The Vast Wasteland, the Commons, and the Public Interest
Last week the Berkman Center hosted an event for the 50th anniversay of the “Vast Wasteland” speech, when Newton Minow (then chairman of the FCC) was publicly critical of the assembled National Association of Broadcasters for not doing more to serve the public interest:
We all know that people would more often prefer to be entertained than stimulated or informed. But your obligations are not satisfied if you look only to popularity as a test of what to broadcast. You are not only in show business; you are free to communicate ideas as well as relaxation. . . . It is not enough to cater to the nation’s whims; you must also serve the nation’s needs. And I would add this: that if some of you persist in a relentless search for the highest rating and the lowest common denominator, you may very well lose your audience. Because, to paraphrase a great American who was recently my law partner, the people are wise, wiser than some of the broadcasters — and politicians — think.
(Full text of the speech, including audio recording)