Those of us interested in the broader issues of public policy, however, would extend the discussion to cover another dimension. The presence or absence of advertisers and advertising is often the difference between private financing and control of content vs. government control over the flow of information. It has been private advertising that has maintained our free print press in the U.S. over the centuries. Compare that benign situation with the controlled press characteristic in socialist and totalitarian countries where government financing dominates.
Of course, fees paid by viewers for television (and perhaps newer forms of communication) represent an intermediate position. Nevertheless, serious policy discussions must take into account the likelihood of eventual pressures for federal subsidy to provide greater access and variety. Indeed that is the case, at least in part, for public television.
It may be useful to ask the public, "Who should pay for the newer types of communication facilities-consumers or business or government?" It is fascinating to see how the answers sort out. Many liberals want to put the financial load on the consumer, via subscription fee, or the taxpayer, while many conservatives want to place the burden on business via advertising. As I tell my students, a cynical explanation carries you a long way in Washington.
Director, Center for the Study
of American Business