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'Wasteland' Reappraised

In the latest issue of the Federal Communications Law Journal,
a host of scholars, lawyers, activists and others revisit then-FCC Chairman Newton Minow's 1961 "Vast Wasteland" speech to the NAB, in which he said much of television's potential was wasted on drivel. In the Journal,
Minow says that, if anything, the wasteland is even vaster than before.

He also takes a dim view of the current FCC laissez-faire attitude toward regulation: "A lot of people take issue with me on the ground that the marketplace will provide everything. I say, 'If that's true, why do we have public libraries? Why do we have public hospitals?' We do these things because the marketplace does not provide everything."

The "vast wasteland" phrase and the sentiment certainly caught on in 1961; Newton was named the top newsmaker of the year by the Associated Press.

In the Journal, weighing in on the present state of television are current FCC commissioners Michael Copps, Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin.

Copps re-coins the term as "consolidated media wasteland" and outlines his concerns over ownership deregulation.

Abernathy, by contrast, says she does not feel it is her place, as a commissioner, to make "value judgments on the content of broadcasts." She concludes instead that is "in the hands of Congress, the media and the public to lead us on the path from a vast wasteland to a fertile plain."

Martin pushes for his family-viewing hour and family-friendly cable and satellite programming packages.