A Condensed Version of For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto
by Murray N. Rothbard
Compiled and Edited by
Dr. Jimmy T. (Gunny) LaBaume
Part II: Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
Freedom of Radio and Television
No effective freedom of speech or the press in the field of radio and television can exist under the present system in America. The federal government, nationalized the airwaves in 1927 and, in effect, took ownership title to all radio and television channels. It then presumed to grant licenses at its pleasure to privately owned stations.
On the one hand, the stations receive a huge subsidy that they wish to maintain. But on the other, federal government regulation and the threat of non-renewal or suspension hangs ominously over their heads. Consequently, freedom of speech is a mockery. Every station must have “balanced” programming, broadcast “public service” announcements, grant equal time to political opinions, censor “controversial” lyrics, etc., etc. As a result, free expression in broadcasting is a sham. It is not surprising that, if any opinion is expressed at all, it blandly favors the “establishment.”
One of the fatal flaws in “democratic socialism” is the idea that the government should own the means of production yet preserve freedom of speech. An abstract constitution guaranteeing “freedom of the press” is meaningless in a socialist society where the government owns all the newsprint, the paper, the presses, etc.
The solution is simple. Treat these media the same as the press and book publishers are treated. The government should withdraw completely from any role in media, denationalize the airwaves and give or sell the individual channels to private interests. Only in that way, will the media be able to express themselves without fear of government retaliation and, at the same time, the users of the channels will no longer be artificially subsidized.
If TV channels were privately owned, the big networks would no longer be able to pressure the FCC to outlaw the competition from pay television. “Free TV” is not truly “free.” It is paid for by advertisers and the consumer pays the advertising costs in the price of the product. What difference would it make to the consumer whether he pays directly or indirectly? The difference is that these are not the same consumers for the same products. The advertiser is interested in the widest possible viewing market and those particular viewers most susceptible to his message. As a result, the programs are all geared to the lowest common denominator in the audience. This explains why free-TV programs are unimaginative, bland, and uniform. With Pay-TV specialized markets would develop, quality would be higher and the program diversity would be much greater.
A common argument against private ownership of channels is that they are “scarce.” To an economist this is silly. All resources are scarce. Anything that has a price does so precisely because it is scarce. In addition, there are far more channels available than are now in use.
Another objection is that private stations would interfere with each other. This is as absurd as claiming that, since people can drive their cars over other people’s land, then all cars (or land) must be nationalized. In either case, the solution is for the courts to demarcate property titles carefully enough so that any invasion of another’s property will be clear-cut and subject to prosecution.
Most people believe that this is the reason the airwaves were nationalized to begin with. But this is legend, not fact. History reveals precisely the opposite. When interference began to occur, the injured party took the aggressor to court where the courts applied the common law theory of property rights to the airwaves. Order was being brought out of chaos by the assignment of property rights. But it was exactly this development that the government rushed in to kill. It was not until after it realized the gravity of this new extension of private property, that it nationalized the airwaves using “chaos” as the excuse. Simply stated, the aim of the politicians was not to prevent chaos but to prevent private property in the airwaves.
The Essence of Liberty Volume I: Liberty and History chronicles the rise and fall of the noble experiment with constitutionally limited government. It features the ideas and opinions of some of the world’s foremost contemporary constitutional scholars. This is history that you were not taught at the mandatory government propaganda camps otherwise known as “public schools.” You will gain a clear understanding of how America’s decline and decay is really nothing new and how it began almost immediately with the constitution. Available in both paperback and Kindle versions.
You might be interested in the other two volumes of this three volume set: The Essence of Liberty Volume II: The Economics of Liberty and The Essence of Liberty Volume III: Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic.