing it weakened. The result of all these processes is the austerity state. The contradictions of neoliberal capitalism, that is, the need for growth while deferring the social and political order generated by its policies resulted in fiscal imbalances that generated in a series of financial crises and bubbles culminating in the 2008 crash and subsequent bank bailouts. In the austerity state, services are more fully outsourced and social risks generated by neoliberalism are transferred to the individual and sometimes the corporations. The state no longer provides the investments necessary to the future stability of economic system or to compensate ad correct the effects of economic activity regarding infrastructure social inequality or environmental damage. Streeck paints a picture of severe conflict within the neoliberal economy, but it is also important to see the social and cultural dimensions of neoliberalism. It leads to new forms of legitimation crises, between democratic impulses and the neoliberal economy. Neoliberals address these primarily by limiting democracy and public life and restructuring civil society rather than expanding democratic aims.

Political Thought in Neoliberalism Milton Friedman, an important member of the Chicago School, further developed some of the political ideas behind neoliberalism and once again stressed its differences from classical liberalism. Friedman like the earlier Hayek did not reject all government activity. He too thought classical laissez-faire was not realistic and some government role was needed.



Certainly, Friedman’s major contribution to economics, his monetarist theory, required government regulation of the monetary supply. As a social theorist, Friedman’s model of the free individual is much like that of classical economic man, but he gives economic freedom a priority over political freedom (i.e. classical civil and political rights) and asserts that (presaging his work in Argentina) a dictatorship that protects economic rights is better than a socialist or “totalitarian” one that denies them. He thought that the market was the protector of free speech and the power to dissent and freedom from discrimination. The market he claimed was an impersonal mechanism that guarantees freedom for all, regardless of political views. Similarly, the profit motive allowed any view to be published or supported by the wealthy if it brought profit. Rather than simply advocating a deregulation of the economy and the return to the minimal watchman state, however, Hayek and other neoliberals saw that the economy was “socially constructed” (although they might not have used that term). Limiting democracy required for its part a strong state structure to establish the boundaries of economic intervention and restrict democracy. In opposition to Schmitt’s dictatorship, Hayek thought that this structure could be achieved through strong legal prohibitions. Like ordoliberals (and Hayek), Friedman distrusted popular democracy. Instead, they viewed democracy through the eyes of limited representational framework, In some respects, sovereignty resides in the rulemaking power of the state to steer the economy and less in the power of the populace to participate though deliberation and other forms of collective action to generate an intersubjective will to act. Even the consent of the governed is limited. Rules are not based on the will of the governed or some principle of equality and fairness, but the nature of economic system which is discovered through “science.” The aim is to maintain economic freedom as the basis of a stable social and political order. Thus, the rules cannot be subject to change by popular will. There must be a supreme and unassailable authority. Neoliberals, including Hayek, did not hesitate to prefer dictatorship over socialism, forms of popular or even strong parliamentary democracy. Their support of the Pinochet government in the 1970s was a prime example of this outlook. Milton Friedman, who was most central in this policy, had already stated in his written work that a dictatorship which preserved economic freedom was a superior if imperfect or limited, alternative to a socialist or communist government.17



In one respect, the early ordoliberals took a Schmittian tact. They feared the rise of plural interests and pressure groups that threatened the state (though they did not follow Schmidt’s dictatorial leanings). Neoliberal rational choice theorists like Buchannan have given a somewhat different account of the same problem. Rule makers, something like umpires, can be petitioned by individual parties to seek changes. This is called rent-seeking. Once, however, the rules are changed just because of petition by one, then others will petition, and the authority of the umpire and the rules are undermined. Buchanan was especially scornful of the extension of the franchise to welfare recipients. Such a position, however, leaves out questions of the normative validity of rules. Individuals here are simply strategic actors pursuing self-interests. However, to claim sovereignty the rules need to have some normative basis. In neoliberalism, this is often given by a theory of natural rights or natural laws. Both Hayek and Friedman proposed free-market solutions to social problems. Hayek disliked unions and favored the right to work laws as well as the elimination of subsidies to rail and agriculture. Friedman wanted to privatize social security and proposed vouchers and free markets in education as a solution to poor schools as well as similar proposals for housing and elimination of poverty. He leaves to the side the idea that markets can undermine social cohesion and solidarity and are sources of social pathologies. He thinks that the market generated solutions to social problems, created forms of association that are sufficient to solve the problems of capitalist rationalization, and promoted individual liberty.

Neoliberalism and the Entrepreneurial Self A second area in which neoliberalism differs from the limited government of classical liberalism involves the shaping of subjects. This element has been extensively examined by Foucault and some of its followers. Wendy Brown identifies this element succinctly when she notes that neoliberalism not only shapes the state it shapes the soul of individuals.18 Neoliberalism then is not a social formation that liberates the subject from the fetters of intrusive government, as the theory often claims, but to the contrary it relies on the deliberate social construction of the entrepreneurial subject that is the cultural/political core of neoliberalism. Government is involved in the monitoring and measuring of the shaping of this subject as well as the creation and monitoring of market conditions. For example, to get welfare benefits, one must show the proper



attitude toward a willingness to work no matter how exploitative it is or whether it pays enough to satisfy basic needs. One must undergo drug testing and other forms of surveillance to qualify as well. As Olsen notes: Whereas classical liberalism represents a negative conception of state power in that the individual was to be taken as an object to be freed from the interventions of the state, neoliberalism has come to represent a positive conception of the state’s role in creating the appropriate market by providing the conditions, laws and institutions necessary for its operation. In classical liberalism, the individual is characterized as having an autonomous human nature and can practice freedom. In neoliberalism, the state seeks to create an individual who is an enterprising and competitive entrepreneur.19

The idea of risk society developed by Ulrich Beck and Antony Giddens also captures elements of this configuration.20 Here the notion of risk refers to the kind of harms produced by human activity rather than nature in the late twentieth century. These risks, including nuclear destruction and ecological catastrophe, have created the possibility of the mass destruction of humanity. But the workings of the economy at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first also pose unprecedented risks to individuals. Global businesses claim that in order to survive they must reduce or eliminate social security and other elements of the safety net, cut wages, and destroy unions. This entails a huge increase in inequality and also means that the risks are driven down from the collective/ societal level to the individual level. The global scope of the economy, the size of economic cartels, the catastrophic possibilities for financial and economic failure have all affected individuals. As a result, neoliberal policies have led individuals to be more vulnerable than they were under the welfare state. Thus, problems that would be ordinarily budgeted for can send an individual or family into a debt spiral. In broader contexts, individuals face conditions of increasing vulnerability and precariousness in work and other aspects of life. With the decline of social support networks, the risks of a deregulated capitalism have increasingly become the responsibility of the individual. This increased vulnerability and contingency generated by neoliberalism economies  is ignored in neoliberal theory. The ideal individual as Richard Sennett (following Zygmunt Bauman) noted is one who was easily able to adapt to the structure of markets of fast capitalism, changing



jobs and locations as market demand changes without of course much regard for a coherent life.21 As those like Sennett and Bauman concerned with the character of public life and the bonds of civil society note. the entrepreneurial self under the conditions of risk induces humans more to become bereft of important social ties, and attachments, and more open to manipulation.22 Neoliberal shaping of the self undermines civil bonds, trust, and solidarity, and subjects individuals to a more ruthless world, while depriving them of the social-economic and personal resources to cope with it. While these discussions may seem a bit distant from considerations of media policy, they have had an impact. Recently, Nancy McClean has documented the links between James Buchannan, the Virginia School of Public Choice, and conservative industrialists and billionaires like the Koch brothers.23 Through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, the Koch brothers have had an impact on media deregulation.

The Contradictions of Neoliberalism The neoliberal socioeconomic constellation has had an uneasy history, in comparison with its Keynesian predecessor. Whereas the Keynesian period yielded an unprecedented growth and prosperity of the middle-class reducing income inequality, the neoliberal period has drastically increased inequality and had at best slow growth. The engineering of free markets and entrepreneurial selves has not led to greater security and freedom. The opposite has occurred as inequality has increased and the weakening of the welfare safety net increased insecurity and vulnerability. The result is a more precarious existence for many including the middle class. The first problem then is social. Market solutions have not led to growth that would have solved the “social problem.” Neoliberals argued that economic freedom was the basis of political freedom, but by any measure the political freedom of the average citizen in the US has decreased. Some time ago, Colin Crouch coined the term “post-democracy” to describe the tendencies of contemporary democracies to pass from large-scale democratic control to rule by the few. Although contemporary democracies are still formally democratic, that is, they retain the institutions of democracy, these increasing operate as a “formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a



politico-­economic elite.” 24 The concentration of economic wealth and power leads to dominance in the political realm as well. The influence of political parties has declined as they have become more alike and more dependent on wealthy private donors. They no longer serve as a vehicle for the articulation of group interests or discontents. Business and corporate interests through lobbying groups have the most influence on legislation through lobby groups and think tanks that serve their interest. They often draft legislation then adopted by legislators without any popular input. Democratic debate among citizens is limited. More recently in the US, voter suppression and ideologically driven redistricting have been used to further restrict voters. Citizens faced with these conditions are increasingly apathetic or have found their voice in mostly right-wing populism that rejects key tenets of liberal democracy. Second, these processes have become widely recognized in analyses of neoliberal politics. Benjamin Page and his associates have identified autocratic tendencies in the American democratic system, questioning whether it can truly be called democracy, and Sheldon Wolin formulated the idea of inverted totalitarianism to characterize a regime of managed democracy in which corporate power and the state almost merge into a total state.25 Bonefeld sees this especially in the emergence of pseudo populist leaders like Trump as a form of “authoritarian liberalism.”26 The third problem of neoliberalism is fiscal/economic. While the Keynesian welfare state broke down with the rise of inflation and stagnation, it was characterized as a period of unprecedented growth and stability. In contrast, the neoliberal era is one of instability and crisis as noted by Streeck. There have been a series of bubbles and crashes, culminating in the financial crisis of 2007–2008, that practically sent the world economy into a depression and crashed the banking system. The reduction of state regulation and legislative shrinking of the tax base, along with years of stagnant growth, led to long-term instabilities. Wolfgang Streeck has analyzed aspects of this trend. He focuses not just on the processes of deregulation but sees the major struggle in neoliberalism as the proper role of the state  in distributive matters. The main lines of struggle and transition occurs between the debt state and the austerity/consolidation one. In the first stage, states’ restrictive monetary policies not only ended some inflation but also ended the growth of wages, in order to not preserve social measures but engage in deficit spending and borrowing to stem the gap. After sufficient growth failed to materialize, a second phase of debt spending involved offloading debt onto private borrowers. The deregulation of



financial markets led to a huge increase in private debt and allowed speculation (financialization) to lead to the crash of 2007. The resulting austerity state has accelerated the shrinking of the social safety net, but while federal intervention stabilized banks, it has not solved the economic or political instabilities. In the US, the (largely unsuccessful) attempt by President Trump to stimulate growth through huge tax cuts for the rich has exploded the federal deficit and will likely lead to further austerity such as cutting social security and Medicare. The increasing economic vulnerability of many Americans and distrust of government are likely to create continuing challenges and instabilities. The imposition of austerity measures requires the further constriction of democratic processes and institutions.

The Colonization of the Lifeworld The tendency of neoliberal regimes to convert all realms of social action to marketlike or financial transactions has been captured through Habermas’ notion of the colonization of the lifeworld.27 Areas of social life, like education, which are regulated normatively through mutual understanding, are converted to economic terms of self-interested action aimed at profit, and they make social order into a strategic game. Processes of marketization and financialization replace interaction in everyday social life—this is Habermas’ reformulation of the Weberian|/Lukacian notion of reification. However, such processes undermine the basis of social cohesion and solidarity and have a destructive effect on civil society and social life. In this respect, the ordoliberals are closer to seeing the side effects of unregulated capitalism though their solution was limited. Without a secure basis for civil society and even for a democratic public sphere, it is hard to see how such a social order can sufficiently generate binding relations. It also undermines public life.

The Decline of Public Interest Obligations In the earlier waves of regulation, businesses, especially large corporations, had often gone along with regulation. For these large corporations, regulation had smoothed out some of the crises in capitalism and made markets more predictable. They even helped them eliminate smaller competitors. However, they found the new wave of regulation in the 1960s more punishing. Some of this discontent was economic but no doubt some was political too. The new regulations imposed compliance



costs and some degree of uncertainty as to the risks involved in new and continuing enterprises. When combined with the high inflation of the 1970s, this created uncertainty about the viability of future investments. The workings of the expanded regulatory and welfare state generated a crisis in the profit-making ability of businesses. Capital had the power to obstruct economic stability by failing to invest (Capital Strike). One could of course argue that environmental regulations were a net economic benefit, by eliminating some negative externalities, and increasing worker productivity, promoting greater efficiencies in the use of resources and materials, among others. But the other reasons were political. Many business leaders saw these new regulations as a form of class warfare which sought not just a redistribution of wealth but a shift in the balance of political power. Such regulations were burdensome because the rules deprived businesses of their freedom and initiatives.28 Fearing the uprisings of the protest movements of the 1960s, more conservative business groups feared “creeping socialism.” They mounted the counter efforts to reduce regulations and reinstitute prior power balances. Business groups also wanted to return to earlier ideas of negative freedom which were to influence neoliberalism. The individualist and possessive notion of freedom was that of economic man. They rejected the forms of social and political freedom which the new forms of regulation recognized. Neoliberal advocacy of deregulation of industries that have been overburdened by government regulations extended to the public obligations of corporations as well. One result, important for our discussion, has been the decline of public service obligations in broadcast television and cable and satellite providers. While regulations were circumscribed and poorly enforced at best during the high era of broadcast radio and television, the few obligations of broadcasters were rolled back or eliminated in the neoliberal era. Originally the public interest obligations of broadcasting derived from the scarcity of spectrum space. Even before the establishment of the FCC, the airwaves had been considered public property. Spectrum space could not be owned by anyone or claimed as private property, and licenses to operate a frequency on the broadcast spectrum were granted by the federal government. Such licensees were supposed to serve the “public interest convenience and necessity.” In principle, if not in practice, the FCC required broadcasters to be responsive to the needs of their community and present a diversity of views.29 The new broadcast media could make a



contribution to democracy by informing and educating citizens, but since broadcasting was almost exclusively commercial it subordinated democratic aims to commercial ones. One of the main vehicles for the public interest standard was the fairness doctrine, a doctrine codified in the 1940s which evolved as a set of standards that required broadcasters to allow those who were discussed or criticized on the airwaves to have an equal opportunity to respond. Also, broadcasters were compelled to present programming on controversial issues or current affairs that contained a variety of viewpoints. In reality, the fairness doctrine was not very effective, broadcasters did a poor job of presenting controversial issues; it did, however, serve as a bottom-line check on bias. Although limited in scope, the doctrine was reaffirmed through the 1960s. The Red Lion case (1967) upheld this doctrine and its main principles. It defended a conception of the social rights of citizens. The court reaffirmed that the airwaves were public and that broadcasters were trustees or fiduciaries of the public. The public interest was of paramount importance not the commercial interests of the broadcasters. The FCC did require at least that license renewals be accompanied by documentation that the licensee had consulted with the local publics and that programming represented both local interests and a diversity of concerns. Consistent with the 1960s’ progressive and New Deals ideals, the court did not see a conflict between regulation of large interests and freedom of speech. The government could regulate these interests to limit monopoly and ensure open discussion. Coming at the close of an era of regulatory activism, Red Lion did not have a major impact. The fairness doctrine, however, never lived up to the ambitious standards set by the Red Lion decision. There were some notable documentaries on network television and better coverage of international affairs than we find today, and some notable shows like Westinghouse Theatre. But for the most part, network programming was empty and pure entertainment. Controversial themes rarely appeared on network TV, and, if they did, they were disguised. The Red Lion decision, then, functioned as the Owl of Minerva, affirming principles that were soon to be on the wane. Even though the court affirmed the right and necessity of regulation, the rise of neoliberalism led to a different outlook. From the later 1970s to the present, regulatory frameworks have been relaxed. It meant a rejection of government regulation which is considered as part of a command and control economy (a code word for central state socialism) that impedes private interests,30 and



instead looked to marketplace competition to achieve public interest goals.31 The 1985 Fairness Doctrine Report eliminated this requirement. In a dramatic reversal from previous policies, the FCC claimed that the fairness doctrine, in fact, limited journalistic freedom rather than protecting the public. Also, the FCC held that the fairness doctrine was no longer necessary since the scarcity of broadcast spectrum freedom had been superseded by the variety of channels engendered by the rise of cable. In 1987, when the DC Circuit court upheld an FCC ruling (in re Syracuse Peace Council) that the fairness doctrine inhibited coverage of controversial issues and freedom of speech and was not serving the public interest, the doctrine was formally repealed. Rather than stimulating discussion of issues on network television, most studies have found that after repeal coverage of controversial issues has decreased.32 By lifting restrictions on political programming, the ruling took the first step in the rise of (mostly conservative) talk radio and the use of broadcast media as a tool for external political interests unchecked by constraints. By the time of the Reagan presidency, any residual activism on the part of the FCC had been replaced by a dominant philosophy of deregulation. Media were not considered trustees of the public interest; to the contrary, ideas of the public interest obligations receded and questions of order and social equity were replaced by considerations of efficiency.33 The head of the FCC during most of the Reagan years, Mark Fowler, had little concern for traditional public interest obligations converting them to market imperatives. The public interest was not a matter of considered judgment or larger interests; it was whatever the market said it was at the moment.34 Fowler had little use for notions of television as a social instrument famously calling it a toaster with pictures. In the 1960s and early 1970s, still operating under the third wave of regulatory reform, the FCC set out a series of requirements for broadcast stations concerned with ascertaining the public interest. These required stations to find out the needs of the community to serve its needs in programming and users. In 1960, The FCC outlined 14 elements necessary to satisfy public interest obligations, including children’s programming, political broadcasts, news programs, sporting events, weather information, and the development and use of local talent. Later they added stipulations that broadcasters should meet annually with local leaders and citizens to determine local needs and create programming to address at least some of these needs. These meetings and the resulting programming were to be



part of the requirements for renewal of licensing. By the 1980s, however, these regulations were rolled back. In 1981, the Reagan-era FCC lifted restrictions on broadcast radio and followed on 1984 with television broadcasters. Once again neoliberals argued that the requirements were unnecessary because the market demand would dictate that broadcasters pay attention to local needs independent of any regulations. Similarly, renewal requirements and children’s broadcasting rules were loosened. While some areas have been reregulated, the overall trend is toward deregulation. As in the past, renewal of licenses is almost automatically guaranteed, and children’s programming regulations are very watered down. Cartoons with little or no educational values still qualified as acceptable children’s educational programming. In the later 1970s, the obligations of cable operators, just like those of broadcast operators, were reduced. Though cable’s status as a common carrier was ambiguous, cable regulation was also based on the idea that the use of the public right of way in laying cable lines (like utilities) also imposed a public obligation. Cable systems, even more than network broadcasters, could control the content of programs by selecting channels for inclusion in their channel lineup, and this was one among many reasons that cable systems were required to set aside channels for educational and public affairs including PEG channels and to carry local network channels (although the new LPTV channels were not included). However, given the court rulings on PEG channel mandates, the weak regulations that followed in the wake of the second Midwest decision served the goals of deregulation. The response of congress in 1982 to the tenuous status of PEG channels was a compromise. Congress, unlike the FCC, had the power to create a legislative mandate to carry and fund PEG channels. Instead, they created the current structure in which PEG channels can be specified in the local franchising agreement but not mandated. Cable companies were not mandated to contribute to equipment and facilities as the earlier orders of the FCC had stipulated, unless determined by agreements or state legislatures. Under a deregulatory regime, the reliance on local franchising agreements (LFAs) has been a mixed bag. While promoting localism they also gave little authority to citizens to control access channels. PEG channels were a matter between municipalities and cable companies. Even though the alternative statewide or national franchising agreements are worse, the weak intuitional structures were a recipe for eventual failure.



Cloudy Horizon’s for Blue Skies The fate of the Blue Skies Movement is instructive in illustrating the way that the emerging neoliberal media regime affected cable, both legally and informally. While the Blue Skies’ promise of a local and narrowcast focus was meant to fulfill informal public interest obligations articulated by FCC, the reality was quite different. The so-called multichannel era was not a boon for community programming. By the later 1970s, cable had consolidated. Large owners of multiple operations came to predominate the industry, with decidedly different interests. Rather than creating new programming, new cable channels were created that largely showed reruns of old network shows. Rather than innovation, cable followed the model of the commercial networks with the same type of shows and the same formats. The new cable channels which arose in the 1970s were largely commercial. They sought to get the greatest audience as quickly as possible at the least cost and maximum profit. Reruns were the most cost-­ efficient way of generating an audience. The deregulation of cable undertaken in the early 1970s certainly opened the way to an expansion of cable well beyond its earlier scope, but it made no provision to curb or direct that growth or to provide support for noncommercial programming. It left such things largely to market forces. The first wave of channels such as pay-per-view channels like HBO, superstations like WTBS and WGN and religious channels, and sports channel ESPN, which benefitted as well from deregulation, adopted the network models of broadcasting. In addition to sports and movies, the superstations largely programmed reruns of successful network shows and followed well-worn formats like romantic dramas and comedies. These shows along with franchise sports teams like the Chicago Cubs and Bulls, Atlanta Braves, New York Knicks, and Yankees brought a large audience to cable. Even the religious channels like Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting played network reruns during off-hours. The only significant foray into public interest programming was the establishment of the C-SPAN network covering congress and programs around national politics. Otherwise, the costs of starting up a national network with production program acquisition were prohibitive for the small operation. Only those with large financial backing could succeed. Also, the new satellite distribution networks were not open to all but were owned by large corporate media such as Time and Viacom. All this was at odds with the more utopian ideas of Blue Skies, which imagined a more interactive popular



control of media.35 As Mullen observes, this was not the establishment of niche or narrowcasting services, but a strictly parasitical, commercial effort aimed at maximizing profit. It was not until the 1990s that original programming was produced and that too was modeled after network shows. At best, cable programming was an uneasy compromise of its original aims; at worst, it abandoned them altogether. Certainly, some of what might be called quality channels appeared in the 1980s such as Discovery, The Learning Channel, The History Channel, and Bravo among others. These provided informational and educational programs and arts programming not seen on network TV.  However, these channels all succumbed to the profit motive and the need to attract a larger more audience or at least one more desirable to advertisers and have radically changed their programming. The plethora of cheap and exploitative “reality shows” on these networks is almost stranger than fiction. Staged and scripted reality shows like Duck Dynasty Gold Rush and Naked and Afraid have replaced educational or cultural programming on these channels. The History Channel runs crackpot shows like Ancient Aliens which have no basis in historical fact at all. Even MTV and VH1, which had a more tenuous relation to quality TV, no longer play much music at all. Of course, behind this was also the consolidation of the cable industry into a few large companies. While the form that cable programming took did not directly affect public access, programming the deregulatory philosophy of the FCC and its failure to provide for support and creation of the less commercially viable niche programming affected the context in which local access TV was understood. Local programming took place in an isolated context and not within the larger menu of informational and educational programming aimed at creating a more democratic media and of which it was supposed to be a part. Unprofitable access channels were a burden, not an opportunity. They took up space that could be commercially exploited. In more recent times, cable companies have lobbied heavily for regulatory relief from any remaining public interest obligations. The franchise fee especially was considered onerous. Currently, cable companies can list franchise fees separately in billing, promoting the idea that they are an extra tax on subscribers, despite explicit FCC directives that the franchise fee cannot be considered a tax. Cable companies have continued to promote legislation that eliminates or reduces franchise fees. In 2006, a bill sponsored by Senator John



McCain proposed the establishment of nationwide franchises for cable companies. The bill would have meant that telecommunications companies could go into any area in the country without a local franchise agreement and do business. Early versions of this bill had no provision for franchise fees although some provision for fees was later added. While McCain’s bill failed to pass, cable companies have had more success on a statewide level. They have established statewide franchises (eliminating local ones) in a close to a majority of states. As of 2014, 25 states had some form of statewide franchise.36 These agreements have had a deleterious effect on access funding facilities and equipment by limiting franchise fees or eliminated and/or phased-out franchise fees. Where statewide franchises have been created, access centers have been closed and funding reduced. Statewide franchises have not fulfilled their promises. Touted as saving money and providing better service, these regulations have failed on both conditions.37

ALEC and Cable Franchising Lobbying groups like ALEC played a major role in establishing momentum for statewide franchises. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, chose the deregulation of broadcast media as one of its priority items. ALEC is largely a creation of the Koch brothers, who have a developed a conservative-libertarian agenda, and have been central in funding neoliberal foundations as documented by McLean, but ALEC is also closely related to cable companies like AT&T.38 The ALEC task force on telecommunications and information technology like other ALEC groups developed model legislation to reform cable franchising and streamline franchising. These model legislative bills became the template for statewide franchises and were then introduced in several states. They were only slightly modified, if at all. Like ALEC attacks on unions, education, environmental laws, and other areas such as consumer protection, these are not just pro-corporate; they reflect the highly ideological libertarian wing of the neoliberal movement. They are meant to limit the kind of freedoms that we need to create popular democratic movements.39 In addition to the Koch brothers, the ALEC communications and technology task force seems largely controlled by the big five telecom companies: AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner/Spectrum, Comcast, and CenturyLink. In good neoliberal fashion, ALEC criticizes the archaic nature of cable franchising. Cable Companies must deal with up to 30,000 localities to



establish nationwide cable services. Phone and internet providers like AT&T want easy access to municipalities to establish services. They claim that the growing completion in wireline services requires faster entry, and that relaxation of rules will lead to greater competition and, hence, lower prices, greater consumer choice, and smaller government. ALEC believes that cable has no public obligations; it is simply a private enterprise whose expansion is being blocked by unwieldy policies. Nor is there much talk about the importance of localism in media. Where statewide franchises have established public access, outlets have declined. According to the American Community Television (ACT), funding for PEG channels has been eliminated in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. ACT estimates that as many as 500 PEG channels in these states are at risk of being shut down.40 The omission of public access from the ALEC legislation is no accident. Short of a revision to the Communications Act, however, they have not been able to remove the stipulation that public access channels can be funded. They can attack, however, the franchise fees on which access is based. In addition to its attack on franchises, ALEC has also opposed public broadband services and has sponsored legislation to eliminate the public right of way considerations that would take cable services out of the category of a service regulated by the FCC.

Channel Slamming If cable operators have not been able to eliminate public access, they have worked to limit and minimize its viewership and impact. Cable companies have attempted to discourage viewers of public and community access channels by what is called “channel slamming.” The term refers to a discriminatory tactic by cable operators to move public, educational, and government community access television channels from Basic Tier channel positions to “Digital Tier” channel positions. Originally, PEG channels were to be located on the lowest possible tier, that is, the most basic tier that is available to subscribers so that all could access the channels. Since most cable systems do not carry the schedules of access channels, viewers got to know about programs mostly by surfing the lower-tier channels. However, statewide cable franchise agreements and changes in local agreements have led to a situation in which channels are moved to the highest tier to a “Siberian Exile,” which makes them difficult to watch.



One of the most publicized examples of channel slamming occurred when AT&T’s U-verse system consigned all PEG channels to one channel “digital ghetto” channel 99  in which the PEG Channels are grouped together as subchannels of the channel. Some subscribers were not able to record these channels and the subchannels were of low quality. It was impossible to surf between the U-verse channels and regular cable programs.41 Charter Communications moved access channels in Reno Nevada from channels 13–17 to the 200 tier to make room for HD programming. They moved the access channels to the 900-tier in Wisconsin, where there is no adjacent network programming. They also moved PEG channels to the 900 tier in Missouri and closed others. In Florida, Bright House moved PEG channels to the 600 tier where some subscribers needed special equipment to receive the PEG channels. It was estimated that 40% of Bright House subscribers did not have digital cable and thus were not able to get the channels.42 Often these changes affect the poor and the elderly disproportionately. In New  York State and some other states, Time Warner (like AT&T) moved all access channels on their analog cable to subchannels of digital channel 99 that are only viewable with a converter. While the converters were free for a short period of time, they will eventually carry an extra charge, making it an extra burden on the poor and the elderly, who predominantly have the lesser-priced services. While some municipalities protested, the New York Public Service Commission okayed the change. The need to obtain a converter that must be installed, and which will eventually cost extra money, discourages viewing by the groups that can most benefit from access to government meetings, like the poor and the elderly, and to access shows in which their voice might be heard.43 More recently, in New York State, the New York PSC allowed the successor to Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, operating under the Spectrum brand to move public access channels from the subchannels of 99 to the 1300 tier, echoing a move that has been taking place across the nation. It too has met with some resistance44 In the case of New York State, this move does not seem to be allowed according to their own rules, which still seemed to have the lower tier mandate. However, when I talked to a representative, they asserted that only Spectrum’s local news channel was mandated to be carried on the lower tier.45 This was incorrect. The representative I spoke with did not even know what PEG channels were until I explained it to them.



As one commentator noted, this is an industry-wide effort including most, if not all, the major cable companies.46 Whether or not it is a concerted effort or a collusion, it reflects the emergence of a shared outlook. Public access channels are to be eliminated where possible, and when that is not possible, they are made more difficult to view. Cable companies often violated the letter and spirit of the law regarding the placement of channels on the lowest possible tier and to the commitment to open and public use of community channels.

Relaxing Ownership Rules However much these other changes affect public access, the major way in which deregulation has affected public interest obligations is through relaxation of the ownership requirements for broadcast stations and cable systems. In the past, the FCC had limited ownership of individual stations by one group. The creation of a concentrated ownership class was contrary to the public interests by limiting the diversity of viewpoints. For example, the early concentration of power in radio networks was limited in 1943 when the NBC radio network was forced to break up. Neoliberal deregulation relaxed ownership limits. In 1984, the FCC relaxed the “seven-station rule” which limited ownership of stations by a single group to 12. While neoliberalism pays lip service to the competition, it seeks deregulation combined with an increased concentration of power. This is apparent in the concentration of power in banking, oil, and other commodities, but it is nowhere more apparent than in the mass media. In the past, there had a been a larger number of owners of newspapers, radio and television stations, if not major networks. Cities often had several competing papers. Even then diversity was an issue. However, mergers and buyouts have led to a pattern of vertical integration in media, in which a few companies own newspapers television and cable services including production facilities and sometimes radio. Where, in 1983, there were at 50 different corporations that owned most media, the number was down to 6 by 2012.47 Disney, for example, owns ABC, ESPN, ABC Family (now Freeform HD) Disney Channel, Pixar, and Marvel Studios in addition to its own movie studios. Others like CBS Comcast (which absorbed NBC), Viacom, Newscorp, and Time Warner are similarly integrated. The situation continues to worsen as mergers in cellular phone carriers and media and entertainment continue unabated. As of this writing, AT&T and Time Warner (not including cable operations) have merged and Disney Comcast and



others are in a bidding war for Fox twenty-first century assets. Any list, however, is bound to be superseded by the time this is published. In the Reagan Era, antitrust regulations in effect since the early 1900s were relaxed. Such regulations had been created by progressive-era trustbusters—beginning with the Sherman Act—to keep large corporations in oil, steel, and other industries from dominating the market. It limited acquisitions and mergers, forms of vertical integration, and anti-­ competitive practices that led to monopolistic practices, although it allowed for some “natural monopolies.” Antitrust activity has had its ups and downs, but the 1960s represented one of the most active, if not the most active, periods of antitrust regulation. It declined however, starting with Nixon and then with Carter. Reagan was staunchly opposed to antitrust regulation and sought to eliminate it as much as possible. Regulatory activity on the part of government, in Reagan’s view was always harmful and inefficient.48 His aggressive deregulatory policy, however, laid the basis for greater concentration and consolidation. It was further enhanced by selective employment of and later repeal of FIN-SYN rules that targeted network ownership and control of programs and to promote diversity. Vertical integration by the networks meant that they controlled production, distribution and exhibition of shows. First passed in 1970, FIN-SYN regulations  were intended to keep the networks from having any stake in shows after the first run and in the creation of in-house syndication subsidiaries. While the effect of these rules was not always as intended, the idea was to give independent producers and independent TV stations a chance to compete on an equal footing. By the 1990s, FIN-SYN regulations were relaxed, especially regarding the new FOX network. Successfully arguing that as a “mini-network” it was immune from rules, FOX was able to leverage its extremely successful Simpson’s series through syndication exclusively to FOX network affiliates and become a fourth network, while keeping some of its weaker affiliates afloat. The eventual repeal of these requirements in 1995 has led, however, to even greater vertical integration of networks and program production. With the collapse of the production distribution system advertisers have more access to influence over programming. The concentration and consolidation of communications media has directly impacted public access. The declining threat of competition has long since fractured the fragile alliance between the cable companies and access stations. The consolidation of the cable industry has led to a decided lack of competition in services. To illustrate, in the upstate New York area where I live there were several different companies offering services in the



past. However, Time Warner came to control the whole of upstate New York from Watertown to Albany to Buffalo. Without any competition, Time Warner (now merged with Charter Communications and called Spectrum) has no incentive to provide equipment or funding for access operations. It has pressed this advantage by getting longer contracts and better terms. With fewer funds available for upgrading facilities and equipment, and conditions which limit viewers, cable companies can claim that there is a lessening need for access. In our area, public access facilities serving outlying areas have been eliminated. Compounding this problem is the fact that increasing concentrations of power in the cable industry also increase the extent of regulatory capture. The latter refers generally to processes through which a governmental body meant to regulate industries becomes dominated by industry interests and becomes a tool of those industries. It no longer uses its administrative power in the public interest.49 The capture of regulatory bodies was a major factor in the decline of public obligations. There is often a revolving door between members of regulatory commissions and the businesses they regulate. In the FCC, for example, ex FCC chairman Michael Powell went on to head the major media lobbying group, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker joined Comcast as a lobbyist only four months after she voted to approve the NBC/Universal Comcast merger. The long-­standing relationships between the FCC and the telecommunications industry meant that ex-members  have greater access to FCC commissioners and the ability to block regulations that do not favor them. They can block the entry of new competitors or new technologies or of public media that are more populist. The history of LPTV is an illustration of the way small TV station operators were often excluded from markets that would allow them to operate profitably. Because FCC local must-carry rules are very restrictive, few LPTV channels, save those with network affiliation, are seen on local cable.50 Regulatory capture also operates through its agenda-setting functions. Often, when members of the commissions are either supporters of the corporate view or are looking toward a job, when they leave will tend to shape the agenda for regulation (or deregulation) to fit the needs of these corporations. Often, corporate groups like ALEC or corporate lobbyists are directly involved in the creation of regulations. On the state level also capture is common. Common Cause New York estimated that between 2005 and 2008 cable companies spent $24,000,000



on lobbying in New York State and an additional $2.8 million on political campaigns. Verizon spent $3.2 million in 2007 alone, resulting in a big contract for cable service in New York city estimated to be worth $70 billion.51 Not only are the large telecommunication corporation’s major lobbyists on the state level, but, as noted, groups like ALEC cultivate state legislators through paid vacations and grants from telecommunications-­ controlled Foundations and Astroturf groups are created to make it look like the legislators are working for grassroots groups. Not only does this lead to policies that favor corporations like statewide franchises, it often leads to the inability to get due considerations when public access stations are restricted. Changes in the political landscape often limited the democratic potential of public access operations. As some access advocates have noted, separating public, educational, and governmental channels lead to an emphasis on government programming instead of public access. For example, in New York State, changes on PEG rules in the 1980s gave priority to government access programming and provided only a limited mandate for public access. As a result, in many areas in New York State PEG channels are run primarily as governmental access and only secondarily as public access. Funding for equipment and facilities was often difficult as was obtaining funds from municipalities. Steve Pierce of the Media Alliance noted a decade ago that New  York State treats public access like an unfunded mandate, “In New  York communities with meaningful access are the exception rather than the rule … Most communities have access in name only—unbranded channels lacking capital and operating support”52 The minimum requirements in New  York State, two channels with no funding have become the “de facto maximum.” When PEG operators look to the “free” support from the New York Public Service Commission. they find an institution that has been thoroughly captured by the cable industry. As Pierce notes in 2004, this support service was managed by a former Cablevision employee who was not allowed to advocate for the communities that ask them for help. My own experiences with the New York PSC when I worked in public access are similar. When asked to investigate issues, they simply quote the law verbatim and refuse to make any interpretation that would benefit the public interest. They treat the public with condescension. Through regulatory capture, the power of the large corporate cable owners gains control over interpreting rules for PEG channels and gives the public short shrift. This concentration has weakened the force of any initiatives for participatory planning like the one in Madison in the 1970s. Now all the initiative comes from above.



