Public Media Autonomy and Accountability


I recently published an article with Matt Powers and Tim Neff entitled, “Public Media Autonomy and Accountability: Best and Worst Policy Practices in 12 Leading Democracies,” in the International Journal of Communication 11 (2017): 1-22.

We show why public media are so important for democracy and how the relatively weak public media (NPR, PBS) in the United States could be made stronger and more autonomous.

Here is the article abstract:

Public media’s contributions to democracy are well established. Less widely known are the specific policies that make these contributions possible. This study finds that professional autonomy and civic accountability in public media are supported by (1) funding established for multiyear periods; (2) legal charters that restrict partisan government influence while also mandating the provision of diverse, high-quality programming; (3) oversight agencies, whose “arm’s length” independence from the government in power is bolstered through staggered terms and the dispersal of authority to make appointments; and (4) audience councils and surveys designed to strengthen links to diverse publics. Public media governed by policies that continue and extend, rather than depart from, these best practices will likely be the most successful in maintaining their civic mission online.

Taking stock of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign


Last night, I had a great discussion with colleagues Deborah Borisoff and Mark Hannah and NYU students about the 2016 presidential campaign. I analyzed the campaign drawing on the interesting ideas of Jeffrey Alexander about the “cultural binaries” of civil society discourse. It seems clear that Trump’s image or brand has been strongly “polluted” (to use Alexander’s language) with the anti-civil/anti-democratic side of the binaries: irrational, hysterical, excitable, wild-passionate, distorted, mad, deferential (to foreign powers), conspiratorial, antagonistic, arbitrary, power, and hierarchy, to name the most clearly applicable. Clinton could be fairly labeled on the negative side with “calculating.” After all the back-and-forth attacks, both now are associated with terms like “secretive” and “self-interested.” Otherwise, Clinton – at least in the contrast with Trump – is starting to own positive civil/pro-democratic terms like: rational, reasonable, calm, self-controlled, realistic, sane, deliberative, rule-regulated, law, equality, and inclusive. In Alexander’s framework for analyzing politics, Clinton has enacted a far more “successful political performance” than has Trump (see Alexander, Performance and Power, Polity, 2011, p. 101). Whether or not that translates into a victory at the polls will depend on the efficacy of her GOTV (Get out the Vote) in the remaining few weeks.