media bias

About Oct. 20, 2005, U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations broadcast a documentary entitled Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories. Reviewing the documentary, the ombudsman for PBS and the ombudsman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) both expressed concern that the documentary did not fairly document the problem it addressed.

In response to numerous complaints of bias, on Dec. 21 PBS issued a statement that declared, “The producers approached the topic with the open mindedness and commitment to fairness that we require of our journalists.” Enjoy your holiday! No problem here. We hope that you’ll forget about this little documentary and troublemakers like these before the time comes to celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.

A subsequent letter (pdf) from a media watchdog group to the Inspector General of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting suggests that at least some observers consider the PBS review for bias to have been highly biased. The PBS institutional review also seemed to fail to impress the CPB ombudsman. He subsequently declared, “I found the program to be so totally unbalanced as to fall outside the boundaries of PBS editorial standards on fairness and balance.”

Bias has been a perennial concern with respect to traditional media. Recently, a study of media bias (pdf draft) , forthcoming in a leading economics journal, found empirical evidence of media bias. Some blogs, which make no claim to be unbiased, have sharply criticized the study.

Evaluating media bias is difficult discursively and institutionally. New video distribution networks, along with cheap, powerful, video cameras and desktop video editing software, give everyone a chance to be a video producer. That might help educate persons to evaluate bias more reasonably. I encourage you to consider this unbiased news video reporting on the Galbi brothers’ 800 meter challenge!

radio regulation in low-income countries

About the year 2001, 40% of persons in the world lived in countries where there was less than one fixed-line telephone per hundred persons. Good radio regulation can help to foster rapid development of communication capabilities for many persons around the world.

Björn Wellenius and Isabel Neto of the World Bank recently posted a paper, The Radio Spectrum: Opportunities and Challenges for the Developing World. I hope this important topic gets more attention in development economics.

Update: Check out this very impressive website and book on Wireless Networking in the Developing World.

warrantless searches: the banal and the newsworthy

With the aid of high-tech equipment not in general public use, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) monitors radiation emanating from a variety of sities, including homes. In addition, the FCC claims legal authority to enter a home without a search warrant, find a device of concern, and collect information about it (“inspect radio equipment”).

Under such regulation, Benjamin Franklin might have gotten into trouble with the law for messing with spark-gap radiators (Leyden jars) within his home. Perhaps to avoid that danger he might have invented an effective cloaking technology.

Why is government monitoring of radiation associated with illegal home-based radio stations less controversial than government monitoring of radiation associated with a potentially catastrophic “dirty bomb”?

Why is inspection, without a specific warrant, of radio devices within homes less controversial than inspection, without a specific warrent, of suspected communication about terrorists acts?

Perhaps because spy agencies and terrorism provide an exciting framework for grave scholarly discussion and heated political hyperbole. Radio regulation, in contrast, is, well, boring. You don’t even need leaked classified documents to find out about government monitoring of (radio) radiation!