Given the political nature of franchise agreements, community programmers often engaged in self-censorship, discouraging programs that were too controversial rather than stimulating discussion. Political elites and business leaders often strove to close existing access stations and banned programs or fire existing management. This resulted in strategies of marginalization. As a public access operator, I found many programmers complain that the largely municipality-run access channels in the Rochester suburbs were hesitant to run their programming. These issues are not, however, simply based on the actions of individual access centers and their administrative staff; the major problems are structural. They concern changes in the power relations between advocates of access and governmental and corporate interests. Access began in an era of protest and widespread dissatisfaction with media coverage, and its positive reception was related to this era. In the neoliberal era, the relative power of protest movements of labor and consumer groups have declined. Deregulation and marketization have yielded crucial changes in the way that the nonprofit sector and media have been able to activate public participation.

Market Failures Media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch like to argue that a free market is the best way to allocate consumer choice and to assure diversity, cost-­ effectiveness, and freedom. Competition assures that the best product gets to the market at the least cost and serves the most people. Neoliberalism derides government regulation as ineffective elitist, ponderous, and authoritarian. A free-market system means that anyone can enter the market. It is the greatest enemy of state control and tyranny. Deregulation by eliminating the burdens of regulation creates the conditions of free exchange and free speech. There has been little evidence that deregulation of the cable has led to lower rates, better choices, and excellent customer service. A 2008 survey by the Consumer Union found that in the dozen years since 1996 cable rates rose by 59%—three times the rate of inflation. At the same time, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found that cable companies rated very low in customer satisfaction surveys. Somewhat colloquially, they said that if consumer satisfaction “was not in the toilet it was at least at the edge of the bowl.”53



Things haven’t changed in the ensuing decade. In 2018, Consumer Report noted that while increases for basic services and pay-per-view services appeared more modest, in the 3–4% range, hidden fees and charges added another 8–10% onto these charges. Also, most cable companies now make larger profits from bundled services like cable internet and phone which are very expensive and have further hidden charges. An internet/phone/cable bundle, even the most basic one, can easily cost over $100 a month.54 Such costs strain the limits of modest-income customers to pay. Consumer satisfaction continues at a dismal level. A 2018 report stated that “cable and internet providers were the worst-ranked categories among the 46 industries and 10 economic sectors the ACSI (American Consumer Satisfaction Index-bc) reports on and by a wide margin”55 If simple consumer service and price is unsatisfactory, the situation is even worse when it comes to the provision of public goods by media services. In the view of media conglomerates, public goods rest on an atomist liberal notion of freedom as negative freedom in which the greatest threat to freedom is government or political authority. Of course, this outlook is inadequate. Looking at the economic realm alone, it is clear enough that markets can create inequality.56 Markets are largely imperfect, especially media markets, and they are subject to what might be called market failures. Generally, market failure as used in neoclassical economics refers to a situation in which the market is unable to efficiently produce or allocate resources. This is especially important as regards public goods.57 The inability of the market to effectively produce public goods has generally meant that the government has provided these goods, in areas like education and infrastructure to name a few. There have been extensive discussions of market failures in the media here and in the UK. Critics argue that market systems cannot effectively provide public goods and it  fails promoting democratic discussion of public issues. Looking at it strictly from the framework of neoclassical economic theory, it is difficult to allocate public goods through a market. They are not commodities in which your consumption of a product reduces my availability; they are not rivalrous in economic terms and benefit all. They are not commodities that people willingly pay for. As John Keane notes, even within the market model of allocation media markets fail to realize the promise of competition and freedom:



Market-based media are not seamless and trouble-free. They cannot homogenize and pacify their audience, nor can they fulfill their promise of ‘freedom and choice, rather than regulation and scarcity’ Communications markets are self-paralyzing. They regularly create endemic contradictions and dilemmas which belie their claims to openness, universality, and accessibility.58

In the American context, Mark Cooper argued that oligopoly and profit maximization, which have become structural features of the American media system, lead to “pervasive market failures.” Not only do they fail to provide public goods, but the abuse of market power has led to the degeneration of media systems and the inability to provide open communication services to all of society.59 Not anyone can enter into media markets as advocates for public access noted. Entry into the media market is costly, and there are significant barriers to entry not only due to the risks involved but also because of the existing oligopoly power. Competition in media markets certainly tends to lean toward monopoly, the concentration of ownership, and/or a least an oligarchical situation in which cross-ownership across platforms is increasing. Nor does the media market mean that everyone’s preferences and needs are satisfied. Broadcast media are not so much driven by the preferences of consumers but advertisers. Profit is made by delivering the audience advertisers want. Thus, shows often ignore the preferences of large groups of consumers. Older people, minorities, and children are underrepresented, and programming has increasingly sunk to the lowest common denominator. While the failures of the free market seem evident, some neoliberals have harkened back to the earlier era when public enterprises like utilities were a natural monopoly but claim that regulation of such monopolies is counterproductive. This was the argument made by Richard Posner at an early stage of his career. He defined natural monopolies as those in situations in which one firm can satisfy demand at lowest cost rather than  by two or more. Cable companies could argue, for example, that in a service area a single monopoly provider is the most efficient.60 Other neoliberals like Friedman have also defended monopolies as consistent with the free market system.61 However, Posner asks whether such firms should be necessarily regulated because regulation inhibits features that may bring about competition or increases inefficiency. What’s lacking here is any notion of the public good that such a monopoly might serve, or misserve. Neither Posner or Friedman considers the relationship between economic and political



freedom. What happens when a monopoly exerts inordinate political or social power and maximizes profits at the expense of other goods? One of the most important theories of deregulation was provided in the work of Ronald Coase, who influenced the law and Society approach of Posner. He argued for the idea that government regulations were not the best way to combat the “negative externalities” of market activity. He suggested that if we clarify property rights, we can mitigate these problems. The company that pollutes a stream can pay the downstream owner for the “right” to pollute. Similarly assigning property rights can work better than government solutions. The owner of the property right will act to protect his resources or property without regulation.62 While Coase’s work has had a major impact on neoliberal regulatory philosophy, we might want to take his caveats seriously. These are formal models he noted, which impose stringent ideal conditions and assumptions that do not necessarily hold  in real life contexts. We can’t look at these problems from the standpoint of economic theory alone. As argued above, media markets are prone to market failures, not the well-­functioning market Coase seems to presume. He also neglects political and social power relations and relies on a conception of the state as a neutral enforcer of rules. There is I think a preponderance of evidence that the free market model on its own terms does not suitably produce or allocate public goods in the media market. Thus, the claim by neoliberals that the market alone can satisfy the needs of the free exchange of information and the access of all to media services and show production is unfounded. The market model does not take account of nonmarket goods that are important to the public obligation that the media are charged with. Certainly, among these are not only the demands for quality programming but that of covering news and public affairs and covering controversial issues. Nor does it provide the opportunity for public participation in media. In a competitive monopoly, environment media can become merely a mouthpiece for a corporate ideology. Most important, however, it fails to promote the goal of creating democratic citizenship. The creation of a market of media consumers says little about the ability of citizens to participate effectively in public affairs or public life. A functioning market can, in some ways, impact civil society and be a force for domination and repression. The decline of public access is the result more of market failures, concentration of power, and regulatory changes than the emergence of new media. As I argue in the concluding sections, the internet has yet to



provide the conditions for a true public sphere. The communicative abundance promised by the expansion of cable channels has not led to a plethora of public and educational channels, which serve public interests, but an exponential expansion of for-profit services, and increasing audience fragmentation. As regulations concerning cable were loosened under pressure from the cable companies, access was chronically underfunded, underequipped in many cases, and under attack as unnecessary and illegitimate. Cable companies have come at times to deny their obligation to any public good. Yet this belies the fact that not only are they obligated, but they promoted such an obligation to lift earlier regulation against their entry into large markets. The market will not solve this problem. The only way we can remedy these market failures is through government action to establish obligatory space and funding for public access and other public interest channels. The communicative abundance of cable programs needs to have greater room for the public good. In the end, democratic participation, however, cannot be understood using the metaphor of the market, which has largely adopted a theory of rational choice as its primary vehicle. The market model reduces the notion of democracy to free consumer choice and claims that the concatenation of individual choices is the public interest. Democracy is not a matter of consumers registering their preferences or satisfying needs, but of public deliberative activity under conditions of mutual accountability. It seeks the right thing to do; It requires a forum or public space where people can deliberate together about what to do in a situation. Deliberation forms what is an intersubjective will to authorize the action. On the one hand, the ability to use the media as a forum requires the ability to use the media to produce critical programming If one does not have access to the means of creating programs or to programming decisions, one cannot develop the capacity to use the mass media for democratic purposes.

Speech Rights in Neoliberalism In their reversal of the fairness doctrine, the FCC adopted a neoliberal version of freedom of speech. This represented a step back from the principles recognized in Red Lion’s reaffirmation of public obligations. While significant, the Red Lion decision, however, had definite limits. In affirming the rights of the public to receive information and the public ownership of the airwaves, it did not defend the right of the public to create content.



A more radical proposal to restructure communication was proposed by Jerome Barron in a well-known article on the public’s right to know. Barron criticized what he saw as a “romantic” view of the power of the market.63 He argued against the view that the free market is the organ of all political freedom including free speech. The idea that the free market generates free speech did not take account of the asymmetries of economic and political power that occur both in the market and in communications media. It makes little sense to say that average citizen competes on an equal footing with a large corporation. Anticipating later arguments, we could construe his argument as advancing a notion of communicative freedom in which individuals would have to have an equal right to create and present reasons in an open public sphere. It is simultaneously a developmental view of freedom of speech. Individuals can only employ freedom of speech when they have the resources and the capacities to use these rights. Laura Stein develops this position to show the importance of positive rights. She has argued that the court decision in the Red Lion case did not simply rest on the principle that scarcity requires regulation.64 It affirms the view that the airwaves were public property, albeit a weak version, which  entails  the public’s right to know. Whereas broadcasters have attempted to claim that the content of broadcast outlets are the private domain of broadcasters who exert their free speech rights in selecting content, Red Lion argued that this right was limited by public obligations to inform the public. The Red Lion decision grasped the fact that commercial control of media meant that the content and public nature of information required regulation. Court decisions following Red Lion reaffirmed this limited view but, like Red Lion itself, did not establish the right to create content. The neoliberal challenge to this notion of communicative freedom has influenced the interpretation of the nature of public access. As I noted, there were attempts before to define public access as an obligation that all cable companies must provide, a position that was implied in the original conception of public access and was rejected by the courts in 1979. The original proposals for public access channels found in the 1971 order recognized the right of the public to create content and communicate to the public using channels, facilities, equipment and training provided by access centers. However, the 1979 ruling claimed that the FCC had no authority to mandate access channels and considered cable systems to be analogous to broadcasters who are individual content providers and not common carries (like railroads) that simply transmit and create no content, although



they did not rule out individual agreements to set aside channels. Like newspapers they could exert editorial control. Free speech rights then followed an uncertain path. In the 1984 Cable Act, Congress designated PEG Channels as public forums. They were the equivalent of the speaker’s soapbox. It reiterated the position that access was to allow content providers a voice in the media not provided by networks and the then-emerging cable networks. Thus, access was to provide both a public sphere and the right to communicate within it. Cable companies could not control content. Access was to function as a content neural forum that was not under the purview of cable company regulation. But the later inclusion of the right of the cable company to censor obscene or indecent programming made the question of who had control over the content and the public forum character of public access unclear. The recent Halleck decision makes the public forum character of access even more cloudy.

Is Censorship Necessary Major conflicts in the first few decades of operation of public access often revolved around censorship issues including both political content and offensive content. Legal protections have been ambiguous and programmers who presented political views on access channels that were critical of established views sometimes found content censored and operators removed. Kellner’s group, which administered public access in Austin, for example, was opposed by a coalition of a local businessman who wanted more conservative programming.65 Kellner notes that other access channels were shut down or operators removed due to political clashes with business and political forces in the community that resisted critical perspectives. Objectionable programming was a major source of conflict for public access stations and its public support through the 1990s and beyond. A common complaint about access was the possibility of objectionable and obscene content on the channel. In a recent retrospective, for example, the New York Post viewed public access as a “cesspool” of raunchy and obscene programming which radically diverged from George Stoney’s original vision.66 Here are a few examples from many: In Tucson, Arizona, in 1991, the show “Great Satan at Large” was investigated and suspended for obscenity.67 In Austin, Texas, a producer was convicted and placed on probation for their show “Infosex,” a program promoting safe sex.68 In



Seattle, the Mike Hunt Show was taken off the air for being obscene.69 In Michigan, the producer of the show Tim’s Area of Control, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was convicted of indecent exposure for a skit on his show.70 The definition of obscene and offensive programming has always posed a problem for the FCC. Cable channels which were not broadcast over the air had fewer restrictions placed on speech than did over the air channels. In the early years of cable, one routinely heard language that was prohibited over the air. Cable access programs sometimes tested the limits of acceptable speech and images. Programs like Robin Bird’s eponymous cable show (which ran on leased access) and featured strong sexual content sued Time Warner to prevent them from scrambling the show and requiring a letter to view it. A court overruled this restriction. The most authoritative legal decision on the matter of obscene or objectionable content, Denver v FCC leaves the legal status of public access ambiguous. While the court ruled that obscene programming could be banned on public access, offensive programming, especially sexual content and innuendo, was allowed. The decision was based on a balancing of competing interests (e.g. it said that local mores and controls were adequate without the need for law) and did not determine access to be either a public forum or private property. While some judges asserted in concurring opinions that access was a public forum, others claimed it was private property. While the decision claimed that cable operators could not exert editorial control over the content of programs, it did not entirely reject the idea that companies could exert editorial control of offensive programs on leased access channels, although they could not do so on public access.71 Still, as these examples show, despite the Denver ruling producers have continued to be banned for obscene programming. The legal status of access as a public forum remains in limbo. Although access is generally considered to be a public forum, lacking a definitive ruling on its public forum status, control of programming remains an issue. For example, in the wake of the Denver decisions, Time Warner adopted programming guidelines for leased access and public access (at least in our local area) in which obscene programming was banned. Another well-­ known case involving Time Warner occurred in Rochester, New  York, where I worked for a suburban access channel, where a controversy over the show “Life without Shame” resulted in a court challenge.72 A  local leased access program “Life without Shame,” which contained some



objectionable conduct and was opposed by women’s groups for its degrading images. (The case eventually went to court in Loce v Time Warner.) Time Warner eventually banned the program from leased access. When the programmers tried to put the program on public access channels instead, they also ran into difficulty on some local outlets. One such operator (my father) who ran PEG channels in the suburbs of Rochester was threatened with closure if he ran it. In other cases, an operator was threatened with closure for running a lesbian-themed program (Dyke TV) on the access channel. Numerous attempts to censor programming have taken place since the Denver decision. While most have been overturned, the threat alone can have a chilling effect. Failing at removing such programming municipalities can easily cut funding for public access channels or remove directors of PEG channels. Access operators have little defense against this kind of indirect and often vindictive program interference and the political pressures exerted on access channels. Thus, the character of access as a true public forum is under attack in neoliberalism.

The Halleck Case and the Challenges to the Public Forum Conception of Access In addition to political pressures, the public forum character of access is an important element of freedom of speech. A recent case before the Supreme Court has once again raised the issue of the public forum doctrine as applied to access. Halleck vs Manhattan Community Access Corporation originated when longtime media activist Dee Dee Halleck and collaborator Jesus Melendez were banned from programming on Manhattan Public Access channels run by the nonprofit Manhattan Community Access Corporation (usually called MNN). Halleck and Melendez were labeled as troublemakers by MNN and were not allowed to enter the building to attend a meeting of the cable advisory board meeting. They stood outside the building and engaged in some guerilla video, attempting to interview members of the board when they entered the building. They submitted a version of the encounter to the station where it was run once and then pulled from the schedule. Halleck and Melendez were informed that the program would never be shown again. Both were banned from MNN, Halleck for a year and Melendez for life, due, according to the operators, to the threats he allegedly made. Halleck and Melendez sued, and after several contrasting rulings the case went to the Supreme Court.73



What was  at stake in the case was  the ability of access channels and other entities to regulate the free speech of programmers. The access channel surprisingly asserted that it could regulate programming, despite the Denver case, and sided with cable companies that have attempted to limit the scope of Denver. In contrast, Halleck and Melendez argued that the access channel is a “state actor,” a term of art that indicates that a person or group is acting as a representative of a government body and is therefore subject to regulation under due protection guaranteed by the bill of rights. A state actor cannot violate the rights of other actors to protections such as free speech. The term “state actor” has been interpreted by courts to include those not traditionally employed by the government but all those acting in a public capacity. For example the Supreme Court stated in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co, Ince 500 U.S. 614 (1991): “Although the conduct of private parties lies beyond the Constitution’s scope in most instances, governmental authority may dominate an activity to such an extent that its participants must be deemed to act with the authority of the government and, as a result, be subject to constitutional constraints.”74 Because public access channels are established by the state and required under certain contractual conditions, Halleck argued that they serve a state function. The second way access channels operated as state actors is as administrators of a public forum. Programming was open to all on a first come, first served basis, and had been considered by legislators to be an electronic soapbox. Thus, Halleck reasons that they were established as a public forum. Under this interpretation, access operators do not act as editors but as public officials who must assure first amendment protections. MNN, however, argued that it was not simply a public soapbox, but that they were like private actors who also make programs curate content and schedule programs. Therefore, they act as editors. This line of argument was extremely unusual for an access operator to make, and might indicate a strong influence by cable owners.

The Aftermath of Halleck The Supreme Court ruled 5–4 against Halleck and for MNN, arguing that because MNN was an independent nonprofit entity, it was not a “state actor.” Thus, it could not be held to first amendment guarantees. While MNN was contracted by a state actor to carry out state and federally mandated functions including providing a public forum, the majority argued that these conditions did not rise to the level needed to be a state actor.



Only if the access channel was run by the municipality itself would it be considered a state actor. In short, it did not define the channel itself as an unrestricted public forum. This conception, however, seems to reinterpret the idea raised by Congress in the 1984 act and seemingly reinforced in the Denver case that the public access channel is the equivalent of the speakers’ soapbox open to all on a first come, first served basis. The park and the street are considered public fora that are governed by the first amendment. The court decision may well harm public access and what is left of its participatory democratic aims. Nonprofit directors and boards could act as gatekeepers and limit participation in the channel, and it will be much easier for municipal officials to pressure access directors to eliminate programming they don’t like or are problematic to some group, or to be selective in the communities they serve. It could lead to a further decline in participation and support for access centers, Of course, it also has a bearing on future disputes concerning the nature of social media forums. It appears that internet forums  would largely be interpreted as private forums in which points of view and participants can be arbitrarily limited.

Neoliberal Deregulation Extended: The Communications Act of 1996 and Beyond A prime example of the failures of neoliberal reform can be found in the communications act of 1996. The Clinton administration viewed it as one of its major achievements. It was by all accounts the most significant piece of media legislation of our era and it remade media in a new image. It further reduced government regulation of telecommunications and claimed to stimulate competition and economic growth. The act had several notable features that eased pressures on broadcasters: it extended the length of broadcast licenses from five to eight years, raised the national television audience reach cap, and eased radio ownership limitations.75 A further review of ownership regulation in 2003 also weakened rules by allowing dual ownership of major network stations in a local broadcast area, increasing the number of local stations networks can own, relaxing cross-ownership rules, allowing companies to own newspaper and broadcast media in a local area, and relaxing limits on both radio and TV cross-­ ownership and the number of radio stations one group can own. Antitrust considerations receded even further into the background than under



Reagan. Once deregulation took place, media consolidation spurred on by deregulation rose at an alarming rate. Just in the period between the 1996 act and the further 2004 review, AOL acquired Time Warner, Viacom acquired CBS, GE acquired Universal Television film assists, and News Corp acquired Direct TV.  These acquisitions have already been superseded by more mergers and acquisitions in processes that have continued unabated. The acquisition of NBC by Comcast and its merger with Time Warner Cable makes it a mega-media conglomerate with control over major network content and a substantial portion of the cable market. Large media corporations have become both vertically and horizontally integrated, controlling not just production and distribution in one media, but across several media including film, television, radio, recording, and broadcast media all at once. Under pressure from telephone companies, the act was also meant to allow phone companies to enter the cable and wireless video services arena and to allow cable companies to offer video services. The result of deregulation, however, was not any increased competition but increased consolidation within sectors. Telephone and cable companies promised not just increased services but more jobs, economic growth, and lower cost for consumers. None of these promises were fulfilled. Rates have skyrocketed, and due to consolidation, jobs have been cut.76 Concentration meant diversity was reduced. For example, by the mid-2000s, Clear Chanel owned over 1500 radio stations and along with Viacom owned over 40% of all stations. The act not only lifted requirements on the number of TV stations owned by one group to 45 but deregulated cable rates. The more pressing issue here, however, was the employment of the neoliberal orthodoxy that competition across sectors and among large players could be employed as a rough synonym for the public interest. This assumption that public interest could be determined by consumer choices was badly flawed. The public interest cannot be spelled out in purely economic terms. As argued in the previous sections, it leads to market failures. The remedy requires the construction of public spaces in which discussion and debate are fostered. While there is no doubt an abundance of channels on cable and information on the internet (not due to the results of the 1996 act), there is very little evidence of expansion or development of democratic publics. In contrast, the concentration of media has meant the loss of local coverage in both newspapers and broadcast media and declining coverage of national politics and international affairs. Foreign correspondents have been cut and infotainment put in its



place.77 Today, foreign news is more likely to be the latest gossip about the British Royal Family than elections or political trends. Local emergency broadcast services have suffered in smaller communities as large conglomerates have reduced staff or fully automated small- and medium-market stations. According to the famous example of Minot SD, the designated emergency broadcast station, a remotely run station, failed to get the signal to alert residents to an explosion.78 A report by Common Cause suggested that the negative effects of the 1996 act cannot be interpreted simply as a set of unintended consequences of a well-intentioned act, but it was a logical conclusion of neoliberal policies that reduce the public to an economic function.79 The public was completely excluded from any deliberations over the 1996 bill. The corporate sponsors of the bill knew fully well that they were tamping down democratic publics. The effect of the bill was a concentrated and deliberate attack on public interest standards. This conclusion is consistent with the notion of colonization of the lifeworld which has converted modes of action coordination from mutual understanding to the noncommunicative coordination of the market. This market-based coordination always is substituted at the expense of democratic deliberation. The results of media consolidation have been detrimental for media localism and issue coverage and or democratic debate. Major networks have cut back on political coverage; for example, they no longer cover political conventions gavel-to-gavel and large ownership conglomerates have consistently given less time to political and local issues than smaller stations. This decline is part of a larger decline of all media, such as newspapers, which are closing all over the country. While it may seem that this is the result of internet challenges, one of the major causes of the decline of newspapers is consolidation. Newspapers were still extremely profitable in the recent past making up to 30% profits, but rather than investing in innovative technologies and operations, the money was leveraged to buy out other newspapers. When the economy declined in the mid-2000s, companies were left with huge debts, staff and coverage were cut, and any profits used for debt reduction. When treated as a financial instrument traded by private equity firms, newsgathering loses their public interest and informational focus are evaluated only through return on investment. Similar debt problems emerged with radio consolidation, leading to the virtual bankruptcy of radio conglomerates like Clear Channel (now iheart radio), which massively cut local staff and news coverage, to avoid financial ruin.



While media in the US has always been a private enterprise, profit had to be balanced with public concerns. With regulations lifted, many corporate enterprises have become financialized, and their main aims are defined by return to stockholders and not to the continued viability of the enterprise. The profit motive is reduced to short-term immediate gain, and lacking that gain companies are sold off and their resources dismantled for cash. It is hard to find any public interest considerations in these developments.

The Privatization of Public Space In its rejection of public interest considerations, neoliberalism has sought to privatize public spaces. This was first true of that most ubiquitous space of American Commercial Culture, the shopping mall, but increasingly throughout the urban landscape, seemingly public spaces have turned out to be privately owned. Yet much of our public life is carried out in these spaces. For some time now, malls have been legally recognized as private spaces like that of a homeowner.80 Timothy Weaver noted this problem in terms of the recent occupy movement. While it aimed to take back public space from the corporate and monetary interests, it found some of its activities thwarted, by the fact that these spaces were indeed private and police could be called to legally remove any occupation.81 Another prominent example of the privatization of public spaces has been the creation of gated communities. Walled off from the community and privately policed, it makes the private space of the city and its roads into a private preserve. Our common space is no longer an egalitarian preserve but reflects the brutal inequality of neoliberalism, this proves however to be a broader problem with larger implications. The privatization of public space is one form of commodification of the public sphere but is also an indicator of the enclosure if you will of behavior and speech and ultimately the public realm. It is a form of disciplining the behavior of social actors. In the private spaces where public activity takes place, behavior can be shaped by private restrictions. Protest and opposition can be severely limited. But it is also the case that the distinction between public and private spaces is being increasingly blurred. The naming of public stadiums after corporation while seemingly trivial to some embodies the branding of the public space as private. It makes the notion of public space ambiguous.



Cable companies have tried in recent years to assert that the cablecast spectrum, despite its use of public right of way, is their private property and theirs to dispose of. They use the notion of consumer choice in addition to justify the treatment of cable as a simple market. When they reduce funding or close access channels, they too seek to enclose and encapsulate public spaces and make them subject to market discipline. Not always noted by analysts of the privatization of public space, is how our governmental spaces, both real and virtual, are being constricted in neoliberalism. When the role of government is to aid in the creation of marketized individuals, they will—and have—acted to constrict public space when possible. Public buildings are becoming fortresses, and governmental functions like policing are becoming militarized. In this context, we might expect to see governments acting to limit the public not only in its right of individual free speech but its ability to form a public capable of deliberating on public affairs.

Public Sphere in Neoliberalism It is often difficult to find oppositional tendencies in neoliberalism, though they may well exist in the anti-globalization movement and occupy movements. Neoliberalism challenges the alternative and counter-publics that arose in the 1960s and 1970s. Though it is important not to exaggerate or romanticize these counter-publics and the rise of social movements during this period, it is still fair to say that they represented a widespread challenge to many forms of authority of institutions in late capitalism and called their legitimacy into question. Beginning with the neoconservative conception of the crisis of democracy an intellectual movement arose that wanted to limit these counter-­ publics. Neoconservatives argued that the crisis of democracy arose from an excess of demands on the democratic system by social movements; it viewed these not as general claims to greater justice and democratic participation but as a self-interested  demand for goods. Sometimes, as in Daniel Bell’s writings, they represent an adversarial culture of intellectuals, but he also interprets the excessive demands as a result of hedonism which wants too much for the individual.82 Protest movements were disrupting the moral order of civil society Neoconservatives like Bell lamented the decline of the protestant ethic in America in which self-disciplined individuals maintained moral order.



Ironically, neo-conservatives held that democratic societies could not handle too much democracy, but this reflected a crisis in the mass democratic welfare state, which for some had reached its limits. Neo-conservatives did not want to eliminate public discussion or merge civil society with the market, they wanted to discipline it to accept postwar elite pluralism/ Going beyond the neoconservative critique, neoliberalism can be seen as a response to the crisis of the Keynesian mass democratic welfare state, and has attempted to resolve these crises through a further constriction of public life and civil society. It has, if you will, extended the rationalization of society by the marketizing of social life and institutions. Thus, it is less a matter of reconstructing the old moral order through internalization of ethical precepts, and in that way reconstructing civil society damaged by capitalist rationalization, and more a replacement of a moral conception of civil society with a marketized one. Neoliberalism is characterized by a widespread attempt to convert these nonmarket institutions to the terms of monetary profit and loss and financial scrutiny. In this process, the public good which was already closely allied to the corporate government order became even more closely linked to profit. The disciplining force of the market is reinforced by government policies that induce individuals to conform to the demands of the entrepreneurial self. Whereas late capitalism sought to shape civil society and public debate through mass media and a society of consumption, it did not necessarily try to change the character of nonmarket institutions. While they may have influenced them to shift goals, they left their nonprofit character intact. However, the individual in neoliberalism is one who is more fragmented and individualized in a negative sense. Neoliberal capitalism creates a subject that is supposed to be plastic, liquid, and adaptable to changing conditions just as fast capitalism is supposed to adjust to ever-­ changing demands of market forces. Mass publics in neoliberalism have also become fragmented. The vast proliferation of channels on cable and in other media have affected the audience for news and other programming. At the height of television and the domination of the three big networks audiences were very large. The final episode of MASH, the anti-war comedy, the highest-rated show in TV history drew 106 million viewers. In contrast, the top shows on TV in the 2014–2015 season, Sunday Night Football, The Big Bang Theory, and NCIS, drew an average of 20, 19, and 18 million viewers, respectively. This despite a much higher audience of possible viewers. Shows are viewed on Netflix and other streaming internet services, and mobile devices and



readership of newspapers have declined. Of course, not all the decline in the audience is due to the forces of fragmentation, Newspapers and broadcast outlets like Radio were decimated by the neoliberal merger mania in the wake of relaxed ownership rules, Mega media companies acquired not just numerous radio and newspaper outlets, but massive debts. When the market crashed the large media, companies cut staff and were content to conform to the marketization of the public sector.

The Public Sphere. Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector Neoliberalism has effected major transformations in the nonprofit sector and forms of associational life in civil society. The latter refers to the nongovernmental sphere that includes the family, the church, education, and voluntary associations that embody social bonds of solidarity. Nonprofits are an important element in civil society. For contemporary communitarians, the civic sphere retains the capacity for teaching moral virtue. They contrast this moral sphere with the impersonal norms of bureaucracy and the market which have a more instrumental orientation. Others see civil society as central to forming skills required by democratic citizenship. It can be a sphere in which conceptions of society are contested. From the progressive era to the post war welfare state, nonprofits were often advocates for the social rights of citizens, such as anti-poverty, health care, childcare, and rights for the elderly and disabled, rights that are important to a vibrant civil society. Though this advocacy has been uneven, it has provided services and advanced policies based on notions of social citizenship—the idea that individuals need a minimum of economic and social security as well as a basic education to fully participate in society. Nonprofits often act, according to this theory, as guardians of these social rights. However, these social rights are the very ones that are under assault in neoliberalism. During the period of the Keynesian Welfare State, there was a compromise between business, government, labor, and civil society. The “embedded liberalism” of the postwar era created a situation in which business and market activity was somewhat constricted through regulation and implicit social and political constraints. They even had an egalitarian component, albeit weak. According to Hassenfeld and Garrod: “The nonprofit human-service sector operated in a policy environment that at least partially encouraged social equality and the expansion of social rights.”83



In the mid-1970s, however, the Keynesian compromise began to dissolve. The balance between capital and labor swung away from labor as well as citizen interests. The ensuing neoliberalism regime rejected social entitlements. They held that entitlements can only be granted in exchange for work. Only the deserving poor can get aid.84 It also places responsibility primarily on the individual or rather than in the collective. Public administration scholars Angela Eikenberry and Jody Klucer have analyzed the marketization of the public sector.85 The end of the Keynesian approach to political-economic organization has led to its replacement by a neoliberal model of political economy which stressed deregulation, privatization, and decentralization. One aspect of this is the changing relation of state and civil society and the public-private and governmental sectors. As social services have become offloaded from the government to private entities like nonprofits and in the international sector NGOs, these entities can lose their independence and civil society building features and become colonized by political-administrative functions. They enforce the discipline of the state in creating entrepreneurial selves. In other terms, they become instruments of governmentality. For example, if a private entity administers a job training program which individuals must certify, they are engaged in to receive welfare benefits; then they no longer act as an entity in civil society, or promote equity or solidarity, but enforce the norms of “responsible” agency that government programs require. Scholars are increasingly aware of the multilayered and interactive dependencies, or the blurring of boundaries, among the nonprofit, government, and market sectors. Recent changes in these relationships are compelling nonprofit organizations to become more market-like in their actions, structures, and philosophies.86 Nonprofits have been directly affected in two important ways: first, there has been a dramatic decrease in government funding of many public and nonprofit programs. Also, the declining scarcity of resources has been accompanied by a change in the philosophy of private donors.  The first of these has led to an increase in market structures and market-­ like behavior in nonprofits such as fees for services, product sales and other commercial ventures. While government funding for not profit social services decreased, nonprofits were able to grow in the 1980s and early 1990s due to a 52% growth in these commercial services. Also, government contracts have moved from grants to vouchers that use quasi-market competition to enforce norms of “accountability and performance measures for the delivery of social services.” Governments have also outsourced services to private enterprises, much of elder care services and many health care



services have been outsourced. For-profits often have an advantage in bidding for services since they have resources to assume risks that are not avoidable to nonprofits. A second change entails a transformation of philanthropic models. In contrast with some of the large foundations of the past like the Ford Foundation, newer foundations have adopted what has been called the venture model. Rather than taking place through large institutions that stress the professionalization of services venture philanthropy run more by single individuals who focus on issues. They come out of the new economy mostly information, social media, and financial service and look to apply results-oriented management to nonprofits. Simply put, “venture philanthropy” is “the application of venture capitalist principles and practices to achieve social change.” Philanthropists look to find a return on investment whether in financial terms or social terms. That is, they want some clearly defined notions of results. They look at social services just the way they look at investments.87 Such an outlook, however, seems to change both the character and the aims of nonprofits. To the extent that notions of accountability and results are applied to nonprofits, the targets of these organizations, groups at risk such as the poor, disabled, minorities, become replaced by middle class or at least better-off constituencies that can both produce some sort of demonstrable effect and afford to pay fees for services. A more ideologically oriented approach to this change of form sees it as an attempt to contain and control unruly and dissenting impulses by coopting and redirecting the aims of nonprofits in the direction of harmless or minimal reforms. Thus, the real purposes of accountability are not economic but more directly political. “Accountability” here is a tool of the managerial state that in the process of managing dissent, blurs the distinction between state and society, that is, it serves the interests of the state in containing dissenters. The large foundations of the post–World War II period were the first practitioners of this form of control. They provided backing, for example, for certain civil rights groups which were more conservative and attempted to shape the civil rights movement in a less challenging direction. As noted in Chap. 3, “liberal” foundations did employ a notion of social harmony that did not always recognize the deep structure of social conflicts. Similarly, the Ford Foundation attempted to shape the directions of development studies through funding of academic research through funding research in that area. The dependency on



foundations and other groups for funds tended to limit the political efficacy of groups which spend much time raising funds. Nonprofits were seen then as a safety valve for dissenting voices especially those who belonged to more well-off classes and status groups.88 Those who come from poorer backgrounds tended to find the contradiction between being employed by a nonprofit which is funded by either the state or foundations and working for social change which directly challenged them difficult. The question of how much dissent is tolerated and in what form is a serious question. (One might well apply this analysis to the development of PBS, which, as noted, was steered in an elitist direction.) Proponents of this critique sometimes overstate their case. Coming from a form of radicalism that adopts the Marxism criticism of all forms of rights including human rights as capitalist ideology, they miss some of the potentials for change inherent in human rights and even in seeming capitalist liberties. What is really in play here are the tensions inherent in capitalist democracies which have over time incorporated the demands of social and economic rights and redistributive aims and the need for containment of reform in acceptable forms. Under neoliberal reforms, this tension is reduced, nonprofits become a more direct instrument of social discipline. The devolution of welfare means that instead of services being provided on the basis of need, and advocacy of social rights, services are steered by a constant political debate over the worth of recipients and the productivity of nonprofits. They don’t provide more focused local services; thus, devolution can provide the opportunity for local politicians to impose their own more limited views on those who receive services, something we see in the provision of women’s health services. In these political debates, the poor and the needy often have no voice and increasingly few advocates. A third, related way that neoliberalism has impacted nonprofits is through the New Public Management movement that aimed to change the way that social services were administered: The contract approach incorporates the language (risk-sharing, pay-for-performance, and bonuses) and methods of the market, shifting risk to providers who get paid only for completed assignments on a fixed-rate basis.89 Here the obligations between the state and citizen, state and civil society, are transformed. Neoliberalism turns citizens into consumers, isolated individuals who receive and consume services bought and sold on the market. They eliminate the ideas of reciprocal obligations and mutual aid that nonprofits have employed. To the extent that citizens became



consumers, they bear the full individual responsibility of obtaining the services. Nonprofits can no longer provide services to any who need it.

Putting It All Together: Depoliticization The combination of economization, marketization, deregulation, and financialization means that elements of public life that were not earlier considered subject to the rule of markets are brought under its sway. To the extent that economic decisions come to replace political ones, public life can be depoliticized. Of course, in postwar American society, a different form of depoliticization was predominant: civil privatism, defined as political abstinence combined with an orientation to career, leisure, and consumption—the notion that family and private life was the main focus of the ordinary citizen was dominant in the post–World War II period.90 The citizen was a consumer whose life revolved around the consumption of goods and the pursuit of personal happiness, in a context defined by the nuclear family and work. Democratic elitism often held that the only role of the ordinary citizen was to simply vote for a candidate or slate of candidates and leave decision-making in their hands. Democratic elitism was complemented with the idea that social and political problems were best solved by experts, social technicians who can scientifically determine the best policies and actions to achieve desired social goals. Neoliberal depoliticization takes a different form. It is not based on the rule of technical experts and politicians claiming to act in the public interest and with a notion of the public welfare while the average citizen lives a private life, but of a market logic that reduces consideration of collective goods to a concatenation of private preferences. Whereas politics at least existed in the rule of elites, it is fully subordinated to an economic logic in which such considerations are eliminated. The public sphere is desiccated since there are fewer arenas for discussion. Political debate is especially impacted. There is no reference to the formation of an intersubjective will to act, based on deliberation and solidarity toward others. The generative and authorizing power of deliberation is lost.91 Because of the inability of market solutions to solve political problems, many ordinary citizens have come to lose faith in government. Nor do they feel that they have any agency or impact on political decisions. This is distinct from the Keynesian era. Here citizens, though largely excluded from power, did think that the government could act to solve problems.



In part, this skepticism is justified. Citizens have even less power than they did in the postwar era. Corporate power has become more concentrated in neoliberalism. As a result, political institutions have become more distorted and less democratic. Political decisions are made solely on the interests of the economic elite, and often removed from democratic accountability. Colin Crouch’s notion of  “post-democracy” discussed earlier captures the direction of contemporary politics. A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite.92

In addition to concentrated political power. the globalization of the economy impacts the ability of nations to make their own policy. When combined with the privatization of public services, it results in unaccountable decision-making processes. Privatizing limits the advocacy of alternatives by existing political parties. At the same time, fragmentations of “underclass” interests are making them ineffective agents of political change. For my purposes, the significance of these changes in the general political/cultural climate is in its impact on both citizens who might participate or view access and politicians, including local ones, who increasingly represent unaccountable interests. In the first case, the post-1960s depoliticization of politics has no doubt put a damper on more political programming on access, although it has by no means eliminated it; a significant amount of energy was channeled into less challenging programming. By the end of the Reagan era, political energies were scattered. On the other side of the equation, more and more autocratic political environment meant that local leaders are less likely to support popular democratic initiatives. Of course, as state franchises, influenced by industry lobbyists, come to be the norm, autocratic tendencies are exacerbated. What happens to public access in a period where the idea of popular democratic participation in all areas of political and social life is discouraged? While access channels flourished throughout the 1990s, disputes over the type and character of programming were prevalent. As access came to be associated with frivolous and fringe programming, disputes over censorship seemed to increase. By the new millennium, however,



local governments became increasingly resistant to popular democratic institutions. As I argue in the next chapter, one of the important rationales used to limit or eliminate access was austerity. In neo-liberalism, austerity has been used as a rationale to eliminate services, limit democratic and popular groups or institutions, and enhance autocratic power.

Notes 1. For an account of some uses, see Phillip Cerny, “Embedding neo-liberalism: The evolution of a hegemonic paradigm”, The Journal of International Trade and Diplomacy, 2 (1), Spring 2008: 1–46. 2. James O Connor, The Fiscal Crisis of the State, New  York: St Martin’s Press 1971. 3. Claus Offe. Contradictions of the Welfare State, Cambridge MA: MIT Press 1984; Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, Boston: Beacon Press 1975. 4. See for example, Sanford Schram, The Return of Ordinary Capitalism: Neo Liberalism Precarity, Occupy, New York Oxford 2015. 5. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The political and economic origins of our time, Boston: Beacon Press 1980 For a contemporary revival of his insights see Fred Block and Margaret Somers, The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique, Cambridge MA: Harvard 2014. Nancy Fraser also employs Polanyi in “A Triple Movement,” NLR 81 May June 2013. 6. Werner Bonefeld, The Strong State and the Free Economy, Latham MD: Roman and Littlefield 2017. Also see Bonefeld, “Freedom and the Strong State: On German Ordoliberalism.” New Political Economy. 2012 pp. 633–656. 7. Phillip Cerny, “Embedding neo-liberalism: The evolution of a hegemonic paradigm,” 10. 8. Werner Bonefeld, Freedom and the Strong State: 4. 9. Accounts of the history of the Mont Pelerin group and the rise of neoliberalism see Daniel Steadman-Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics—Updated Edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press; Phillip Murowski and Dieter Plehwe ed, The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neo-Liberal Thought Collective, Cambridge MA: Harvard 2015; Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression, Cambridge MA 2012. 10. Cited in Harvey, A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism. 11. Draft statement of aims cited in Daniel Steadman Jones, Masters of the Universe 23–24. 12. Jaime Peck, Constructions of Neo-Liberal Reason, New York: Oxford 2010.



13. Phillip Cerny, “Embedding neo-liberalism: The evolution of a hegemonic paradigm”. 14. Miguel A Centeno and Joseph N.  Cohen. ‘The Arc of Neo-liberalism,’ Annual Review of Sociology: 38 2012: 321 (317–40). More generally see David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, New York Oxford 2007. 15. A summary of various senses is found in Natasha Van der Swan, “Making Sense of Financialization,” Socio-Economic Review 2004 12, 99–129. 16. Wolfgang Streeck, Buying Time 2nd edition, New York Verso 2017. 17. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. 18. Wendy Brown Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, Brooklyn: Zone Books 2015. 19. Mark Olsen, “In Defense of the Welfare State and of Publicly Provided Education.” Journal of Educational Policy, 11, 1996. 337–362, cited in Michael W.  Apple, “Creating Difference: Neo-Liberalism, Neo-­ Conservatism and the Politics of Educational Reform,” Educational Policy, Vol. 18 No. 1, January/March 2004: 21. 20. Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. New Delhi: Sage 1986; Anthony Giddens, Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge Polity Press 1990. 21. Richard Sennett, The Culture of the New Capitalism, New Haven: Yale 2006; Zygmunt Bauman Liquid Modernity London Polity Press 2000. 22. See for example Sennett’s earlier work The Fall of Public Man, (40th-­ anniversary edition) New York Norton 2017. 23. Nancy Mc Lean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Rights Stealth Plan for America, New York: Viking 2017. 24. Colin Crouch, Post Democracy, London Polity Press 2004. 25. Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010. 26. Werner Bonefeld, “Authoritarian Liberalism, Class and Rackets,” Logos Journal 16: 1–2 2017 27. Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action vol 2 Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, Cambridge MIT Press 1985. 28. Robert Britt Horowitz, The Irony of Regulatory Reform: The Deregulation of American Telecommunications. New York: Oxford 1989 204–5. 29. Byron Dorgan, “The FCC and Media Ownership: The Loss of the Public Interest Standard”, Notre Dame Journal of Law Ethics and Public Policy 19 2005: 443–454 at 444. 30. For example, see Cass Sunstein #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media Princeton: Princeton University Press 2017: 84ff.



31. Byron Dorgan, “The FCC and Media Ownership”: 446. 32. Byron Dorgan, “The FCC and the Media Ownership”: 444. 33. Robert Britt Horowitz, The Irony of Regulatory Reform: The Deregulation of American Telecommunications: 21. 34. William Kunz, Culture Conglomerates: Consolidation in the Motion Picture and Television Industries, Lantham MA: Roman and Littlefield 2006: 63 and Jennifer Holt, Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation 1980–96, Rutgers 2011. 35. These developments are traced by Megan Mullan, The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States, Austin: University of Texas Press 2003. 36. Statewide Video Franchising Standards, NCSL website http://www.ncsl. org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/statewide-video-franchising-statutes.aspx. 37. Connie Ledoux Book, “Simple Questions, Complex Answers?: An Examination of SB5’s Impact on Texas”, TX: Book Report Raises Questions About Texas SB 5 Save Access Blog 4/24/2008 https://www. 38. ALEC Task Forces: Cable Video Franchising, cable-vide+o-franchising/. 39. See Nancy McLean, Democracy in Chains The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, New York: Viking 2017. 40. American Community Television, Trouble in the States 41. See Assessing the Damage, Alliance for Community Media 2008. 42. American Community Television, “An industry-wide effort: Community Losses under Statewide/State-Issued Franchising PEG Channels,” http:// Effort_1008.pdf. 43. This move happened in stages all over the country on the 2013 move see Phillip Dampier, “Time Warner Cable Converting PEG Channels to Digital-Only Viewing in Upstate NY.” Stop the Cap July 2, 2013, https://; Steven Dravis, “Time Warner Moves Public Access Channels to Digital,” July 23, 2013, http://www. 44. See the following representative articles Deidre Williams, “City’s public access channels now in ‘Siberia’—if you can get them at all,” Buffalo News June 17, 2018; Keith Edwards,” Augusta channel change signals concern over public access programming,” Central Maine December 1, 2017;; Nancy Hicks, “Government, public access channels at new numbers,” Lincoln



Journal Star August 10, 2017; tv-radio/government-public-access-channels-at-new-numbers/ article_8b733f28-e9e3-5f3c-bfe2-6cd876c9f4f2.htm; “Mayor’s Office Asks Spectrum Not to Change PEG Channels,” Big Island Now January 11. 2018 Tim Feran, “Spectrum’s move to all-digital network prompts questions by consumers.” Columbus Dispatch May 20, 2018,, among many others critical of this move. 45. Personal conversation with PSC officials in New York State. 46. American Community Television, “An Industry-Wide Effort”. 47. Ashley Lutz, “These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America,” Business Insider June 14, 2012, https://www.businessinsider. com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6; An updated version as of 2017 can be found in WebapageFX “Media conglomerates: The Big 6”.; The Classic Book on media ownership is Ben H.  Badikian, The New Media Monopoly revised edition, Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. However, this book could not keep up with recent changes. 48. See Holt, Empires of Entertainment 7ff for a brief overview. 49. One of the first versions of this idea was formulated by Samuel Huntington. “The Marasmus of the ICC: The Commission, the Railroads, and the Public Interest.” Yale Law Journal 614: 1952467-509. Another important formulation was George Stigler, “The theory of economic regulation.”, Bell J. Econ. Man. Sci. 21971: 3–21. A more recent collection that attempts to reevaluate the concept is Daniel Carpenter and David A.  Moss, eds. Preventing Regulatory Capture: Special Interest Influence and How to Limit It, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 50. Michelle Clancy, “FCC Denies Must Carry for LPTVs but Greenlights Channel Sharing.” Rapid TV News March 26, 2017. 51. Common Cause, “Connect the Dots Money in Politics The cable industry hardwiring influence.” hardwiring-infuencenys-cable-common-cause-presentation. 52. “Changes to the franchising Rules by the Public Service Commission,” defend local access Free press. 53. Nate Anderson, “Cable Deregulation good for consumers; like heck, it is,” Ars Technica June 10, 2008. 54. James K. Wilcox, “Your Cable Bill Probably went up more than you think.” Consumer Reports May 9, 2018,



55. Daniel B.  Kline, “The Motley Fool. Consumer satisfaction with cable, Internet Service Providers drops again,” USA Today May 24, 2018, y/money/media/2018/05/24/ consumer-satisfaction-cable-isps-drops/35298695/. 56. Thomas Pickety’s work has established that inequality is a result of normal capitalism not a pathology Capital in the 21st Century, Cambridge 2014. The work of Robert Reich also takes this line of analysis. 57. For a summary, see Market Failures, uploads/2017/09/market-failure.pdf. 58. John Keane, The Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Polity 1991: 68. 59. Victor Pickard, “Conclusion: Confronting Market Failures,” in America’s Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform, New York: Cambridge University Press 2015. 60. Richard Posner, “Natural Monopoly and it’s Regulation,” Stanford Law Review 21 1968 548–643. 61. See Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom where natural monopoly is discussed. 62. Ronald Coase, “The Problem of Social Cost,” Journal of Law and Economics, October 1960, p. 15. More generally for Coase’s theories see, Ronald Coase, The Firm, the Market and the Law, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988. 63. Jerome Barron, “Access to the Press -A New First Amendment” Right,” Harvard Law Review Vol 80: 1641–1678 1966–7. 64. Laura Stein, Speech Rights in America: The First Amendment, Democracy, and the Media, Chicago University of Illinois Press 2007. 65. Douglas Kellner, “Public Access Television: Alternative Views,” https:// 66. Kirsten Fleming, “New York’s public access TV was a cesspool of soft-­core porn,” New York Post Apr 10, 2018, new-yorks-public-access-tv-was-a-cesspool-of-soft-core-porn/. 67. AP News, “Talk Show Suspended From Local Access Cable Slot During Obscenity Probe,” Oct 25,1991 4e728cc95c2bd876adcf497c. 68. Reporters Committee for freedom of the press, “Host, producer of public access feature convicted of violating obscenity law,” May 1994 https:// 69. Mike Barber, “Public-access porn show deemed obscene Cable TV channel’s review board rules,” Seattle PI February 9, 2005. https://www. ticle/Public-access-porn-show-deemedobscene-1166076.php. 70. Cynthia Chris, “Screen Space and the Conviction of “Dick Smart,” Art Lies Issue 68



71. See Laura Stein, Speech Rights in America: 67–8. 72. The Loce vs Time Warner case, which primarily concerned LPTV, is briefly summarized in Kimberly A.  Zarkin and Michaël J.  Zarkin, The Federal Communications Commission: Front Line in the Culture and Regulation Wars, Westport: Greenwood Press 2006. Also see “Producers Defend Reviled Cable TV Show” New York Times Sept 1, 1997, https://www. The case can be found at us-2nd-circuit/1414043.html—Fair Disclosure, Producer Tom Loce is a relation. However, my father who ran the access channel during that time was opposed to running his program. 73. S.M. “The Supreme Court takes a public-access TV case,” The Economist Oct 17, 2018, Allison Frankel, “A Supreme Court case has Internet companies running scared,” Reuters Dec 13, 2018 https:// us-otc-halleck-firstamendment/a-supreme-court-case-has-internet-companies-running-scared-idUSKBN1OC2XR. 74. See “State Action Requirement”, Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, 75. Byron Dorgan, “The FCC and Media Ownership”: 446. 76. Common Cause, “The Fallout from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 Unintended Consequences and Lessons Learned,” Also see Robert McChesney, Rich Media Poor Democracy: Communications Policy in Dubious Times, (New Edition), New York: New Press 2015. 77. Tom Fenton, Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News and The Danger to Us All. New York: Harper Collins 2005. 78. The Minot incident and its implication are discussed in Eric Kleinberg, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media, New York Holt 2007 1–16. 79. Common Cause, “The Fallout from the Telecommunications Act of 1996”. 80. On the general phenomenon, see Margaret Kohn, Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space, New York Routledge 2004. 81. On the issues with the Occupy movement, see Bradley L. Garrett, “The privatization of cities’ public spaces is escalating. It is time to take a stand.” The Guardian August 5, 2015 2015/aug/04/pops-privately-owned-public-space-cities-direct-action. 82. For neo-conservatism, see Samuel Huntington et  al, The Crisis of Democracy, New York: New York University Press. 1975; and Daniel Bell The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York Basic 1978.



83. See Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, (Albany SUNY Press 2003: 301. 84. Michael Katz, The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare, New York Pantheon 1990. 85. Angela M. Eikenberry and Jodie Drapal Kluver, “The Marketization of the Nonprofit Sector: Civil Society at Risk?,” Public Administration Review Vol. 64, No. 2 (March–April 2004), pp. 132–140. 86. Susan Ostrander, Stuart Langton, and Jon Van Til editors, Shifting the Debate: Public/Private Sector Relations in the Modern Welfare State, Transaction Press 1987. 87. Diane Gingold. “New Frontiers in Philanthropy,” Fortune 2000 para 4 cited in Eikenbury p. 134. 88. Joan Roelofs Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, (Albany SUNY Press 2003; Also see The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, Boston South End Press 2007. 89. William P Ryan, “The New Landscape for Non-Profits,” Harvard Business Review 77(1): 1999 127–36. 90. Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, Boston: Beacon Press 1975. 91. See generally Carl Boggs, The End of Politics: Corporate Power and the Decline of the Public Sphere, Guilford 2001. More Recent treatments include Paul Fawcett, Matthew Flinders, Colin Hay, Matthew Wood Editors, Anti-­Politics, Depoliticization, and Governance, New York: Oxford 2017 Elaine Glaser, Anti-Politics: On the Demonization of Ideology, Authority, and the State, New York: Penguin 2018. 92. Colin Crouch, Post Democracy.

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Chris, Cynthia. Screen Space and the Conviction of “Dick Smart” Art Lies Issue 68. Common Cause. The Fallout from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 Unmittened Consequences and Lessons Learned. Coase, Ronald. 1960. The Problem of Social Cost. Journal of Law and Economics 15. ———. 1988. The Firm, the Market and the Law. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Crouch, Colin. 2004. Post Democracy. London: Polity Press. Dampier, Phillip. 2013. Time Warner Cable Converting PEG Channels to DigitalOnly Viewing in Upstate NY. Stop the Cap, July 2. https://stopthecap. com/2013/07/02/time-warner-cable-converting-peg-channels-to-digitalonly-viewing-in-upstate-ny/. Dorgan, Byron. 2005. The FCC and Media Ownership: The Loss of the Public Interest Standard. Notre Dame Journal of Law Ethics and Public Policy 19: 443–454. Dravis, Steven. 2013. Time Warner Moves Public Access Channels to Digital, July 23. Edwards, Keith. 2017. Augusta Channel Change Signals Concern Over Public Access Programming, December 1.; Eikenberry, Angela M., and Jodie Drapal Kluver. 2004. The Marketization of the Nonprofit Sector: Civil Society at Risk? Public Administration Review 64 (2): 132–140. Fawcett, Paul, Matthew Flinders, Colin Hay, and Matthew Wood, eds. 2017. Anti-Politics, Depoliticization, and Governance. New York: Oxford. Fenton, Tom. 2005. Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News and the Danger to Us All. New York: Harper Collins. Feran, Tim. 2018. Spectrum’s Move to All-digital Network Prompts Questions by Consumers. Columbus Dispatch, May 20. news/20180520/spectrums-move-to-all-digital-network-prompts-questionsby-consumers. Frankel, Allison. 2018. A Supreme Court Case Has Internet Companies Running Scared. Reuters, December 13. https:// us-otc-halleck-firstamendment/a-supreme-court-case-has-internet-companiesrunning-scared-idUSKBN1OC2XR. Fraser, Nancy. 2013. A Triple Movement, NLR 81 May–June. Friedman, Milton. 1962. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



Fleming, Kirsten. 2018. New York’s Public Access TV Was a Cesspool of Soft-core Porn. New York Post, April 10. new-yorks-public-access-tv-was-a-cesspool-of-soft-core-porn/. Gingold, Diane. 2000. New Frontiers in Philanthropy. Fortune. Giddens, Anthony. 1990. Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Garrett, Bradley L. 2015. The Privatization of Cities’ Public Spaces Is Escalating. It Is Time to Take a Stand. The Guardian, August 5. Glaser, Elaine. 2018. Anti-Politics: On the Demonization of Ideology, Authority and the State. New York: Penguin. Habermas, Jurgen. 1975. Legitimation Crisis. Boston: Beacon Press. ———. 1985. Theory of Communicative Action vol 2 Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Cambridge: MIT Press. Harvey, David. 2007. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford. Hicks, Nancy. Government, Public Access Channels at New Numbers. Lincoln Journal Star; August. ticle_8b733f28e9e3-5f3c-bfe2-6cd876c9f4f2.htm. Horowitz, Robert Britt. 1989. The Irony of Regulatory Reform: The Deregulation of American Telecommunications. New York: Oxford. Huntington, Samuel, et al. 1975. The Crisis of Democracy. New York: New York University Press. Huntington, Samuel. The Marasmus of the ICC: The Commission, the Railroads, and the Public Interest. Yale Law Journal 614: 1952467–1952509. INCITE, ed. 2007. The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Boston: South End Press. Jones, Daniel Steadman. 2014. Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics  – Updated Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Katz, Michael. 1990. The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare. New York: Pantheon. Keane, John. 1991. The Media and Democracy, 68. Cambridge: Polity. Kellner, Douglas. Public Access Television: Alternative Views. https://pages. Kline, Daniel B. 2018. The Motley Fool. Consumer Satisfaction with Cable, Internet Service Providers Drops Again. USA Today May 24. https://www. Kleinberg, Eric. 2007. Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media. New York: Holt.



Kohn, Margaret. 2004. Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space. New York: Routledge. Loce vs Time Warner. 2006. In Kimberly A.  Zarkin and Michaël J.  Zarkin The Federal Communications Commission: Front Line in the Culture and Regulation Wars Westport: Greenwood Press. Lutz, Ashley. 2012. These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media. America Business Insider; June 14. Market Failures McChesney, Robert. 2015. Rich Media Poor Democracy: Communications Policy in Dubious Times (New Edition). New York: New Press. McLean, Nancy. 2017. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Rights Stealth Plan for America. New York: Viking. Mullan, Megan. 2003. The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States. Austin: University of Texas. Murowski, Phillip, and Dieter Plehwe, eds. 2003. The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neo-Liberal Thought Collective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 2015 Press. “Now Mayor’s Office Asks Spectrum Not to Change PEG Channels”. 2018. Big Island, January 11. O’Connor, James. 1971. The Fiscal Crisis of the State. New York: St Martin’s Press. Offe, Claus. 1984. Contradictions of the Welfare State. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Olssen, Mark. 1996. “In Defense of the Welfare State and of Publicly Provided Education.” Journal of Educational Policy, 11, 337–362, cited in Michael W.  Apple “Creating Difference: Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Conservatism and the Politics of Educational Reform,” Educational Policy, 18 (1) January/ March 2004: 21. Ostrander, Susan, Stuart Langton, and Jon Van Til, eds. 1987. Shifting the Debate: Public/Private Sector Relations in the Modern Welfare State. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press. Peck, Jaime. 2010. Constructions of Neo-Liberal Reason. New York: Oxford. Pickety, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the 21st Century. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Posner, Richard. 1968. Natural Monopoly and Its Regulation. Stanford Law Review 21: 548–643. Polanyi, Karl. 1980. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston: Beacon Press. “Producers Defend Reviled Cable TV Show”. 1997. New York Times, September 1.



Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 1994. Host, Producer of Public Access Feature Convicted of Violating Obscenity Law. host-producer-public-access-feature-convicted-violating-obscenity-la/. Roelofs, Joan. 2003. Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism. Albany: SUNY Press. Ryan, William P. 1999. The New Landscape for Non-Profits. Harvard Business Review 77 (1): 127–136. S.M. 2018. The Supreme Court Takes a Public-Access TV Case. The Economist, October 17. Schram, Sanford. 2015. The Return of Ordinary Capitalism: Neo Liberalism Precarity, Occupy. New York: Oxford University Press. Sennett, Richard. 2006. The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale. ———. 2017. Fall of Public Man (40th Anniversary Edition). New York: Norton. “State Action Requirement” Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. Statewide Video Franchising Standards. NCSL website research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/statewide-videofranchising-statutes.aspx. Streeck, Wolfgang. 2017. Buying Time. 2nd ed. New York: Verso. Stein, Laura. 2007. Speech Rights in America: The First Amendment, Democracy, and the Media. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Stigler, George. 1971. The Theory of Economic Regulation. Bell Journal of Economics 2: 3–21. Sunstein, Cass. 2017. #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, 84ff. Princeton: Princeton University Press. “Talk Show Suspended From Local Access Cable Slot During Obscenity Probe”. 1991. AP News. October 25. 5c2bd876adcf497c. Van der Swan, Natasha. 2004. Making Sense of Financialization. Socio-Economic Review 12: 99–129. WebapageFX. Media Conglomerates: The Big 6. data/the-6-companies-that-own-almost-all-media/. Wilcox, James K. 2018. Your Cable Bill Probably Went Up More Than You Think. Consumer Reports, May 9. your-cable-bill-probably-went-up-more-than-you-think/. Williams, Deidre. 2018. City’s Public Access Channels Now in ‘Siberia’ – If You Can Get Them at All. Buffalo News, June 17. Wolin, Sheldon. 2010. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Access Under Attack: Some Examples from the Field

In this chapter, I want to focus on elaborating some of the problems faced by access channels across the nation. Access channels have always faced challenges but starting around 2000 observers noted a decided uptick in conflicts and often shutdowns. These include austerity-related funding cuts, censorship, attempts to commercialize access, and rejecting the need for public forums for discussion of public issues. I also discuss the declining influence of national groups representing cable operators. I tie these to the accumulated effects of neoliberal forms of regulation.

Artificial Austerity Access advocates often idealize local municipalities as the saviors who will stave off the predations of greedy cable companies and statewide franchises, but increasingly local governments are dropping public access channels, attempting to take control of them or refusing new requests to create them. Confidence in their saving power is mistaken. There are a variety of forces putting pressure on local municipalities that affect their support of PEG channels and especially public access. However, several stand out. There is widespread agreement that insecure and inadequate funding is a major source of instabilities. Neoliberals often use long-term underfunding of measures intended to serve public interests to eliminate them. One source of problems is the artificial austerity that has caused fiscal crises in municipalities. A second related problem is the widespread © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




acceptance of the neoliberalization of all forms of government. Both republicans and democrats have tacitly accepted neoliberal tenets. Nationally, neoliberalization is just as much associated with Bill Clinton as Ronald Reagan or the Bushes. On the local level, this has meant decreasing support for the goals of citizen participation and, through the creation of inequality, a declining ability of excluded groups to get their messaging to the public. Artificial austerity also reinforces the idea that nonprofits ought to be instruments of social discipline rather than promoters of social rights. Robert Reich has noted the effect of austerity on social and political order in the last few decades.1 The decrease or outright cessation in the growth of middle-class incomes was accompanied by the fact that the rich who were gaining the benefits of economic growth essentially withdrew support for public services. The fiscal crisis  of the state was addressed politically, not just economically. The wealthy used their increased political power to lower their tax burdens and pass burdens for public goods to the middle and working classes. Unable to pay the rising taxes, a tax revolt on the part of the middle classes and a distrust of the ability of government to provide public goods limited the appeal of public goods. The US government lowered spending on infrastructure, transferred the costs of higher education to families, and attacked unions and wages while at the same time radically cutting taxes for corporations and higher-income earners. Increasingly public goods are offloaded to the private sector or become public/private partnerships. This becomes a vicious circle. The less revenue available, the more difficult it is to operate public institutions like schools effectively. This leads to more distrust and flight from public institutions. While middle- and working-class families still wanted the benefits of these goods, but by themselves could not afford to pay, they lost faith in government action. Public access has been negatively impacted by artificial austerity. While franchise agreements should provide a dedicated source of funding, this franchise fee is no longer “dedicated” to funding access. In many places, it has been directed to general revenue. Fiscal austerity has often been used as a rationale for cutting or eliminating access funding. Public access has become optional even when it is part of a local franchise agreement and is constantly open to political pressure. For example, in New York State the birthplace of access and once a model for the nation, municipalities can choose to have cable companies run access at no cost, but with minimal conditions. They need to provide no studio or equipment but simply run



tapes submitted by residents. This relives the municipality of any burden in providing much in the way of public access. Municipalities get the franchise fee and claim to provide access but escape the costs and burdens of operation. Especially in suburban or conservative urban areas where politicians run on low tax platforms, PEG channels can seem an unnecessary luxury. On the other side of the divide, critics have noted an increasing disengagement with public life in the neoliberal era. Writers like Robert Putnam have identified a decrease in civic participation—though he sees it mostly in terms of nonpolitical activities like bowling. However, this extends to voting and other forms of political participation.2 Certainly, this phenomenon affects public access channels as well. Many have noted the declining rate of participation. The explanation, however, is more contentious. Is it a sign of a general decline of civic spirit or a decline of interest in access or is there another possible explanation? Nonparticipation seems to be the desired outcome of neoliberal policy initiatives. Students of austerity measures across the globe have noted how austerity measures attack social rights and even violate human rights. Austerity measures in Greece provide a good example of the attack on rights in the name of austerity. This attitude is consistent with the neoliberal view that economic rights take priority over all other rights. From this standpoint, it is perfectly acceptable to limit civil and social rights to protect the rights of property. While it would be an exaggeration to see such a sustained attack in the US, it is not a stretch, however, to see its influence on the way municipal authorities might think of the importance of maintaining the support of access in the light of the demands of austerity. Rights are a luxury in the conditions of austerity and those who assert such claims as disorderly and threatening. To various degrees, austerity functions as a “state of emergency”. Even from a less radical point of view, austerity can be seen as a political strategy. Using an economic analogy, Claus Offe argues that austerity has concentrated control and limited alternatives. It restricts effective opportunities to participate in government and thus limits the “supply” of opportunities to participate and thus in that way acts to control demand.3 With little chance of effecting policies of unresponsive governments and institutions, there is little value in voting or participating. The disengagement of citizens is in part a result of the increasing inequality in society. Not only are the barriers to ordinary political participation in a period of austerity, but individuals themselves also have been more threatened.



I would put this insight more in communicative theoretical terms than supply and demand economics. Individuals in time of austerity have both fewer opportunities and fewer communicative resources at their command, and fewer opportunities to develop and employ them. Contrast the austerity of the present era to the democratic optimism of the late 1960s. The initiatives for the democratization of the media, both aimed to increase opportunities for participation, but also to increase the capacities of individuals to use and command media. The isolated figure working at a computer seems the more appropriate figure for the neoconservative age.

