Thursday, April 7, 2011

Unfair, and a little off balance?

While this story may be several weeks old, it is one that I find – in light of the recent debate about budget cuts – both relevant and an interesting query. Are there really places where NPR is the only news source?

Specifically, the article in question referred to NPR’s Michele Norris’ statement that “if public broadcasting went away, there are people in small towns…that would not have access to news.” The article goes on to state that NPR is the only available broadcast source. This is based on a statistic that counts 12 broadcasters within a 50–mile radius, and that nine of these stations are in Alaska, two in West Virginia, and one in Texas. While additional limiting factors exist, the fact remains that in some rural areas – those without access to print newspapers and those without computers or dial up access – perhaps NPR really is the only broadcast source.

Of course, this then begs the question: do those in rural areas choose to listen to NPR? If not, are we as a society putting them at a worse position in understanding the issues that affect them and the world around them? And then finally, does this further create a class divide?

One clear connection to these questions is rural access to broadband internet service. The initial debate about funding rural access to broadband generated some controversy. First, FCC Chairman Katz derided President Obama’s $7.2 billion to expand the service to rural areas. Furthermore, the New York Times argued that such funding was a “cyber bridge to nowhere.” 

The  problem with such language, and such an attitude towards rural access to news, is that it perpetuates the stereotype that (1) rural individuals do not matter; (2) that rural areas have no need for news; and (3) that their access to knowledge does not impact our society as a whole. All three assumptions are false, especially when considering that rural areas encompass around 90% of the country.

Television news is also a mechanism for rural areas to garner their news, and the statistics in this case fair much better. Today, 98.9% of Americans have a television, and at least get one station – whether that station provides them with accurate news is a whole other question.

Perhaps ultimately, NPR may not be the only way for rural communities to have access to broadcast news – but if we consider it in this way – it becomes all the more pressing that they have some access at all. Article I, section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to install post offices and post roads, where one of the rationales was to ensure that news travelled between the different colonies and states when there was no access to television, internet, or radio and everything was rural. Furthermore, the Communications Act of 1934 included a provision to allow for radio and telephone services into rural communities. If we consider the intent of our Founders and the intent of Congress in the past, denying these services would only be a disservice to our history.


Sarah J said...

I definitely agree! It seems completely unfair and problematic that people living in urban centers have such broad access to local, national, and international news sources, and that rural residents may only receive whatever local news and/or television news is available in their town. This to me is definitely a constitutional violation, and sends the erroneous message that rural areas are the outskirts of "real" society and do not deserve to be connected to the happenings of the world. Thanks for highlighting (yet another) frightful consequence of spatial inequality in the U.S.

Jen Wickens said...

This is just another example of how spatial isolation affects access to basic services throughout rural America. Limiting news in rural areas will undoubtedly have a cultural impact and will likely further polarize rural and urban citizens because they will not be exposed to similar stories that tend to build and promote a national identity.

eyelift said...

Your post is such important. This is fact that more efficiency and facility should be provide in the rural areas. I am totally agree with you about this matter.

D'Arcy said...

I especially appreciate this post's reference to the intent of the founding fathers to provide communication and link the then, almost purely rural societies of America. It really reminds the reader that information is a fundamental part of incorporation into the wider community, which was recognized early in American History. Consider that rural people, as potential constitutional rights holders, are not the only interests disserved by poor access to information in rural communities. Historically, the nation has an interest in maintaining dialog with these areas.

vlshaw said...

It has been terrible that NPR has taken such a hit lately. Indeed before the internet, NPR was one of the only sources for "alternative" broadcasting in my home county. One can only imagine the kind of things that are said behind the scenes of CNN or Fox news. NPR among other things provides a taste of world culture to rural Ameria that would otherwise be absent.