Wasteland Speech

"When television is good, nothing--not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers--nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you--and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland."

U.S. Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow, May, 1961

This speech, the Wasteland Speech, actually titled "Television and the Public Interest" was a doomsday speech for the medium of television, at a time when there were only three networks and when the realm of televison was much less vast than it is today. Nonetheless, it is accounted one of the 100 best American speeches of the 20th century by several authorities.

Thirty-five years after making this stunning indictment of the medium, Minow told Canadian magazine Maclean's that little has changed. "I think in many ways, sadly, it has deteriorated. We have a much wider choice, with the advent of cable and public television. But I think that the level of stuff thrown at kids, especially, has gone down."

He and other U.S. critics state the increased commercialization of children's television during the 1980s, when the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) threw out their voluntary code on advertising to children. Granted, at this time, other countries such as Canada adopted a strict code on children's advertising -- limiting, for instance, the number and air time of commercials.

At the time of the 1996 interview, Mr. Newton Minow was the chairman of the Carnegie Foundation, a noteworthy philanthropic organization whose cash endowment recipients include many programs on PBS, including Sesame Street, ZOOM, Clifford the Big Red Dog (TV) and Between the Lions.

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