Austerity and Access Concerns about austerity have impacts on public access programming. Under austerity, even local leaders seek more control over political processes. Many municipal leaders have little interest in what they see as public obligations that help dissenters or political opponents and austerity justifies acting on these concerns. The rhetoric of austerity often seeks to bypass democratic initiatives in the service of a “necessity” that demands executive action. In this situation public access channels are sometimes eliminated for “fiscal” reasons but  often governmental access is maintained. Municipalities feel they do not have to present opposing views and can shape the meaning of events through the positive publicity of running board meetings and shows where they can present their own spin. Even when there is a political will for public access, towns officials restrict it. In 2000, the News Media and the Law noted this trend. Instead of a hands-­ off policy, they claimed, “there is a growing trend for cities to involve themselves with the administration of public access channels, after receiving complaints about content.”4 While this article discusses both issues involving offensive programming, which is not entirely new, and programs that criticize municipal leaders, what is changed is the remedy taken. Instead of questioning the program, municipal leaders are quite willing to shut down access or take control of stations to eliminate programming they don’t like. This change is striking in the wake of the well-known court decision in Denver v FCC. Here the court ruled that public access was a forum in which offensive programs could not be restricted on access channels. While this accorded protection to individual programmers, it seemed to lead to a more radical solution: more control over programming by municipalities or eliminating access. These concerns increasingly center on programming critical of municipal leaders. To protect themselves from the dissatisfaction over the neoliberal precarity, and with the



greater fear of popular democracy that threatens neoliberal governance, dissenting speech has to be reined in. For example, the News Media and Law article cites a case in Texas in which the municipal leaders changed the nature of PEG programming to educational and governmental, solely to take a program called Questions and Answers off the air. Questions and Answers was critical of the city government and mismanagement of accounts. In a phone conversation, the mayor even said that he was willing to keep other programming like church shows off the air if that was what it took to eliminate programs like Questions and Answers. In another case, the city of Buffalo terminated its contract with a nonprofit corporation that ran access based on its broadcast of offensive material and other unspecified problems and took over access administration.5 In 2006, requests to create public access channels in Gainesville, Florida, and Champaign, Illinois, were rejected, although each was a reasonable proposal. University of Gainesville professor Michael Leslie noted: “It just seems as the commission was not interested in it in Gainesville.” Others noted the inaction of the commissioners: “People (i.e. the cable commissioners) in this day fear communications, so there was a dragging of feet.” Commissioners also expressed the opinion that the internet was available, so access was unnecessary. On the other hand, the Gainesville commission was quite interested in expanding governmental access which provides only government-created programs like meetings, but no citizen-­ created programs. In Champaign, Illinois, one councilman felt that there was no interest in public access and expressed concern about objectionable programming like those from “cults.” Another opposed “taxing” the public to provide a forum for free speech—despite the explicit Federal Communications Commission (FCC) view that the franchise fee is not and cannot be a tax. Even though the part-time access channel in Urbana was showing an increased demand for programming, the city council was only interested in using funds to create governmental access.6 Treated in this way, PEG channels can become de facto political instruments of municipal governments. These are, however, not isolated incidents; they are occurring throughout the country. In many cases, access operations are being privatized and outsourced. Even though there has been a dedicated source of funds, access channels have been increasingly expected to have their own nonfranchise fee sources of funding. (This is not true of governmental access.) Like other institutions in neoliberalism, the marketization of public access channels. It unburdens municipalities of the costs of public obligations and place the



risk on the public or on nonprofits. If they are to operate at all, they must provide their own sources of funding or at the very least supplement funding from franchise fees that are cut to the bone. Of course, once statewide franchises are established, funding either dries up or are extremely limited. This was the case in Urbana. It was suggested that user fees or outside funding were the only path to fund an access channel. Even when municipalities accept the value of public access, they claim it as a cost they cannot afford to carry. In Buncombe, North Carolina, Commissioner Holly Jones, after praising the community building character of access, claimed, “I really don’t think it’s our responsibility to save URTV. … In this economy, there’s not a nonprofit in town that hasn’t had to change its ways.” Instead, Commissioner David Gantt said that the station needed to come up with its own solutions.7 The result of such burdens, if they were to prove successful, would be to make public forums dependent on local groups like businesses or others with their own agendas. Where state agreements have cut funding, municipalities have had to pay cable companies to run access channels. For example, in 2008 Durham, North Carolina, paid Time Warner $120,000 to run public access programming for ten months. Programmers no longer had access to studios but had to provide programming independently.8 In Missouri, Charter House canceled the cable channel for the town of Framingham and was told that it would have to lease space from the cable company if it wanted to broadcast meetings and resident-produced shows.9 In Florida, according to American Community Television, “the state law allows operators such as Bright House to conduct “Push-Polling” of all of the subscribers and only if a majority of all of the subscribers respond that they want the PEG channels, will cable operators to provide them to the community.” Public access is here defined as a commodity, a market good whose existence is based on demand.10 In other areas where funding has been radically cut, new models have emerged which reflect neoliberal marketization. In San Francisco, where a statewide franchise law led to an 85% cut in funds, the once-thriving access channel there found that operations were taken over by an inexperienced operator who has shifted to an open-source model. Several shows including the well-regarded program “Newsroom on Access SF” were ended as production studios were closed and three-camera shooting was discontinued. Editing help by staff was curtailed. In contrast, the open-access model is the creation of a virtual studio that is computer based and stresses independent production. This has meant that many groups such as seniors and



poor people who have limited access or limited online skills are excluded from production, and the emphasis on offsite productions leads to a deskilling of producers. No initiatives have been planned to increase the diversity of participants in the community and changes did not address the issues of minority communities. Access supporters argue that virtual communities lack the cohesion and solidarity actual communities create. They feel that it both individualized participation and diminished the mission of access. It is an elitist vision. Steve Zeltzer, a labor activist and public access producer, charges that the BAVC takeover has resulted in “the privatization of public access.”11 Many of the so-called innovations of open-source access target a small group of more affluent, young, and conservative population and leaving out most other needs A recent look at the BAVC website  revealed that BAVC heavily promotes itself as a production house, doing work for nonprofits and commercial clients for funds. While this is by no means unique, the extent to which BAVC promoted itself as a production house rather than a public access channel is disturbing. I think this example illustrates how nonprofits are directed into serving an upscale audience rather than the underserved. A more egregious version of a privatizing transformation of access occurred in Baltimore. In 2014, a new operator “rebranded” the  city access channel as CHARM TV. The channel can best be described as a PR channel for business and government in the area. The access channel is run out of the mayor’s office, and, according to one article, “not only will the channel air live coverage of government meetings during the day, it will also include prime time programming showcasing the culture, food, neighborhoods, and businesses of Baltimore. The station is working with external producers to create shows like HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network programs.”12 The mayor’s office was quite clear about the PR aims of the channel. It sought to combat negative images of Baltimore: “No other public access channel is being utilized to positively brand a city the same way we are preparing to do here in Baltimore. This is an opportunity to tell our story in new and exciting ways.” While the mayor drastically increased funding, the ideal outcome for the new channel was to be self-sustaining by getting underwriting and sponsorship for the new lifestyle shows. One expert claimed without irony that the lifestyle channel was a natural development if you’re trying to monetize access with underwriting or sponsorship.13 As critics pointed out, however, pleasing images of Baltimore that attempt to “change the narrative” don’t change the



reality of life for most in Baltimore.14 Nor is it consistent with the mission of access. The issues in Baltimore go back to the early 2000s. Since its inception, the Baltimore public access channel lacked a continuing source of funding from the city government. Instead, it operated off a one-time grant provided when the franchise was renewed.15 By 2001, the grant was exhausted, and Baltimore public access was essentially broke and about to shut down. While it was difficult to get funding from the city government, magically funds were found when the city decided to have its own branded TV channel. Such stories seem far removed from the vision of access that George Stoney and other pioneers sought. He would have wanted programming that brought to light the problems that people in local communities experience and to organize people to act to change things. Attempting to suppress participation is the negation of what the founders hoped for. PR for local politicians hardly fulfills the mandates of access. These initiatives illustrate the transformation of the nonprofit sector discussed in the prior sections. Instead of providing funding for channels, they are increasingly expected to provide their own funding or become revenue generators. Also, nonprofits are increasingly under pressure in these conditions to become handmaidens of the neoliberal agenda. Thus, what emerges is a set of strategies which, first, attempt to eliminate public access channels through legislative action and, second, lacking complete shutdown, attempt to starve out public access channels through underfunding and offloading of services. When public access channels are expected to provide their own funding, they become private services without a clear connection to the public it was meant to serve. Like PBS public access could become captive to the interests of well-off contributors, not the ordinary citizen looking to get their views and experiences before the public. Such a process erodes the public right to use the airwaves.

Access Closing or Service Reduction The PEG landscape has changed drastically from the early days when cable companies actively promoted PEG channels. These changes, more than the emerging competition by the internet, are the source of the precipitous decline in public access channels. Operations are being shut down at an alarming rate. Cable companies, especially Comcast, have become stingy in their funding of public access channels well before the initiative



to create state franchises, and well before YouTube was founded in 2005. YouTube, while in widespread use, did not accommodate longer videos until 2010 (when many of these arguments were being made). Videos were limited to ten minutes in length on YouTube. Thus, it would be impossible to load a whole show without breaking it into several parts. Even then videos were limited to 15  minutes. The best explanation of decline lies elsewhere. In reference to a 2002 funding crisis at the Albuquerque public access channel, Bonnie Riedel of the Alliance for Community Media characterized the “Comcast way: as doing as little as possible to fund public access.”16 Others like Time Warner have followed suit. They refuse to provide equipment or facilities for creating and cablecasting shows. In the 2002 article, the operators of public and educational channels take Comcast to task for stalling negotiations with the municipality and refusing to carry out their public obligations as a cable operator. As cable competition declined, cable companies no longer needed to fund PEG channels as a way of attracting customers. The widespread passage of legislation creating statewide franchises led to the shutdown of many public access stations or the restriction of services. The state of Indiana provides a case in point. In Northwestern Indiana, Comcast closed its public access facilities, giving little notice and transferring fiscal responsibility for the channels to the municipalities. Comcast denied that the language in the statewide franchise legislation obligated them to provide playback and production facilities even though there was a 25-year-old history of obligation. In another part of the state, Bright House Cable in Indiana significantly downgraded its signal, while AT&T introduced its U-Verse system which runs access on very limited bandwidth. They also refused to supply capital funding for replacement equipment as specified in the statewide franchise bill. To make matters worse, the Indiana Utility Regulation Commission refused to arbitrate conflicts between municipalities, access operators, and cable companies, forcing underfunded public access operations to pay for expensive legal representation and sue in court.17 In the changed culture of neoliberalism, access channels could not always get pro bono representation. Similar legislation allowed Comcast to cut funding for public access in Lynchburg Virginia. In 2007, Time Warner closed access operations in Cleveland. Similarly, in 2007 PEG operations in Keene New Hampshire were threatened when Time Warner Communication failed to honor its contractual obligations to provide funding for PEG operations. The town of Keene



did not try to recover these funds.18 In Omaha, conflicts arose over Cox Communications’ obligations to provide channels. Originally, Cox had promised back in 1980 to provide 14 community channels covering a variety of interests. It never fulfilled this promise, and out of the six channels it eventually created, five received no funding at all and they provided little local content. Most did not qualify as true community channels, and there was no full-time access channel. Public access shared a channel with a shopping network and could only run programs after 2 pm. There was no support or facilities for production. When the city government tried to hold Cox to its contract, Cox simply refused to answer. This last example illustrates the fact that once cable companies became virtual monopolies and had total control of an area, they gained power over municipalities that they lacked in the early days. They could bully or intimidate municipalities into accepting less desirable conditions. The regulations for statewide franchises in Tennessee give a good snapshot of some of the deleterious effects of such regulations. These include: (a) channel slamming in which  basic-tier subscribers no longer received PEG channels without purchasing special equipment; (b) PEG channels are grouped together on channel 99, which requires subscribers to scroll through another menu to get access channels; (c) the signal is degraded to the level of a cell phone video and can take a long time to load up and play; (d) funding for PEG channels is limited to “paying capital costs of equipment.”19  In addition, consumer protections were severely limited in these and other statewide agreements. The Kennedy-era consumer protection initiatives were, if not eliminated, significantly reduced. Often the terms of service agreement force opt-in to arbitration clauses that forfeit consumer rights to seek legal redress. In California, Verizon customers were told that they had to pursue any claims in court in Virginia due to a clause inserted into the contract. In 2009, after years of major budget cuts, Dallas Public Access Channel Dallas I Media closed after failing to get funding. It had been a growing concern for over 20 years with many community-produced youth, religious, and public affairs programming.20 No doubt a major reason for the defunding was the introduction of statewide franchises in 2005 in Texas. Established companies balked at having to endure conditions not imposed on new entrants into cable. In 2012, the existing franchise rules in Texas were invalidated. Existing cable companies were relieved of any obligations to municipalities in existing contracts so that they would have a



level-playing field. But this meant that franchise fees and PEG channels were on the block. The largest shutdown of public access, of course, took place in California, where the creation of a statewide franchise freed Cable Companies from any obligations to operate public access channels. As a result, they immediately closed 51 public access studios across the state, including a dozen in Los Angeles alone. A few of these have been reinstated but not on previous terms and some are simply gone. While Los Angeles still has a public access channel that has a considerable amount of programming, due to the state law it can no longer provide studio space or equipment for programmers.21 It is depressing that a city the size of Los Angeles cannot find the funds for studio facilities staff and equipment. Cuts from municipalities often prioritize governmental programming at the expense of public access. In Madison, Wisconsin, in 2008, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz wanted to cut the budget of public access channel WYOU by 80% and use the money to continue operating the governmental access channel. The government channel would show board meetings, but no citizen-produced shows. Cieslewicz, like others, claimed that YouTube does what access does.22 Previously, in 2007, Charter communications dropped the local franchising agreements and moved the channel to a higher tier (note in 2018 it was seen on channel 991). The station seemed in 2018 to be heavily dependent on outside funding to continue. In Chapel Hill and Orange North Carolina in 2008, municipal officials channeled increased user fees into governmental access channels and limited funding for public access.23 Several years later, a new people’s channel emerged. In 2003, Eugene, Oregon, and Lane County cut funding to community television. They continued however to fund the governmental channel. One of the reasons that community television advocates cited for funding cuts was controversial programming like “Cascadia Alive,” which was run and produced by an anarchist group. They hoped to rely on community funding in the future.24 In Great Falls Montana in 2007, the city proposed a 50% reduction in access funding while targeting governmental access for increases.25 In Biddeford Mass, following a censorship problem (discussed below) which closed the channel, the city council reinstituted the access channel but only for governmental broadcasting. Citizens were not allowed to produce programming to be shown on the channel.26 (It was eventually reinstated.)



These closures or reductions and dozens of other stories like them are not accidents or simply responses to fiscal austerity. Almost all these closures and reductions are rooted in objections to controversial programming by local municipalities, or power plays by the cable companies to reduce their public obligations. Austerity thinking creates a vicious circle in which reduced operators’ ability to carry out a mandate leads to reduced services and lesser participation. In turn, the results of these cuts are used as justification for further cuts.

Fragile Franchises Access operators were aware of the increasing fragility of their positions even before the adoption of statewide franchises. Steve McMahon recounts a story of the renewal of the franchise in Davis, California, in 2005.27 While prior negotiations had been unproblematic and had given all the franchise fees to PEG channels, the new negotiations proved fitful and took five years to conclude. Stakeholders like municipalities and school districts wanted more resources, while, conversely, there was more recalcitrance on the part of the cable companies to provide benefits without guarantees. Some of the demands of the school district and municipalities included fiber-optic I-NETS to be connected to their sites, but these were at the expense of PEG funding which would have been significantly cut. The once-hoped-for competition between cable services, promised by the communications act of 1996, never materialized, and entrenched cable companies were not willing to give concessions. McMahon concludes that “the recently signed (in 2005) renewal may be our last; the franchise funds with which our community has built exemplary PEG resources need to be regarded as unreliable.” Given the environment and the decline of cable (in Davis, as across the country subscribers are increasingly dissatisfied with cable services and leaving for other options) that other options for delivering access must be considered. While the negotiation in Davis did include many stakeholders, we can see in this description a decline of the participatory planning model that operated at the beginning of cable. The stakeholders here are large institutional actors, not citizens groups or participants. In many cases, negotiations boiled down to the cable company and the municipality. Often, as in our area, the access channel and the public were not even informed when the (mandatory) public hearing was held to discuss franchise renewal. Our access operation was not included in such negotiation in its latter years.



Other contributors to the same issue of community television review in which McMahon’s analysis appears in 2005 speak of the challenging climate of public access, and the difficulties of getting enough funding from “cash-strapped” municipalities. They also noted the changing regulatory and legislative landscape in the first few years of the twenty-first century which now favored large corporate interests over a community and local ones. Sean McLaughlin notes: “The current legislative backdrop is an on-­ going corporate assault against local control and public-interest media regulation at local state and federal levels.”28 Heavily funded corporate lobbyists were at the core of this assault and were able to exert and influence that citizens groups cannot match.

Narratives of Decline The contemporary discussion of public access is often structured as a narrative of decline. Typical of these narratives is an article on the decline of a public access channel in Richmond, Virginia. Once upon a time, the story goes, public access was popular. In the 1990s and often well into the first years of the new millennium, it was in demand and watched. As the author Melissa Scott Sinclair states:– Richmond’s public-access television station once was a force to be reckoned with. Elected officials such as former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and former councilman Sa’ad El-Amin, and local luminaries such as August Moon, were regulars on the air. Seven years ago, demand for airtime was so high that the station ran more than 200 different live and taped programs.29

But public access, so the narrative goes, has run into challenging times. Interest in doing programs has decreased due to competition from an expanded menu of cable channels including on-demand channels and YouTube and other internet sources. However, later in the article, the producers note that there was still a strong demand for access. Up to 100 people did shows. After a management shakeup, the station was run by volunteers, but there is a shortage of volunteers that limited the availability of studio programming. However, once the reader goes farther into the article, other issues come to the fore. The main problem according to the article is the appearance of the studio. Like many existing stations, it has old equipment and needs repair. The station looks dowdy and amateurish according to the article. It turns



out that although the station had a paid director until early 2012, it had absolutely no budget for equipment or operating expenses, and everything was provided by either donations or volunteers. However, Comcast who had provided the station space refused to provide equipment of expenses. Neither Comcast nor the city of Richmond was willing to fulfill their public interest obligations to fund and keep up public access operations and facilities. Moreover, it turns out that public access in Richmond was moved from channel 6, where it could be easily viewed, to channel 95, where it was a lot more difficult to view. Thus, the outside observer is left with the question of whether the decline of access is due to the rise of the internet or enforced austerity and deliberate neglect and underfunding by cable companies and the municipalities. Here the narrative of decline too often functions as a screen that obscures the removal of the effective power of citizens through the creation of an artificial austerity. By underfunding and devaluing public access channels, neoliberal media regimes create funding crises and make it difficult for programmers to get the resources they need to create programming. It is not the fact that cable companies are struggling, they make a significant profit. By underfunding, relocating, and failing to promote access channels, they reinforce the impression that they are not important.

Censorship of Public Access: Political and Cultural Censorship of programming on public access was a continuing problem and may well have escalated during the first decades of the twenty-first century. While many of these challenges failed, they put an untoward pressure on public access stations and their operators. Given the state of the law allowing all types of free speech on public access they are a form of harassment and serve as indirect means of closing public access channels that present a threat to public officials. While some of these challenges have to do with obscenity increasing, they concern political content and criticism of those who have positions of power. Fear of reprisals can have a negative effect on fragile access channels. For example, in 2002, Athol/Orange Community Television, in Central Massachusetts, suspended programmer Patricia Demerest for grilling a city of Athol official in an interview about conflicts of interest on a city street. Along with other controversial programming, the cable board (appointed by and controlled by the city) changed the rules of the access channel to prohibit controversial programming. Eventually, they were



overruled when a federal judge held that the access channel was a public forum and subject to first amendment protection. Additionally, it gave citizen journalists the same protections as professional journalists. The cable board had passed rules prohibiting broadcasters from showing illegal acts, but this would equally dampen journalism since it would make it impossible to show someone breaking the law.30 In East St. Louis, in 2007, Lee Coleman’s show Talk of the City was canceled by the city. They disliked Coleman’s use of the channel to criticize the city administration and for his granting of airtime to a candidate who was running to unseat the mayor. They terminated his contract as the operator of the public access channel. A judge ruled that the city had to reinstate the program, though not his role as operator.31 In February 2007, the ACLU sued the California city of Los Alamitos over the censorship of a show host. According to the suit, the city fired the independent board of directors who oversaw the channel and took direct control of the station. They canceled several broadcasts of the host’s show without notice, including interviews with City Council Candidates.32 There were to be sure other issues of obscenity and sexually explicit programming, that raised issues too. Among many others, obscenity challenges have taken place in Denver, Seattle, Berkeley, and Fairfield, Iowa. In 2002, in Tampa, Florida, the board of commissioners tried to ban “The White Chocolate Show” in which producer Charles Perkins appeared as a reformed pimp dressed as nun and showed video of a nude woman fondling herself in the shower. The state attorney general refused to prosecute this as obscenity, noting that it was protected political speech, but the board of commissioners attempted to terminate the contract of the operators and have since cut funding to access.33 In other cases, municipalities took control of or terminated access stations as a way of eliminating controversial programming, Many supporters and former producers of Columbus Public Access Television believed that the city’s shutdown of the station in the early 2000s was due to censorship issues. While the usual reasons were given such as a municipal fiscal crisis and lack of funds, lack of interest, and the existence of the internet, none of these reasons held up to criticism, since the city has been running a surplus, and the city has continued to use governmental access for its purposes for meetings and other programming. It came out in meetings many years later that the city decided to shut access down rather than fight against what it considered to be offensive programming. In a June 11, 2014, meeting a public official told a Columbus Charter Commission



official that the city closed the channel because of concerns about underuse (unsubstantiated) and because it was being used for obscene purposes.34 In the Texas municipality of Palestine, the city attempted to change the nature of a public access station to strictly governmental to eliminate a program that had criticized corrupt practices. City officials stated that they were not censoring programs but simply taking back the station for their own use.35 Municipalities have also tried to censor or restrict cablecasting of public meetings to restrict viewing of public criticism of officials. For example, in 2001, in the city of Battle Creek, Michigan, the mayor, fearing that verbal attacks and “terrorizing” officials in meetings were creating a negative climate, eliminated the public comment section of the town board meeting from its cablecast. In other cases, citizens were removed from meetings when they criticized public officials over the air.36 Another example of this kind of program limitations  occurred in Portland: in 2004, a new executive director at Portland Oregon’s public access channel proposed a form of de facto censorship of access programming. The director suggested limiting programming for certain types of “political” programming and giving them a special “limited” status. The director wanted to prioritize programming based on the “show’s quality.” It created a limited “Free Speech Zone” on public access. This would limit its role as a public forum. The real reason seemed to be to eliminate certain producers.37 Similar procedures were instituted in Austin, Texas, where programs had to be reviewed by an executive board. An analogous situation occurred at the public access station I worked for. The local school district, during a time of frequent dissent and dissatisfaction with the school board and school district administration policies, moved the public comment section of the meetings to a different night so that it would not be part of the broadcast taping. After citizens organized to tape the comment session themselves, and run them on our channel, the board relented.38 In Lockport, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, another mode of political censorship was enforced. In 2008, the show Legislative Journal, which had run for over ten years, was removed—essentially because the host was too challenging for local politicians. The official reason was that the access center producer (not the host) was “no longer interested” in the show; the real reason according to an article in the Lockport Journal was that local politicians did not want to be subjected to tough questions by the host and the callers. The board of directors stated that they wanted to replace



the show which ran on governmental access and wanted programming “more in line with the original purpose of the stations’ governmental access channel.” The host Tom Christy asked local governmental officials questions about ongoing federal investigations into their conduct, and many powerful local republicans “expressed their distaste for both Christy and Legislative Journal.”39 While it is no doubt possible that a host can be too abrasive, the facts, in this case, seem to support a different thesis. The station directors influenced by local republican leaders wanted to restrict the show and remake government access into an official GOP TV outlet in which the exclusively republican leaders appeared on TV without questions from the host. What we see here is censorship by enforced nonparticipation. This occurs in other areas like our own, which is contiguous with the Buffalo area. Entitled politicians in one -party area consider access channels to be their property and refuse to participate in events such as debates or shows in which they might be subject to critical scrutiny. When a candidate for the town board proposed a debate with her opponent some time back, I received a phone call from the supervisor’s executive assistant grilling me about my motives. With secure positions often in gerrymandered districts, they see no need to be accountable to those who elect them. This tendency has been enhanced in neoliberal politics in which democratic processes are being eroded. These examples show that the attack on public access in the twenty-first century was increasingly carried out on political grounds, and not primarily economic or even cultural ones. Thus, there was a deliberate attempt to weaken access channels in many areas and to limit access as a public forum. While there is no doubt that such attempts at political censorship of media go back centuries in America, the specific form the conflict in the last decades have been shaped by the neoliberal media regimes. Public expression and debate and public spheres must be eliminated. Long-time public access directors are increasingly being fired over programming clashes. The director of a Batavia, New  York, public access channel was relieved of duties in 2007. The town objected to his airing of a documentary questioning the account of the 2001 bombings and to a documentary critical of Walmart. He was accused of airing “extreme” programs. Programming on the station now requires getting tapes to downtown Rochester, 45 miles away, where they may be played back by Time Warner (now Spectrum). The latter had restrictive rules which limited formats and time.



Professional Associations Like other groups, PEG channels have their own association that provides services and information to members and to be an advocate and lobbyist for PEG concerns. The main association for the PEG community is the Alliance for Community Media (ACM). Originally called the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers (NFCLP), and founded in 1976, it changed its name to the Alliance due to changes in the media landscape so that it included all community media including digital. For many years, it published a journal the Community Media Review (first known as the Community Television Review). The association provided a variety of services including booklets to help fledgling access channels through the processes of the formation including rules and regulations and help setting up community boards. They also published surveys of existing access channels showing funding level to facilities or equipment provided and other issues which helped channels to request appropriate finding. It also held a yearly conference where seminars were held and awards given to outstanding productions. Today, it provides mentoring services for future leaders and some lobbying activity. The Alliances’ journal, which is no longer published, covered a very wide number of topics of interest to members, including success stories and notable achievements, as well as struggles establishing and maintaining access channels and franchise agreements, the challenges of a changing economic conditions, and government regulatory landscape including legal issues and the digital technologies. It also contained much discussion of the philosophy, research on and aims of access, including media literacy, and the ways to implement these in differing contexts. The journal along with the yearly conferences created a sense of community for PEG operators who shared common aims and goals. A second organization, the National Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors (NATOA), also does some advocacy for PEG channels but is primarily concerned with local governments. It takes a very careful and cautious stance on most legislations and policies and seemed to be partly influenced by cable company interests. In the early years, NFLCP (as it was called then), which was founded by access pioneers George Stoney and Red Burns, had some degree of influence in the FCC and government circles. They had a strong influence in the formation of the original rules setting aside channels for public and



community purposes, and they also exerted influence, albeit weaker, on the legal recognition of PEG channels in the 1984 cable act, which established the right to include access channels in franchise agreements. After this period, the influence waned. There is not much for PEG channels in the 1992 and 1996 cable acts, which are heavily weighted toward corporate telecommunications interests. It did not significantly upgrade PEG protections and weakened them in one important way: the act allowed cable companies to censor obscene material on PEG channels, a restriction that was ultimately overturned. The waning influence of the Alliance is not an isolated event. The landscape of lobbying has changed extensively in the last 50 years. Corporate lobbying was not that extensive in the 1950s and 1960s and was not generally effective. Moreover, the lobbying that was done by corporations was largely defensive. Thus, critical works like Silent Spring and Unsafe at Any Speed were able to raise public awareness of serious environmental and consumer safety issues. These were taken up by social movements and lobby groups and had an impact on federal legislation. The movement for public access was also part of the insurgent movements of the period. These movements were often quite critical of the industrial and corporate order of the time, and industrial capitalism. They achieved significant reforms because they were able to bring these problems into the public discourse. In the neoliberal era, this situation has changed radically. Corporations have learned how to use money and power to shape and dominate the formation of government policy. Perhaps the singular event in this transformation was the creation of the Business Roundtable in 1972.40 This group set out to counter the influence of liberal public interest groups in the formation of public policy. They had some initial successes in blocking legislation aimed to reform labor law and had similar successes in lowering taxes and winning deregulation. Still, early activity by business groups was primarily defensive. They looked at lobbying as preventing the government from implementing harmful politics and maintaining free business action. In subsequent decades, business lobbying became offensive; it learned to use government as an instrument to achieve aims and to extract profit, which is to enhance capitalism. Certainly, contemporary business lobbying groups have been effective in undermining public interest obligations and in creating policies which transfer wealth from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy. Money seems to have captured Congress and regulatory



agencies so that in many cases industry lobbyists directly write legislation and regulations. Nonprofits and public interest groups rarely have a seat at the table and their influence is minimal. It is estimated that for every $1 spent by public interest groups $34 is spent by corporate and business lobbyists. Ninety-five of the top 100 lobbying groups are business organizations.41 Although President Obama pledged to pass anti-lobbying legislation, it appears that such lobbying continued unabated during his administration. Attempts by the Alliance to counter the power of big lobbies which now control and shape the media policy environment are a case study in the ineffectiveness of such lobbying efforts in neoliberal times. In the light of the precipitous decline of public access channels that has come about due to statewide franchises, the ACM threw its support behind the 2009 Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act. Sponsored by Tammy Baldwin (D Wisc),42 the CAP act aimed to stem the damage done by statewide franchise and other changes in the legal and political climate through its three main elements: (1) it eliminates unnecessary limits on PEG spending imposed by a 2007 rule; (2) it pre-empts statewide franchising laws that lowered or eliminated funding of and channels of access and restores PEG support; and (3) it defines companies that provide video services using the public right of way as cable services subject to regulation.43 The CAP act has so far found little support in congress. The original bill introduced in 2009 had only 20 congressional sponsors, whereas upward of 120 are usually needed. A subsequent reintroduction in 2011 garnered even less support and the bill was not reintroduced until 2015. In addition, some local municipalities balked at the loss of control if federal regulations were introduced. By 2013, the ACM gave up the ghost on the CAP act, saying that they would no longer make its passage a priority, although they supported the 2015 reintroduction. Noting the difficulty of making headway against corporate interests, they state: “Passing legislation through Congress against well-funded industry opposition requires a broad and unified coalition combined with grassroots support.”44 In contrast, the 2013 policy paper by the Alliance has only a vague set of recommendations for gathering such grassroots support such as a take-back-the-state initiative and a proposal to make cable companies run access channels on the first tier. Without broader support, however, it does not seem likely that these proposals will work.



I think these efforts highlight a strategic limitation of the lobbying and the outlook of the ACM. Reading through the back issues of the CMR, it is clear that the members or at least the active ones who participate in the organization are well aware of many of the concrete threats to access that arose by the turn of the century. There are discussions of funding problems and more funding problems: of difficulties of getting equipment and facilities and the lack of sufficient resources to run access; of the regulatory changes that threaten funding; of the fiscal crises of the state and municipalities; of recalcitrant and increasingly hostile public officials intolerant of criticism in an neo-authoritarian era, and, more generally, hostility to public goods that are part of the neoliberal ideology; of declines in participation; of the aggressive action of cable companies against access; and the inordinate amount of time that access administrators must spend in fundraising and publicity. In short, they identify all the factors but don’t have a grasp of the larger context. Some writers in the journal seem to have residual technological optimism. They think that integrating modern technologies and digital platforms can, in and of themselves, redeem the democratic promise of open communication, but, like other optimists, they neglect the social construction of technologies in which they are shaped. Too often the opinion leaders in the association propose rather bland and limited political strategies. Access operators are advised to pursue a public relations strategy which begins by staying on the good side of local politicians. They are instructed to give leaders awards and commendations, and find out things politicians like featuring them in programs. The second line of advice concerns funding. Access directors and allies should seek alternative funding sources so that they can withstand the political whims of municipal leaders, although it is not clear what these sources could be.45 Here they give in to the neoliberal conception of offloading obligations instead of opposing it. It is unlikely that such recommendations will be effective. Taking the second one first, sources of funding for PEG operations are limited. Most grant organizations do not accept applications for PEG operations. They hold that PEG channels already have a source of funding in the franchise fees and should either use that or obtain cable company grants for operations and equipment.46 Grants to public access channels also garner foundations no public recognition. It is just not very sexy. Fund-raising in the community is also limited. In most communities, the constant fund-­raising by PBS channels already irritates many viewers and takes up much of the



money that is available. At a local access channel we worked at, we were sometimes able to obtain funds for repairs or capital improvements through “members items” in the state budget but never through foundation grants or membership drives. This was basically a slush fund given to individual members of the state assembly and senate to distribute to local groups, mostly nonprofits, who needed money for projects. These were not that extensive and required staying on the right side of local politicians. They garnered a good deal of negative publicity every year when the recipients of grants were announced and pilloried for taking state slush funds which were seen as political favors. Once we fell out of favor with the local powers, this money dried up. If funding was a constant problem, trying to please public officials in the age of neoliberal austerity can be both difficult and impossible. The costs of such actions can be the loss of the soul of access operations. Often pleasing officials who don’t have a lot of respect for the principles of access means subtly and not so subtly reducing controversial or critical programming or seeking programs that are more pleasing to officials and discouraging other types of programming. We saw earlier that critics noted this weakness in the institutional structure of access. In New York State, the situation is even worse, state PSC regulations give priority to governmental access over public access. In many cases outside of the major municipalities, such channels have become more governmental than public. Asserting the centrality of public access can lead to conflicts. What access organizations need to do, instead of trying to placate leaders, is to address the structural weaknesses at the heart of access.

The Information Needs of Communities? If the effect of lobbying groups on influencing legislators to create policies to protect access has been largely ineffective, what then of the FCC? Does it provide a political space for changing and influencing policy? A recent report commissioned by the FCC, the Information Needs of Communities gives some indication of the thinking of the FCC on issues like public access. This report followed a 2009 report by the Knight Commission, Informing Communities Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age, raises questions about the future of journalism and news in the age of the internet.47 The report was the work of a “bipartisan” commission with the standard centrist membership, comprising of Bush Republicans, moderate Democrats, and few representatives of minority communities.



Its recommendations were suitably bland and not reflective of the nation at all. While information has increased the ability for ordinary citizens to filter and process information, it has not made them better at evaluating it. At the same time, there has been a decrease in the authority of traditional news sources. Increasingly, it is seen as a two-way process. Access to information varies widely in local areas. Larger areas are well served, while smaller areas and enclaves of poverty and racial disparity are not. The commission recommended, among other things, increasing education of the populace to be able to assess information and more equal access for all communities to information services and to increase citizen engagement. The report, however, does not address the social and political sources of these inequalities. In the wake of the Knight Report, the FCC commissioned its own report “The Information Needs of Communities,” and recommended that it survey and assess the source of information available to the public and identify  the important issues raised by information needs.48 I only want to focus on what it concludes about public access, as a way of providing a snapshot of current thinking. The interpretation of the role of access in the report seems to be shaped by the Knight Commission’s concerns. Public access has a role to play in providing hyperlocal information to underserved communities. Often, as noted here, smaller media markets within the range of larger market television stations are ignored by these stations for economic reasons. They get most of their revenue from larger markets. The heavy concentration of ownership in the radio market has also led to a decline in local services. This even though news broadcasts have expanded. Often, public access channels provide the only or at least a major source of local information. They often cover and broadcast municipal meetings or public affairs not found elsewhere and can provide emergency services. Public access too according to the report can help with the task of educating citizens to be informed consumers of information, through media literacy programs. When it comes to the questions of public engagement and building communities, the FCC report falls flat. It argues that the role of access as a means for “individual self-expression” is largely outmoded and a waste of money and resources. This function has largely been taken over by the internet. The reduction of the idea of popular democratic participation to individual self-expression follows the neoliberal playbook that speech rights are the possession of the isolated individual independent of the community. It is at odds with the idea of freedom as a social function, and notions



of social rights that others have developed, and I have emphasized in this work. It says little about the unequal access of individuals and communities to constructively engage in democratic discussion and deliberation. Compared with the insights of the earlier commissions and activist commissioners like Nicolas Johnson, the FCC commission report is lacking. Once PEG channels and public access become simply a nonprofit information source, filling in the lacks created by a highly concentrated market-­ based news system, its character as radical community media is lost. In the current climate, however, it will be difficult to make a case for access as more local and state governments have been captured by regressive interests. While historically republicans like Barry Goldwater supported public access, the current incarnation of the party is obsessed with control of information and transmission of messages that support neoliberal policies, Governments, even local ones, are not the paragons of civic virtue and champions of free speech but are becoming more autocratic. Where there are liberal governments in larger cities, they are subject to further pressures. It does little good to try to please officials who are more interested in limiting or controlling access than working with it. The preservation of access required a more comprehensive strategy. Only a broad-based media critique which takes on the consequences of concentrated media power in the context of a social critique of the central elements of social power can provide the motivating force for the broad-­ scale grassroots movement that the ACM speaks about. Given the current context of deeply entrenched media power, simple reform will probably not succeed. While the policy papers of the ACM mention in passing media concentration, for the most part their proposals are concerned with the role of nonprofit broadcasting on increasing diversity and representation. These fit into a reform strategy that can be accommodated into the existing discourses and easily dismissed. Today, a more radical reformist strategy in needed, which diagnoses the present dangers to the communicative capacities of everyday citizens.

