Thursday, November 20, 2008

Murrow on the Broadcast Media

“These instruments can teach, they can illuminate, and yes, they can even inspire; but they can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use them towards those ends. … Otherwise, they’re merely wires and lights in a box.” --Edward R. Murrow, October 15, 1958


Glenn said...

You may argue that the same is true of guns (they don't kill people, people kill people). An alternative view is McLuhan's "the medium is the message". According to this view, there is something inherent in TV that is negative....

Perhaps confirmed by this research reported in the NYTimes:

John Daly said...

The article Glenn cites describes a study by John Robinson which shows a negative correlation between happiness and television viewing. The article notes that it may be that watching television makes people less happy, or that unhappy people may watch more television. It may also be that some underlying circumstances such as illness or disability causes people both to be more likely to be unhappy and more likely to watch more television.

I think Murrow predates McLuhan, and of course he was an earlier warrior in the fight to get television to be more informative even if it meant sacrificing network income.

The quotation is a useful reminder however to those people who focus on the communications infrastructure in the often unjustified hope that it will be well used when built.

I might have focused not only on the meretricious uses of television, but on the outright evil that can be done with a powerful medium. Think back on Nazi propaganda and the use of the media to ignite the Rwandan genocide!