Saturday, August 29, 2009

The United States: Once unique, but no longer?

As I read the assigned texts for this week, I noticed a central theme that separated the development of communication networks in the United States versus those developed in Europe - the difference between state controlled enterprises and private, commercial entities. No where is this more prevalent than in the development of the radio and use of airwaves worldwide as a means of informing the population about current events. In the United States, there was minimal regulatory attempts to control this form of media. However, in Britain, the government placed all broadcasting under a public corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Especially evident throughout the years of the Cold War, any attempt made by US officials to regulate any form of the communication industry was seen as a path to state controlled broadcasting. As the medium of communication has changed from radio, to television, to Internet this theme can still be seen. China exercises complete control over the Internet, often prohibiting access to social media networks such as Facebook, whereas the United States appears to remain more lax. Is this however reversing as the United States moves toward policies of communication regulation?

A point can be made for more control over media in this country, specifically for national security purposes. But has the previous and current administration gone to far in this effort? The Patriot Act gave the FBI and CIA telephone wiretapping capabilities without a warrant, leading to outrage of the government "spying" on private conversations, only before seen across the oceans from our European and Asian counterparts. Now, President Obama has introduced a bill that would allow him to take complete control of the Internet for "security purposes". This comes on the heels of the White House asking for emails from people discussing information that may appear "fishy" or untrue regarding the President's health care agenda. These actions, occasionally seen from the Bush administration but now more hurried from the Obama administration, appear to be taking the United States away from the idea of private owned media in a move to exerting more "state control" over the mediums of communication in this country. My concern with these actions is the silence that is greeting these attempts by the administrations. When much uproar was made regarding any attempt of the government to take control of the radio during the 1900's, not much is being made now. While some of these actions may be deemed necessary in terms of national security, is the government perhaps overstepping its bounds and changing the free communication medium in the United States into a controlled enterprise as seen in Europe and Asia?

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