Notes 1. Robert Reich, “Austerity 101: The Three Reasons Deficit Hawks Are Wrong,” Social Europe October 19, 2015 austerity-101-the-three-reasons-deficit-hawks-are-wrong. 2. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, New York: Touchstone 2001.



3. Claus Offe, “Participatory Inequality in the Austerity State: A Supply-Side Approach,” Working Paper der DFG-KollegforscherInnengruppe Postwachstumsgesellschaften, Nr. 1/2014, Jena 2014. 4. “Cities Move to Exercise Greater Control Over Public Access Channels,” News Media and Law Summer vol 24 no 3 2000. 5. “Cities Move to Exercise Greater Control”. 6. Mike Monson, “City Staff Against Creation of New Public Access Channel,” The News Gazette May 10, 2006. 7. comissioners_taking_them_down_a_peg/. 8. Samiha Khanna, “Durham to Pay for Public Access Channel,” News and Observer March 4, 2008 9. American Community Television “An Industry Wide Effort”. 10. American Community Television “An Industry Wide Effort,” op. cit. 11. Erik K. Arnold, “The Cable Access TV Crisis,” August 7, 2011 Alternet 12. Sarah Meehan, “Baltimore’s Public Access Channel Tuning into Charm TV,” Baltimore Business Journal March 25, 2014 13. David Zurawik and Yvonne Wenger, “City’s Cable-Access Relaunches with HGTV-Style Fare, Increased Budget,” Baltimore Sun June 23, 2014. 14. David Zurawik, “Mayor’s Call to ‘Change the Narrative’ is Not the Answer to Baltimore’s Perception Problems,” Baltimore Sun January 4, 2018 15. Afefe Tyeihimba, “Fade to Black: With no Money and Few Friends in Haigh Places, Baltimore’s Public Access Channel Faces Cancellation,” Baltimore City Paper December 3, 2001. 16. Shea Andersen and Dennis Domrzalski, “Community Access Television Stations’ Budgets in Jeopardy,” Albuquerque Business First January 13, 2002 story2.html. 17. Eric S.  Mollberg, “Public TV Suffering from Telecom ‘Reform’ Bill,” Journal Gazette May 5, 2008 18. “City Officials Tell Cox to Honor Their Contract but They Were Only Fooling,” Stand Up for Omaha Website accessed 5/10/2007. 19. “The Devilish Details in TN Cable Franchise Legislation”. 20. Tim Rogers, “Dallas Just Lost Its Public Access TV,” Front Burner October 6, 2009



21. See the Frequently Asked Questions at the LA36 website http://www. 22. Vicki Kratzmm “Cieslewicz Claims WYOU Public-Access Channel Could Lose Its City Life Support,” Isthmus September 25, 2008 23. Fiona Morgan, “Chapel Hill’s The Peoples Channel Expands to Durham,” Indy Week May 27, 2009 chapel-hill-s-peoples-channel-expands-durham/. 24. Associated Press, “Oregon Public Access Loses Government Funding,” September 3, 2002. 25. Jennifer L. Williston, “City Leaders Battle Broadcasters Over-Regulation of Public Access,” News Media and Law Summer 2002: 26. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press May 8, 2002 “Public Access Channel Cited for Censorship Practices,” 26. Associated Press, “Public Access TV Returns to Maine Town—Without the Public,” August 10, 2002. 27. Steve McMahon, “Telecommunications Task Force Lessons,” Community Media Review vol 28 no 4 2005: 24–25. 28. Sean McLaughlin, “The Changing Regulatory and Legislative Framework: From Community Investment to Corporate Profiteering,” Community Media Review vol 28 no 4 2005: 22. 29. “Channel 95: Once a Force in the Court of Public Opinion, the Most Accessible Television Station in Richmond is Struggling. But Does Anyone Care?,” Melissa Scott Sinclair Style Weekly April 3, 2012 http://www. 30. “Massachusetts Woman’s Cable Show Must Go on,” Associated Press 03/06/02 accessed 05/10/2007 31. “Judge Orders Reinstatement of Public Access Show,” MultiChannel Newswire January 26, 2007. 32. “ACLU of Southern California ACLU/SC Sues to Protect Public-Access TV in Los Alamitos,” February 7, 2007 news/aclusc-sues-protect-public-access-tv-los-alamitos. 33. Jennifer L.  Williston, “County Leaders Battle Broadcasters Over-­ Regulation of Public Access,” The News Media and the Law Summer 2002 vol 23 no 6: 23. 34. Joseph C.  Sommer, “Censorship Was the Real Reason Columbus City Officials Ended Public Access,” Free Press November 20, 2014. 35. “Cities Move to Exercise Greater Control over Public Access”. 36. “ACLU of Michigan Criticizes Battle Creek Mayor for Cutting Public Opinion from Meeting Broadcasts,” 9/4/2001 accessed 5/10/2007.



37. CatX, “Cable Access Producers Unwilling to be Herded into Free Speech Zone,” Portland Independent Media Center October 25, 2004. 38. Victoria E. Freile, “Greece Gets Another Forum,” Democrat and Chronicle March 27, 2007. Melissa Lang “Riled You’re on Camera Again” Greece Post. 39. Mark Scheer, “LCTV: Christy out as Call-in Show is Canceled,” Niagara Gazette Mach 13, 2008 news/lctv-christy-out-as-call-in-show-is-cancelled/article_ de1697d4-8d67-559f-aa62-465bba288aaf.html. Mark Scheer, “CHRISTY’S SHOW: Residents Accuse County GOP of Pulling Plug,” Lockport Journal news/local_news/christy-s-show-residents-accuse-county-gop-of-pullingplug/article_1d18db32-e167-53cf-ac64-fb827952bcb3.html. Mike Hudson, “Thin-Skinned Republican Bigwigs Order Stop to Popular TV Program,” Niagara Falls Reporter March 18, 2008 http:// 40. Lee Drutman, The Business of America is Lobbying How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate, New York: Oxford University Press 2017. 41. See also Lee Drutman, “How Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy,” The Atlantic April 20, 2015 archive/2015/04/how-corporate-lobbyists-conquered-americandemocracy/390822/. 42. The CAP act, 43. Basic information on the CAP act can be found at the ACM website CommunityAccessPreservation_FAQ1.pdf. 44. Alliance for Community Media (ACM) Position on the Community Access Preservation Act (CAP): A Way Forward, 45. A sampling of these articles include Greg Epher Woods, “Fundraising Auctions: From Access to Impact Financial Responsibility,” Community Media Review (CMR) vol 26 no 1 Spring 2002; Ron Cooper, “Cultivating Funding Resources,” CMR vol 20 no 1 1997: 13; R. Vincent Hamilton “Earned Income Strategies” CMR vol 20 no 1 1997: 12; Debra Rogers, “Pragmatic Strategies Solutions and Steps to Keep Access Thriving” CMR vol 30 no 1 Fall 2007: 44. 46. That was our experience in applying for numerous grants for public access over the years. 47. Knight Commission, Informing Communities Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age, Washington: Aspen Institute 2009.



48. Steven Waldman, The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Digital Age, FCC 2011 general/information-needs-communities.

Bibliography ACLU of Michigan Criticizes Battle Creek Mayor for Cutting Public Opinion from Meeting Broadcasts. 9/4/2001 accessed 5/10/2007. ACLU of Southern California ACLU/SC Sues to Protect Public-Access TV in Los Alamitos. February 7, 2007. aclusc-sues-protect-public-access-tv-los-alamitos. ACM Website. The CAP Act. uploads/2011/05/CommunityAccessPreservation_FAQ1.pdf. Alliance for Community Media (ACM) Position on the Community Access Preservation Act (CAP): A Way Forward. http://www.allcommunitymedia. org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/ACM-Public-Policy-Letter-1118-2013.pdf. American Community Television. An Industry Wide Effort. Andersen, Shea, and Dennis Domrzalski. 2002. Community Access Television Stations’ Budgets in Jeopardy. Albuquerque Business First, January 13. https:// Arnold, Erik K. 2011. The Cable Access TV Crisis. Alternet, August 7. http:// Associated Press. 2002a. Oregon Public Access Loses Government Funding. September 3. ———. 2002b. Public Access TV Returns to Maine Town—Without the Public. August 10. CatX. 2004. Cable Access Producers Unwilling to Be Herded into Free Speech Zone. Portland Independent Media Center, October 25. Cities Move to Exercise Greater Control over Public Access Channels. 2000. News Media and Law Summer 24 (3). City Officials Tell Cox to Honor Their Contract but They Were Only Fooling. Stand Up for Omaha Website. Cooper, Ron. 1997. Cultivating Funding Resources. CMR 20 (1): 13. Drutman, Lee. 2015. How Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy. The Atlantic, April 20. how-corporate-lobbyists-conquered-american-democracy/390822/. ———. 2017. The Business of America is Lobbying How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate. New  York: Oxford University Press.



Eric S. Mollberg. 2008. “Public TV Suffering from Telecom ‘Reform’ Bill. Journal Gazette, May 5. Frequently Asked Questions at the LA36 Website. docs/FAQ.pdf. Hudson, Mike. 2008. Thin Skinned Republican Bigwigs Order Stop to Popular TV Program. Niagara Falls Reporter, March 18. http://niagarafallsreporter. com/christy3.18.08.html. Judge Orders Reinstatement of Public Access Show. 2007. MultiChannel Newswire, January 26. Khanna, Samiha. 2008. Durham to Pay for Public Access Channel. News and Observer, March 4. Knight Commission. 2009. Informing Communities Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age. Washington: Aspen Institute. Kratzmm, Vicki. 2008. Cieslewicz Takes Aim at WYOU Public-Access Channel Could Lose Its City Life Support. Isthmus, September 25. https://isthmus. com/news/news/cieslewicz-takes-aim-at-wyou/. Lang, Melissa. Riled You’re on Camera Again. Greece Post. Massachusetts Woman’s Cable Show Must Go on. Associated Press 03/06/02 accessed 05/10/2007. McLaughlin, Sean. 2005. The Changing Regulatory and Legislative Framework: From Community Investment to Corporate Profiteering. Community Media Review 28 (4): 22. McMahon, Steve. 2005. Telecommunications Task Force Lessons. Community Media Review 28 (4): 24–25. Meehan, Sarah. 2014. Baltimore’s Public Access Channel Tuning into Charm TV. Baltimore Business Journal, March 25. Monson, Mike. 2006. City Staff Against Creation of New Public Access Channel. The News Gazette, May 10. 062310buncombe_comissioners_taking_them_down_a_peg/. Morgan, Fiona. 2009. Chapel Hill’s The Peoples Channel Expands to Durham. Indy Week, May 27. chapel-hill-s-peoples-channel-expands-durham/. O’Connor, James. 2017. The Fiscal Crisis of the State with a New Introduction. New York: Routledge. (Original 1973). Offe, Claus. 2014. Participatory Inequality in the Austerity State: A Supply Side Approach. Working Paper der DFG-KollegforscherInnengruppe Postwachstumsgesellschaften, Nr. 1/2014, Jena. Putnam, Robert. 2001. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Touchstone.



Reich, Robert. 2015. Austerity 101: The Three Reasons Deficit Hawks Are Wrong. Social Europe, October 19. Rogers, Debra. Fall 2007. Pragmatic Strategies Solutions and Steps to Keep Access Thriving. CMR 30 (1): 44. Rogers, Tim. 2009. Dallas Just Lost Its Public Access TV. Front Burner, October 6. Scheer, Mark. 2008. LCTV: Christy out as Call-in Show Is Cancelled. Niagara Gazette, Mach 13. Scheer, Mark. CHRISTY’S SHOW: Residents Accuse County GOP of Pulling Plug. Lockport Journal. christy-s-show-residents-accuse-county-gop-of-pulling-plug/article_ 1d18db32-e167-53cf-ac64-fb827952bcb3.html. Scott, Melissa. 2012. Channel 95: Once a Force in the Court of Public Opinion, the Most Accessible Television Station in Richmond Is Struggling. But Does Anyone Care? Sinclair Style Weekly, April 3. richmond/station-break/Content?oid=1693883. Sommer, Joseph C. 2014. Censorship Was the Real Reason Columbus City Officials Ended Public Access. Free Press, November 20. The CAP Act. The Devilish Details in TN Cable Franchise Legislation. Tyeihimba, Afefe. 2001. Fade to Black: With no Money and Few Friends in Haigh Places, Baltimore’s Public Access Channel Faces Cancellation. Baltimore City Paper, December 3. Freile, Victoria E. 2007.  “Greece Gets Another Forum”. Democrat and Chronicle, March 27. Hamilton, Vincent R. 1997. Earned Income Strategies. CMR 20 (1): 12. Waldman, Steven. 2011. The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Digital Age. FCC. information-needs-communities. Williston, Jennifer L. 2002a. City Leaders Battle Broadcasters over Regulation of Public Access. News Media and Law Summer: 26. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press May 8, 2002 “Public Access Channel Cited for Censorship Practices”. ———. 2002b. County Leaders Battle Broadcasters over Regulation of Public Access. The News Media and the Law Summer 23 (6): 23.



Woods, Greg Epher. Spring 2002. Fundraising Auctions: From Access to Impact Financial Responsibility. Community Media Review (CMR) 26 (1). Zurawik, David. 2018. Mayor’s Call to ‘Change the Narrative’ Is not the Answer to Baltimore’s Perception Problems. Baltimore Sun, January 4. http://www. Zurawik, David, and Yvonne Wenger. 2014. City’s Cable-Access Relaunches with HGTV-Style Fare, Increased Budget. Baltimore Sun, June 23.


Looking Through the Wrong End of the Telescope: Internet Democracy vs. Public Access

At the beginning of this work, I discussed the views of critics who argued that the rise of internet outlets like YouTube and Facebook have rendered public access unnecessary. They argue the internet provides an unfettered democratic public forum in which individuals can post video productions of their choice to a wide audience. In a world of communicative abundance (a claim familiar from the early days of cable), public access is redundant. This claim is often self-serving. Behind it lay the desires of cable companies to offload their public obligations, and of municipalities to use franchise fees to lower taxes, and often to eliminate forums for dissent. Neoliberal media regimes concerned with marketization and deregulation undermined the social and political bases of a public sphere and a vital civil society on which access rests. In this chapter, I want to examine the claims that the internet or, more specifically, social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and others can provide a public forum that is sufficient to replace public access. Despite the often-widespread view that the internet is a boon to democracy, I agree with those who see that the commercialization of the web and private ownership of much of the major social media and search engines, is driven by interests other than the free public expression and fails to provide a truly public forum. Social media are not public but private property, and this gives them the ability to select and restrict speech in any way they choose. These companies operate using many of the main tenets of neoliberalism which either limit or are opposed to a robust public sphere. © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




This thesis that social media have a pathological downside is not original, but my focus on a critical approach to public access helps to raise some of the important issues involved in understanding the character and scope of public forums and on forces of domination rather than technological determinism. While many have championed the internet as creating democratic publics, in recent years critics have noted the limits of interpreting the internet especially social media as an unrestricted public sphere. Some of these tendencies were already apparent in the early history of the internet, before the rise of social media. The idea that democratic publics can be almost automatically created through the workings of new technology was popular in the early days of the web. This idea was promoted not just by the remnants of the counterculture, but by the developers of personal computers and later purveyors of social media, who often saw their projects in grandiose terms. Curiously, the counterculture anarchism of these groups merged with the profit-oriented neoliberal who believed themselves to be the bearers of the new culture as well. The distinction between a not-for-profit web and a commercial one was elided. Often, however, even social theorists and media theorists, who defended the democratic, radical, and alternate cultural character of the web, fail to situate the development of the web from a political-economic perspective. While these proposals bring out important considerations, they are not sufficient, because, despite their oppositional structure, they fall short of a full-scale critique of domination. I suggest that we must look at the web through the lens of a critical theory of the internet to fully analyze the nature of its tendencies to put internet communication under the imperatives of the market.1 While this chapter is not the place for such a full-blown theory, the tendencies to colonize the discursive and communicative aspects of digital communication is at odds with the idea that the web is a new frontier of freedom. It is more often a way to capture an audience and its data for commercial use. Social media has developed into an invasive technology that is rooted more in profit than is the creation of a public sphere or civil society. It does not seek to create better citizens, but isolated communities often open to manipulation. The idea that the internet creates communicative abundance does not entail democratic discourse. It requires social and political conditions to fulfill any ideals. Its plurality can just as easily generate fragmentation and isolation. I contrast this with the idea of the general public sphere, which includes all in the discussion of matters of public concern.



Cybernetic Utopians: Romancing the Computers Just as the rise of radio and television and the expansion of cable-­generated ideas about the technology of abundance, the internet, and computer technology have been the repository of utopian hopes. This may seem odd since the rise of computing technologies was closely linked to the era of nuclear war and war games. In the popular imagination, this view was associated with the idea of an impersonal mechanism that operated with dystopian logic that was opposed to humanistic ideals. It was linked with the war machine which threatened to destroy humanity in a nuclear holocaust. This view places computing technologies squarely in the orbit of late capitalism, which increasingly relied on the power of technology as a means of production. However, a second view of computer technologies arose, often in association with elements of the 1960s counterculture: the computer as a vehicle for creative individual expression. Whereas the first view was associated with the growth of large computers capable of more and more power issuing finally in the supercomputer, the latter was associated with the small personal computer. As the role of the internet grew, the personal computer became linked with the idea of a connected world which frees the individual from the bonds of locality and stimulates creative expression. It was an anti-capitalist movement at the start. Its expressivist character led one analyst to characterize this view of the net as romantic.2 It might be a little more accurate to call this the newest incarnation of the technological sublime. Small-scale technology was linked to the post 1968 countercultural movements in which the withdrawal from politics to rural communities was led by hippies seeking to create a utopian vision of social life. This was not unlike utopian communities in nineteenth-century America which sought to create communal forms of life that would lead to greater social peace. Like the earlier proponents of the sublime, it sought to link technology and nature in a view of social harmony. Figures like Stuart Brand and later John Perry Barlow were associated with a countercultural utopian vision of the wired world. Brand, for one, rejected the more political aspects of the 1960s, which had an important influence on notions of participatory democracy. Instead, his work aimed at consciousness-raising and cultural change. This strain of the countercultural current has been called the new communalism. It rejected direct political involvement for changing consciousness and creating autonomous communities devoid of hierarchy, philosophy, or rules. Brand’s



successful book Whole Earth Catalog popularized this outlook and reached a wide audience.3 The earliest versions of this counterculture vision emerged out of the communes. The communalists saw themselves as founding autonomous self-sufficient communities which in contrast to the agonism of politics, would  create harmonious social relations by eliminating the rigidity of (hierarchical) political authority. These communal forms were to be prefigurative, the forefront of a social transformation that would lead to pacified relations with nature and with other humans. Whereas large-scale technologies were sources of division, communalists embraced small-scale technologies as central to the creation of such communities. Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog was the bible of this movement. Technologies, at least small-scale ones like geodesic domes, were the tools for achieving this communal project. The vision of small-scale technologies had a wide appeal. It brought technology down to earth and invoked the idea of the tinkerer and the do-it-yourself spirit which was a part of American mythology and linked it to the communal movement. The heyday of this form of communalism was however short-lived. Like the nineteenth-century experiments, the communes broke down into squabbles and authoritarian forms of domination. Brand then realized that the vision of isolated self-sufficiency was not viable. To supplant this, Brand took up the idea of co-evolution. He adapted the humanistic attempts to integrate systems perspectives into social science by Gregory Bateson to fit his concerns. In contrast to the self-sufficient ideology of the earlier communities, this vision stressed the importance of connectedness. Here, however, technology was not seen as the means of achieving community, it was to become the medium of community. The connected world was now the vehicle for the creation of a wider creative consciousness.4 Brand was among those who saw computing as an art rather than as a hard science. His views were received sympathetically by some in the computing field who had developed a new vision of computing. The personal computer (as opposed to the mainframe) was not a technology aiming at instrumental control over natural processes and people but as a vehicle for their creative expression. Scientists at PARC, the Xerox research project that led to the first office-ready personal computer at Stanford, and even some in the Pentagon shared a vision of personal computing very different from its earlier military employment. The new personal computer eschewed the project of control and domination of nature for a vision of personal



liberation and sometimes Utopian hopes. They had a technologically optimistic view of the social and political power of technology. Looking back, of course, such views have arisen whenever modern technologies of communication emerged in the United States. Where blue skies advocates of the same period saw the abundance of communication as providing opportunities for political debate, the new communalists employed a vision of participation and involvement primarily as a form of cultural life. The new communalists’ vision at its best is a form of small-scale direct democracy with anarchist overtones. Its anti-­ political orientation, however, leaves questions of justice in the lurch. Whether this anarchist vision provided a notion of the democratic public suitable for a complex modern society is in question. The later version of a connected “wired: society” also took on a more ambiguous meaning. Others who originated the hackers’ movement had a much more collaborative approach to the digital world more typical of the communal ideas of the Whole Earth Catalog. Hacking at that point did not have the connotations of mischief-making or dangerous plundering of information. It was an ethos based on an anti-capitalist collectivist spirit and collaboration on open-source software that was free or of little cost. For Brand, the hackers with their nonhierarchical anti-authoritarian spirit were the inheritors of the communal spirit in a digital context. But he also understood that the hacker culture, although it had been incorporated into computer research labs, stood in contrast to the predominant profit motive. These trends sometimes combined uneasily in the second wave of Brand’s communalism.5 The spirit of the communalists in the second stage was best exemplified in the creation of the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL). The WELL was not social media as we know it but was a dial-in bulletin board that differed in important ways from the ones that were commercially offered like the early CompuServe. It had no, or very low, cost for subscribers, and it dealt with serious issues as well as computer industry gossip. Its membership was largely among those working in the computer industry and journalists interested in new the communal sharing approach to research. In this way, the WELL took up the ideal of a community of like-minded souls as a nonhierarchical virtual community. John Barlow Perry, known for his work as a lyricist with the Grateful Dead, adapted the term “cyberspace” from novelist William Gibson but stripped it of the dystopian elements Gibson emphasized. In Perry’s reworking, cyberspace became an “electronic frontier.” It was a new



unexplored territory in which community would be founded. He extended this term to include computer networks as a space of exploration and true community. As Turner notes with this trope, “he transformed a formerly dystopian vision of networked computing into an imagined space in which individuals could create themselves and their communities”6 Shortly after this, Barlow was also involved in the development of the precursor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which strove to preserve free expression on the internet. However, Barlow went considerably further with his insight than a simple political organization. He argued that the electronic frontier was an analog to the experiences of LSD and other attempts at mystical transcendence. It fulfilled the promise of transpersonal communication through expanded consciousness. It was a concordance of conscious souls, independent of bodily constraints. The technological sublime indeed! The WELL, however, also served as the link between the communalists vision of a counterculture and neoliberal commercial culture. Brand and his associates were by all accounts attracted to elements of neoliberal conception of a new economy. Digital technologies and networked forms of organization and the information society were to create a world in which dependence on physical resources that were previously central were being superseded. The new entrepreneur was breaking free of these material conditions and was creating new realms of freedom. Associates of Brand theorized about flexible collaborative forms of business organization that represented a new step in human evolution. They set out to market their version of business collaboration to corporate leaders in high tech but also in the more traditional sectors. They drew on mystical writers like Gurjiaev to explore ways of feeling with others and organized world trips and conferences with the new entrepreneurial elite to break down preconceptions and promote collaborative modes of business. They also saw the employment realities of the new economy as a good thing. Thus, freed from the burdens of life, factory, or office work, everyone was to be an entrepreneur (the entrepreneurial self of the neoliberals) able to change jobs when desired. This was needed given the fast-changing world of the new economy, but Brand and his acolytes saw it as liberating. Given this convergence, a few years later through the influence of Wired Magazine the electronic frontier movement made common cause with new right libertarianism including George Gilder and Newt Gingrich. The latter was viewed as a “wired” politician. Here the “California ideology” reveals its contradictions. Is it an electronic agora or an electronic



marketplace? Does it provide a vision of free or low-cost technology and software or the commercial exploitation of the internet as a piece of private property? Barbrook and Cameron argue that is it paradoxically both. It endorses both versions of utopia without criticizing either.7 For neoliberal theorists, the new entrepreneurs of the personal computer era were less the emergence of a new communal ideology but proof of the ideological superiority of an unfettered often libertarian capitalism. In opposition to the image of the ponderous large corporation deeply connected to large government, the inventors of many aspects of personal computing were entrepreneurial heroes of a new sort. They were the embodiment of the fast-flexible capitalism that dominated thinking if not reality. Libertarians like Ithiel del Sola Pool held that the technological innovations of the electronic age were bringing all communications into a single system. It would create an interconnected world that was beyond the scope of government regulation.8 The linkage of fast digital capitalism with the communal ethos of early developers of personal computing is both misleading and problematic. The original tinkerers who were involved in various iterations of early computer technology were not primarily acting out of the profit motive. Most created out of a sense of the communal, social value of their endeavor. Because thinkers like Barlow shared an anti-government outlook with neoliberals and had a romantic view of digital technology, they projected onto industry leaders and politicians benign motives like peace and harmony quite at odds with the realities of neoliberalism. They imagined like earlier technological determinists, that there was a direct relationship between the development of new technology and human liberation. Instead, they reproduced some of the same conflicts around hierarchy and authority found in the early communes.

The Consequences of Esoteric Community The long strange trip of the communalist outlook championed by Brand and his associates sought an egalitarian nonhierarchical community but instead resulted in a collaboration with a neoliberalism that rejected its basic communalist values and embraced at least the conditions of a heightened social hierarchy. Neoliberals largely feared popular sovereignty and social equality. The Communalists around Brand (admittedly not necessarily representative of all), much like the followers of McLuhan in the sphere of video technology, succumbed to the belief that technology itself



was liberating and the politics were no longer relevant.9 The new virtual world of computer-aided communications created, if left to itself, a new frontier that would transform humanity. It would recreate the global village of personal interaction that the world of impersonal instrumental relations had destroyed. Technology was the solution to the social problems of capitalist societies. The New Communitarians disliked politics and conflict and sought a form of consciousness raising that would issue in an anarchistic, cooperative form of organization which bypassed government. Ideas of transpersonal consciousness are difficult to translate into political terms. In so doing, the tensions between an esoteric notion of community and an exoteric public one came into conflict. The earliest communes had an esoteric element. In withdrawing from the larger society and attempting to create new communal forms, they felt that technology was the handmaiden for new forms of ecologically sound and harmonious living. It created a new consciousness that had religious overtones. These forms were supposed to be exemplars for a profound change that would spread to the rest of society. Of course, these early communes found that their very isolation alienated them from the communities they hoped to change. New communalists remained esoteric in that they relied on forms of inner community of pure consciousness that was to be the basis for evolutionary, if not revolutionary, change, and not in the terms of a democratic public sphere or public forum. While it is true that cultural change can precede a political or legal change in some cases, this is not what the new communalists sought. They posited a direct deterministic relation between technology and cultural change. But cultural change requires, if you will, cultivation, the learning of new norms, and capacities through independent normative processes, as well as a self-reflexive understanding of the forms of power and domination. Instead, it relied on an esoteric understanding that was to free consciousness. This esoteric element is also found  in the championing of a few elite technology leaders who represent an avant-garde. It stands in contrast to the egalitarian ideal and vision of open and equal social relations they employed. They also saw cyberspace as the source of an unlimited electronic agora “an open digital marketplace where individuality would be allowed its fullest expression, away from the encumbrances of government and even of the physical world.”10 While the agora is exoteric and open, the disembodied consciousness is esoteric and private. While these elements may find some reconciliation in the technological sublime, they



clash. Just as the communalists ran into problems with hierarchical and authoritarian structures replacing democratic ones, large digital companies and the social media created by some of these are more like mini kingdoms than true democracies. Its leadership acts more like an economic elite than the vanguard of democracy. This view rests on the idea (like neoliberals) that government and bureaucracy are the only barrier to human freedom. It ignores the extent to which organized economic and social power under capitalism, including the corporations communalists supported are equally barriers to freedom. Because their clientele and their peer group were mostly white and male executives, journalists, hackers, and computer industry workers from places like Silicon Valley, the 128 corridors in greater Boston and other high-tech centers, they were far removed from and insulated from the worst effects of the new economy. They formed a bond with these workers and industry leaders who were no doubt flattered at being labeled the vanguard of a new society. But their belief that technology could bypass politics leads to a fatal ignorance of the questions of power and domination, and the fantasy of a detached consciousness ignores the day-to-day problems of material reproduction that most people face. It opens an unbridgeable gap between the image of a free electronic agora and the savage inequalities of neoliberalism. When writers like Barlow celebrate the gig economy and the free-floating temporary nature of employment in the new economy as an element of the new communal consciousness, they failed to recognize that this economy works only for the very few. For most the gig economy introduces increased contingency and vulnerability. It’s a sphere of low wage work without benefits or protections which promoted a race to the bottom. Social Theorists and the Internet Too often, contemporary social theorists draw upon elements of technological optimism and determinism to situate the radical potential in internet communications. Such theories downplay the social construction of technologies. One of the most concerted attempts to formulate a social theory of the new media has been developed by Manual Castells. In a series of books, Castells provides a positive view of the new media.11 Castells is especially concerned with the potentiality of new media for encouraging social movements, such as Occupy and Arab Spring. The potential for organization and connection is enhanced by the scope of



internet communication. In his most recent work, Castells argues that the expanded capacities of the internet are the basis of new revolutionary movements. The networked society provides the conditions for the large-­ scale communication of revolutionary sensibilities. The internet allows individuals to communicate their sense of outrage and hope on a large scale that can be linked up to form social movements. This, in turn, requires communication processes in which these emotions of hope and outrage are collectively experienced. In today’s world Castells thinks the networked society provides fast, autonomous, and interactive communications that will be the basis for modern revolutions. Protests for Occupy and Arab Spring were planned on Facebook, You Tube, and other social media sites and relied on them for coordination. More generally, Castells focuses on the social changes that follow from new digital technologies. The vast expansion in the scope, extent, and immediacy of communication creates possibilities for radical democratic reform bypassing state authority. The internet changes the mass media into a vast space of self-centered media, in which everybody becomes a producer of content and an initiator of action, rather than a passive observer. Certainly, Castells is aware that the changes in the speed and locus of information can have negative effects and cause system crises. He thinks that the crash of 2008 was unstoppable because the financial system had overrun state authority. However, he thinks that it also promotes new legitimation crises which will be resolved by the emergence of better democracy. Castells view has found support among those who celebrate the emancipatory character of the internet. Henry Jenkins, writing from a different ideological standpoint celebrates a “convergence culture” in which the internet creates participatory democracy.12 Writers like Castells and Jenkins, however, exaggerate the revolutionary effects of the changes that they analyze. While social movements like Arab Spring were able to use the internet effectively to organize protests,  the results of the uprisings were minimal. They were no more effective in the end than the uprisings of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Organization and street protest per se do not entail revolutionary change. As in China more than a generation ago, the uprising of democratic spirit has led only to crackdowns, and renewed authoritarian and dictatorial rule could just as easily become reactionary and has in fact done so. We can’t just look at the power of the internet but the other social forces in which such movements are embedded in order to judge its success.



There is also a large proliferation of right-wing groups that communicate and spread information over the internet, and groups like al-Qaida and ISIS  can effectively organize and recruit in the networked society. Certainly, revolutionary movements have no monopoly on outrage. The use of bots, fake accounts, and propaganda driven by data analytics, inside and outside the US in the last presidential election seems to lead to the conclusion that extreme right-wing points of view have had greater success using the internet than the left. An inquiry should focus on the social conditions that create these different forces. Castells sees the network society as necessarily creating a public sphere. He speaks of a global public sphere that can grow beyond the limits of the state to independently influence public policy. However, this formulation ignored the fragmentation of publics for a technologically optimistic view of power. A genuine assessment of the role of the internet in creating publics and creating democracy needs a more sophisticated theory of power and its role in creating subjectivity and the limits of civil community in internet communications. The larger problem with Castells approach to social movements is that he leans toward a technological determinism that sees emancipatory social possibilities given by technological capacities. Christian Fuchs has pointed out several problems associated with his latent determinism and his more general approach.13 While the internet does allow individuals to become content providers and establish a form of counterpower, this power is very limited and asymmetrical. It pales in comparison to larger forces. Not only the large corporations but also the large news corporations dominate news feeds. The view of an individual or social group as an equal player in this contest is not warranted. Individual creation and data are sold and marketed as a commodity. Nor does internet communication generate a general public—a point I discuss below. Creators of social networks and other internet services, like Google which believed in the neoliberal fantasy that an internet free of government regulation would lead to the end of social inequalities like race gender and ethnicity, but also economic inequality. On the contrary, it seems to be an element in a constellation that reproduces social inequality and often incites hate. These questions of power require the critical political economy of the internet.



Radical Democracy on the Internet The second group of theorists draw on radical democratic ideas to understand the internet. In contemporary parlance, radical democracy has come to mean an agonistic approach that stresses the role of conflict and plurality in democratic theory. They also draw in distinct ways on the notion of communicative abundance to criticize Habermasian theories of the public sphere. John Keane accepts the technological optimists’ stress on communicative abundance to criticize a one-sided conception of the public sphere. The early notions of the public sphere rested on a scarcity of information. He argues that in the past the public sphere was a counterweight to the secrecy and lack of transparency of government. In the early modern era, the powerful took advantage of the technical limits on communication (e.g. books and newspapers took eight weeks to cross the ocean in 1776 and a coach ride from London to Leeds took 33 hours) to maintain power. Then knowledge was truly a scarce resource. Governments sought to keep knowledge of their actions and decisions away from the irrational rabble and wrap their power in the guise of natural law or divine right. Rulers were more like Gods than people. It is in this context that Keane argues that the public sphere arose. It was meant to render transparent the workings of government and to subject officials to critical reason. While as Habermas later concedes, there can be many public spheres; Habermas argues that there is at least one general public which is linked to political debate and discussion. For Keane, however, the conditions of communicative abundance change our notion of public life. Keane understands that communicative abundance, no more than material abundance, can create a utopia of freedom and happiness, and is aware of the digital divide and its unequal access; yet, unlike his earlier analyses of communicative technologies in the eighteenth century, he seems rather uncritical about the political-economic context in which the innovative technologies are embedded. I think this is because his target is philosophical and not social. He targets enlightenment rationalism, a philosophical position that sees a single form of overarching reason that applies to all. It posits a permanent unchanging truth that is part of the order of things. He sees the Habermasian idea of the public sphere as inextricably tied to an enlightenment view that there is a final and indisputable truth to what he calls “monism.” In Keane’s analysis, the “monism” of the public sphere needs to be rejected. It can no longer be a



tribunal or a supreme authority that renders truth transparent to all. Instead, he sees public intellectuals as cultivating “a plurality of sometimes overlapping sometimes conflicting definitions of public opinion and the public good within a variety of power ridden contexts containing differently sized public spheres.” He thinks this new setting of communicative abundance undercuts the idea of rational communication. By the latter, he means once again the rationalist idea of the pursuit of perfect knowledge of the necessary structure of reality. Keane’s analysis does not overcome the problems raised in Chap. 2. If politics is a continuing contest of plural forces, the communicative power of individuals to act to determine their own fate in dialogue is subordinated to questions of strategic power. However, the variety of notions of the good are also subject to questions of justice, in which questions of right can be ascertained that apply to all. Habermas and few, if any, contemporary thinkers can be considered monists. We need to take care to distinguish the discussion of the rationality of social action from philosophical rationalism. While we cannot discover a final truth for once and all, that quells all questions, we can still pursue questions of truth and validity collectively and to the best of our current knowledge. Is the scientific consensus on global warming just another discourse which is contested by a more political one that denies it due to its conflicting notion of the good? Are all notions of the good life equal? Are there principles of justice that apply to all at least regarding freedom and authority? Keane’s position leaves these questions is the lurch by reducing them to a monistic discourse. Keane’s haste to undermine what he thinks is the objectivism and latent authoritarianism of enlightenment rationalism instead of taking up a more critical analysis of enlightenment reason as philosophy also has an impact on his analysis of the private–public distinction. Certainly, theorists like Habermas, who is one of the prime targets of Keane’s critique of enlightenment rationalism, have tried to overcome the pure opposition of private and public to find a degree of complementarity. These freedoms are co-­ originary and at least in modern societies require each other. Yet this does not imply that the distinction can be erased nor ignore questions of how the internet impacts both private and public freedom. Rather, a general public sphere exists where some public problems and issues require a national or international deliberation. Within critical theory, Axel Honneth has drawn on Dewey to formulate a similar notion.14 Benjamin Barber’s notion of politics cited above also draws on the notion



of collective will formation. This decentered notion of a general public sphere does not rely on rationalism in Keane’s sense. Jodi Dean argued that the Habermasian notion of the public sphere also represents a modernist approach to the topic that needs to be reformed. She accepts Castells’ conception of information networks and argues that the internet is not a single public sphere but a set of decentered semiautonomous networks.15 Democracy is constituted by conflict or antagonism. Seeking consensus or agreement suppresses antagonism and creates a repressive unity. It is a form that she calls “communicative capitalism” that suppresses antagonism.16 The term “communicative capitalism” characterizes the ideology of new digital technologies that uses communication and discussion to deflect social struggles. Dean also contrasts a modernist notion of the public sphere which is largely monistic and rationalist in the strong sense to a postmodern understanding of the public. In the former, the idea of a discursive agreement that orients action in common is constitutive. It rests in her view on equality, transparency, inclusivity, and rationality. It has been replaced by a postmodern struggle for hegemony, it is characterized by plurality rather than consensus. Unlike Keane and Castells, Dean emphasizes the commercialization of social media and is more skeptical about  the nature of internet publics. Claims about the radical democratic potential of communicative abundance hide the fact that it can also serve ideological ends. In this case, it serves the interests of the depoliticization of public life. Here communicative capitalism is a direct expression of neoliberalism in the social sphere. Instead of democratic participation and political concord, it promotes global inequality, loss of local sovereignty, and financialization of the economy and social life. All these override democratic forms of authority. Dean finds the problem is a disconnect between the circulation of ideas in the public sphere and governing. Her prime example is the Iraq War. According to her analysis, there was plenty of dissent to the Iraq War, for example in the program “Democracy Now,” but this had, according to Dean, no effect on governmental actions. It remained idle talk, Thus, in her view, the idea of the public no longer functions to legitimize democratic movements but a repressive global rule of capital. I don’t think she accurately identifies the processes of depoliticization, which requires the constriction of public space. Many analysts, however, have found that communication on venues like Facebook has not necessarily resulted in depoliticization but has been at least one factor in greater polarization and politicization. Dean’s alternative means of using the internet for radical democracy is a form of “neo-democracy” which seems to be the embodiment of a



postmodern conception of the political. Here she draws heavily on Schmitt’s friend enemy distinction and Chantal Mouffe’s use of Schmitt to emphasize agonistic democracy. The internet is a prime example of postmodern democracy. It is a space in which antagonism and agreement coexist but primarily as a realm of struggle for hegemony. In this context, neo-­democracy does not seek to emphasize deliberative procedure but tools and tactics which are evaluated for their ability to oppose communicative capitalism. They are partisan struggles for freedom. Dean seems to think that ideologies of publicity are no more than forms of manipulation and inducement to act Communicative action then is just a handmaiden of power. This seems to leave out however the elements of solidarity and community that consensual social action brings to the fore; solidarity exists only with friends, not all strangers. Yet this recourse to struggles, though it sounds political, does not go any farther than Keane in helping us understand the communicative power that citizens generate in processes of mutual understanding. Democracy requires more than the use of strategic power of competing plural groups but is constituted by the communicative power of social actors who seek mutual understanding. Deliberation that is more than just a tool for decision-­making; in its broader sense, it is part of the generative power in which we create and recreate the social world.17 Jodi Dean’s argument comes close to reducing critical activity to an instrumental notion of action. The idea that politics is  a friend–enemy relationship which is primarily strategic, begs the question of how the political is constituted. While she claims that politics has a normative core, she fails to provide an account of why norms are accepted.

The Debate over Radical Media Are Social Media “Community Media” The notions of community media as an alternative or radical media have been subject to dispute by media studies scholars. These disputes represent different conceptions of how media have significance for the public sphere and civil society. Some of these debates mirror earlier ones regarding the role of public access. However, it is possible to focus on several salient features. Radical media emphasize the oppositional character of media, and stress their role of addressing others from a subaltern status often representing those who have a minority or outsider status. They tend to break existing



rules and challenge in direct political terms the existing structures of political power and authority.18 Radical media attempt to engage addressees in the public sphere. They want to change public opinion and raise consciousness about public issues. Clemencia Rodriquez wants to call this type of media citizens media, rather than either radical or alternate media.19 Following the work of Laclau and Mouffe on radical democracy, she argues that it overcomes rigid and dichotomous notions of power found in her view in critical theories which hold that consensus is the absence of power. I have in contrast stressed that communicative action also generates communicative power; here citizen’s media is also meant to overcome the idea of the single sender to a mass audience and instead stresses the use of new technologies to contest social codes, legitimized identities, and institutionalized social relations, through a means of empowering the community. They are both users and producers of media. Community media, in contrast, are often seen as a civil society movement. The position of its address to others is central to its character. For Rennie, community media originates and resonates from a conception of civil society that is independent of the state and the economy. It includes nonprofits and nongovernmental organization (NGOs), although they may interact with the other spheres.20 Rennie stresses the empowerment capacity of action in civil society, though active participation and greater accessibility to sources of empowerment. In that way, it fosters connections through association and solidarity, which extend the reach of civil society. From a more activist point of view, Howley emphasized not just location in civil society. Community media is necessarily grass roots and locally owned and arises out of the “felt needs” of a community to create media systems that are relevant to daily life.21 They reject the mainstream perspectives that ignore or disempower them and seek greater participation in media and society, expression and solidarity.22 Alternative media generally is used to categorize not just an audience but a modality of producing media. It often includes  amateur  or do-it-­ yourself (DIY) media produced cheaply or without fancy technique, like small newspapers, fanzines or fan fiction, comic books (such as 1960s counterculture comics), newsletters blogs, or websites; even street art has been considered alternate media. The term also encompasses alternative forms of video and radio, like a pirate or underground radio. The existence of alternative media predates the internet. Alternate media can be but need not be radical media, It could serve cultural and subcultural groups



as well as political needs and publics. For Chris Alton, these groups work on a small scale and are counterhegemonic, although I am not sure how a fanzine or fanfiction is, for example, necessarily counter hegemonic.23 It provides a way for ordinary actors to be content producers and to appeal to audiences not addressed in more mainstream outlets. Alternate media also differ in their means of distribution. They either use nonmarket means or establish nontraditional relations to markets. Alternate media in its diversity comes closer to the idea of an anarchic or wild public than the others. Leah Lievrouw brings this notion closer to an activist stance. Here alternative media is also activist.24 She thinks that the alternative character of media means transcending the production/consumption dichotomy and employ a model of mediation “the use of technological channels to extend of enhance communication and the interpersonal process of participation or intervention in the creation and sharing of meaning.” One mode of this is reconfiguration in which users “modify and adapt media technologies and systems as needed to suit their various purposes and interests.” Remediation is a process which uses remix or borrows existing content or materials to create new works and ideas.25 Christian Fuchs, however, provides a different definition that brings alternative media more into the space of critical media theory. He is critical of the definitions influenced by Atton’s work that advocate for an anarchist standpoint found in the WTO protests and later movements. He thinks that alternative media extends beyond self-organized do-it-yourself media and includes things like leftist newspapers and journals, in the US, for example a magazine like The Nation  but also radio such as Pacifica, independent films, music, and literature which raise critical issues which may sometimes include mass media. Focusing on the forms of self-­ organization, while important in some contexts, can be small scale and often fail to have the reach of larger publications. It is thus less suited to large-scale social change and must be combined with more large-scale strategies. He recommends looking at these distinctions using a critical media theory.26 Fuchs brings alternate media more into the arena of radical media. One of the central features of a critical theory of media is a critique of domination. It attempts to identify the source and nature of socially unnecessary impediments to freedom and happiness and point to alternative potentialities. Critical Theory is reflexive, it requires self-­understanding from subjects who gain insights into their own situation and can be liberated to act.



It is necessarily oppositional to the forces which maintain an order of domination and stands for those who have been oppressed and excluded. Broadly speaking, this is compatible with the political-economic approach which identifies sources of domination in the organization of production, but also for Fuchs and most other contemporary critical theorists recognizes noneconomic forms of domination like gender and racial ones. While most of these theorists emphasize opposition to or at least independence of social norms, they do so in a way that truncates, though it hardly rejects forms of critical understanding. Fuchs recommends an approach stylized after the counterpublic sphere formulated by Negt and Kluge with more critical analysis and modifications. A counterpublic is not necessarily small scale or do-it-yourself but is more broadly based on a larger-scale social movement. In his view like Habermas, a large-scale movement must aim at some degree of universality, at least in the long run. Thus, we must look a la Habermas at the transmission of ideas and projects formulated in a pluralistic public to a wider audience. It is not my purpose here, however, to assess all the successes or failures of these forms of community or alternative media; though I think Fuchs’ critical perspective is the most promising line of analysis, my main focus is on the thesis that social media like YouTube, Facebook, or others provide a real alternative to the public sphere that access was set up to create. I think in most respects it does not. Given these conceptions of radical alternative and community media, it is hard to see how commercially owned media operations aimed at getting users can guarantee a vital public forum. The Internet and the Social Context The debate over radical media in media studies has raised the questions of how and to what extent media provide opposition or contest social power. If an earlier generation of theorists emphasized the link between the inherent democratic possibilities of new technology, a second generation, including many media theorists, has focused on the social and political factors in which and through which technologies are developed. Many of these are focused on the creation of the public sphere and public debate. Lance Bennett stresses the decentralized notion of “distributed networks” as a central element in contesting media power. In some respects, he relies on arguments about the decentralizing effects of technology. He thinks the Indy Media Movement that arose out of the protests against the IMF in Seattle provides a paradigm case. Bennett argues that the



“potentiality to contest power arises when networks spill outside the control of established organization.” The decentralized nature of such organizations not only allows them to quickly exchange high-quality information efficiently and cheaply over large audiences, it also can because of its dispersed nature escape the control of big media powers. The multinodal character of groups like Indymedia and later groups like Occupy or Arab Spring means that the shutdown of one node means that others could easily take over. For some, then, the internet presages new forms of political organization which are not dependent on leaders or follow the old “Weberian” perspectives of leadership driven movements. However, Bennett goes beyond questions of the technological capacities of networked communications, and thus leaves the terrain of technological optimism, to consider the political context in which movements occur. He thinks that the changing conditions of globalization is the major factor. He sees three noneconomic factors that facilitate these movements drawn from the work of Giddens and Beck, the changing sense of identity which is freed from conformist organizational contexts, the changing sense of space and time engendered in late modernity, and the interlinked systems of communication central to globalization. The increasing individualization of subjects leads to a more expressive and less membership oriented style of political movements. These social changes in his view propel political movements that are global in scope because of the nature of the problems that escape national boundaries and require the ability to incorporate diverse groups of individuals and identities. This creates in his view a decentered global public sphere that contests power.27 Bennett’s discussion of the problems with this way of communicating information, however, point to problems The personalization of news can lead to the Daily We rather than a Daily Us and yields a form of individualization that breaks social bonds rather than enhancing social individuality.28 The general distrust of the forms of information traditionally provided by the press, which of course predates the internet, and is sometimes found in the early debate over access, has intensified. The rise of personalized politics, are both related to and responds to the new neoliberal constellation. On the one hand, personalized politics reflects the neoliberal emphasis on lifestyles and “branding”; this form of individualizing becomes a marketization of the individual, a form of reification and colonization.29 On the other hand, the collaboration of “left parties” adopted neoliberal policies, and the declining  power of unions and more traditional organizations resulted in diminishing political choices and



organizational opportunities. Their political identities are more flexible and not based on social group identity. This model of personalized politics, when centered in personal grievances, has become of hallmark of the right, according to Bennett, but is also seen on the left in what he calls, oxymoronically (following Micheletti), as individualized collective action, a movement without clear leaders. Such movements, however, would seem to create weak bonds of attachment and solidarity that I will discuss below. Another theorist mentioned above, Leah Lievrouw, stresses the democratic and participatory character of digital media, in a way that recalls earlier technologies like the camcorder. Audiences and consumers are simultaneously users and producers. Lievrouw stresses both the do-it-­ yourself characters of many new media, including not just the web but all digital technologies like cell phones, zines, or other modes. These give users the capacity to bypass the large-scale media that have dominated in the predigital era. According to this account, the small presses underground newspapers and independent films of the past could not compete with the large media. After short-term successes, they were absorbed into mainstream media. Digital media because of its character can overcome these limits and challenge mainstream media. Because of the decentralized character of digital media, it provides openings for challenging power.30 Others like Ellie Rennie stress the power of internet communication in civil society terms as the creation of a new commons in which people can build upon technologies without permission from authorities. It presages an open, voluntary, and collaborative system—one that is generative, not contestatory. Rennie wants to rethink the relation between the amateur and the volunteer.31 Terje Rasmussen takes the same problems but looks to place it more in the context of critical theory. Also taking up the work of Giddens and Beck, he sees the greater individualization they find in late modernity embodied in internet communication. Rasmussen thinks that the internet provides a lower threshold for expression of views and for exchange or participation public sphere that is to voice opinions and participate in discussions. However, even if this is useful, Rasmussen finds problems, and the situation produces a heterogeneity that is hard to integrate reflexively. He rejects Laclau and Mouffe’s solution which denies the possibility of a general (universal) public sphere. For each political entity, there is something like a public sphere in which debate about relevant public issues take place. It is this reflexivity in discussion and deliberation that is lacking in



heterogeneous discourse. The latter is more subject to manipulation. He sees social media as creating more fragmentation than unified political will.32 For Peter Dahlgren, the internet like other media can’t be understood strictly in technological terms but as a social institution, He wants to focus on how the communicative spaces relevant for democracy are broadly configured. This has to do with such things as the way cyber-geography is organized in terms of legal, social, economic, cultural, technical, and even Web-architectural features. Such factors have an impact on the ways in which the Net is accessible (or not) for civic use.33 Dahlgren attempts to develop a more nuanced view of the value of internet communication than technological optimists. Like others, he notes that political discussion and argumentation on the internet are often of low quality and boil down to simple assertions of differing views. Dahlgren is somewhat skeptical of the “rationalist bias” of deliberative democracies. However, he sees value in the creation of civic cultures on the internet. These cultures have an identity creating aspect fostered by the exchange of information and sharing of common values. Rather than acting as a public sphere, civic groups act strategically to support policies. However, this process is politics, as usual. However, in some later research Dahlgren and his associates argue that the promise of the web to provide unlimited access to information is unfounded. Not only did his research in 2017 find that television remains a main source of information for most, he found that neither citizens nor political parties rarely took advantage of the web (2.0). Although theorists often praise internet public forums, there are good reasons to believe that the mere ability to participate in discussion does not lead to a higher level of deliberation. Internet discussions rarely reach the threshold of reasoned deliberation, even on informal criteria. Often discussions on forums and especially social media are limited and brief and are not conducive to forming the kind of informed public opinion that the notion of public sphere ideally aims at. In terms of political efficacy, the internet organizes individuals more like classical interest groups and clubs that stress common values. Political information, according to others like Dahlgren’s, has not necessarily disseminated through the internet or led to increased political participation. On the contrary, they seem to lead, as I will discuss later, to increased polarization. What is important is not just access to information or speaking on the web, but, if you will, the way that such information is



distributed and filtered. Matthew Hindman stresses that in addition to its successes it creates new forms of exclusivity.34 Most obviously, the privileged have greater access to the internet and resources than the poor but ordinary citizens, according to Hindman, also find themselves at a disadvantage. It does not seem, according to his research, that democratic political communities are the primary form of interaction on the web. Individuals are more likely to be activists if they are already interested in politics, to begin with, Thus, it doesn’t create motivations as much as reinforce them.35 The bigger problem lies with the gatekeeper function of internet political communication. Traditional print and broadcast media often predominate. In addition, the structure of internet protocols can be used to favor powerful interests. Google Search often uses search algorithms that can be manipulated to favor large business over smaller ones. Hindman sees this as a winner-takes-all system. It doesn’t matter if you create content if you can’t get it distributed. Hindman’s analysis suggests that we need a broader analysis of social and political power if we want to get at the workings of the public sphere. Following the work of critical theorists, especially Habermas, Christian Fuchs as part of his aforementioned critical theory of the internet, develops a political economic approach to the problem of the public sphere on the internet. This approach is most compatible with a critical theory that looks to discover the source of domination and other unjust forms of power. Fuchs employed Habermas’ analysis of the colonization of the lifeworld to analyze developments on the internet. The colonialization thesis argues that in later capitalist and neoliberal constellations economic process and so to speak invaded and conquered spheres of social life that have been normatively regulated and converted them to a market logic.36 I have identified a number of these in the previous chapters, processes of marketization and financialization have invaded  spheres of social life. Market imperatives govern more and more of our activity. While we have to avoid the earlier Frankfurt theorist notion of total conquest of the lifeworld, there is no reason to believe that the internet and the development of the public sphere or the growth of civil society is immune to these trends, or that the private ownership of most large web portals and social media is not part of this process. The difference between public access and internet publics lies in its nonprofit character. It is this status that is reduced and challenged in neoliberalism. In contrast, many internet forums, certainly the main ones like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter,



and Instagram and portals like Google and Yahoo and Microsoft are privately owned for-profit corporations, often by the same companies. I also want to focus on the nature of these commercial forums for a reason specific to my analysis of public access. Sites like YouTube and Facebook are often cited as viable substitutes for public access.

Can Social Media Serve as a Public Sphere? The creators of today’s social media followed much the same ideology as the new “communitarians” Stuart Brand and John Perry Barlow. They too viewed the internet as the vehicle for a new type of community that bypassed the political authority of the nation state and instituted a true participatory democracy. They still employed the imagery of the technological sublime. For Mark Zuckerberg, social media companies like Facebook are more important than countries. Facebook is like an autonomous nation state, but with a decentralized structure. Others see these companies as agents of social transformation and claim that computer technology will end world hunger and can fulfill human needs. The libertarian cofounder of Pay Pal, Peter Thiel, famously wanted to build floating cities not burdened by central governments.37 Like Barlow, the most extreme form of this position asserts that cyberspace exists in no territory and is not governed by any state. For some proponents, the internet creates a democratic public sphere that is less like the esoteric community of the communalists and more like the communicative public advocated by the pragmatists and Habermas. This view is sometimes shared by neoliberal enthusiasts. Eric Schmidt argued that the internet is the world’s largest ungoverned space.38 Like other utopians, he sees the internet as a technology with unlimited democratic potential. For its advocates, the internet was a noncommercial utopian medium in which everyone would be free and equal with equal power to speak and to contest power. Like their predecessors, however, these formulations attempt to square the circle. They want to affirm a private commercial structure in which users have no speech rights and a free public forum without acknowledging the contradictions between these aims.



Political Economy of the Internet from Public to Private The internet did not arise spontaneously out of individual innovation or consumer demand. It was created by the US government to connect regional universities and military facilities for research purposes. It was not-for-profit and not seen by large corporations as a source of profit. Under government control, this included early versions of UseNet, which had the first discussion groups regulated by members. The precursor to the modern internet, ARPANET, was central to the development of new networking technologies and network interconnection and expansion. However, by the 1990s, commercial networks began to take over control and the modern internet was born. The first intersection occurred when NSFNET established a gateway with CompuServe for email. By the mid-­1990s, when the introduction of Netscape Navigator established the basis for secure commercial and banking transactions, commercial use of the internet became possible. By 1995, NSFNET sold off its assets and most of the internet infrastructure became privately owned. With the establishment of these private networks, personal computer use took off. The expansion was also driven by the communications act of 1994. Here the privatization of public services in the neoliberal media regime combined with the libertarians’ ideology of personal (economic) freedom to mean that the internet was fully opened to commercial development. For critics, however, the rise of the commercial internet contradicts the claims of those who see the internet as a free-and-unfettered realm of freedom and public exchange. As Robert McChesney notes: The tremendous potential of the digital revolution has been compromised by capitalist appropriation and development of the internet. In the great conflict between openness and a closed system of corporate profitability, the forces of capital have triumphed wherever an issue mattered to them. The internet has been subject to a capital accumulation process, which has a clear logic of its own, inimitable to much of the democratic potential of digital communication.39

In this constellation potential, public spheres have been privatized and are not conducive to the development of public spheres. Of course, just as in the case of radio and television, the course of development was not set in stone but determined by the social and political forces involved. The ethos of the developers and users of the internet were



decidedly noncommercial. They were sensitive to the encroachments of for-profit features like advertising on the emerging net. How then did the internet come to be commercialized? Two sets of forces seem to be important. The 1996 communications act, which was mentioned above, was the result of several years of deliberations that were shielded from public view and had no public input. This is connected to the second set of influences of the neoliberal climate: in the 1990s, centrist Democrats like Clinton and Republicans preached the neoliberal gospel, which was reinforced by extensive lobbying and posed little opposition. The ethos of nonprofit users posed little problem either since they seemed to think that they could outmaneuver clumsy corporate interests. The first way that the new political economy of the internet affected the public is  through the domination of internet services. The large Telcos and the large cable companies are the main providers of high-speed broadband services and provide some of the worst services in the developed world at the highest cost. More than a monopoly, they can be considered a cartel. They used their substantial resources to squash competition. Of course, the cartel-like nature of ISPs made the question of net neutrality central to the political agenda. If service providers can restrict the speed and accessibility of some sites and favor others, the traditional notion of the service providers as common carriers is lost. If most small sites do not have higher speed access, for example, independent political information or blogs or if their creative endeavors are hard to reach, the public character of the internet is subordinated to commercial concerns. Monopoly conditions also predominate in the major social media, OS platform, and software sectors of the digital economy. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are among the largest corporations in the country and hold tremendous market power. The ability of the companies to achieve such concentration so quickly was certainly enhanced by the network quality of the internet. A company with a large presence on the network enhances its reach and crowds out other sources. The network effect means that everyone gains by the common use of a single service. But this also means that the cost of exclusion for other services can be large.40 These large companies have turned the open character of the internet into the property of the few. Their profitability stems from their ability to create in a sense an artificial scarcity based on their ability to create proprietary systems in which they control access and the relation to the consumer. In this they have been largely successful. A 2013 survey conducted an analysis of the most used Internet platforms and found that



98% of them were run by for-profit organizations, 88% used targeted advertising, and 72% had their home base in the US. Proprietary software dominates. You can, for example, no longer own your own copy of Microsoft Word or other software. You have to subscribe to a yearly fee, to use the service. Internet commercialization has led to the widespread penetration of computers, the internet, and especially social media into almost all aspects of life. We use the internet for banking, for shopping, for news and movies, music and entertainment, even recreation and dating. Internet providers, internet platforms such as search engines, social media sites, and software are all privately owned. Internet companies have had to find new ways to gain revenue streams and employ advertising. Consumers were resistant to advertising or to subscription-based content, which they could often get for free. The new social media companies were a threat to traditional advertising. As consumers migrated to the internet for information, shopping, and entertainment, older media like newspapers magazine, television, and radio suffered. The new revenue model is based on data mining and targeted ads based on data mined from social media and search engines. Want a new pair of shoes? If you browse at an online store or a site like Amazon or eBay, you will be deluged with ads for those shoes on almost all the other pages you use. For these companies, the individual is little more than a source of data to be exploited. It is an extreme form of marketization, in which your very identity is subject to the market. It is not surprising then that the commercial expansion of the net has not been universally accepted as a good thing. Recently, critic Jacob Silverman has characterized the commercial iteration of the web as an Orwellian world of surveillance which is negatively reshaping our very sociality.41 While some might see this as one-sided, there is no doubt that the power of social networks to invade our privacy and influence the political and cultural beliefs of many is strong. While a full discussion of the influence of the internet on everyday life is beyond the scope of this study, I do want to focus on the question of whether computer-mediated communication and commercial social media, in general, provide a true public sphere. The idea that social media represent a new form of civilization which bypasses all government stretches credulity. Yet this grandiosity has palpable consequences for internet governance. Far from treating social media as open to participatory governance, these companies have often acted as sovereign authorities. Corporate leaders view themselves as the



creators of the rules and institutions of a digital future. As the management and owners of social media, they have immense power. They act as a set of independent fiefdoms run by sometime benevolent sometimes malevolent dictators who determine the rules and direction for their social networks.42

Facebook: Privacy and Publicity Facebook is currently the world’s biggest social network. It has an estimated two billion active users, defined as those who have used Facebook in the past month; the total number of registered users is higher. Its reach is international and pervasive. For many, Facebook dominates their lives. They spend several hours a day interacting with others liking posts and commenting on others. Some obsessively document their personal lives, while others post pictures of cats or food. Still others post news and social issues. It has become a ubiquitous presence in many lives. Like other social media, Facebook partakes of the utopianism of the technological optimists. It presents itself as creating a connected world which promotes values of freedom, equality, and peace. However, in most respects, it is like a neoliberal dystopia in which the price for connectivity is the surrender of massive amounts of personal information and privacy to Facebook, its advertisers, and data analytics firms. Facebook is a commercial enterprise whose success is based on getting eyeballs on the screen. As one of the founders of Facebook, Sean Parker, recently stated, when Facebook was being developed, that the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”43 He fears that we are changing the brains and the social interaction patterns of young people.44 It is less a free form of interaction than one mediated by ads and by algorithms that choose for the member what kinds of posts are given priority and targeted ads she receives. Facebook works then on monetizing individuals and the data they yield. This framework also has effects on the nature and quality of our personal lives. Facebook’s business model succeeds only when it gets you to click links or provide information it can sell to advertisers. For critics, it does not create a genuine community of connectivity, but an ersatz sociality that is based on oversharing “confessionalism, exhibitionism—and above all a relentless positivity.”45 While Facebook no doubt has real benefits, it is worth our time to consider these negative effects. Often, troubled people post about their conflicts or even their medical condition online, looking



for support from people they barely know. Excessive self-disclosure, as noted above, can have serious problems. Trusting people you do not know with personal information and troubles can lead to manipulation and worse. Job seekers too find that internet searches by prospective employers can yield embarrassing or critical posts. Information rarely dies.

Data Collection and Privacy The vast collection of user data on the internet raises important privacy concerns. Almost all the time that individuals spend online and all the time on the major social media sites is tracked and recorded. Cell phones are sophisticated tracking devices. They can tell interested parties or authorities your movements down to the exact address. Alexa, Siri, and Google Voice can record all searches and even record your conversations when you are not using them. When you reach a web page, hundreds of data miners are surveilling and gathering information on you. Cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneider notes: “Surveillance is the business model of the internet. Everyone is under constant surveillance by many companies, ranging from social networks like Facebook to cellphone providers.”46 Shoshana Zuboff coined the term “surveillance capitalism” to describe the project through which the harvesting of information is used to commodify and objectify human subjectivity in its innermost recesses. “Surveillance capitalism,” Zuboff argues, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data.”47 This goes beyond the commodity structure of mass society. In mass society advertisers sought to shape the desires and needs of consumers; Surveillance capitalism wants to turn subjectivity into a product governed by machine learning. It makes subjectivity itself the object of colonization. While this work focuses on the notion of the public sphere, the complementary character of private and public life has been noted by critical theorists like Habermas and Marcuse. Philosophers and social scientists alike have stressed the role of a private sphere independent of surveillance and interference as crucial to the formation of autonomy. It is more than just freedom of choice. It is this autonomy, which provides the core of our ability to become individuals and to reasonably consent an ability that is central to our public roles as democratic citizens. While the structure of corporate power in mass societies attempted to shape and manipulate consent, it still relied on the notion that consent was freely given. Zuboff describes a situation in which consent is eliminated. The reflexive understanding of the



modern individual is reduced or eliminated. The goal is to automate subjectivity. Such automated subjects are, however, not well situated to be democratic subjects who are capable of creative social action and participate in processes of public discussion and deliberation. Instead, it is based on large-scale power asymmetries. The masters know all about you, but keep their own operations secret. Dystopian predictions about the totalizing power of new technologies are often just as prevalent as optimistic ones. The complete erasure of the reflexive capacities of modern subjects would take a monumental effort. Nonetheless, Zuboff’s reflections on the commodification of subjectivity ring true. It is as much a political project as an economic one. The loss of privacy is fraught with psychological and social consequences. In earlier years they may have been declared illegal, just as wiretapping was. Individuals who have deep-seated resentments and dissatisfactions with their social and economic situation can be targeted based on data mining, and they are susceptible to fake news. Another troubling aspect of data mining and surveillance for the privacy and rights of individuals is the tacit cooperation of service providers with the military and the government. Most service portals have backdoors that are open to the government and the military; these were established during the Clinton administration. In the post-9/11 environment, tolerance of, often illegal, surveillance has increased. The military and the government have developed huge data storage capacities and have gathered extensive information including surveillance of emails and online activity. They consider cybernetic surveillance a crucial part of their mission. Edward Snowden revealed the extent of these global surveillance programs. They relied on extensive cooperation from telecommunications companies involved in the “lucrative” business of selling data to the government. Much of this surveillance was illegal until a 2008 law allowed it. While there was a subsequent discussion of these issues, questions of the use of such information for surveillance purposes without a clear threat to the country from individuals remain in abeyance.

All the (Fake) News that Fits One way the internet and social media were thought to serve public ends was through the greater dissemination and greater democratization of information on the internet. The wide availability and abundance of information was to enhance public deliberation and discussion. Not only are newspapers, magazines, and other publications available on the internet



and on social networks, but citizen journalists who some see as the vanguard of a democratic media create content. No doubt it is a good thing that newspapers are available; however, many of them and many magazines are behind paywalls and not accessible. One could probably access more information from a good municipal library or a local college or university library. While you can find all types of information through Google or other internet search engines, a lot of it is incorrect. While some may be simply cases of limited understanding, much of it is becoming deliberate. Without the skills to discriminate or some prior ability to sort information, the individual searching for information is just as likely, if not more likely, to get misinformation. Victor Pickard has described the rise of a misinformation society, in which the populace “is increasingly fed clickbait, sensationalistic television news coverage, and degraded print news instead of informative, fact-based, policy-related news.” The roots of this are not entirely rooted in the internet but have reinforced these tendencies. The decline of mainstream journalism has resulted in a mistrust of much news, something which extends to legitimate publications like the New York Times or Washington Post. Just as important was the deregulation of media during the Clinton years, which resulted in the rise of hate radio and FOX news and which presented large quantities of misinformation while constantly attacking mainstream media as ideological tinged. However, print journalism and network news and news networks were also at fault. They had become ratings driven as news became a source of profit, and dependent on a cozy relation with authorities, for news stories. The adversarial role of much of the press has degenerated into a cheerleader role at times. The ratings-based coverage of the networks was on display during the Trump campaign. Because he drew viewers, Trump received an inordinate amount of coverage and often worked to normalize his behavior. Coverage was based more on the horse race quality of the campaign and the endless polls.48 Newspapers. whether in print or online. have declined rapidly. This is not simply the result of internet competition but the result of neoliberal deregulation I discussed earlier. After the passage of the 1996 Communications Act, conglomerates rapidly bought up newspapers through debt financing, but once the merger bubble burst in the early 2000s, they were left with unsustainable amounts of debt and cut services. The result is that newspapers have cut back on both international and local coverage. Often the staff of these papers is minimal. To survive,



newspapers look to using prewritten articles from other sources but often engage in what Silverman calls “churnalism,” that is, the creation of articles generated less for their news value and more for their ability to get clicks on the internet. Churnalism might well be considered the primary form of news on the internet. Sites like Buzzfeed mixed legitimate articles with clickbait, as did outlets like the Huffington Post. They also played on the desires of writers to break into “print” by using their services for free. However, social media and search portals act as editors and gatekeepers who preselect the information they provide. Looking at sites that act as aggregators, such as Yahoo and MSM, one is likely to find legitimate news articles mixed with “sponsored” content including dubious health and nutrition claims, dubious celebrity gossip, and clickbait sensationalism. Moreover, such aggregators select your articles they deem relevant, no matter what your actual interests. These choices are commercially based, and they never contain local citizen journalism or popular democratic initiatives. Fake news—the proliferation of deliberately false information and conspiracy stories on the internet—has risen significantly in recent years, reaching a peak in the election of 2016. Studies suggest that fake news outperformed real news outlets in the weeks before the 2016 election. Fake news isn’t merely a matter of untruth; it is a propaganda device driven by data analytics. As perfected by Cambridge Analytica, groups were able to purchase ads and create algorithms to effectively reach disaffected potential voters. Groups supporting Trump targeted likely voters and tried to discourage voters for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Often, they sought to exacerbate racial tensions and other divisions. There is certainly compelling evidence suggesting that foreign countries, especially but not exclusively Russia, have tried to influence elections. The power of Facebook as a quasi-monopoly platform and one with little or no internal oversight or government regulation made it an ideal platform for manipulation.

How Emancipatory Are Social Movements? The Occupy Movement as a Case Study of Internet Activism? Radical theorists, as noted, often point to the radical potential of the internet for  enhancing social movements. In the occupy movement, social media were used extensively as a means for informing and organizing protest movements. No doubt it provides a means for quickly informing individuals and mobilizing actors and, in the case where streaming media have



broadcast protests, for a way to bypass some of the established commercial media and show the existence and significance of protest directly to members and supporters as well as the public. Yet some doubt whether internet-driven social movements enhance activism. Fuchs argued that such movements are no better than their counterparts in organizing and that organizers rely on noninternet organization connections equally.49 Some participants also noted the limits of virtual participation. Tufecki, a participant activist/observer in social protest, movements, also observed that leaders were connected not just through the internet but personal social connections. While the internet in her view was of paramount value in linking like-minded protesters, its very structure led to fragile ties among members. In contrast with earlier protest movements like the civil rights movements where years of experience and discussion yielded a sophisticated understanding of political forces and created a robust organizational capacity, the nature of protests that were connected mostly online did not generate the same organizational capacity. Such movements are prone to disruption when difficulties arise.50 Other theorists have similarly noted that the use of digital media in social movements tends to form weaker bonds than those of more traditional social movements. The process of identification with both goals and principles was more constricted.51 This was indicated in two ways. Digital participants found they had less impact on processes of deliberation than face-to-face participants, in the “general assemblies.” Also, however, virtual participation in Facebook discussion groups was rather unwieldy and led to problems of authority. The nature of Facebook discussion groups is not as democratic as critics think. Leadership often exerted control over them. For analysis of social movements, these weaker bonds may be the cause of the dissolution of the occupy movement. While these considerations do not lead us to reject the value of the internet for organizing social movements, they do urge caution about its limits.

Proprietary Publics? The creation of proprietary social media companies raises questions about their legal status as free speech zones. Courts, however, have generally ruled against the idea of the internet as a public forum. On the contrary, the notion of freedom on the internet competes with the idea of the individual and market commodity.



Social networks from Facebook to YouTube, sites run by AOL in the early days, and search sites like Google, all have terms of service that restrict the user’s freedom of speech and expression. AOL, for example, stated in their user agreement that they “have the right at their sole discretion to remove any content that, in America Online’s judgment … [is] harmful, objectionable, or inaccurate.” Far from being a public forum, AOL used the analogy of the conversation around the family dinner table, that it is a private conversation to regulate speech. Just as you would avoid vulgarity around the dinner table or at a family gathering like thanksgiving dinner, the AOL user was not allowed to use vulgar or obscene language on AOL. Moreover, AOL reserved the right to terminate service based on similar violations anywhere on the internet. Similar requirements could be found on Yahoo or internet providers like Comcast. Each of these “reserves the right … to refuse to transmit or post and to remove or block any information or materials … that it, in its sole discretion, deems to be … inappropriate, regardless of whether this material or its dissemination is unlawful.”52 Moreover, many colleges and universities provide internet service on restrictive terms. They often explicitly restrict speech that is hurtful or harmful such as that which negatively impacts on self-esteem or promotes feelings of impotence or disenfranchisement.53 Even supposedly private communications are subject to surveillance. Unlike the post office, email sent on the internet is sent through private services and thus can be subject to monitoring. Search engine Google also acts as a regulator of speech. It regulates input and output. On the one hand, Google refuses to accept ads for sponsored sites from political organizations and religious groups. On the other, Facebook also restricts expression; it has routinely banned images and content that it finds offensive or that users report. Like Google, Facebook also gathers a good deal of information about its users and targets them with ads and sponsored links. Its prime source of income is the monetization of the information it gathers from users, your browsing history, sites you visit, your likes and dislikes are all gathered and marketed to advertisers. Data mining is big business on the internet, and it raises crucial issues of privacy. One must give up a considerable amount of privacy to use services like Facebook, Google, and other social network sites. Google treats users as a commodity in two ways. Like traditional media, Google sells access to its consumers to advertisers. In this sense, for media companies, the audience is a commodity to be sold for profit to advertisers. However, the google model goes beyond this. Rather than the media



companies being content producers, the consumers are themselves the content producers. Users engage in permanent creative activity, communication, community building, and content production, for which they are not paid. When users create content on google platforms like Gmail, google blogs, google docs, and searches, the content is indexed and sold to advertisers and their intellectual activity becomes a commodity for google to sell and exploit for profit. Thus, Google users are double objects of commodification: (1) they and their data are internet producers which commodify themselves; (2) through this commodification, their consciousness becomes, while online, permanently exposed to commodity logic in the form of advertisements. Most online time is exposed to advertising time by Google or other online advertising companies.54 ISPs, like Comcast, have consistently tried to deny free or low-cost internet broadband services to consumers, arguing that they are more like newspapers than utilities. For example, in 2004, Comcast sued the city of San Jose, California, which had attempted to terminate its franchise agreement, because Comcast had refused to provide public services. San Jose had asked Comcast for 10% of system bandwidth to be set aside for public use as well as an I-net for City Building. Comcast refused these requests.55 Comcast argued that this interfered with its free speech rights. Like a newspaper, they are, according to this account, an individual (corporate) entity. Just as a newspaper does not have to provide space to anyone it chooses, the cable company does not have to provide public broadband services. In reality, of course, companies like Comcast are more like TV and radio providers of commercial entertainment which use the public right of way and incur public obligations. The recent Supreme Court decision in the Halleck case that I discussed seems to reinforce the idea that social media forums are not true public forums in any legally ascertainable sense. To be considered a legal forum, the social media company would have to be considered a state actor, which is a state function or one that is carried out for the state. But it is clear from that decision that social media, short of any government regulation, would be considered private actors who can employ editorial control over the discussion on their platform. Localism and citizen journalism have been a mixed bag. Some sites dedicated to local matters ban political discussion; other sites lack competent moderators. One local site dedicated to discussing issues in my local town is moderated by an individual who has an interest in planning issues; and blog administrators attend numerous town boards and planning



board meetings and make a genuine attempt to inform the public. He does a service in posting minutes and information about these meetings but is completely inarticulate and ill-informed politically. Here, of course, these forums are one- or two-person operations. They depend on the moderator and not on the participatory public. Thus, it is hard for discussion to advance to the level of political will formation. To be sure, public access could have citizen journalists of varying degrees of competence. The difference seems to be the lack of feedback mechanisms on fakebook and other social media through which individuals can correct and refine their discursive skills. More troubling is how Facebook and other social media sites are open to manipulation. They rarely have any clear rules of generally accepted procedures for moving discussions forward, and exchange between participants, while frequent is not very effective at producing greater insight or consensus. The lack of control, however, is exacerbated using bots and trolls using fake identities to spread disinformation and conspiracy rumors through the web and discussion groups. For example, the Bernie Sanders group on Facebook that I belong to has frequent posts not just criticizing Sanders on rational grounds, but misinformation and rumor. The pattern of these suggests a deliberate disinformation campaign. There has been thus far little action on the part of Facebook to regulate the use of bots and paid agents, because Facebook runs advertising and markets information on its members, rendering its members vulnerable to manipulation by both commercial and political interests. Critics have questioned whether the new forms of computer-mediated interaction produce greater solidarity and identification or more social isolation. In addition to the criticism of oversharing alluded to earlier, critics think that such interaction increases loneliness and, in some cases, allows new ways of bullying and intimidating others rather than promoting social interaction or fruitful discussion. For example, Sherry Turkle, who has sometimes identified the positive effects of computer interaction, has more recently focused on some of the more negative effects. The technological effects of computer interaction, she argues, can just as easily promote alienation from others. They pay less attention to others in interpersonal relationships and emotional relations tend to be more shallow.56 While some forms of alienation can lead to increased reflection on one’s situation and the reasons for it, the specific forms of alienation that the internet seems to generate can lead in the opposite direction, a tendency to rely on the judgment of others based on the wish to belong rather than looking



inward for gaining insight and finding solutions. Without the ability for critical self-reflection however, the effective use of any public forum is limited. For many younger people, the expanding scope of influence of social media in their lives is more understood though the models of socializing and less as the development of a vast new public realm.

Facebook and Twitter Pages as Public Forums? With some of these considerations in mind, I want to return to the question of the extent to which social media can provide a true public forum. These concern both the structure of internet communication and the power that is wielded by users and those of the owners of these platforms. In addition to the legal issues, it is difficult to contend that many, if not most, individual pages provide a public forum even in an informal sense. They are means of socializing not discussion of public issues. The discussions that are found on personal pages are dependent on the needs and capacities of the individual involved. Some people welcome dissenting opinions, others see their pages more as spaces for personal affirmation. For some, the personal page represents an aspirational self or ego ideal that can never be fulfilled in life.57 Unsupportive comments often lead to “unfriending.” Frequently, members will state that their page is a place of “positivity.” While sometimes this means that members don’t want to have hate speech on their page, and which is certainly a justifiable aim, more often it means avoiding negative information or anything that makes the person feel bad. In other cases, community pages often ban or limit discussion of controversial political issues as they cause too much trolling and attack style political posts. Cass Sunstein suggested that in contemporary internet communication, social media platforms like Facebook operate on a model which individualizes experience, rather than making it a collective experience. For example, a personalized news approach can lead to fragmented publics without a general knowledge of others. Although each person governs himself/herself, the general interest gets lost. Fragmented publics lack the ability for full discussion and debate of ideas. They only address limited groups of people. The individual gets a limited perspective on the world. Looking at the Facebook pages of people of different persuasions, you can’t help but get the impression, according to Sunstein, that they live in different political universes. This is not always a matter of personal choice, as it is enhanced by the ability of social media providers to use data to



determine your preferences politically, socially, and personally and tailor your news feed to your preferences.58 Of course, the problem occurs not because there are individualized news feeds, but because they eliminate more general publics, instead of supplementing it. For Sunstein, as for other critics, the increasing polarization is correlated with greater hostility toward those who are different. This included the possibility of political violence and disrespect and disdain for those with different views. Polarization also impacts our ability for discursive resolution of problems. If we lack at least a weak solidarity with others, we are unlikely to have the trust needed to engage in long-term discussion or negotiation. This affects the ability of a population for self-government the principle element of republican political theories—which also applies to discursive theories as well. Discussion is often fragmented, and the compact character of discourse is itself a problem. It is not conducive to extended discussion. Moreover, the character of internet discussion far from increasing solidarity and trust between participants can often discourage it. This is because it often takes place within a structure of internet bubbles that reinforce existing opinions and decisions and takes place in a framework that encourages more authoritarian response. Hate, anxiety, and anger, not dialogue, drive many participants in an online discussion. Given the scope of misunderstanding, a Pew Research survey found that individuals were less likely to start a political discussion online than in person. Trolling and cyber harassment have become a major problem on the web. Up to 40% of internet users report some form of online harassment. Trolling is an attempt to disrupt and impede discussion of issues and problems. Often it takes the more virulent form of disparagement and abuse. While bullying and harassment have been around forever, the form of online harassment and bullying is more intense than in other media. The anonymous character of online communications removes restraints and even reinforces hateful and threatening behavior. And this feature is only reinforced when malign political forces use bots and other trolling to influence those already threatened. Trolling and cyber harassment can also be an attempt to assert dominance or superiority over a perceived opponent, who threatens the bully’s conception of established authority. Teenagers especially are vulnerable to bullying and intimidation online. Those who are insecure, don’t fit in, or may be struggling with their personal or sexual identity are especially vulnerable. Suicides caused by bullying, if not frequent, still happen with regularity. Others can be trolled by real persons



sometimes using fake names but also by bots. The difference between ordinary anger in which passions can get out of control and trolling lies is the element of abuse, threat, and hate that trolls employ. Trolls on the internet find there is little consequence for their action. Trolling has been especially problematic for women who have been subject to inordinate harassment when they speak up against injustice or improper treatment.59

YouTube and Social Media vs. (Public) Television: Public Forum While public officials and cable company executives often tout YouTube as a sufficient alternative to public access, there is a reason to doubt that YouTube is as effective as public access television in reaching a mass audience, or that it will prove a substitute for Public Access TV in any effective way. Television remains by far the communication technology used most by Americans. The average American watches over five hours a day of television as opposed to other technologies such as the internet. Television viewing has increased over time, and when we consider time-shifting (i.e. the use of DVR), as well as live TV, Americans watch as much TV as they ever have as of 201360 The amount of time watching TV increases even more for senior citizens, who watch up to two full days a week. Thus, TV remains a better means of reaching the general public than YouTube. This is especially true of reaching older Americans who use the internet less and television more. Few YouTube videos reach anything like a mass audience. The real function of YouTube in the discussion over public access is to serve as a vehicle for privatizing and outsourcing its obligations to the public. While there are  no doubt some sources of  good journalism on the internet, YouTube is mostly an entertainment service and not a major source of news and information. It has little place for the kind of citizenproduced videos and not subject to any public interest obligation. Of course, YouTube despite its populist image is also a commercially owned service, and while anyone can access it, YouTube can and does restrict videos. It is not in the legal sense a public forum.



From an audience standpoint, it is not at all clear that most YouTube videos reach a large audience. For every viral video that gets thousands of views, there are innumerable others that get 10 or 20. Most viral videos feature what we might call human interest or sometimes entertaining content and pets in “cute” situations. While there are videos that address social issues and public affairs, even higher education lectures and courses on YouTube, they are disorganized and difficult to find. There is no ongoing discussion forum on public affairs on YouTube. Nor are there any local or hyperlocal fora where citizens could find a sustained discussion of municipal affairs, something you might find on public access. For the most part, YouTube despite its function as a community of users is highly individualized and fragmented and isolated from a greater community. The need for localism makes public access television a still crucial element in a public media strategy. I noted earlier that television, including cable television, is still a major way that individuals receive information and entertainment. The average person watches up to five hours of television a day. It remains the most influential medium of communication, as well as the major source of local news and information. Without public interest obligations, this pervasive medium would be even more profoundly uninformative than it often has become. Localism as a principle still matters. Although economic forces and technologies like the internet have expanded our virtual worlds and our ability to contact others far away, we still live our lives in local communities where decisions are made about much of our everyday lives. Often local government access officials praise the use of the internet to play and archive meetings. I’m not convinced that archived meetings on the internet garner many views or extensive discussion. They are not a substitute for viewing on cable or on the publicity we used to provide to the meetings. The municipal meetings we ran on public access had a good audience. Some viewers would hold watch parties at their houses to view and discuss municipal meetings. At the time of this writing, I can’t even find any online meeting archives for several of the largest towns we served. A recent look at the website of a local town of 30,000 showed the top recent videos of town meetings with about 60 viewers (some others had 10 or less), or 0.02%. of the possible audience. The county of Monroe, in which Rochester and the suburbs are located, also posted videos of taped meetings. It had a total of 858 views for 96 videos posted in 2017, less than 10 per video. The total county population is over 700,000, so there is an infinitesimal percentage of online viewers. Moreover, these are just



hits; they don’t say how many unique viewers or how long they viewed the video or even when (was it in a timely way that could impact ongoing debate). While archiving is fine, the effect on public debate is likely minuscule.

The Need for a General Public Sphere Proponents of the digital revolution, like other new technologies, have made strong claims about the nature of internet communication. They claim it generates decentered public spheres, largely free from external authority, in which issues can be deliberated and critical consciousness formed. Moreover, they claim it also results in an expanded civil society in which harmonious social relationships and solidarity predominate. Social movements too are facilitated by the expanded scope of internet communications. Individuals can be quickly linked and mobilized in ways that avoid government control. In most respects, this conception is exaggerated. While the internet has some democratic potentials, to realize these aims its structure would have to be radically revised. It would have to be at the least organized in a nonprofit manner and organized from the bottom-up. The current structure of the internet, however, is dominated by neoliberal commercial interests. Under the neoliberal media regime, social media and digital media companies seek to colonize and subordinate interaction to the demands of data gathering and manipulation. Where the optimists see freedom and democratic debate, others see a world where information is steered and constricted where information is distributed in a winner-takes-all situation and where debate rarely, if ever, follows a deliberative model. Where optimists see a pacified civil society with global links of solidarity, other see hatred and harassment and the retreat into social and personal enclaves. Where optimists see transformative social change, others see the weak bonds of internet organizing as a drawback and fear the manipulation of internet users by fake news and enhancement of reactionary forces. It is difficult to see the existing structure of the digital world, and especially social media, as being capable of generating a public sphere of the sort Habermas or even his sympathetic critics envisioned as crucial to democracy. I want to return briefly to the work of Habermas and those who work in or have responded to his analyses and have tried to specify some of the requirements of public spheres. In some of his later work, Habermas tried



to specify some of the social/political processes and institutions through which the public sphere operates. The public sphere requires equality of access, freedom of speech, and other civil freedoms. On the macro-­ sociological level, however, it is an open and inclusive network of overlapping; subcultural publics having fluid temporal, social, and substantive boundaries.”61 Here the public sphere acts as a transmission belt in which opinions and ideas are developed that can become explicit policy. Public spheres are also what Habermas calls early warning systems where dissatisfactions are articulated and formed into social problems much like the processes C. Wright Mills identified. In Habermas’ view, journalists take up the themes raised in publics and make them available to formal politics. While such processes of opinion formation have little social power and little influence at first, they can attain greater visibility and power when taken up by contemporary media. When considered as a discursive process however, discussion in the public sphere is meant to be a process through which public opinion is shaped and refined. Under the pressure of critical discussion, participants are said to produce views that are more rational and more able to stand up to critical scrutiny. Barber echoes this judgment. Discussion must stress knowledge and not just information. Norms forwarded in discussion are measured by the validity of their claims, and facts are judged by the truthfulness of their assertions. To be sure there is no final ending point for such discourses, no absolute truth, but through critical discussion, such discourse could, according to Habermas, produce forms of mutual understanding and a rough consensus on issues of justice. The discursive character of deliberation in the public sphere because it is rooted in the structures of ordinary language provides a medium through which the informal process can be permeable to one another and can be linked. It is difficult to see how social media sites at least live up to this ideal. There is no legal basis so far that establishes it as a public forum, and no right to free speech. Social media like Facebook twitter and YouTube can and do censor posts and suspend or ban participants. It is not always open to all. Discussion and debate on Facebook may indicate zones of social conflict in a raw, wild form but rarely function as a transmission belt for raising issues, nor generally act to refine opinions or promote the formation of considered opinion, though there may be exceptions. More often it and sites like Twitter act like rumor machines; they are more reactive than active. When Twitter is abuzz, it is in reaction to something like a Trump tweet, another political event, or some social or natural disaster. It is not that much different from a mass public. When individuals do stand



up and bear witness on Facebook, it is just as likely to bring out a wave of trolls as recognition. This is not to say that social media never fulfill some of the functions of a public, but on balance it simply is too flawed in its current form to be true public spheres. Speech rights are often restricted on social media. Individuals are often banned from Facebook either temporarily or permanently for posting photos that some find offensive or by criticizing public authorities in a way that other members or network administrators find distasteful. As the internet has become dominated almost exclusively by privately owned services, the possibility for restriction of speech continues to be significant. At the very least there would need to be some designated public forum which has at least quasi-legal status. It is unlikely, given the profit orientation, that such a forum would arise voluntarily. Any formal recognition of a designated public form outside of the editorial control of ownership would have significant implications for its legal status. However, some type of public obligation ought to be imposed on social media and internet service providers, which in the current political climate seems unlikely. To the extent that information is disseminated on social media, the profit-making system favors a winner-takes-all strategy that undermines the claim that the web is wide open for citizen journalism. Despite the occasional viral video, only those with money or social capital have much influence. Participation in politics is not enhanced by time spent on the web. If you are already inclined to participate, the web may enhance that but it does not seem to create many new participants. There is no doubt that a certain amount of citizen journalism has arisen not just on the web, but, as my discussion notes, in the whole period from the late 1960s onward. Challenges to the idea of the purely objective detached journalist has been challenged. However, there is not a lot of evidence that digital media greatly increases its scope of influence. Political debate, though occasionally illuminating, is problematic on venues like Facebook. The attempt to engage those with diverse views, such as Trump supporters, almost always hits a dogmatic core and can be “unfriended.” As several analysts have noted, some users become more dogmatic when confronted by facts that might conflict with their views. It leads to a defensive reaction to protect the individual from a painful realization. The paranoid nature of much Facebook interaction is facilitated by the egging on of others who contribute to the post and by the constant stream of conspiracy theories that appear in their Facebook feeds.



The problem is not that connectivity per se is bad, but that the commercialized neoliberal version of connectivity is a form of exploitation and is incapable of creating true public forums. It is not an element of civil society that is of the voluntary associations that we normally associate with public life, but a realm of commodification, which puts our privacy at risk and distorts the notion of free public discussion. To establish a noncommercial public sphere within the internet, government intervention is needed. It is a mistake then to put faith in the technobabble of social media when they claim they aim to create a new public world and create greater dialogue and understanding. These aims will certainly be subordinated to the profit motive when push comes to shove. The market alone will not create a true public sphere. As it is public discussion is guided into channels that often reinforce preexisting views. They are often suggested by Facebook based on their algorithms because they will get more likes and keep you online longer. Facebook does not suggest sites that will expose you to dissent or ask you to think. Without a mandated public forum, this operates with a clear set of guidelines to protect freedom of speech and equal access to all perspectives. Facebook is not likely to act as a truly public forum.

General Publics Revisited Thus far, it seems clear that the nature of internet publics, at least as they have evolved, so far is limited. PEG cannels, in contrast,  can be said to establish a general public sphere. This generally is quite different from the internet publics that some technological utopian like to tout. Internet publics are highly selective. Individuals choose to seek information and friends that are congenial to their point of view and cut out those messages that are unpleasant. Sometimes this filtering takes on the active form of flaming. They often have the effect of fragmenting the public interest rather than creating it. In contrast, the larger public requires some common interests.62 General interest publics have features that cannot be modeled after individual isolated choice. Not only does it require some core of common experiences and sources of solidarity, it also allows for exposure to diverse views one would not generally encounter as well as issues of wide salience, rather than narrow interest. It is just these types of general publics that postmodernist theorists reject. Instead of eliminating these forums, however, we need to nurture them.



Jurgen Habermas also thinks that internet publics can be fragmenting.63 The organization of internet communication acts against the formation of a general public in which similar issues can be addressed by all. While some postmodernists like Keane seem to approve this decentering, it makes political decisions on a national or other large scale difficult. Instead, it leaves the field open to special interests or identity-based political groups. Once again, we encounter the same problem when we encounter a social or political problem that is of general concern. Take, for example, the idea of a public health care system for all. The question here is not a matter of what different and publics think, although this is certainly relevant, it is a question of what is fair or just for all members of the community. Is health care a social right due to all and thus removed from the needs of profit or is it just the private interest of the individual best served by a market system? Habermas acknowledges that the internet can have a liberating effect in authoritarian countries where it can penetrate the veil of secrecy, but it has not had a salutary effect in democratic societies. Only when the internet develops publics in which opinions are refined and focused through discussion and deliberation will it realize its potential.

Notes 1. For a critical theory approach to the internet, see the works of Christian Fuchs cited below. Robert McChesney employs a political economy approach to the digital world in Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy, New York: The New Press, 2013. 2. Thomas Streeter, The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism and the Internet, New York: New York University Press 2010. 3. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture esp. chapter 1 for this account. 4. Fred Turner From Counterculture to Cyberculture esp. pp. 73–78. 5. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture pp. 132–135. 6. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture p. 162. 7. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture p.  222. For the “California Ideology,” see Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The California Ideology,” Science as Culture Jan 1996. 8. Ithiel De Sola Pool. Technologies of Freedom, Cambridge Belknap Press 1984. 9. Dee Dee Halleck, Handheld Visions discusses the early use of McLuhan by some public access advocates and the contradictory implications of his work.



10. Gene Veith, “the internet’s utopian libertarianism” http://www.patheos. com/blogs/geneveith/2015/03/the-internets-utopian-libertarianism/ #d7stDmH0oQByduwi.99. 11. Castells’ trilogy on the internet includes Manuel Castells, (1996). The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. I. Cambridge, Massachusetts; Oxford, UK: Blackwell; (1997). The Power of Identity, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. II., Cambridge, Massachusetts; Oxford, UK: Blackwell; Castells, Manuel (1998). End of Millennium, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. III. Cambridge, Massachusetts; Oxford, UK: Blackwell. 12. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, New York: New York University Press 2008. 13. Christian Fuchs, “Some Reflections on Manuel Castells’ Book “Communication Power,” tripleC 7(1): 94–108, 2009. Fuchs has written extensively on the new media from a critical theory perspective including Christian Fuchs, Social Theory and the Media A Critical Introduction 2nd edition, Thousand Oaks Sage 2017; Christian Fuchs, Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet, London University of Westminster Press 2016. 14. Axel Honneth, “Democracy as Reflexive Cooperation: John Dewey and the Theory of Democracy Today,” Political Theory Vol. 26:6 (Dec. 1998), pp. 763–783. 15. Jodi Dean, “Why the Net is not a Public Sphere,” Constellations Vol 10 no 1 2003 95–113. 16. Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics, Durham: Duke University Press 2009 chapter 3. 17. A similar argument to mine is made by Terje Rasmussen, The Internet Soapbox: Perspectives on a changing public sphere, Universitetsforlaget 2016 18. John D.H. Downing with Tamera V. Ford, Geneve Gill, and Laura Stein, Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements, Thousand Oaks: Sage 2001 vii–xi. 19. Clemencia Rodriquez, Fissures in the Mediascape: An International Study of Citizens’ Media, Cresskill. NJ: Hampton Press 2001. 20. Ellie Rennie, Community Media: A Global Introduction, Lantham: Rowman and Littlefield 2006. Also, see Linda Fuller ed, The Power of Global Community Media Macmillan Palgrave 2017. 21. Kevin Howley, Community Media: People Places and Communication, Cambridge 2005. 22. Kevin Howley, Community Media op.cit, 23.



23. Chris Atton, Alternative Media, Thousand Oaks: Sage 2001; also see Chris Atton ed The Routledge Companion to Alternative and Community Media, Routledge 2015; Kate Coyer, The Alternative Media Handbook, Routledge 2008. 24. Leah Lievrouw, Alternative and Activist New Media Polity, London: Malden MA 2011. 25. Leah Lievrouw, Alternative and Activist New Media Polity 2. 26. Christian Fuchs, “Social Media and the Public Sphere,” tripleC 12(1): 57–101, 2014. 27. W.  Lance Bennett, “Social Movements beyond Borders: Organization, Communication, and Political Capacity in Two Eras of Transnational Activism”. 28. W.  Lance Bennett, News: The Politics of Illusion, Tenth Edition, Chicago University of Chicago Press 2016. 29. W, Lance Bennett, “The Personalization of Politics: Political Identity, Social Media, and Changing Patterns of Participation,” ANNALS, AAPSS, 644, November 2012 20–39. 30. Ellie Rennie, Community Media: A Global Introduction. 31. Ellie Rennie, Community Media: A Global Introduction op. cit. 32. Issue 12 December 2014. 33. Peter Dalhgren, “The Internet, Public Spheres, and Political Communication: Dispersion and Deliberation,” Political Communication, 22:147–162 2005; Peter Dalhgren, The Political Web: Media, Participation and Alternative Democracy, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2013. 34. Matthew Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2009. 35. Matthew Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy, esp. Chapter 1. 36. Christian Fuchs, “Social Media and the Public Sphere,” tripleC 12(1): 57–101, 2014. 37. Jacob Silberman, Terms of Service Social Media and the price of Constant Connection, New York HarperCollins 2015 249. 38. Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, New York: Knopf 2013. 39. Robert McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy, 97. 40. Robert McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy: 132–133. 41. Jacob Silberman, Terms of Service op. cit. 42. Jacob Silberman, Terms of Service 251. 43. Olivia Solon, “Ex-Facebook president Sean Parker: site made to exploit human ‘vulnerability,’” The Guardian Nov 9, 2017,



44. Olivia Solon, “Ex-Facebook president Sean Parker: site made to exploit human ‘vulnerability,’” The Guardian Nov 9, 2017 45. Jacob Silberman, Terms of Service: 22. 46. Liz Mineo, “On internet privacy, be very afraid.” Harvard Gazette August 24, 2017, 47. Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, New York: Hachette Books 2019 p 8. 48. Victor Pickard, “When Commercialism Trumps Democracy Media Pathologies and the Rise of the Misinformation Society,” in Pablo Boczkowski and Zizi Papacharissi (Eds.), Trump and the Media, Boston: The MIT Press, 195–201. 49. Christian Fuchs. “Social Media and the Public Sphere” 85ff. 50. Zaynep Tufecki, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, New Haven: Yale University Press 2017. 51. Also, see Malcolm Gladwell. “Small Change. Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted.” The New  Yorker. October 2010 https://www.newyorker. com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-malcolm-gladwell. Gladwell is arguing against Clay Shirley’s book Here comes everybody. 52. Dawn C, Nunziato “The Death of the Public Forum in Cyberspace,” Berkeley Technology Law Journal 20:2 March 2005: 6. 53. Dawn C, Nunziato, “The Death of the Public Forum in Cyberspace”: 6. 54. Christian Fuchs. “A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of Google Fast capitalism,” 8:1 2011 55. Comcast Rejects Public Interest in San Jose. 56. Sherry Turkle, Alone Together Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, New York Basic Books 2017; Ben Agger Oversharing op. cit. 57. Jacob Silberman, Terms of Service 24ff. 58. Cass Sunstein #Republic: divided democracy in the age of social media. Princeton University Press 2017. 59. Bailey Poland, Haters: Harassment Abuse and Violence, Lincoln University of Nebraska Press 2016. 60. Farhad Manjoo. “Screen Capture: Traditional TV is unstoppable Can you tube ever beat it?,” Slate June 20, 2013. 61. Jurgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms 307 For an account see Terje Rasmussen. “Internet and the Political Public Sphere,” Sociology Compass Volume 8, Issue 12 December 2014 Pages 1315–1329. 62. Cass Sunstein,, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2001. 63. Jurgen Habermas Europe the Faltering Project, Malden MA: Polity Press 2009:156–157.



Bibliography Agger, Ben. 2012. Oversharing: Presentations of the Self in the Internet Age. Routledge. Atton, Chris. 2001. Alternative Media. Thousand Oaks: Sage. ———, ed. 2015. The Routledge Companion to Alternative and Community Media. Routledge. Barbrook, Richard, and Andy Cameron. 1996. The California Ideology. Science as Culture 6 (1): 44–72. Bennett, W.  Lance. 2004. Social Movements beyond Borders: Organization, Communication, and Political Capacity in Two Eras of Transnational Activism. In Transnational Protest and Global Activism, 203–226. New York: Rowman & Littlefield. ———. 2012. The Personalization of Politics: Political Identity, Social Media, and Changing Patterns of Participation. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 644: 20–39. ———. 2016. News: The Politics of Illusion. 10th ed. University of Chicago Press. Castells, Manuel. 1996. The Rise of the Network Society, the Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol. I. Cambridge, MA; Oxford: Blackwell. ———. 1997. The Power of Identity, the Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol. II. Cambridge, MA; Oxford: Blackwell. ———. 1998. End of Millennium, the Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol. III. Cambridge, MA; Oxford: Blackwell. Comcast Sues San Jose in Franchise Dispute, Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2003. 7-story.html  Coyer, Kate. 2008. The Alternative Media Handbook. New York: Routledge. Dalhgren, Peter. 2005. The Internet, Public Spheres, and Political Communication: Dispersion and Deliberation. Political Communication 22: 147–162. ———. 2013. The Political Web: Media, Participation and Alternative Democracy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Dean, Jodi. 2003. Why the Net Is not a Public Sphere. Constellations 10 (1): 95–113. ———. 2009. Democracy and Other Neo-liberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Durham: Duke University Press. Downing, John D.H., Tamera V.  Ford, Geneve Gill, and Laura Stein. 2001. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements, vii–xi. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Fuchs, Christian. 2009. Some Reflections on Manuel Castells’ Book ‘Communication Power’. tripleC 7 (1): 94–108. ———. 2011. A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of Google. Fast capitalism 8 (1).



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A Future for Public Access?

The decline of public access was not primarily a matter of technological changes but began much earlier in the attempts to eliminate or at least limit the public obligations of cable providers and of over-the-air broadcasters. These were part of the neoliberal reshaping of the economic and political sphere including the public sphere. The principles of participatory democracy and public ownership of the airwaves, including some extensions to cable, gave way to a vision of communication media as private property that rejected models of the public good rooted in popular sovereignty. In neoliberalism, privatization redistributes wealth and power to the wealthy, leading to an artificial austerity that affects all levels of government. Under such conditions, public access has come under considerable pressure. Cable companies, when they have gotten the chance, have reduced monetary payments, facilities and equipment. Local governments have eliminated or cut back public access. They have promoted governmental access over public access and have engaged in strategies to censor, privatize, and monetize public access channels. Even though broadcast and cable television still serve as the primary source of information for most Americans, municipalities have advocated the internet as an alternative public realm, but so far internet publics have been fraught with problems. As with other recent technologies, optimists have seen new digital technologies as being a panacea for democratic equality and participation. Lacking a political analysis of inequality, such © The Author(s) 2020 B. Caterino, The Decline of Public Access and Neo-Liberal Media Regimes,




theories allied themselves with libertarian forms of neoliberalism which have increased inequality and diminished political participation. Social media like YouTube and Facebook are commercial ventures which are not true public forums and free speech zones. Far from protecting autonomy and privacy, they mine data and treat users like commodities. While internet communication retains possibilities, the idea of a neoliberal agora that would automatically unfold has proven to be illusory. The establishment of public access still represents the best model of noncommercial public sphere committed to the ideals of popular democracy. It provides the closest approximation of a general public. How then can we reconstruct the notion of the public and public access in a more digital era? First, we must recognize and emphasize that traditional mass media are not going away, though it may lose some of its influence. Many people still get substantial amounts of their information from these sources, for better or worse (Fox News). Those who own broadcast stations, as well as cable operators, still have public obligations; the existence of the internet does not relieve broadcasters and cable operators of their obligations to the public. If it were to do so, it would be a major and consequential change in media policy. It would be a mistake to let companies make de facto changes to long-standing principles no matter how inadequately they have been realized. The current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) threatens to let large conglomerates like Sinclair buy more stations and dictate editorial content to local stations. Media activists must renew efforts to enforce and expand the public obligations of television and cable. Maintaining and expanding public spaces are crucial to avoiding regression to an earlier period of a largely hands-off media policy. Another important project is a redoubled effort to combat media ownership concentration. The concentration of media was in motion before the Clinton-era Communications Act, but it has significantly increased since then. The increased power of a few large groups in the cable industry has certainly been a factor in the attack on public access as has the interpretations of the FCC and the courts that having several large conglomerates equals competition. This might include, as well, breakup of large social media corporations like Facebook. The neoliberal view of the public interest must be challenged. While these might seem to be a bit afar from the day-to-day concerns of public access, this study has shown that it is critical analyses of conceptions of the public, and public obligations, and criticisms of media concentration and monopolies like conditions, that played a crucial role in the formation of public television and public access.



