This year alone, media stations are estimated to bring in $3 billion for political advertisements. While political candidates themselves have an agreed-upon rate that they can pay, super PACs do not and in fact sometimes pay more than four times the standard rate for advertisements.
Like a drunk virgin on prom night, the media stations have it drilled in their heads that the big payoff at the end of the night is what it’s all about. Instead of servicing we the people, you know, the folks who actually own the airwaves (although, what is there to own without information being broadcast?), the media stations who indulge in a little political ad play by and large sell out the needs of the many to be informed for the needs of the few to be paid.
Our media stations knowingly air some ads which contain patently false information. We know they know because they often air their fact checks on the nightly news, thereby violating the public trust in relaying pertinent, truthful information.
If the duty of the citizenry is to stay well informed, what is the duty of the news and entertainment broadcasters? I would argue, their first duty is to the truth (much like a Starfleet Officer) and their second is to stay in business to protect their ability to broadcast. The media is not a traditional business – a traditional business in our society would have the primary duty of remaining in business. By the nature of the media’s product, they can do a greater harm or greater good than another product without such broadcast ability could. They can control the content displayed on their station through price or by conviction. In political years, many do only the former – fearing that if they don’t whore themselves out, they could easily go out of business to a competitor who will.
The logic here is similar to giving it up to an unfaithful boyfriend on prom night because you fear he’d leave you otherwise. Speaking from experience here (uh, not the boyfriend part), if your partner is unfaithful, that’s their personal problem and they’re not worth your time. Make ’em an ex. If they make you lie on their behalf, you should not be wasting your time on them. This is equally true for partners buying ad space as it is for partners between the sheets.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is quite simple.
Media companies should charge political advertisers up front for their ad space – a deposit, if you will. Upon receiving the ad in question, the media station would then pass the ad through a fact check organization such as Politifact.org. For a fee, a percentage of the advertising money, Politifact.org would screen the ad for truthfulness. If it were found to be “mostly true” – the ad would be screened as planned. If the ad were to be found anything less than “mostly true”, the ad would not run and the political organization would forfeit their deposit. Furthermore, any forfeits or overages on charges on political ads from PACs would go to fund non-mainstream candidates (ie: the Green Party or the Libertarian candidates), divided equally amongst those who had a ballot presence in your state.
Pay for an ad. If the ad is mostly true, it airs. If it’s BS, you lose your payment. Lost payments and PAC over-payments go to fund non-mainstream political ads.
Simple, effective. Would PACs and candidates run elsewhere with their ad money? Maybe. But they wouldn’t be able to run far if this was an industry standard – XM, FM, TV, Radio, Cable, Satellite, newspapers, magazines, major blogs and online networks, and anyone in between.
Mass media has power because of mass. Use it for good, and for goodness sake, pull your pants back up!
(Photo header: Air Baltic Legs)