Educational television which has the potential for making substantial contributions in electronic journalism has recently attracted a kind of high-level support which may lead to endowing it with a secure and more productive future.
CATV has newly become a controversial element in the television world, and the shape of its future is uncertain. It is at least going to make more of the existing television programmes available to more viewers, even if it doesn’t become a news source.
This technical system, basically designed to pick television signals off the air by means of a master antenna and then pipe them into homes where reception is poor, has gone beyond its original uses-welcomed by broadcast stations- and now offers additional services (made possible by multi-channel equipment) which could put CATV into competition with stations.
This development has the industry up in arms. The FCC now recognises CATV as coming within its jurisdiction, and remains to be seen how its role will be defined by the government regulators.
Another form of television that has undergone a trial period in a few picked communities is pay-television through which programmes not available on regular television could be seen by home owners willing to pay a per-programme or a monthly fee for the privilege. If this form takes hold, and if it comes under the same regulation as the free television stations, then its segment of programming in the “public interest convenience and necessity” will certainly include informational if not news material.
We are going to have more of everything-more and better tools, more news, more sources, more audience-but there is still a larger question that will finally determine whether electronic journalism lives up to its potential and to its challenge.
As John Schneider, President of the CBS Broadcasting Group says: “Certainly in the years to come, we will have an instant communications capability, world-wide. But as to what we are going to say to the world when we have their attention, I’m not certain yet”. Mr. Schneider may be assailed by the same doubts that impelled British science writer Arthur C. Clarke to express the fear that we are creating a communications capability that is so sophisticated that it will outstrip the capacity of man’s brain. There may come a time, he concludes wryly, when only machines can talk to machines.
What must lie ahead for television news is to uncover, realistically and fearlessly, the basic truths of our times. It must tackle the really important news, the important problems, the controversial questions, and speak out editorially with candour and integrity. Even if television journalism does not in time become the only medium for reaching the many segments of the world’s public, it will be the prime source for most of us. Hayakawa has stated, about television, “Already it has brought the whole big startling world into the lives and imagination of millions who would never have been able to discover it through reading.”
As the poor man’s newspaper, television has a special educational responsibility to act as a sophisticating agency in the best sense of that term. I think electronic journalism will live up to the challenge of journalistic leadership, simply because it is too great and important a medium to do less. If television does less, Ed Murrow said only a few years ago, “Surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive.”
T.V. in the year 2015:
Between now and the year 2015, the scope, the acceptance, and the responsibilities of television journalism will grow and continue to grow. The leadership in the field, the men who count and the men who will count a few years from now, are humbly aware of the magnitude of that responsibility and are already on the move to meet it.
The strengths of television journalism well outweigh its weaknesses as of now, and the faith and dependence a great many viewers are placing in it will be rewarded in times to come. A proud future can be predicted for the journalist whose medium has made communicating means possible.
For many people, television is going to be the prime source of knowledge of the contemporary world. For the sake of these people alone, television is faced with shouldering a larger share of the mass media load than radio, newspapers and periodicals.
It is fervently hoped that there will be enough authorities and experts of mass communication equipped with sufficient machines and knowledge to meet the challenge of the times with courage and persistence.