Advocates of public access must once again become media activists. The activist could focus on the narrowness of ownership and the lack of diversity in media, problems that were also true in the 1950s. They should insist on more noncommercial over-the-air programming and on cable and more noncommercial spaces on the web. Another area in which media activists could have a positive effect is on the reforms of regulatory bodies. History tells us that the capture of regulatory bodies is not permanent but can be reversed in times of political activism. Regulatory bodies need once again to become responsive to the needs of the public they serve not just tools of the regulated industries. Stronger laws banning regulators from working for or advocating for the industries they regulate would be one start, but a broader reform movement is needed. Public access channels also need a more secure source of funding. The insecurity of funding gives public officials a strong form of informal coercion and censorship power. The establishment of statewide franchises poses a real threat to stable access funding, facilities, equipment, and staffing, but even on the local level, municipalities control the amount of franchise fees provided for access channels. Originally, of course, channels were mandated as was provision for facilities and equipment. However, this was overturned by the courts, and access channels have since stood on a shaky foundation, To the extent possible, access channels should be run by independent nonprofit groups. When access channels are under the control of municipalities, they are less shielded from the whims of mediocre and mean-spirited public officials who fear free speech and vocal critics. Of course, public access channels should take advantage of recent technologies and possibilities to renew its mandate. But the focus still should be on creating a public that can become more engaged and participate in social, political, and cultural ideas of the community. Access advocates have in recent years promoted the idea of community centers where the focus is not simply on video production, but on digital skills as well. These are certainly not bad ideas, but they must avoid the elitism that inheres in many notions of digital expertise. Going back to the origins of public access, recall that the development of cheap and lighter-weight camcorders gave the average person an easy-to-use technology that could even be edited in-camera and a way to tell their own stories without mediation. The same principles must be applied to digital technologies. Rather than stressing technical mastery, the latter must be subordinated to the goal of storytelling and advocacy. If access has fancy production values but



disempowers individuals, especially those from underrepresented groups, from getting their stories out, then it loses connection to its basic mission. Before the internet can become the agora that its proponents claim, many issues of its status and character must be resolved. A breezy technological optimism will not guarantee a free internet. Foremost among them is its legal status. Are social media simply privately owned and thus under the control of its owners like a newspaper or are they in some way public fora? In the former case, they can provide editorial content and restrict or censor images ideas, or speech as they see fit; in the latter, they would have public obligations to allow free expression. I don’t know of any court cases that address this issue. I suspect however that recent scandals with Facebook, which have exposed the extent to which confidential data on individuals is collected and sold and used for social and political manipulation, will lead to some form of regulation. It will be important to see on what basis this regulation is promulgated. It will say a lot on what, if any, public obligations social networks are to have. Of course, underneath all these considerations are the questions of net neutrality that have been debated. While the FCC instituted net neutrality rules which were upheld as legal in 2016, the Trump administration moved quickly to reverse net neutrality rules in 2017. The former ruling upheld the idea that it is a common carrier, like a railroad, an airline, or public utility, or, more important, telephones. It must provide service to all without discrimination. This designation recognizes that the carrier must act in the public interest, that is, for the “public convenience and necessity.” Such a designation could provide a wedge from which to wrest some public interest guarantees for internet providers. However, the recent FCC ruling calls this into question. What also must be established in these considerations is just what kind of public sphere the internet and social media platforms provide. I think that the only way to make the internet or social media a true public forum would be to establish a noncommercial sphere of internet activity, much like the original idea of the internet, and which could be a sphere for information, education, and discussion. No advertising, data mining, or other information collection would be allowed. The emphasis would have to be less on personal friendship and exchange and more on civic engagement. There would, however, have to be hyperlocal platforms as well where residents would find locally produced news and information and be able to post their own work. Such a hyperlocal platform would require a lot of



thought and planning to work properly during a vast network of internet sites and social media networks. Champions of the digital age, however, who see the older notions of the public as too unitary, and who desire a plural public sphere make a basic error. These views are often rooted in contemporary versions of radical democracy. In the sense used today, radical democrats reject the search for consensus (which they interpret as a form of oppression) in favor of an agonistic conceptions of democracy. But these accounts fail to account for the ability of participants to gather together to form a common will on matters of importance. This form of communicative power is central to political action. Rather than plurality, we need to focus on the constitution of public spheres that is open enough to provide exposure to dissenting views that we don’t normally hear and that also promotes the processes of forming communicative power and consensus. Some in the access community have proposed a citizen’s media bill of rights somewhat parallel to the internet bill of rights proposed by John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Freedom Foundation. While useful, the internet bill of rights does not recognize the importance of not-for-profit public spaces. The internet bill advocates mostly civil rights within a market framework, such as equal access, net neutrality, the free exchange of information, freedom of expression, and data protection. However, a citizen’s media bill of rights would have to include a stronger commitment to the nonprofit sector. Sean McLaughlin suggests that a media bill of rights would recognize that “community media are a critical social infrastructure worthy of public investment.” Localism must be protected. He sees the “open media green space” of PEG access and other noncommercial local media as “real protection against corporate domination of our communities.”1 While this improves on the internet bill of rights, it still falls short of the earlier ideas of the essentially public character of media and the public obligations of commercial media. Mc Laughlin goes as far as to say that private interests, while keeping their freedom to “compete and innovate,” should not exploit profits at the expense of the basic rights of liberty and justice. I think this is weak as regards both the need to establish public obligations of media and the necessity of noncommercial spaces. Those at the head of access organizations have generally addressed the challenges of an increasingly hostile environment, by recommending an increased lobbying effort with established authorities. For example, Sue Buske, when faced with the efforts of the telecoms to establish a nationwide franchise, recommends forming ties and alliances with local state and



national leaders to strengthen the position of PEG channels. Yet it was clear even at the time, that local political leaders had little interest in or commitment to public access, at best favoring governmental access. I think a more successful strategy is to create and encourage grassroots and participatory media. These strategies would encourage the conditions in which individuals can organize and lobby for access. The question of fragmenting publics is not, however, a question of properties inherent in digital communications; it is primarily a problem that occurs through the commercialization of social media. Neoliberal regulatory regimes have no coherent conception of the public interest, and often dismiss it as an illusion. Public ownership of elements of the internet or strong relation to create democratic public spaces is one possible solution.

Note 1. Sean McLaughlin, “The Changing Regulatory and Legislative Framework: From Community Investment to Corporate Profiteering,” Community Media Review 28(4), 23, 2005.

Author Index1

A Adorno, Theodor, 15–21, 26, 57, 63, 67, 68 Agger, Ben, 3 Alexander, Jeffrey, 33, 36, 38, 80 Andersen, Shea, 203n16 Arato, Andrew, 33, 35, 38 Arnold, Erik K., 203n11 Atton, Chris, 227 Aufderheide, Patricia, 1, 103, 105 B Bakhtin, Mikhail, 104 Barber, Benjamin, 3, 37, 38, 80, 103, 223, 251 Barber, Mike, 170n69 Barbrook, Richard, 217 Barnouw, Eric, 71n4, 71n11, 72n17 Barron, Jerome, 149 Barsamian, David, 99


Bauman, Zygmunt, 127, 128 Beck, Ulrich, 127, 229, 230 Bell, Daniel, 158 Bennett, W. Lance, 228–230 Berger, Peter, 12n19 Blakely, Robert J., 72n30, 73n32, 73n35 Blau, Andrew, 73n40 Block, Fred, 166n5 Boggs, Carl, 172n91 Bonefeld, Werner, 129 Bourdieu, Pierre, 20 Boyle, Deidre, 108n11 Brand, Stuart, 2, 213–217, 233 Buske, Sue, 8, 265 C Calhoun, Craig, 40n20, 40n22, 40n23, 40n25 Cameron, Andy, 217

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Castells, Manuel, 219–221, 224 Caterino, Brian, 109n26 Cohen, Jean, 33, 35, 38 Conrad, Frank, 47 Coyer, Kate, 256n23 D Dahlgren, Peter, 231 Dampier, Phillip, 168n43 Dean, Jodi, 11n9, 224, 225 Deep Dish, 98, 99, 106 Deforest, Lee, 47 Dempsey, John Mark, 51 Dewey, John, 37, 54, 55, 59, 79, 103, 223 Domhoff, William, 73n33 Dorgan, Byron, 167n29, 168n31, 168n32, 171n75 Douglas, Susan, 71n5, 71n6 Downing, John, 62 Dravis, Steven, 168n43 Drutman, Lee, 205n40, 205n41 E Edwards, Keith, 168n44 Eikenberry, Angela M., 161 Engelman, Ralph, 12n11, 71n3, 71n9, 72n28, 73n31, 73n42 Erenburg, John, 40n29 F Farnsworth, Steve, 109n25 Father Coughlin, 57 Feenburg, Andrew, 6 Fenton, Tom, 171n77 Fischer, Frank, 109n14 Foucault, Michel, 119, 126 Fowler, Mark, 133

Frankel, Allison, 171n73 Fraser, Nancy, 26, 27 Freile, Victoria E., 205n38 Friedman, Milton, 124–126, 146 Fry, James Lawrence, 60 Fuchs, Christian, 221, 227, 232 Fuller, Linda, 1, 83, 88, 94, 102, 105, 107 G Gans, Herbert, 39n13 Garrett, Bradley L., 171n81 Giddens, Anthony, 22, 39n15, 127, 229, 230 Gilder, George, 216 Gimmler, Antje, 11n8 Gingold, Diane, 172n87 Gingrich, Newt, 216 Ginsburg, Allen, 62 Gladwell, Malcolm, 257n51 Glaser, Elaine, 172n91 Goode, Luke, 24 Gramsci, Antonio, 32, 59 H Habermas, Jurgen, 7, 15, 16, 21–31, 33, 35, 36, 58, 103, 104, 117, 130, 222, 223, 228, 232, 233, 238, 250, 251, 254 Hall, Stuart, 21 Halleck, Dee Dee, 81, 99, 150, 152–154, 244 Hamilton, R. Vincent, 205n45 Harvey, David, 166n10, 167n14 Hayek, Frederic, 120, 124–126 Hegel, G.F.W., 32 Hicks, Nancy, 168n44 Hindman, Matthew, 232 Hobbes, Thomas, 31


Honneth, Axel, 36, 223 Hoover, Herbert, 51–53 Horkheimer, Max, 15–19, 21–23, 26, 67 Horowitz, Robert Britt, 51 Howley, Kevin, 88, 226 Hudson, Mike, 205n39 Huntington, Samuel, 169n49, 171n82 I Ithiel De Sola Pool, 254n8 J Jenkins, Henry, 220 John McCain, 136–137 K Kaufman, Arnold, 37 Katz, Michael, 172n84 Keane, John, 33–35, 145, 222–225, 254 Kellner, Douglas, 1, 20, 105, 150 Khanna, Samiha, 203n8 King, Donna, 110n42 Kirkhope, Timothy, 11n8 Kirkpatrick, Bill, 1, 85, 87 Klein, Hans, 102 Kleinberg, Eric, 171n78 Kletter, Richard C., 110n32 Kline, Daniel B., 170n55 Kluge, Alexander, 228 Kohn, Margaret, 171n80 Kolson, Kenneth L., 108n2 Kratz, Vicki, 204n22 L Landes, Joan, 40n22 Lang, Melissa, 205n38


Lasch, Christopher, 12n14 Levitsky, Steven, 93 Leys, Colin, 13n26 Lievrouw, Leah, 227, 230 Linder, Laura, 1, 88 Luckmann, Thomas, 12n19 M MacDonald, Dwight, 67 Manjoo, Farhad, 257n60 Marconi, Guillermo, 47 Marcuse, Herbert, 16, 28, 32, 238 Marx, Leo, 23, 32, 33, 83 McCloskey, Robert, 12n11 McLaughlin, Sean, 191, 265 McLean, Nancy, 137 McLuhan, Marshall, 83, 217 McMahon, Steve, 190, 191 Meehan, Sarah, 203n12 Mele, Christopher, 110n42 Meyerson, Michael L., 109n21 Mills, C Wright, 36, 37, 57–59, 79, 80, 251 Mineo, Liz, 257n46 Minnow, Newton, 66, 67 Mollberg, Eric S., 203n17 Monson, Mike, 203n6 Morgan, Fiona, 204n23 Mouffe, Chantal, 225, 226, 230 Mullan, Megan, 168n35 Murdoch, Rupert, 144 Murowski, Phillip, 166n9 N Nader, Ralph, 84 Negt, Oscar, 228 Noble, David, 4 Nunziato, Dawn C., 257n52, 257n53 Nye, David, 108n10



O O Connor, James, 166n2 Offe, Claus, 117, 181 P Parsons, Patrick R., 108n8 Peck, Jaime, 122 Pickard, Victor, 59, 61, 240 Pickety, Thomas, 170n56 Plehwe, Dieter, 166n9 Poland, Bailey, 257n59 Polanyi, Karl, 7, 117 Posner, Richard, 146, 147 Powell, Michael, 142 Putnam, Robert, 33, 34, 181 R Rasmussen, Terje, 230 Reich, Robert, 180 Rennie, Ellie, 226, 230 Riesman, David, 67 Rodriquez, Clemencia, 226 Roelofs, Joan, 172n83, 172n88 Rogers, Tim, 203n20 Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 53, 55, 57 Rousseau, 32 Ryan, Mary, 40n22 Ryan, William P., 172n89 S Sanders, Lindsey, 11n7 Scheuerman, William, 39n17 Schiller, Herbert, 39n7 Schmidt, Eric, 126, 233 Schmitt, Carl, 125, 225 Schneider, Bruce, 238 Schram, Sanford, 166n4

Scott, Melissa, 191 Sennett, Richard, 127, 128 Silberman, Jacob, 256n37, 256n41, 256n42, 257n45, 257n57 Smith, Ralph Lee, 82 Smythe, Dallas, 64 Solon, Olivia, 256n43, 257n44 Spigel, Lynn, 39n9, 108n9 Steadman-Jones, Daniel, 166n9 Stein, Laura, 92, 98, 99, 106, 149 Stigler, George, 169n49 Stoney, George, 77–80, 83, 88, 102, 110n41, 150, 186, 196 Streeck, Wolfgang, 123–124, 129 Streeter, Thomas, 54 Sunstein, Cass, 167n30, 246, 247, 257n58, 257n62 T Thiel, Peter, 233 Thompson, John, 20 Tufecki, Zaynep, 242 Turkle, Sherry, 245 Turner, Fred, 2, 216 Tyeihimba, Afefe, 203n15 V Van der Swan, Natasha, 167n15 Veith, Gene, 255n10 Von Hayek, Frederic, 120, 124–126 W Waldman, Steven, 205n47 Weber, Max, 5–7, 18, 67 Welles, Orson, 56 Wenger, Yvonne, 203n13


Wilcox, James K., 169n54 Williams, Deidre, 168n44 Williams, Raymond, 12n17, 12n18 Williams, William Appleton, 71n10 Wolin, Sheldon, 129 Woods, Greg Epher, 205n45

Z Zaret, David, 26 Zarkin, Kimberly A., 171n72 Zarkin, Michaël J., 171n72 Zuboff, Shoshana, 238, 239 Zurawik, David, 203n13, 203n14


Subject Index1

A Access closures, 152 Accumulation crisis, 117 Administrative rationality, 51, 84 Administrative State, 49 Advanced capitalism, 4, 5, 9, 17, 21, 22 Advertising, 47, 48, 51, 53, 55, 58, 60, 62, 78, 235, 236, 244, 245, 264 Affluent society, 65 Agitators, 57 Albuquerque New Mexico, 96 ALEC, 128, 137–138, 142, 143 Algorithms, 237, 241, 253 Alliance for Community Democracy, 2 Alliance for Community Media (ACM), 94, 187, 196, 198, 199, 202 Alternate media, 59, 226, 227 Amazon, 235, 236


American Community Television, 105, 184 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), 144, 145 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), 128, 137–138, 143 American Marconi, 47 Antagonism, 224, 225 Anti-trust, 60, 141, 154 Arab Spring, 219, 220, 229 Aristotle, 31 Associated Press, 60 AT&T U-verse, 139, 187 Austerity, 118, 122, 124, 129, 130, 166, 179–186, 190, 192, 200, 261 Authoritarian liberalism, 129 Autonomous technology, 82 Autonomy, 19, 67, 85, 238, 262 Avant-Garde, 88

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B Baldwin, Tammy (D Wisc), 198 Baltimore, 185, 186 Barlow Perry, John, 213, 215, 233 Basic tier, 138, 188 BAVC, 185 Bearing witness, 36, 38, 80 Between Facts and Norms (Habermas), 29 Blue Book, 60 Blue skies, 10, 77, 82–86, 89, 90, 116, 135–137, 215 Bourgeois, 16–18, 23–29, 118 Bravo, 136 Bright House, 139, 184, 187 Bulletin boards, 95, 215 Business Roundtable, 197 Buske Group, 1, 8 C Cable access, 77, 102, 107, 151 California ideology, 216 Camcorder, 81, 107, 230, 263 Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, 68 Carnegie Foundation, 64, 65 Carson, Rachel, 84 Castells, Manuel, 224 Cato Institute, 121, 128 CATV, 78 CBS, 48, 53, 55, 58, 140, 155 Censorship, 91, 92, 150–152, 165, 179, 189, 192–195, 263 Channel Slamming, 138–140, 188 CHARM TV, 185 Charter Communications, 139, 142, 189 Children’s programming, 65, 66, 133 Churnalism, 241 Civic participation, 181 Civic virtue, 31, 202

Civil rights, 28, 62, 79, 162, 265 Civil society, 15–17, 23, 31–38, 45, 55, 61–65, 69, 80, 83, 96, 97, 99, 106, 108, 116–120, 124, 128, 130, 147, 158–164, 211, 212, 225, 226, 230, 232, 250, 253 Clear Channel, 52, 102, 156 Clickbait, 240, 241 Clinton administration, 9, 154, 239 Colonization of the lifeworld, 130, 156, 232 Comcast, 137, 140, 142, 155, 186, 187, 192, 243, 244 Commercialization, 46, 51, 53, 211, 224, 236, 266 Commissioner, 66 Commodification, 20, 157, 239, 244, 253 Common carrier, 49, 50, 89, 90, 134, 235, 264 Common Cause, 156 Communications act of 1996, 9, 154–157, 190 Communicative abundance, 89, 100, 148, 211, 212, 222–224 Communicative action, 6, 11, 20, 27, 29, 225 Communicative capitalism, 224, 225 Communicative power, 23, 27, 28, 30, 34, 223, 225, 265 The Community Access Preservation Act (CAP act), 198 Community media, 116, 196, 202, 225–233, 265 Community Media Review, 196 CompuServe, 215, 234 Consolidation state, 124 Consumer Report, 145 Consumer service, 145 Consumer Society, 25, 37 Convergence Culture, 220


Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 69 Corporatism, 52, 53 Counterculture anarchism, 212 Counter hegemonic, 227 Counter public, 27, 29, 45, 81 Critical theory, 6–9, 15, 33, 212, 223, 226, 227, 230, 232 Cross-ownership, 146, 154 C-SPAN, 135 Cultural radicals, 83 Cyber harassment, 247 D Daily We, 229 Data collection, 238–239 Data mining, 236, 239, 243, 264 Debt state, 123, 129 Decentralized, 82, 83, 100, 228–230, 233 Deficit, 22, 116, 117, 129, 130 Delayed crisis, 123 Deliberation, 2, 23–25, 29, 30, 34, 35, 37, 125, 148, 156, 164, 202, 223, 225, 230, 231, 235, 239, 242, 251, 254 Democracy, 2, 4, 6, 12n24, 15, 19, 23, 26, 32, 34, 35, 37, 38, 53, 65, 70, 77–80, 85, 92, 106, 119, 123–125, 128, 129, 132, 148, 158, 159, 163, 165, 183, 211–254, 262, 265 Democratic public sphere, 7, 11, 48, 85, 130, 218, 233 Democratization of the media, 182 Denver v FCC, 92, 151, 182 Depoliticization, 164–166, 224 Deregulation, 8–10, 98, 102, 108, 117, 122, 123, 125, 128, 129,


131, 133–135, 137, 140, 142, 144, 147, 154–157, 161, 164, 197, 211, 240 Determinism, 3–4, 6, 108, 109n11, 219, 221 Digital Tier, 138 Discovery Channel, 136 Dissenters, 54, 162, 182 Distributed networks, 228 DIY media, 226 Domination, 6, 7, 19, 20, 22, 28, 30, 32, 34–36, 59, 83, 147, 159, 212, 214, 218, 219, 227, 228, 232, 265 Downing, John, 62 E eBay, 236 Electronic agora, 216, 218, 219 Electronic frontier foundation, 216 Embedded liberalism, 160 Empowerment, 226 Enlightenment rationalism, 222, 223 Entrepreneurial self, 117, 118, 126–128, 159, 216 Equality, 21, 27, 29, 125, 160, 217, 224, 237, 251, 261 Ersatz sociality, 237 F Facebook, 2, 211, 220, 224, 228, 232, 233, 235, 237–238, 241–243, 245–248, 251–253, 262, 264 Fairness doctrine, 60, 61, 132, 133, 148 Fake News, 239–241, 250 Fanzines, 226, 227 FCC vs Midwest Video 1979, 90 Federal Arts project, 56



Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 10, 12n23, 48, 52–54, 58, 60, 61, 63, 64, 66, 67, 77–80, 85–87, 89, 90, 93, 105, 108n1, 115, 131–136, 138, 140, 142, 148, 149, 151, 183, 196, 200–202, 262, 264 Federal Radio Commission (FRC), 48, 51, 52 Financialization, 108, 117, 122–124, 130, 164, 224, 232 Fiscal crisis of the state, 180 Ford Foundation, 63, 65, 162 Fragmented publics, 246 Franchise agreements, 8, 90, 92, 93, 137, 138, 144, 180, 196, 197, 244 Franchise fee, 86–88, 90, 136–138, 180, 181, 183, 184, 189, 190, 199, 211, 263 Frankfurt School, 6, 9, 15–38, 49, 57, 59, 67, 68, 73n38 Freedom, 4, 6, 7, 19, 21, 23, 24, 27, 32, 51, 60, 79, 119–121, 125, 127, 128, 131–133, 137, 144–149, 152, 201, 212, 216, 219, 222, 223, 225, 227, 234, 237, 238, 242, 243, 250, 251, 253, 265 Free speech, 3, 54, 60, 90, 91, 95, 96, 99, 101, 104, 125, 144, 149, 150, 153, 158, 183, 192, 202, 242, 244, 251, 262, 263 Friend enemy, 225 Funding (of access channels), 1, 2, 8–10, 52, 62, 65, 69, 70, 84, 86–90, 93, 103, 105, 107, 137, 138, 142, 143, 148, 152, 158, 161, 162, 179, 180, 183–193, 196, 198–200, 263 G Gated communities, 157 General public, 57, 97, 212, 221–224, 247, 248, 250–254 Gilder, George, 216

Globalization, 165, 229 Google, 221, 233, 235, 238, 240, 243, 244 Governmental access, 9, 79, 94–96, 143, 182, 183, 189, 193, 195, 200, 261, 266 Gramsci, 32 Grassroots movement, 47, 202 H Hackers, 215, 219 Halleck vs. MNN, 152 Ham operators, 46, 47 Ham radio, 47 Heritage Foundation, 121, 128 History Channel, 136 Hutchins Commission, 60 Hyperlocal, 94, 201, 249, 264 I IMF, 228 Incite, 81, 221 Independent films, 227, 230 Individualizing, 229 I-NETS, 190, 244 Information Needs of Communities, 200–202 Informing Communities Sustaining Democracy, 200 Instagram, 233 Instrumental reason, 6, 19, 84 Internet, 2–4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 20, 82, 98, 138, 145, 147, 155, 156, 159, 183, 186, 191–193, 200, 201, 211–254, 261, 262, 264–266 Inverted totalitarianism, 129 J Journalism (decline of), 30, 45, 81, 83, 193, 200, 240, 241, 244, 248, 252


K Keynesianism, 115, 121 Knight Commission, 200, 201 Koch brothers, 128, 137 Koerner Commission, 79 Ku Klux Klan (KKK), 91 L Laissez-faire, 116, 118, 120, 124 Late capitalism, 16, 18–21, 25, 28, 158, 159, 213 Learning Channel, 136 Lee Deforest, 47 Legislative Journal, 194, 195 Legitimation crisis, 21, 28, 124, 220 Liberalism, 30, 116, 118, 120, 124, 126, 127, 129 Localism, 60, 69, 78, 95, 98, 103, 116, 134, 138, 156, 244, 249, 265 Local programming, 60, 78, 79, 94–95, 136 Loce v. Time Warner, 152 Locke, 31 LPTV, 134, 142 M Madison Wisconsin, 85–87, 92, 143, 189 Malls, 157 Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), 97, 152, 153 Market failures, 144–148, 155 Marketization, 34, 130, 144, 160, 161, 164, 183, 184, 211, 229, 232, 236 Mass culture, 9, 17, 19, 21, 57, 59, 66–68 Mass media, 1, 2, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 46, 48, 56, 58, 68, 81, 102, 116, 140, 148, 159, 220, 227, 262 Mass public, 57, 58, 100, 159, 251


Media concentration, 10, 202, 262 Media consolidation, 8, 155, 156 Media democracy, 38, 59, 62 Midwest Video, 90, 92, 93 Misinformation society, 240 Monopoly conditions, 235 Mont Pelerin Society, 120 Multiple system owners (MSO), 89, 90 N National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB), 63 The National Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors (NATOA), 196 National Committee on Education by Radio, 53 National Educational Television (NET), 65 Natural monopolies, 50, 52, 141, 146 NBC, 48, 55, 60, 61, 140, 142, 155 Negative externalities, 131, 147 Negative freedom, 60, 131, 145 Neo-liberalism, 8–10, 35, 108, 115–166, 183, 187, 211, 217, 219, 224, 232, 261, 262 New communalists, 215, 218 New media, 2, 19, 20, 25, 30, 55, 63, 83, 89, 147, 219, 230 New Public Management, 163 News, 24, 56, 58, 62, 64, 78, 82, 98, 99, 102, 133, 139, 147, 156, 159, 200–202, 221, 229, 236, 237, 239–241, 246–250, 262 Newspapers, 4, 25, 30, 31, 48, 90, 95, 104, 107, 140, 154–156, 160, 222, 226, 227, 230, 236, 239–241, 244, 264 Newsroom on Access SF, 184 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act, 91



Nongovernmental organization (NGO’s), 31, 35, 161, 226 Nonprofit, 46, 50, 97, 152, 154, 160–163, 184, 226, 232 Nonprofit sector, 65, 97, 144, 160–164, 186, 265 Notice of proposed rulemaking (FCC), 10, 48, 52–54, 58, 60, 61, 63, 64, 66, 67, 77–80, 85–87, 89, 90, 93, 105, 115, 131–136, 138, 140, 142, 148, 149, 151, 183, 196, 200–202, 262, 264 O Objectionable programming, 150, 183 Obscene programming, 150, 151 Occupy, 219, 220, 229 Occupy movement, 100, 157, 158, 241–242 Offensive programming, 151, 182, 193 Ordoliberalism, 118–120, 125, 126, 130 Ownership rules, 140–144, 160 P Pacifica, 61–65, 104, 227 PARC, 214 Parker, Sean, 237 Participatory democracy, 15, 36–38, 59, 62, 79–83, 95, 99, 213, 220, 233, 261 Participatory media, 59, 79, 88, 266 Participatory planning, 85, 87, 143, 190 PEG channels, 8, 10, 61, 70, 77, 78, 84, 87, 88, 91, 93–95, 99, 100, 102, 106, 115, 134, 138, 139, 143, 150, 152, 179, 181, 183, 184, 186–190, 196, 197, 199, 202, 253, 266

Philanthropic models, 162 Polarization, 224, 231, 247 Popular culture, 17, 19–22, 88 Popular democratic, 1, 9, 47, 63, 64, 70, 81, 87, 88, 92, 137, 165, 166, 201, 241 Portable video cameras, 80 Positivity, 237, 246 Post-democracy, 128, 165 Presidential Task Force on Communications Policy in 1968, 77 Privacy, 3, 236–239, 243, 253, 262 Privatization, 117, 122–124, 161, 165, 234, 261 Privatization (of public space), 157–158, 185 Proprietary software, 236 Public access, 2, 15, 45, 77, 116, 179, 211–254, 261 Public access television, 1, 2, 7, 77–108, 191, 248, 249 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 10, 61–65, 67–70, 77, 85, 87, 88, 163, 186, 199 Public forum, 7, 11, 61, 91, 92, 102, 150–154, 179, 184, 193–195, 211, 212, 218, 228, 231, 233, 242–244, 246–248, 251–253, 262, 264 Public goods, 8, 25, 27, 49, 51, 52, 54, 145–148, 159, 180, 199, 223, 261 Public interest convenience and necessity, 131 Public interest obligations, 9, 10, 60, 66, 115, 116, 130–136, 140, 192, 197, 248, 249 Public obligation, 1, 8–10, 46, 58, 62, 93, 115–166, 182, 183, 187, 190, 211, 244, 252, 261, 262, 264, 265 Public sector (marketization of), 160, 161


Public sphere, 7, 15, 45, 77, 115, 211, 261 Public’sright to know, 149 Public Television, A Program for Action, Report and Recommendations of the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, Carnegie Commission, 68 R Radical democracy, 222–226, 265 Radical media, 98, 225–233 Radio act of 1912, 46, 51 Radio Corporation of America (RCA), 47 Rational choice, 126, 148 Reagan, Ronald, 101, 133, 141, 155, 165, 180 Reagan Administration, 9, 70 Red Burns, 196 Redistribution, 120, 123, 131 Red Lion decision, 132, 148, 149 Reflexivity, 18, 20–22, 230 Regulation, 9, 10, 49–54, 58, 78, 84, 92, 93, 115, 116, 118, 122, 124, 125, 129–132, 134, 137, 141, 142, 144, 146–150, 153, 154, 157, 160, 179, 188, 191, 196, 198, 200, 217, 221, 241, 244, 264 Regulation (of speech), 243 Regulatory capture, 142, 143 Regulatory reform, 66, 84, 133 Reification, 11, 18, 20, 21, 130, 229 Revolutionary movements, 220, 221 Risk society, 127 S Scarcity, 51, 52, 78, 131, 133, 146, 149, 161, 222, 235 Scottish Enlightenment, 32, 117, 119


Self-reflection, 246 Service reductions, 186–190 Seven-station rule, 140 Sherman Act, 141 Sloan Commission on Cable Communications, 77 Small scale technology, 2, 213, 214 Social construction, 4–11, 126, 199, 219 Social Construction of Science (SCOT), 5 Social democracy, 21, 51, 52, 55, 59, 62, 120 Social inequality, 32, 124, 221 Socially engaged media, 96–101 Social market, 119, 120 Social media, 2, 3, 7, 10, 11, 154, 162, 211, 212, 215, 219, 220, 224–233, 235–239, 241, 242, 244–246, 248–253, 262, 264–266 Social movements, 17, 19, 26, 28, 31, 33, 35, 36, 62, 100, 104, 107, 158, 197, 219–221, 228, 241–242, 250 Social rights, 8, 10, 34, 38, 132, 160, 180, 181, 202, 254 Soft determinism, 4 Solidarity, 16, 28, 29, 31–34, 36, 37, 80, 92, 102, 106, 126, 128, 130, 160, 161, 164, 185, 225, 226, 230, 245, 247, 250, 253 Speaker’s soapbox, 91, 150 Speech rights, 90, 148–150, 201, 233, 244, 252 Stagflation, 116 State, 2, 16, 49, 81, 116, 180, 220, 265 State actor, 153, 154, 244 Statewide franchises, 8, 137, 138, 143, 179, 184, 187–190, 198, 263 Strategic action, 80 Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Habermas), 25



Stuart Brand, 2, 213, 233 Supercomputer, 213 Supply side economics, 122 Surveillance, 127, 236, 238, 239, 243 Surveillance capitalism, 238 T Talk of the City (Lee Coleman), 193 Tax state, 123 Technological determinists, 7, 217 Technological optimists, 2, 7, 82, 222, 231, 237 Technological sublime, 79–83, 213, 216, 218, 233 Telcos, 235 Television, 7, 17, 45, 78, 115, 189, 213, 261 Terms of service, 188, 243 Tiananmen Square, 220 Time Warner, 137, 139, 140, 142, 151, 152, 155, 184, 187, 195 Totally administered society, 20 Trolling, 246–248 Trump, 59, 252 Trustbusters, 60, 141 Twitter, 232, 246–248, 251 U Underground newspapers, 230 United States v Midwest Cable 1972, 90 Utopian visions, 2, 3, 7, 83, 213 V Vast wasteland, 66 Venture philanthropy, 162 Viral videos, 249, 252 Virtual partiticpation, 242

Vitalpolitik, 119 Voluntary associations, 33, 34, 160, 253 W Wagner-Hatfield act, 53 Watchman state, 118, 125 Wayne’s World, 1, 10, 100–105 Weak bonds, 230, 250 Weak institutions, 12n24, 70, 92, 93 Welfare state, 8, 21, 25, 68, 116–119, 121, 123, 124, 127, 129, 131, 159, 160 WGN, 135 The White Chocolate Show (Charles Perkins), 193 Whole Earth Catalog, 2, 214, 215 Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL), 215, 216 Wild publics, 29, 30, 36, 87, 103, 104, 227 Winner take all, 232, 250, 252 Wired Nation, 79 Work Progress Administration (WPA), 56 WTBS, 135 X Xerox, 214 Y Yahoo, 233, 241, 243 You Tube, 187, 220 Z Zuckerberg, Mark, 233